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Thursday, 18 May 1939


Mr MAHONEY (Denison) .- I listened with great interest to the honorable member, for Indi (Mr. McEwen), and agree with him that the bill contains some drastic clauses. If the world situation be so critical that Australia must immediately prepare for its defence, a bill of this kind is necessary; but I am not convinced that world conditions warrant so drastic a measure being placed immediately on the statute-book. The bill proposes to control the supply of munitions, foodstuffs, guns, aeroplanes and clothing - indeed, everything necessary for the successful carrying out of the defence of the Commonwealth - but 1 want it to go further, and provide for the conscription of wealth as well as of man-power, as advocated by the Country party. I tell members of that party that the Minister for Supply in a Labour government would have no compunction about dealing drastically with the big combines and monopolies of this country; he would compel them to hand over materials and supplies required for the country's defence, and allow them only a small rate of interest in return. The speech of the Minister makes one wonder what is likely to take place next. I know that the world is in the grip of the armaments racketeers. There has been much propaganda on their behalf . bv newspapers, supporters of the Government, particularly Country party members.


Mr Lane - That is not true.


Mr MAHONEY - The purpose of this propaganda is to create a state of hysteria among the people, and to lead them to believe that the world is on the verge of a disastrous war. For the last twelve months the world has been in that state.


Mr Street - Mr. Ogilvie, the Premier of Tasmania, had something to say recently about submarines.


Mr MAHONEY - I speak for myself. I am absolutely disgusted with the attitude of many Government supporters, the press of this country, the profit mongers, and members of the Country party. They have collaborated to bring to heel the manhood of Australia.


Mr Holt - Has not the honorable member advocated the establishment of a naval base at Hobart?


Mr MAHONEY - I believe in defending Australia, and if I can be convinced that it is urgently necessary to place this legislation on the statutebook because of the danger of Australia being attacked in the near future I shall rote for it, in order that the things necessary for the successful prosecution of a war may be under proper control.


Mr Lane - 'The honorable member wants to see men shooting at one another before he votes for anything.


Mr MAHONEY - There is considerable diversity of opinion regarding the need for compulsory action of this description. I understand that, following this bill, another measure which I am not permitted to discuss at this stage will be introduced.


Mr Holloway - That is the " nigger in the woodpile".


Mr MAHONEY - An eminent military authority with whom I have discussed these matters said, in effect, " Mr. Mahoney, when you want to introduce drastic legislation, always be very quiet and simple in your remarks. Give people no information, or you might wake up the workers to a realization of what will happen to them". I am concerned about the workers, for they are the people who will carry the responsibility, and, in the final analysis, will suffer and pay in the event of war. The Minister proposes to say to the trusts and combines that, in the supply of munitions, rifles, clothing, foodstuffs and other requirements of the nation in time of war, they must charge only reasonable prices, and not attempt to take advantage of the situation to make enormous profits. If that be so, and there is effective control of prices, members of the Country party need not fear that their wheat will be commandeered.


Mr Badman - It would not matter a great deal, because wheat is not worth much at present prices.


