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Tuesday, 23 May 1939

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- It does not appear to me that the ranks of the great United Australia party are very thrilled by the introduction of this measure, the first in regard to Supply and Development, if I may judge by the beggarly array of empty benches while this urgent measure is being considered in this, to use the words employed in the conscription referendum of 1916, " time of grave emergency." I notice that an Assistant Minister, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), has moved forward to a seat at the table, thus leaving the ministerial bench empty.

I was very greatly entertained during the debate to hear an honorable member who is a recent acquisition to this distinguished debating society state that although the powers conferred by the bill are great and far-reaching, there is always control by Parliament as a safe-

Tare". The words " control by Parlia ment " take my mind back to the period of the Great War. I remember the measure of control exercised over legislation passed by Parliament in those years. Many of us recall that as a time during which the totalitarian State worked at its best. If any person imagines that, when the time comes, if ever it does come, for giving effect to this measure, the elaborate powers which are now being taken, or at least previsaged by it, will be controlled by Parliament,, that person has not profited by the study of history. There is never "control by Parliament " in time of war, or in anticipation of war, because Parliament presupposes discussion, consideration and decision, based on evidence, and these things are always absent from popular conceptions in time of war. If I should be found quietly assenting to the second reading of this measure, or at least seeming to assent in that I may not call for a division or join with at least one other honorable member in doing so, it will not be because I view it with any approving enthusiasm ; much less that I imagine that the bill has in it the essence of a charter of liberty at least equal to that of Magna Charta. I will assent to it, if at all, I fear, grudgingly, and with an entire absence of reforming zeal, mainly because I am not in a position to command sufficient numbers to oppose successfully the motion for the second reading.

Most measures introduced into this chamber are described at some stage or another as " a bill for an act." When passed in due course, an act perhaps confers rights; almost certainly it imposes obligations and re-arranges, at least over some limited area, the relationship of some members of the human family to others. This measure is certainly " a bill." but it would be unduly optimistic to suggest that, in any real sense, it will become an act, according to our accepted definition of the term, because it neither confers rights nor imposes obligations.

The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), in a very comprehensive speech, said that it was a declaration of policy, and that an act of Parliament was not the proper medium for a declaration of policy. That was not far wide of the mark, but I prefer to say that the bill is a rather broad hint at policy - an indication of what policy is to f ollow. The fact that it opens up a very wide field for discussion has been made evident by various speeches delivered upon it. I have listened to some interesting observations from my next-door neighbours of the Country party. For example, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) discussed exotic plants, flax and jute. A little further away, although still a neighbour, is the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who gave us a learned and most alluring disquisition on precious metals, some of which, but for the honorable member's contribution to the debate, I would probably not have heard of at all. So I again have to thank the honorable gentleman for having given me some help in regard to the tantalizing subject of tantalite, the merits of wolfram, and the delights of manganese

Mr Archie Cameron - Do not forget osmiridium.

Mr BRENNAN - It would be a great pity if, in a discussion of practical defence measures, osmiridium were excluded from our consideration.

Mr Archie Cameron - Nor should vanadium be excluded from the consideration of vanity.

Mr BRENNAN - All of these have passed before us in review as matters for consideration by practical men in connexion with defence. I thank these honorable gentlemen for their spoken essays, and am far from suggesting that any one of them was, even in my humble judgment, out of order; because it is quite obvious that in regard to this bill, which hints at policy and suggests things which may in some way be marshalled or captured in the interests of defence, no limit whatever should be placed upon the imagination of public speakers

Although I may, and probably shall, at least appear to assent to this bill by remaining silent while the second reading is being passed, there certainly are in it matters to which, on principle, I cannot agree, even though they be merely declaratory. I shall not agree to that portion of the measure which authorizes an inquisition into the private lives, habits, and businesses of individuals.

Those matters might, in particular circumstances, and to a particular end, be fit subjects for a royal commission or other properly constituted body of inquiry; but I shall never agree to a bill which seeks, through the medium of regulations, to empower a government to enter upon an unlimited area of inquiry into the lives and businesses of individuals, merely because of the declaration in advance that, in the opinion of the GovernorGeneral - which means the Government - the answers to the questions asked are necessary in the interests of defence. I shall never agree to give to a government the right to declare to whom and when an act of Parliament shall have application. I shall never. agree to the right being established of the prosecutor to determine at will whether an offence is indictable or one to be dealt with summarily. I shall never agree to a restriction being placed on the freedom of the labourer to work where ho will, to be employed by whom he may, or to his being regimented from one class of employment to another in order to suit the exigencies of the Government,' in the name of defence. It would not be at all difficult for me, upon a little further inquiry, to find other grounds upon which I should be opposed to the contents of this bill ; but I shall allow to stand for the moment those that I have mentioned, and shall suggest, others as the measure passes through committee.

