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Thursday, 18 May 1939

Mr WARD - Does the honorable member intend to oppose the bill ?

Mr GREGORY - A bill such as this is doubtless necessary when this country is at war or at a time of national emergency, but surely its introduction is not justified at this juncture. It would appear that the powers to be conferred on the Minister by regulation are altogether too drastic, and unless a fuller explanation is given as to why some of the provisions have been inserted in the bill, I do not feel disposed to support it.

Mr Holt - We have already embarked upon emergency expenditure.

Mr GREGORY - That may be so, but does the Assistant Minister assert that this is a time of national emergency? If he. should do so, I believe that practically every honorable member would disagree with him. We are informed that the situation overseas is somewhat easier than it has been for some time, but I am somewhat dubious concerning the future. In some directions, I should like the Government to have greater powers. For instance, I should like it to introduce universal training, because one of the greatestcrimes we could commit would be to ask untrained men to engage in war.

Mr Mahoney - Does the honorable member believe in compulsory military training ?

Mr GREGORY - Universal training should be introduced in this country, and I am pleased to know that the Premier of the State represented by the honorable member is one of its strongest advocates. Universal training is in the interests not only of the trainees themselves, but also of the nation.

Mr Mahoney - Does the honorable m ember believe in conscription?

Mr GREGORY - I am. not in favour of Australian men being conscripted for service outside Australia.

Mr Brennan - The honorable member supported conscription some years ago.

Mr GREGORY - I did. During a state of national emergency I would be willing to assist the Government to acquire extensive powers such as are sought under this bill, but I decline to admit that such a state now exists.

Mr Holt - 'Does the honorable member consider that a state of emergency existed last September?

Mr GREGORY - I do not know, but it was understood that the overseas situation was then very acute. Labour members in this Parliament believe that Australia should not engage in any war until a. referendum of the people has been taken. I have received letters from persons who state most definitely that in the event of war they would decline to assist in any capacity whatever. Should universal training be established, huge sums of money would be needed to meet the expenditure; and that expenditure should have to be met by the wealthy and not the poorer section of the community. I do not wish to repeat the numerous points raised by the honorable member for Indi who said that if the bill is passed the Minister will possess very extensive powers. In the past we have always objected to the power given to the Executive by way of regulation. and I have always contended that if the Executive has not sufficient power to do what is necessary in the interests of the nation, it should come to Parliament for authority. Under the bill sentences involving imprisonment up to twelve months may be imposed.

Mr Holt -Such terms of imprisonment cannot be imposed under regulation.

Mr GREGORY - No, but such punishment is provided for in the act. Persons who do not comply with certain regulations may be liable to imprisonment for that period.

Mr Holt - Not in respect of regulations.

Mr GREGORY - The Assistant Minister knows quite well that very extensive powers can be conferred under regulations and upon indictment there is a penalty of not more than twelve months provided under this measure. It appears to me that the main object of the bill is to give the Minister power to make regulations to deal with the supply of munitions, the manufacture and assembling of aircraft, arrangements for the extension of industries for the purposes of defence and various other matters. If it were a question of granting these powers for one year instead of five, as provided in the bill, one could feel more inclined to support it. In these circumstances the Minister will have power to ignore the Tariff Board and to induce certain interests to establish industries merely because it is said that they are essential for defence purposes. That may be necessary in time of war or during a national emergency, but in the present circumstances it appears to be wholly unjustified. The bill appears to be a way of giving the Minister the authority to use certain powers in whatever way he wishes. I trust that when the bill is in committee the Minister will agree to amend it in certain respects, because, in view of the information available to us, the powers sought to be acquired appear quite unnecessary at the present juncture.

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