Mr MAHONEY - Wheat is a valuable commodity in time of war; a country which has ample supplies of wheat is able to feed its soldiers, as well as its civilian population. I am concerned that there shall be no profiteering in foodstuffs. It is clear that the Government has accepted the policy of the dictator countries of the world.. It is en deavouring to create a totalitarian psychology; it is seeking to rouse in the minds of the people a belief that there is urgent need for this emergency legislation in order that Australia may be prepared against attack. I cannot see that there can be effective control unless the Government is prepared to take over the whole of the industries necessary for the defence of Australia. Honorable members may recall that in Germany in 1914 there was much profiteering in foodstuffs. In order to relieve the situation the authorities there had to adopt a policy providing for the nationalization of supplies. I am not here to support the big trusts, combines and monopolies, the big thieves and robbers, the hungry vultures that in every country batten upon the corpses in times of war. Past wars have proved that there are always people who will seek to make profits by exploiting men, women and children. Prices are raised unduly, foodstuffs and other essentials are cornered, and much suffering is caused, in order that profits may be greater. That is not the way to provide for the defence of any country. I shall not be a party to any participation in war unless the whole of the people are called upon to support those who do the fighting. The honorable member for Indi appears to be concerned only about the wealthy people having their private affairs inquired into. In any time of emergency, the Minister will find no difficulty in obtaining from me a statement of my affairs. I want those people who live in the select suburbs of Potts Point, Toorak, and St.Kilda to disgorge some of their surplus wealth in order to provide funds for the defence of Australia. They should not be allowed to sit back, and show their patriotism only by the waving of flags and the singing of the song " Johnny get your gun ". They should be compelled to disgorge some of their wealth in order to provide for the dependants of the men who will be called upon to defend their country. If there are any wealthy people in my electorate, I am willing that they should know my views on this subject.


Mr Street - Then the honorable member will vote for the national register ?


Mr MAHONEY - No. I am not in favour of compulsion where human life is concerned.


Mr Anthony - Does the honorable member think that the other fellow holds human life to be sacred?


Mr MAHONEY - Whatever be the opinion of the honorable member, I regard human life as sacred.


Mr Anthony - I mean the other fellow overseas.


Mr MAHONEY - He i3 not in sight. I have been referring to the profiteer in our midst, who is in sight - the vulture who puts his money into the coflers of Government parties in order to defeat Labour at elections.


Mr Gregory - The Labour party appealed to them strongly for money at the last- election.


Mr MAHONEY - I do not believe in allowing the profiteers to batten upon the workers. That has been done in the past. The profiteers invariably support antiLabour parties at election timeProfiteering occurred in almost every possible shape and form during the last war. Some of the lowest forms of exploitation disgraced certain business interests. I know a poor old man whose son was blown to pieces. Not so much as a button of his uniform was found, yet his father was asked to subscribe 10s. for a tombstone for him. Was that not profiteering, even on the dead ? Such hungry vultures support this Government.

The Labour party believes in providing for the adequate defence of this country, but it also desires that the interests of the men who had to do the really dangerous work shall be protected. I have in mind of course the men who will shoulder and fire the guns. Coming events cast their shadows before them. No doubt this bill reveals a tendency towards dictatorships. I can find no evidence in any clause of the measure of any real desire to protect the interests of the working people. It is all very well for the Government to say that profiteering will be prevented, but we are not told how it is to be done. In my opinion, the Government should itself build such factories as are necessary for the manufacture of munitions. Private enterprise should not be allowed to participate in this work in any way. If it does so, the

Government will lose control. We are all well aware that during the last war exorbitant prices were paid for "dud" shells and shoddy equipment. Every possible step should therefore be taken by the Government to ensure that in the future not a single " dud " shell shall leave a factory. This can be done only if the Government itself controls the factories. Only so shall we be certain that all munitions are up to" the specified standards. Under the capitalist system, the instinct to exploit other people is predominant and it will continue to be so until the system is abolished. It is necessary that we should make our defence preparations honestly and courageously. This involves the protection in every possible way of the interests of the fighting men. I heard the Prime Minister say in Sydney last Monday that ten years after the conclusion of the last war he had to appear in court in a certain case which concerned war-time activities. Nothing in this bill can prevent a repetition of such an experience. The only safe thing for the Government to do is to assume control of our key industries and absolutely prohibit private enterprise from engaging in the manufacture of munitions. I stand for the immediate socialization of our key industries, but I am quite certain that any amendment moved to this bill for the purpose of achieving that desirable objective would be resisted by the Government.


Mr Brennan - Such an amendment would put the Country party in an invidious position.