Supply and development are quite pleasant phrases, which seem to me to be associated with peace, social service, and general uplift. Yet this measure, whatever else it is or is not, is certainly a war measure. It deals with matters of daily concern to us in our ordinary lives, such as the acquisition of goods, the development of industries, employment and unemployment, wages and the lack of wages, and the costs of production ; but it deals with all of these matters in their relation to war-

Mr Holt - To defence.

Mr BRENNAN - lu their unwanted relation to war-making, and not in their proper relationship to one another in the interests of what I have already described as social service and general well-being., enlightenment and popular happiness. As a matter of fact it is quite possible - as the Assistant Minister at the table (Mr. Holt) as a lawyer probably recognizes - chat the bill would not have any legal validity, at least in many particulars, except as a war measure. It is only as ' ancillary to war that this Commonwealth, the Constitution of which is rigid and the powers of which are limited, could break the bond between the Commonwealth and the States arid infringe upon the rights not only of the people as individuals but also of the States as component parts of the Federation. In war time it can do such things. In a time of war, not only has it invaded those rights, but also, in very serious particulars, it has been upheld in having clone so by the highest court in this land, the High Court of Australia.

The militarization of this country is proceeding apace. One of the "most recent evidences of that is to be found in the fact that we now have four Ministers tor Defence. There is the generalissimo (Mr. Street), who has an offsider - as we say in the Labour party. There is the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey), who also has an offsider. My honorable friend from Denison (Mr. Mahoney), who encourages me, will be well aware that in this case supply and development are, as I have already said, only for purposes of war. We should never lose sight of that. Only a few months ago, we were passing through one of the various crises which we have recently experienced. I think that at least five of them have come and gone. They have arrived, they have been blown up, admired and passed current among the people, and they have burst and disappeared. At the beginning we had only one Minister for Defence, a gentleman who has now ceased to be a Minister of anything at all. He sits over here as one of my friendly neighbours in the Country party. He bore all this burden, and no wonder he was a little testy in temper with so heavy a load and under a succession of such so-called grave emergencies. Now we regard the smiling, placid, contented face of the present Minister, with his three colleagues, each almost as great, but not quite so great as himself. All their efforts are .directed to the business of war!

Whilst the principal object of this measure is, no doubt, to create a new department, it is difficult to find its purpose by merely reading the bill. Realizing that the members of the Ministry are so many, that their supporters are so few, and that their tenure of office is so precarious, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will understand, from the point of view of pure expediency, how desirable it is to have as many salarydrawing Ministers at the table as possible since they "know not the day nor the hour." The subsidiary object of this bill is to take power and acquire information for use under a War Precautions Act, or other such measure, as may be required by a government working continuously towards the objective of Avar. I know that my honorable friend, the Minister for Defence, marvels that I should accuse him of working for the objective of war.

Mr Street - I do.

Mr BRENNAN - When a person is caught up in a machine, he ceases to be a free agent. When the machine turns for war, he turns with it. The honorable gentleman may think that he is implementing this machine, but I tell him that the machine is implementing him. That is why one so intelligent and benevolent can be the apparently willing instrument of the war-makers.

That this is a war measure is well illustrated by the very fact that the Minister for Defence is now at the table. The bill was introduced, not by the Minister, but by the deposed Treasurer, who, having submitted the 'bill, went away to buttress up the falling fortunes, of United Australia partyism in another State. But we have at the table his natural successor; the Minister for war has taken his place. We have not seen the Minis ter for Supply and Development save for a passing visit at question time when he anxiously sat for a while on the front bench. Further than that, we have not seen him in the chamber. He has not been consulted about this bill, and he is, doubtless, not interested in it, except that, when he was appointed Minister for Supply and Development, he insisted on his precedence. He was determined to be senior to the Minister for Defence. All that has been publicly stated is that it is to be recognized that, although he is not here, and is leaving the bill in the hands of the "War Minister, he is to he technically and nominally, and for social purposes, the senior Minister. On that much he insisted.

On toning to clause 5, sub-clause 2, we find the quaint purpose of the bill disclosed in these terms -

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.

