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Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Mr THORBY - As I was proceeding to explain, in addition to the question of distributing our transport organizations over as wide a field as possible, we have to look to the Government to see that everything possible is done in the development of other industries which, although they cannot be classed as industries essen- . tial to the supply of raw materials or defence requirements, are essential tothe provision of the natural national wealth of this country that makes it possible for us to finance defence proposals. The experience that I have gained in two or three governments in the last four or five years has taught me that there is grave risk of a strong tendency for any government to be obsessed with the question of defence, to concentrate to a great degree in that direction, and to neglect all of those branches of industry which provide the sinews of war. The accumu-: laition of funds from overseas trade makes it possible for us to carry our defence programme to any degree of completion. That is why I feel it essential for the Government to base its policy on the broadest possible foundation. It must not merely concentrate on the branches of industry which meet the immediate requirements of the Department of Defence, or the defence of this country in general, but must also develop the primary industries which, by their maintenance of an export trade and the creation of credits overseas, make it possible for this country to exist. With all the clamour for defence that is appearing in the press, and with the newspapers forecasting an overseas war every second day, drawing on their own imaginations for their scare headlines, there is a tendency to overlook the requirements of those industries which are the stable industries of this country, and not only provide the great bulk of employment, but also actually provide the wealth so essential to meet the heavy taxation that will be necessary to finance the defence programme already mapped out.

I hope that the Minister for Supply and Development will not overlook the necessity to maintain certain imports from overseas. They are the basis of the sales of our primary products to the United Kingdom. He must also recognize the problems of transport. Unless we can keep the trade routes open, two serious things will quickly happen. We shall find, first, the Australian market glutted through the non-export of surplus products, and, secondly, the people of the United Kingdom practically faced with starvation through the interruption of their supplies. The question of supply goes far beyond supply in the Commonwealth. It involves not only the supply of our own requirements, but also the keeping of our trade routes open to maintain essential supplies to the United Kingdom and other parts of the Empire, and, in the event of an emergency, even allied countries. A strong defence organization throughout the Empire is the greatest assurance that we can have of the maintenance of world peace.

I do not oppose the passage of this bill, or the constitution of this new department, but I question the wisdom of the Government's action in throwing the Works Department, which is an essential part of defence organization, back into the Department of the Interior, creating once again what has so often been flescribed as a bottle-neck at the head of that organization, and depriving the Works Department of the opportunity it had to co-operate wholeheartedly with the Defence Department to lay down the foundation of the defence programme. The building programme, the defence works programme and the installation of machinery are the most important duties with which the Works Department is entrusted, and are an essential part of the defence programme. I strongly urge that the department be left as a separate entity. That would be in conformity with the policy of the Government in creating this Department of

Supply and Development which relieves the true Defence Department of a tremendous amount of responsibility and activity.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to those responsible for the development of the defence organization and programme over the last two years. The senior officers and their staffs have worked" day and night and week-ends month in and month out to accomplish the almost impossible, and Australia owes a deep debt of gratitude to the men and women whose work, energy, intelligence and enthusiasm have accomplished a task which no human being would have thought possible three years ago.

Debate (on motion by Mr. McEwen) adjourned.

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