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Friday, 19 May 1939

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) . - During this debate I have been reminded several times of observations made on other ' occasions by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn), now Minister for Civil Aviation, and by the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett), now Minister for External Affairs, that when important debates were being carried on in this House few members of the Ministry remained in the chamber, particularly when prominent members of the Opposition or the Country party - I do not include myself in this category - -were making their contributions to the discussion.

The absence of Government supporters at the moment seems to suggest a non-recognition of the importance pf this measure. I regard it as one of the most important that have been presented to this Parliament. Some of its importance is due, no doubt, to the fact that the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was largely responsible for the original proposals contained in the bill, which is designed to marshal Australia's resources for the effective defence of this country. Some speakers - particularly honorable members of the Opposition side - have asked, " Where is the emergency? Why have we to spend such a large amount of money in organizing the nation's resources for defence, while at the same time neglecting essential social services " ? It would be difficult for one who has not closely observed the trend of affairs in other parts of the world to answer this question. But one has only to examine the situation that has arisen and the incidents that have taken place in various countries since the Treaty of Versailles was signed 22 or 23 years ago to realize that Australia has reached the stage when it is absolutely essential to thoroughly organize the nation's resources for defence purposes. It is no exaggeration to say that our position to-day is infinitely worse than it was in 1914. We have to envisage the grim possibility of an attack upon our shores - a contingency that was improbable during the Great War. Therefore it is incumbent upon the Government, and this Parliament, to take all necessary measures to ensure our security. That is the purpose of the bill now before the House.

Although I make certain reservations, and may offer some criticism of the measure, generally speaking I support the bill. I was pleased to hear the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) last night pay a tribute to his predecessor in office, the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby). Coming from the Minister, that tribute was not a belated one, because it ,was not required of him; but it came very fittingly from the honorable gentleman in view of the frequent attacks that were made by the press of Australia on the honorable member for Calare, while carrying out the onerous duties which then devolved upon him for a long period.

The bill is wide in its scope. Two main criticisms have been levelled against it. One is that it is allembracing in its provisions; the other is that it does not define sufficiently the power which it will confer upon the authorities administering it. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) complimented the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) on his astuteness in bringing down a measure containing provisions so drafted that the Opposition could find it extremely difficult to criticize. In my opinion, the wide powers given in the bill are necessary, because it is difficult, at the moment, to predict in what direction the activities of this new department will extend. Nevertheless, I consider that a more detailed explanation of the bill should have been given hy the Minister introducing it. The right honorable gentleman might have indicated more clearly what the Government has in mind.

Honorable members on both sides are, I think, in agreement that everything possible should be done to place the defence of Australia on a sound basis. I would, however, say that if we are sincere in our. determination to do this we must give to those who may be entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out our defence preparations, sufficient power to enable them to discharge their duty efficiently on behalf of the people of Australia. The measure certainly grants very wide administrative power, but the occasion is such that we must accept it in the hope and belief that the authority will not be abused. If any abuses should occur, Parliament may remedy them by disallowing any regulations made under this bill. Moreover, there are constitutional limitations beyond which no Government dare go. In some respects, it is unfortunate that these limitations exist, because their effect is to hamper this Parliament in its efforts to pass legislation which, in many instances, is vital to the welfare of the people of Australia ; but, at all events, they are a safeguard.

Mr Brennan - There are no constitutional limitations in time of war.

Mr ANTHONY - I am pleased to have that assurance from the honorable member.

Mr Brennan - I am sorry.

Mr ANTHONY - In time of war the only consideration is the safety of the people. This has been recognized right down through the ages, from the time of the earliest democracies.

The Minister for Supply and Development has told us that the purpose of this measure is to organize industry and production for the use of the nation in time of emergency. The bill contains allembracing clauses, but, as I have said, the Minister has told us practically nothing about what the Government intends to do. For instance, we have not been informed what is proposed in connexion with the storing of foodstuffs and other supplies ; the nature of those supplies ; or the organization of the nation's manpower during a state of emergency. With its small population and huge area, Australia must have the fullest use in productive employment of all available skilled workers. Unfortunately, many Australian workers, particularly skilled tradesmen, are being tempted to go to New Zealand. Recently 100 men left this country for the sister dominion, and many have been induced to go to other countries. By providing lucrative employment the Government would induce skilled workers to remain in Australia and assist in the carrying out of our huge defence programme.