I ask the Minister if he will be so kind as to make a note of my special interest in this sub-clause. Has he ever known an act of Parliament hitherto, which, as is stated in this case, applies here to-day and there to-morrow ; to one group to-day, and to- another group to-morrow; to a part of a group to-day and to another part of a group to-morrow? Is the Minister's idea of equal justice as between all the King's liege subjects that the arbitrary requirements of a government should demand that the law should flit like a sparrow from bough to bough in this way, to suit the Government's political necessity? I ask the Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt), as a lawyer, what he thinks of that; later he may tell us. It must be remembered that the Governor-General - and this means the Government - will determine how and where the law may operate in that .way, and it is not, apparently, to be done by the process of a regulation adopted and laid on the table and capable of being disallowed by the House. It is to be done through the swift process of the order in council, which, as far as I know, is not subject to the same legal procedure as that applying to a regulation made under statutory authority. At all events, I should be pleased to know that I am wrong. To me it seems monstrous that a law should bear upon its face, as this measure does, a confession of its obvious inequity.

The next clause is the one which introduces the inquisition. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) said that it was easy to imagine with what gentleness the processes of "big business " would be dealt with under this clause. Imagination may well run along those lines, but I permit my thoughts to travel also in the opposite direction. I ask myself, not how gently will the inquisitor deal with his friends, but how harshly^ will he deal with his enemies. This notion of approving in advance of the commencement of war, and in anticipation of the passage of a war precautions act the policy of setting up an authority, empowered to an unlimited extent to be prescribed by regulations not yet adopted, to put individuals, presumably privately, upon the rack of inquisition is a very disquieting one. There is here a further invasion of our civil liberties, and one to which I do not propose to lend the very slightest countenance. Clause 6, sub-clause 1, states -

Where, in the opinion of the GovernorGeneral, it is necessary or desirable in the interests of the defence of the Commonwealth that information should be obtained in relation to industrial, commercial or other undertakings, or with respect to any goods, the regulations may require such persons or classes of persons, as are prescribed, to furnish, as prescribed, such information and particulars, as are prescribed, with respect to those undertakings or goods.

Those are prescriptions over which this Parliament will have no supervision. Are we in this young country, and at this time, to lend encouragement and support to a policy of this kind, to a general power in government to make secret investigations under heavy penalties? Was it not rather our belief that justice would continue to be administered in the open light of day, according to the well-established principles of jurisprudence known to Britain and its associated dominions? The definition of "goods" is - " goods " includes all kinds of personal property, and also includes anything growing in or on land and mineral or other deposits;

I find nothing in that clause, as it stands, which would- prohibit the secret tribunal from requiring an answer to the most intimate personal questions directed against the liberty of the individual by the body unknown to be set up under this measure. I do not propose to lend any countenance to it by my vote or approval. The only exception admitted in the bill relates to secret trade processes which we are assured will be sacrosanct. The clause states -

Nothing in this act shall authorize the making of any regulations rendering it compulsory for any person to disclose any secret process of manufacture.

Liberty is nothing! The freedom of the subject is trivial! The principles of British jurisprudence are minor considerations, but processes of manufacture go to the root of commercialism. That is a business matter, and if life is sacrosanct, business is more so, and a great deal more so than individual liberty. I had the advantage of hearing the greater part of the excellent and comprehensive address delivered by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) on this measure, and I was impressed by the temperate and restrained manner in which he analysed its contents. I have taken a somewhat different line. I do not propose to make a speech on defence or on preparedness. I should like occasionally to find myself free to speak in this Parliament without addressing argument to the subject of war mongering and war scares. I believe that history so far has been on my side. The war scares have come and gone. They have blown out, and have been proved to mean nothing.

Mr Lazzarini - But with much profit to the armourers.

Mr BRENNAN - I agree with the honorable member. A war scare can be quite as profitable as a war itself, probably more profitable. In a sense a war scare fills the pockets of the armament makers to repletion better than does a war, and it can be maintained for a very considerable time, as our present experience proves. However, let me not be misunderstood. I do not say for a moment that it is impossible that this country should be involved in war. I think that there is a real danger of Australia being involved in war, but only by this Government. So long as this self-governing nation, so far removed from the theatre of war, unthreatened by any nation, unmenaced, unmentioned, almost, by other nations, resolves to remain at peace it will be left in peace; but so long as we have a government pledged, in the words of the late Prime Minister, who has now passed beyond criticism, to 100 per cent, interference in international quarrels in Europe, and in almost any part of Europe - so long as this Government pledges us to enter into commitments with countries at that distance in respect of other countries con tiguous thereto, there must be a continuing danger of war. The safety of Australia cannot be assured internationally until the policy of Labour is applied by a Labour government in Australia for Australia.

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