Mr MAHONEY - Of course it would ! The Country party wishes to indulge in exploitation in its own way. The farmers would never agree to put their wheat and other products into a common pool. They always want the highest possible prices and are prepared to exploit city workers whenever possible. We have been told that £90,000,000 will be expended on defence works in the next five years and that in consequence of defence activities already on foot, unemployment has been reduced by 60 per cent. In the smaller States where there are no defence works unemployment is more prevalent. It is significant however, that when the right honorable gentleman informed his audience of 4000 people in the Sydney Town Hall last Monday that the Government would deal with profiteers, there was not a single cheer. Practically the entire audience consisted of people interested in profiteering.


Mr Brennan - The profiteers are enjoying peace of mind at present.


Mr MAHONEY - Ofcourse they are, but the Labour party will do everything in its power to disturb their complacency. Everybody knows that, in the past, immense profits have been made out of defence works. The Minister for Defence also knows it. I am quite prepared to believe that he is sincere, but I cannot see him recommending the Government to commandeer and nationalize all industries in the event of war, as the German Government did in 19,14. The masters of the Government would not allow it to be done. The Government is simply trying to deceive the workers into believing that this legislation provides some effective machinery for dealing with profiteers. Actually it is barren of a single effective provision of that kind. The Prime Minister told us last Monday that it was not possible at this stage to declare what degree of profit would be permitted in the manufacture of munitions. Qf course, he could not do so, for his masters have not expressed their views on the subject. If the Government ever makes a declaration of that kind which is not acceptable to private enterprise the Prime Minister will he told, " You have no authority to do this. If you persist in this attitude we shall withdraw our financial and political support from the United Australia party. You must not interfere with private enterprise ".

I have heard something about shadow factories. In my opinion it would be more to the point to talk about shadow sparring. The Government should distribute munitions factories all over the Commonwealth. Centralization is a very unwise policy in connexion with the manufacture of munitions. I was told by a certain Minister when I complained about the isolation of Tasmania that its isolation is its security. If isolation is security in one respect, it should be security in another. If munitions factories were established in Tasmania which has the economic advantage of hydro-electric power, it is not likely that they would be attacked. I appeal to the Government to establish munitions factories in some of the smaller and less populous States.

The Country party, we know, is favorable to conscription. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Cameron) said that he favoured conscription, but he said nothing about the conscription of wealth. He would conscript the young manhood of Australia, but would allow wealthy citizens to remain free. It seems to me that this bill was drafted by some one with totalitarian notions. Probably the idea was presented to certain honorable members opposite while they were globe-trotting. It was suggested that a bill of this kind should be introduced very quietly. We were to have a " hush-hush " policy here, as elsewhere. We have been told that the bill is important for defence purposes, but we have been given very little information concerning it. The Labour party favours the adoption of adequate defence measures, but it does not believe that this bill, in its present form, can achieve much in that regard.

I agree with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) that if the bill is passed we shall incur some danger of interference with our industrial legislation by military authorities. I hope that that never takes place in Australia.


Mr Street - The Ministry of Supply will have no control over anything relating to the services.


Mr MAHONEY - Clause 5 provides, in sub-clause (2) -

The Governor-General may from time to time determine the extent to which or the conditions upon which any of the matters specified in this section may be administered by the department.

The same clause empowers the Minister for Supply and Development to deal with matters relating to " the investigation and development of Australian sources of supply of goods, which in the opinion of the' Governor-General are necessary for the economic security of the Commonwealth in time of war ". I am afraid that this will give power to the militarists in this country to adopt what are called military tactics in certain circumstances, but I hope that the Minister will check any tendency in that direction. We do not want to experience here the conditions reported in some militaristic countries in Europe in which workers are unable to have their grievances rectified because all industries are virtually under military control.


Mr Street - The service.? would be unable to touch anybody under the provisions of this measure.


Mr MAHONEY - My legal advisers tell me that there is a distinct possibility of military control of industry, though I do not think that the Minister is conscious of it.


Mr Street - It is not even a possibility.