This bill is not the only expression of government policy for Australia's defence ; it is a corollary to another measure providing for a national register.

Finance is the key to all defence preparations of any country. The Government has not yet indicated how it proposes to provide the means required to establish new industries and enlarge private enterprise undertakings for the manufacture of munitions. These are vital if the Government's proposal is to be implemented as it should be.

Mr Rosevear - They are not mentioned in the bill.

Mr ANTHONY - No indication has yet been given of what the Government intends to do.

I listened attentively to the speech made by the Minister for Defence last night in the hope that I would obtain some information, but none was forthcoming. All I heard was a speech that might have been delivered even had the bill to create this new department not been under discussion. The Minister spoke only in general terms. He pointed out that adequate defence involved the provision of large stocks of munitions, and that, therefore, the Government was providing additions to factories run by private enterprise, and was building some factories of its own. The honorable gentleman also said 'that" Great Britain was turning more and more to private enterprise in the carrying out of its defence programme. The speech was, in effect, a general press announcement of the Government's proposals, and not a detailed statement such as is necessary for the consideration of a measure like this.

Much has been said about what the Government may or may not do under the powers conferred by this measure. It has been suggested that the findings of the Tariff Board could be over-ridden and that new industries could be established without the approval of that body. If that is so, then, particularly from the point of view of primary industries, we are entitled to ask the Government for some inkling of its intentions.

Mr Pollard - Does the honorable member stand rigidly for the observance of the Tariff Board's recommendations?

Mr ANTHONY - I do not stand rigidly for anything. I stand for knowledge, and, therefore, I seek information. When I get that information I shall base my decisions upon it. Any honorable member who declares that he will stand adamant on anything, despite the fact that conditions may alter, is not wise. I am prepared to take cognizance of the changes that occur from time to time. In this connexion, I am reminded of the economist Keynes, who, when challenged with the fact that he had changed his mind ona particular point, replied, " I am not like the gentleman who goes out and says every day that it is a fine day; when it is is raining I say that it is raining, and when it is fine I say that it is fine ". We certainly have principles to which we adhere. I sincerely wish that the members of all parties, but particularly of the Opposition, would make some allowance for the fact that times and circumstances change, and that what is appropriate to-day may not fit the case five years or even five months hence. We all change our views with the passage of the years. 1 impress upon the Government that any grave disturbance of primary industries would have serious repercussions, not only on those industries, but also on secondary industries, because the two are dependent upon each other. Inversely, any grave disorganization of secondary industries would be detrimental to primary industries. We must always keep in mind the fact that our primary industries are almost wholly responsible for the export trade of this country, and that our ability to import our requirements of oil, rubber, tea, cotton and various other commodities which cannot be produced in Australia is dependent on the maintenance of successful primary industries. Therefore, the Government must recognize that any disturbance likely to be caused either by the setting up of artificial industries on such a scale that our overseas markets are depleted too suddenly, or by other measures, must ultimately have repercussions which will not be to the advantage of the nation.

A good deal has been said by different members concerning the development of, for example, the production of oil. I fully appreciate the need for Australia to try to discover either additional supplies of oil or new means of obtaining them. I am not, however, altogether in agreement with those who appear to think that millions of gallons of oil are concealed in the bowels of the earth, and that there is a widespread conspiracy, particularly on the part of the oil combine, to keep it there. Possibly, the greatest effort has not been made to discover oil, and the Government may well continue progressively and industriously the efforts to locate it. I would point out, however, that in the whole of the British Empire, which covers one-third of the earth's surface, scarcely a barrel of oil has yet been found. As a matter of fact, the British, French, Italian, Belgian and Japanese Empires, which in the aggregate constitute almost one-half of the world's surface, do not produce 1 per cent, of the oil supplies of the world. Australia may be one of those unfortunate countries in which oil cannot be found. While continuing exploratory measures for the discovery of oil, if it exists, the Government should also endeavour to develop other fuels. Different members, and particularly those representing country areas, have mentioned the fact that the farmers are now using tractors which are capable of being propelled by means of charcoal instead of oil.

Mr Pollard - They use charcoal only when they cannot get oil.

