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Monday, 5 June 1939


Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I agree with the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) that this measure is not exactly what it might appear to be. It has been described as the first step towards industrial conscription; I prefer to regard it as the second step towards that end, because the Government took the first step when it introduced the Supply and Development Bill. The Labour party objects very strongly to this bill. We believe it to be part of the Government's plan to establish industrial conscription, and regard it as the forerunner to military conscription. We also strongly object to it because it contains no provision to take a census of wealth. I am not very greatly influenced by the alleged authorities which were quoted by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) with respect to the Government's intention, because we have too often heard leaders of the Government give assurances in certain directions and subsequently seen them adopt a contrary policy. I have been reliably informed, for instance, that the honorable member for Perth himself supported conscription a few years ago. If he believed in such a policy then and supported it, it is quite obvious that he is not to be relied upon when he suddenly appears as an opponent, of conscription. I should like the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) to explain why the Government became aware so suddenly of the necessity for altering its policy in this matter. When Cabinet met early this year in Hobart, it favoured the establishment of a voluntary register, and official statements were issued setting out reasons why the Government was against a compulsory register. However, for some reason unknown to the general public, it suddenly decided: to reverse its policy, and establish a compulsory register of national resources. Will the Minister inform the House why the Government altered its policy so suddenly in this regard? The voluntary register had not been given a trial, and in view of Cabinet's decision at its meeting in February last in Hobart, I should like to know why, without any test whatever, it deserted that proposal. It is well known that several Ministers have always been conscriptionists, and it would appear that, when they were able to exercise greater influence following the reconstruction of Cabinet, they decided upon a compulsory register. The late Prime Minister, Mr. Lyons, was originally a strong supporter of the proposal for. a voluntary register. I point out this fact in order to show how little we can rely upon the words of leaders of governments when they are dealing with so important a matter as this. Giving his reasons for a compulsory register after he was converted to that proposal, Mr. Lyons said that it was required for the following purposes : -

(1)   To enable a survey to be made of the supply of thu various classes of skilled persons in relation to the demands of the navy, army, and air force. Government munitions factories and annexes of private factories, essential industries and other industries.

(2)   To establish an individual record of the skilled persons in the schedule of reserved occupations, so as to ensure! -

(a)   That the requirements of the army, navy, and air force are provided for by the allotment of persons through technical units.

(6)   That persons in factories, annexes, and essential industries remain at their work, and that the additional members required are allotted from non-essential industries and general production.

Analysing that statement closely, it is evident that something more is desired by this Government than a census of the national resources and man-power in order that we may be enabled effectively to organize our defence. I should like the' Minister to explain just what is meant by the words of the late Prime Minister which I have just read - " That persons in factories, annexes and essential industries remain at their work, and that the additional members required are allotted from non-essential industries and general production". . To what spheres are these additional men to be' allotted? Why should we need to release them if it be not for military service? Tho Minister might also explain exactly in what circumstances the Government will consider it necessary to apply the provisions of this measure. It is true that many statements, such as those quoted by the honorable member for Perth, have been made' regarding the attitude of the Government on this matter. The late Prime Minister was reported in the Age, Melbourne, on the 20th October^ 1937, during the election campaign in that year, as saying -

The people can take my pledge - conscription will not bc put into force. In case of necessity the men of Australia would not have to have conscription imposed.

Speaking in Brisbane about the same time the late Prime Minister further stated -

The Government has no intention of ever introducing conscription. It is satisfied with the voluntary system.

Will the Minister explain whether or not the Government has altered its policy in this respect? Has it decided that the voluntary system is useless? Has it deserted the voluntary system? If it is determined to continue with the voluntary system what is the necessity for this measure? If it is not tho intention of the Government to use the information which it secures through this register for the purpose of imposing conscription, what is the use of it? What is the use of obtaining information compulsorily unless the Government intends to take what will then be the logical step of using such information for the purpose of compelling men to render service as workers or as soldiers? In his second-reading speech the Minister said -

The object of setting up an organization to register the man-power of the nation is to ensure that, as far as possible, every man shall he allocated to the task for which his training and avocation best fit him, so that the utmost value in service will be available to the nation to meet an emergency.

Is the emergency to which he refers to apply only when this country is faced with invasion, or will it be an emergency of the kind which has occurred so frequently in recent weeks? We know that this legislation has been introduced on the pretext that happenings on the other side of the world have given rise, according to the Government, to an emergency. Exactly in what circumstances will the Government declare that an emergency has arisen in order to provide itself with an excuse to impose industrial conscription, and conscription for military service overseas? It is useless for honorable members opposite to deny that the Government intends to impose conscription for overseas military service. The most important thing, unfortunately, is that the Government has power to impose conscription for military service overseas without making any appeal at all for the approval of the people. It can take such action by virtue of a majority in this Houseby amending existing legislation. If theGovernment is sincere in its declarations on this matter and if it does not intend to introduce conscription for military service overseas, I should like to know why I and other honorable members have failed in questions directed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to secure information regarding its powers in this direction under the Constitution, despite the fact that the Prime Minister is alleged to be one of the best constitutional " brains " in the community. No member of the Government has been prepared to assert that a safeguard now exists in the Constitution against any attempt to impose conscription for military service overseas. If this Government were sincere in this matter it would immediately give to the people an opportunity to place this safeguard definitely in the Constitution. The honorable member for Perth said that all honorable members were aware that the majority of the people of Australia is opposed to conscription tor overseas military service. That is true. In my constituency, for instance, the majority is opposed to it, but I am not so certain that a majority of the members of this Government is opposed to such a policy. Therein lies the real danger. Although the majority of the people is opposed to such a policy and might elect representatives to this Parliament to uphold that view on such an issue, nothing in the Constitution compels any Government to enact only that legislation which has been approved by the people at the ballot-box. We known that governments are prone to depart from policies on which they are elected. Honorable members may be elected to this Parliament as anticonscriptionists, but a government which they support might, on the plea that unforeseen circumstances have arisen, declare that it has no alternative but to impose conscription for overseas military service. In such circumstances all of the declarations made by honorable gentlemen opposite are of no avail, if they fail to place this issue directly before the people and undertake to give effect to the people's verdict. Let us examine the position as it exists at the moment. The honorable member for Kennedy said thai there should be no objection to the organization of industry on a basis that would enable us to implement the most effective defence plan possible. Where the defence of Australia is concerned there can be no real argument against any effective plan for the protection of our shores, but has this Government ever displayed any ability in providing such a plan? It says that it must have a. register of all of our skilled employees, and also a plan to allocate them to spheres where their services can best be utilized; yet to-day 29,000 unemployed skilled Australians are registered for employment at the Government's own munition factories.