Mr MAHONEY - It is, but I hope that the time will never come when the people of this country will be controlled by military authorities, with consequent injustices such as have to be endured by people living in totalitarian countries. If the Minister is seeking co-operation between this new Department of Supply and Development and the workers of Australia there should be created what are known as workers' groups or shop committees in industry. The Government should say to the workers " We want your co-operation and assistance in these industries which are to be carried on for the benefit of this country". It would be of no use to send the " brass hats " to propound their militaristic ideas to the workers, because they would be dealt with by the workers as they have been dealt with on other occasions.


Mr Street - That will not be done.


Mr MAHONEY - But it has been done. Despite the attempt to camouflage th© position, it is, I believe, intended to place industries under military control even though Australia may not be at war. Power to do that is given in this measure. I knew, when the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) was moving the second reading, that he was merely skimming over its more important provisions in an endeavour to prevent honorable members from discovering its real intentions. The bill gives the military " swashbucklers " of this country power to assume control of industries. Preparation is being made for the day when alien migrants will be put to work in Australian factories to replace the men who will be taken from their work to serve as soldiers.


Mr Street - That cannot be done.


Mr MAHONEY - The bill gives power to do it and I know from personal experience what amount of suffering may be brought about if this legislation is passed. No government should have the power to govern by regulations. That is a negation of democracy. This is a democratic country and I appeal to the Minister to adopt democratic methods in the Government's defence proposals. Should a state of emergency arise, the Government could, under the provisions of thi3 bill, commandeer the services of every man in Australia between the - ages of eighteen and 60 years. So also should it be able to commandeer the wealth of this country. I hope that the nation's wealth will be conscripted as was suggested this afternoon, because in a time of emergency the whole of the resources of the nation should be utilized to the full. I would not support any government - even a Labour government - which, in time of national emergency, refused to legislate for the conscription of the nation's wealth to assist its man-power in its defence. If this were done, action could be taken to prevent profiteering.

It is all very well for the Minister and the Government supporters to state that profiteering will not take place in Australia in time of war. We know that during the Great War there was wholesale profiteering in Great Britain and other countries in connexion with the manufacture of munitions of war. Australia also had some experience of the profiteers. Adulterated foodstuffs were freely sold, and the unfortunate widows and children of deceased soldiers were treated most unfairly. It is well-known that shoddy materials were used in the construction of houses for war widows and for returned soldiers, and those jobs were skimped. Such profiteering could not occur again if the Government had full charge of the nation's business and resources in time of war.


Mr Pollard - Even tea leaves were used a second time.


Mr MAHONEY - That is so. We have heard of a girl whose father was killed in the war. She secured employment in a wealthy family and had to be satisfied with used tea leaves for her tea.

I hope that in the committee stage the Minister will introduce drastic clauses to guard against profiteering. The Prime Minister has declared that the profiteers wall not benefit by this legislation. In my opinion, the workers will get nothing out of it and the profiteers everything. It reminds me of the game of " prop and cop " - the workers " prop " and the profiteers " cop ". I should like the Minister to explain just how profiteering is to be prevented. Are thebanks and insurance companies to he dealt with by this legislation? I understand that control over, such organizations was provided for in the profiteering legislation passed by the British Parliament, but these interests took action in the courts and in some cases decisions were given in their favour, duo to the difficulty of defining profits. The Defence Advisory Committee willbe of little use for the prevention of profiteering because its members will themselves be profiteers. Every person who is engaged inbusiness is a profiteer. I am sorry for them because they are victims of the system under which we live. They live many lives and if they are troubled by conscience they must die many deaths. I admit the right of every citizen to make a reasonable profit, but should a state of emergency arise, and we were faced with an invader, we should find the greater enemy to be the enemy within. A repetition of the experience of 1914-18 should not be permitted. My duty, as a member of the Opposition, is to criticize, not draft legislation for the Government; to see that measures passed through this Parliament will give protection to the workers, because they are the people who need it. This bill does not protect them.


Mr Anthony - Farmers also need protection.







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