Mr ANTHONY - In a country district the other day I inspected a tractor, the owner of which told me that he had passed in his kerosene-burning plant and had been operating with charcoal for twelve months at a cost of about one-third of his previous outlay, the work being done just as effectively. If oil cannot be found, the Government might consider subsidizing the use of charcoal-burning tractors in country districts. In a time of need that would enable the agricultural industry of this country to becarried on undisturbed. All of these charcoalburning plants are manufactured in Australia, and thus provide employment for those who work in secondary industries-

Mr Ward - Why should there be a subsidy if they are cheaper to run?

Mr ANTHONY - The purchase price is £120 greater than that of an oil-driven tractor. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has referred to the extraction of oil from coal in the Newcastle district and in other districts, and the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has urged the need to develop the oil resources of his electorate. I believe that I shall have the support of Queensland members when I mention the possibility of producing power alcohol from excess sugarcane crops. The exports of sugar last year totalled 400,000 tons, and a much greater quantity could hare been produced had there been a market for it. The sugar sent overseas is mostly produced and sold at a loss. Unlimited supplies of material are available for the production of power alcohol. For some time I have been using in one of my lorries power alcohol produced from cane and mixed with petrol, and it has proved very satisfactory. The investigations made by the Government in this connexion should be continued in conjunction with an inquiry into the propositions submitted by the honorable member for Hunter and the honorable member for Gippsland. "We have most to fear, not from a direct invasion - although that fear is always present and the possibility must always be provided against - but from the possibility of a blockade and the cutting off of overseas supplies. In the event of a blockade we would be unable to receive certain foodstuffs and essential raw materials. In Australia we have ample supplies of meat, wheat, rice, butter, sugar and tobacco, but our stocks of coffee, tea and cocoa are limited. We have an abundance of wool, but supplies of cotton, flax and jute and other products used in the manufacture of bags and tents are limited. Adequate stocks of these commodities should be provided. The three most essential commodities, our present stocks of which are inadequate and for which the Government should make provision, are oil, rubber and potash. The -stocks of the last-mentioned are small, -and if our supplies should fail many of our farmers and fruit-growers would find themselves at a great disadvantage.

If the Government is really serious in its intention to conduct a supplies and development department, it will have to consider seriously the- decentralization of industry and encourage the establishment in country districts of such industries -as can bc conducted economically. It may seem improbable, but it is practicable, for engineering shops in some of our small country towns to supply some of our defence needs. In a small dairying town named Bangalow, in my electorate, two young men, who did not desire to go to the city as most young men are forced :to do, had sufficient initiative to start a small engineering plant in which they are producing a complete separator engine for the use of dairymen. That .'3 being done in a town where there u no local supply of iron or coal.

Mr Gander - Are they doing well?

Mr ANTHONY - They are not making a fortune, but are earning sufficient to enable them to remain in the country. If that can be done in one small town it is possible for small engineering shops throughout Australia to make, not complete machine guns or rifles, but some of the parts. They could manufacture rings, bolts or even buckles for saddle straps. In distributing such work amongst country manufacturers, we should be doing justice to country areas, and also assisting national safety. When industry is distributed there is less likelihood of dislocation in the event of a raid or an invasion.

Some honorable members have criticized this measure because they say that it savours of totalitarian principles, and gives the Minister such comprehensive powers that he can become a dictator. I believe that we have reached a stage in this country when we have to realize that if we are not actually at war, the fear of war is always present. I trust that I am wrong, but the crisis which occurred in September came as a bolt from the blue. I recollect, as do many other honorable members, that we felt that we were caught unprepared, and were wishing to God that we had more time in which to make the necessary preparations for the defence of this country. The next shock may be as sudden as that which occurred in September. Events of the last two or three years show that each sudden move on the part of aggressor nations has been made during a period of comparative calm. At any moment we may be faced with some calamity.

Mr Sheehan - The honorable member is an alarmist.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not, but like members of the party to which the honorable member belongs, I believe in the adequate defence of Australia, and contend that nothing short of the maximum amount of security that we can afford should be provided. The powers contained in this bill will enable the Government to show its mettle and to prove that it believes in deeds and not in words. There has been too much talk and insufficient action. Moreover, the Government should consider further the implementation of a bill passed some time ago to provide a national standards bureau which is really a complementary part of this proposal. If the various processes in the manufacture of munitions are to be undertaken with the highest degree of efficiency a national standards bureau should be in active operation at the earliest possible moment. I do not know what has been done up to the present but I have not heard of very much being accomplished by such a body.