Mr.Street. - Not skilled.


Mr WARD - The Minister will admit that many of them are skilled workers.


Mr Street - Very few of them.


Mr WARD - So long as the Government allows any skilled artisan to remain unemployed it is not giving effect to any plan for the adequate defences of this country. Only to-day an honorable member brought under the notice of the Government the fact that many hundreds of our skilled workers are leaving Australia to take jobs in another dominion simply because anti-Labour governments here are not prepared to provide them with opportunities to earn a. livelihood. When the Government speaks of an emergency, does it not consider that an emergency has arisen in the life of an individual member of the community when he cannot secure employment in order to provide the necessaries of life for those dependent upon him. It isto the discredit of the Government that the only time that we can expect the labour power of the country to be fully utilized is when Australia is said to be in danger of attack. If the Government were genuinely anxious to defend

Australia, it would take steps to develop the continent, for the country's best defence will be provided by industries so developed as to enable them to maintain a much greater population. If the Government were in earnest about the defence of Australia, it would take a census of wealth, but there is no suggestion that it be undertaken. Only those who have their labour to sell, and possess no other assets, are to he called upon to train, principally in their own time, in order to become an effective unit in the country's defence. Should war come ho will be called upon to risk his life, and should he come through the war unharmed he will be expected to return to industry, when, out of the wealth which he assists to produce, he will be called upon to pay for the war in which he risked his all. Australia is still staggering under the burden of the cost of the last war. If the Government genuinely believed in equality of sacrifice, it would call upon the wealthy people in our midst to make their contribution. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said that provision for defence was in the nature of an insurance policy for Australia. An insurance policy for whom ? If the matter were determined according to present-day insurance practice, the workers would not have to pay high premiums in order to obtain policies to cover their meagre possessions; but the wealthy people in the community, who own the country's industries and control its financial institutions, would have to pay enormous premiums for their assets in the country to be guaranteed.


Mr Street - 41 hey make their contribution by way of taxes.


Mr WARD - Let us examine the Minister's statement. The cost to Australia of the Great War already totals £540,000,000, exclusive of the cost of war service homes. Interest and sinking fund represent approximately £345,000,000, whilst the annual interest burden, which the people are still called upon to pay, is about £9,350,000. A great deal of .the expenditure on. war was paid out of revenue, but that does not necessarily mean that the sacrifice was equitably shared, for in the final analysis the cost of every war is borne by those who constitute, in a financial sense, the lower strata of society. The workers pay the whole cost of every war. Although interest and sinking fund payments in respect of internal war loans total £29S,000,000 to date, there is still £179,000,000 owing. According to the latest figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician, every child born of Australian parents enters the world bearing a debt for war purposes alone of approximately £39. In view of the fact that the community generally is still paying for the last war, how can the Minister claim that that influential section which supports bis party has paid the cost? The big financial interests have no true patriotism; they respond to the country's call only if their own financial interests will be served thereby. Unless they can be shown that war loans represent a good and secure investment, with regular payments of interest guaranteed by the Government, their response is poor, notwithstanding that the money may be wanted for the country's defence. Many of the loans which have been floated since 1 932 have been under-subscribed, notwithstanding that an examination of the advertisements in respect of many of them would show that the Commonwealth Treasurer pointed out that the money asked for was necessary for the development of the country's defences. Let us see how the wealthy people of Australia responded to those appeals : -

 

Those subscriptions are exclusive of contributions by the Commonwealth Bank.


Mr Prowse - The loans could not have been attractive, or they would have been fully subscribed.


Mr WARD - The honorable member's interjection supports my contention that those who have money to lend, and would be the greatest losers in the event of Australia 'being successfully invaded, subscribe to defence loans only when the terms of such loans are attractive as a financial investment. They do not contribute out of any sense of real patriotism. Even if there were no interest at all on such loans - and, in my opinion, defence loans should be free of interest - these wealthy gentlemen, who are regarded by the Government as patriotic and publicspirited citizens, should still have made their contributions and caused the loans to bc over-subscribed. The reason that the loans were under-subscribed is that they did not offer a sufficient 'financial inducement to these people. The only way to get them to assist in the defence of the country is to offer th&m high interest rates. In an emergency, when the call on the wealth of the country is greater than in normal times, these wealthy interests take advantage of the situation. A study of happenings in Australia during the last war will show that the greater the difficulties of the country, and, therefore, the greater its need for the support of its wealthy citizens, the higher were the rates of interest demanded, by them.







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