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Monday, 5 June 1939

Mr SPEAKER - I hope that the honorable member intends to connect his remarks with the bill.

Mr WARD - According to the Minister, this bill aims at the efficient organization of the country for its defence. There can be no efficient organization without a census of its wealth. The Government is failing in its duty if it does not provide for such a census. The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 26th January, 1 939, as having said at a recruiting rally:-

If wo have the right to call upon the youth of tho country then we also have the right to call upon the wealth of the country.

At that time the honorable gentleman was a private member of this Parliament ; I wonder what his views are now that he is a member of the Cabinet?

In my opinion, this bill seeks to establish a military dictatorship in Australia. The Minister may attempt to ridicule that contention, but I shall endeavour to show from his own bill that it is well founded. This measure provides for the setting up of a National Register Board which will consist of one representative of the Defence Department who shall be its chairman, a representative of the Department of Supply and Development and a third member who shall be the Commonwealth Statistician. As the Department of Supply and Development will be an auxiliary of the Department of Defence, there will really be two defence officers on the board. There is to be no limit to the inquiries which the board may make into the private affairs of citizens. It is true that, following protests by the Opposition to such, provisions, the Minister has circulated a number of amendments which purport to place a limit upon the inquisition that may take place. The Deputy Leader of' the Opposition (Mr. Forde) pointed out that the inquiries need not be limited to the questions set out in the schedule to the bill, as there existed power to alter them from time to time.

Mr Street - The proposed amendments were circulated before the Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke.

Mr WARD - They were circulated only after the protest of the Opposition became known to the Minister. Let us examine whether the proposals of the Minister will be effective in preventing any extension of the inquisitorial prying into the circumstances of any individual member of the community. Clause 16 reads - 10. (1) A census or censuses of male persons or classes of persons who have attained tho age of eighteen years and have not attained the age of sixty-five years shall be taken in such States, Territories or parts of the Commonwealth and on such day or days or within such period or periods as the Governor-General by Proclamation directs.

(2)   The nature of the particulars required to he furnished by the persons or classes of persons of whom a census is taken under this section shall be specified in the Proclamation.

Clause 17 says - (1.) The Commonwealth Statistician shall, subject to any proclamation and to the directions of tho Minister, prepare forms and instructions, and take all necessary steps, for the taking of any census directed to be taken under this act. (2.) The forms so prepared shall be made available at post offices and postal receiving offices throughout the Commonwealth, and at such other place or places as the Minister directs.

There is no mention in this clause of the form prescribed in the schedule. The clause merely states that the census forms shall be prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician subject to proclamation and directions given by the Minister.

Mr Street - I am advised that that is not so.

Mr WARD - The Minister denies it, but I am quoting from the bill and I defy the Minister to place any other interpretation on the clause. There is no limit on the inquiries that the military police will be able to make into the private affairs of members of the community, because we find that clause 20 reads - _ For the purpose of any inquiries or observations necessary for tlie proper carrying out of this act or the regulations, all persons shall, when required by the Commonwealth Statistician or by any officer authorized in that behalf in writing by the Commonwealth Statistician, answer questions and produce documents within such time as the Commonwealth Statistician or the authorized officer thinks fit.

Power is to be given for the delegation of authority by the Commonwealth Statistician who could, and no doubt would, delegate it to military officers. We know what happened during the last war when we had our War Census Act and our War Precautions Act. Decent citizens were disturbed at all hours of the day and night and their possessions were turned over because the government's officers were seeking evidence - its nature was never disclosed - in the hope that they would be able to procure the conviction of decent persons for the mere reason that their political beliefs were opposed to those of the government of the day. Who is to know that this Government will not use its powers to the full? The chairman of the National Register Board no doubt will be a military officer and as such he would not be concerned about the opinions of the elected representatives of the people in Parliament. That board may delegate its powers to certain military gentlemen. We know exactly to what the unfortunate citizens would then be subjected.

The Minister said by way of interjection to the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) that it was not the intention of the Government to introduce conscription or to use this measure for that purpose. He said that that would be against the policy of the Government. If such be the case, why has that clause 23 been included? It reads -

Anymale person who has attained the age of eighteen years, or who, after the commencement of this act, attains the agc of eighteen years, and has not attained the age of 21 years shall, within 30 days of any change occurring in his address, notify that change of address in the prescribed manner.