When we speak of totalitarian states we must recognize that everything associated with such states is not undesirable. We disagree with their system of government, but we must admire the degree of efficiency achieved. If a similar degree of efficiency can be "achieved under a democratic system by this "totalitarian." Minister, as some honorable members have designated him, much good will be done in the direction proposed. It has been said by some members of the Opposition that the profiteer is likely to obtain all the benefits of the Commonwealth's defence programme. It has been urged that, rather than allow any one to profiteer, we should forgo a large proportion of this defence programme and proceed only with that portion which the Government itself is capable of undertaking. If that policy were adopted we would be ten years behind others in preparing for national security. Every resource of the nation must be utilized if the maximum results desired are to be achieved.

I fully agree that it is necessary to eliminate profiteering. In 1914 and 1915, because of the fact that Great Britain was not prepared for war, and because its munitions factories were not in full operation, hundreds of thousands of British lives were forfeited. It was only when Mr. Lloyd George created a munitions department, very similar to our new Department of Supply and Development, that the position was remedied. If I had to choose between the possible loss of the lives of tens of thousands of Australians and giving an opportunity to certain individuals to make large profits out of the supply of munitions, I should allow them to make that profit, for we could deal with them afterwards. In modern warfare an inadequately trained army with antiquated weapons is no match for a well-trained foe equipped with uptodate weapons, irrespective of the bravery of the individual soldiers. This fact has been demonstrated recently in China. Nobody could doubt the heroism of the Chinese troops at Shanghai and elsewhere, but the Chinese armies have had to retreat progressively because of the inadequacy of their equipment. The Abyssinians .experienced similiar disabilities.

As I have already indicated, I am in accord with what many honorable members have said as to the necessity to prevent profiteering, and I shall do my utmost in combination with others to check the evil. The Government has been very vague regarding what it proposes to do in this matter. We are told that it intends to set up a committee of accountants. I addressed a question yesterday to the Minister for Defence and, in reply, he stated that the committee would be an honorary one. Gentlemen called upon to give their services in an honorary capacity could scarcely be expected to devote to this work the time and attention necessary to enable it to be done properly. It seems to me that the Government should appoint a panel of paid men of undoubted integrity and possessing the highest credentials. We have seen what uncontrolled industry will do in the case of the brick combine in New South Wales. The report of a royal commission has demonstrated that, when given a free hand, people inflate prices and ignore the rights and needs of the general community. Therefore it is incumbent on the Government to declare definitely what it proposes to do in order to curb profiteering.

The Government should provide as quickly as possible, by mass production, a sufficient number of rifles. The suggestion has been made that an ample supply of these weapons is available, but I think that at least 1,500,000 rifles are required. We should also speed up by mass production the supply of machine guns of one type, small field guns and coastal defence equipment. If the new Department of Supply and Development is to function as it should, much more energy should be manifested by the responsible Minister than has been shown in other departments. I believe that the present Minister for Defence has done a great deal, but the fact that a new department has been created shows that it is necessary to have an additional Minister engaged in the supervision of defence preparations. Prompt action is essential if the interests of the people are to be served properly.

Several members of the Opposition have at times deprecated the need for defence preparations, and have suggested that the authorities are unnecessarily panicky. They tell us that if we make a friendly approach to other nations there will be no danger of interference with Australia. I am reminded of the old fable of the lion and the hare. When they met in conclave, and the hare talked on terms of equality, the lion simply, asked, " Where are your claws " ? Australia should have at least some claws, lest the occasion arise when it may need them.

I a,m not entirely satisfied as to the wisdom of handing over to the Minister for Supply and Development so much power as is envisaged by this bill, but it is urgently necessary at the present time to get much work efficiently done with the least possible delay. I shall support an amendment designed to improve the bill in certain respects. The main desire of people of all shades of opinion is to have the defences of this country placed on a sound footing as quickly as possible, and this bill offers a means towards that end, if the plan be implemented with the requisite energy, judgment and courage.

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