The Minister told the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), " That is only to bridge over the gap from IS to 21 years, when they would ordinarily become enrolled and information concerning the change of address would become available to the Department." The Minister also said " This register will not be for the purpose of getting information in order to introduce conscription; it is designed to assist in organizing industry". I wish the Minister could indicate to honorable members in what trade or calling he considers that a youth of eighteen could be skilled. Why, most youths of that age are only starting to learn a trade and do not become skilled until they are much older. If the bill were only for the purpose of organizing industry, there would be no need to begin the registration of men at the tender agc of eighteen. But it is " not. The eighteen-year-olds constitute the first class to be called up in a conscript army. The people and honorable members themselves, therefore, should have no hesitation in concluding what is behind the introduction of this measure. The Minister will have great, difficulty in explaining, if this bill is only for the purpose of organizing industry, why it is necessary to have a check on the youths of from 18 to 21 years of age, because he must admit that few of them would possess any skill in their trades or occupations. How can the Government expect to succeed with a measure, the purpose of which is industrial and military conscription? In spite of their protestations about not supporting the policy of conscription, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and his colleagues recognize that a great section of the community is suspicious of this Government. Experience of its inept handling of problems gives the community every right to mistrust the Administration. If the Government believes that the workers would not voluntarily supply information to be placed on a national register, how does it expect to obtain it compulsorily against the opposition of the general community? Cbe Minister for Defence cannot point to any speech made by any member of his party in the last election campaign in which an indication was given to the general public that the Government intended to introduce such a measure as this. The Government talks about maintaining respect for democratic institutions. How can there be respect for alleged democratic institutions, when a party elected on a particular policy departs from it immediately it takes control of the treasury bench? This Government has no mandate for this bill. Such a proposal was never placed before tlie electors or approved by them, and, in my opinion, the true democrats outside this Parliament will be doing1 more to uphold the principle of democracy by preventing this Government from achieving its purpose under this measure than by meekly submitting to it. The workers have effective ways to prevent the Government from imposing its will upon them. The Australian people will not weakly yield to enforcement of the Government's militaristic policy. The Government can drive them to the machines, tie them to the machines if it likes, but it cannot make them use the skill which they possess in operating those machines. The workers of this country would be ready if the occasion arose, voluntarily to defend the country against an invasion-, yet this Government thinks it necessary to introduce compulsion under this measure. I heard on one occasion an eminent gentleman say that if ever the occasion arose when men would not voluntarily defend their country it would be because the time had arrived when the country was no longer worth defending. When the workers are needed to defend this country, they will refuse to allow the continuance of exploitation of themselves and their dependants. Does the Government imagine that they are content to become trained and skilled in the use of arms and use them only when a small, influential coterie in the community demands that they be used? The workers are prepared to defend this country, but do not imagine that they will allow the continuance of the state of affairs that has existed h\ recent years. The workers are not unreasonable when they demand that, whether it be war-time or peace-time, they have the right to live as human beings. They want those who are by reason of age or infirmity, unable to take employment to be provided with sufficient income to enable them to live on a like standard with the rest of the community,. But what is the attitude of this Government with respect to these questions? ThePrime Minister has definitely refused even to .consider an increase of the rate of invalid and old-age pensions; he did not say that that was because of any financial difficulties confronting the Government. In reply to a question which I asked, he said that the Government would not even consider an increase of the rate of pension. The right honorablegentleman told the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) that he was not prepared to do anything to assist the unemployed. Yet he appealed to the people'ssporting spirit. The people of this country, he said, had an inherent sportingspirit and because of that he appealed tothem. We do not want weak, sentimental appeals from a supine Prime Minister. What the workers want, and will demand when they are strong enough to do so, issocial justice. Why should the children of the workers have inflicted on them such misery and degradation as exists in Australia to-day? What has this Government done in the way of national planning toend that? The people in New South Wales are pleading with the State and the Commonwealth Governments for funds toenable the heating of schools so that children may receive their education in comfort; an appeal came from Melbourne for a few thousands of pounds for the supply of milk to needy children, but the Commonwealth Government said that it had no funds available for that purpose.

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