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Monday, 5 June 1939

Mr MAHONEY (Denison) .- I do not agree with the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), that propaganda is being used against this measure merely in order to embarrass the Government. Surely the ' honorable member is aware that the members of the Labour party, and those whom they represent, are always anxious to do their utmost to ensure the effective defence of Australia, but they are opposed to compulsion. Having perused the bill very carefully, I cannot understand why it has been introduced, particularly as Australia does not appear to be in any danger. As the information supplied to this House, and the news from abroad, do not suggest that there is any possibility of this country being attacked, it is difficult to understand why the Government should insist on the passage of a bill providing for the compulsory registration of Australia's manhood. The Minister denied that registration is for economic purposes.

Mr Street - It is an economic measure principally ; we cannot, separate its economic aspects from its defence aspects.

Mr MAHONEY - If, as we are now told, it is partly for economic purposes and partly for defence purposes, I challenge the Minister to show why there is any need for compulsion. I am here to represent the workers, who will suffer most in the event of war.

Mr Archie Cameron - The honorable member is supposed to represent the electorate of Denison.

Mr MAHONEY - Yes, but the workers sent me to this Parliament. The bill is undemocratic. During the Great "War, when Great Britain required assistance, hundreds of thousands of Australians volunteered for service overseas and fought in Turkey, France, Palestine, and other countries. If there was no need for conscription then, compulsion cannot be justified to-day. Boys of eighteen years of age are to be compelled to register, not with the object of placing them in industry, but in order that they may be compelled to assist in the defence of this country. This Government has no plan for the absorption in industry of our unemployed youths; but it is quite prepared to conscript them for national service in a time of emergency. I have no doubt that the bill now before the House marks the first step towards the introduction of compulsory military training for all youths between the ages of IS and 21 years.

Mr Archie Cameron - Compulsory military training is advocated by the State Labour party of Tasmania.

Mr MAHONEY - That is not so. In a speech at Deloraine during the Wilmot by-election campaign the Premier of Tasmania said that he supported the defence, policy laid down by the conference of representatives of the Australian Labour party at Canberra. My reply to the honorable member for Barker is that the electors of Wilmot returned a Labour candidate. Under this bill, the Government proposes to keep a check on the movement of youths from one State to another and from one town to another, but it is not prepared to do anything to find jobs for them. I compliment the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) upon having pointed out passages in the Minister's second-reading speech which prove beyond reasonable doubt that the sole purpose of this bill is to conscript the unskilled workers of this country. I stand firmly behind those unfortunate* young men in this country who, through economic circumstances, have been robbed of an opportunity to learn a trade, and I shall do everything in my power to give them a fair measure of the good things of this life. I shall go out into the highways and the byways and tell the unskilled workers that in the opinion of the Government they are only fit for cannon fodder, and that they alone will have to bear arms for the defence of their country. What of the sons of the wealthy classes in this community? Will they have to shoulder a rifle and defend their country against an aggressor? Not at all; they will be classed as skilled persons or placed in the category of the professional men.

Mr Ward - They will be regarded a* key men.

Mr MAHONEY - That is so. I have always opposed the ideals of the totalitarian States; I believe in democracy and the freedom of the workers. Even the Prime Minister has said thai; he believes that every man should have the right to say whether or not he should share in the defence of this country. The right honorable gentleman said that if the people are opposed to the compulsory registration of the man-power of this country his Government may as well "give up the ghost ". I remind the right honorable gentleman that the ghost of conscription is walking. The method of conscripting the workers which the Government is endeavouring to foist upon the people today is no different from that which the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) when war-time Prime Minister of Australia, endeavoured to foist upon the people in 1916. It will meet the same fate. If the Government is anxious to provide adequately for the defence of this country it should endeavour under a five years' plan to raise a standing army of 50,000 trained men. The Minister shakes his head. What is wrong with that suggestion? I know very well that he will ask who is to pay for it. Why should not the wealthy people in the community pay for the protection which such a standing army alone could afford? That suggestion does not meet with the approval of the Government, because the cost of a standing army would mean the imposition of additional taxes on the wealthy friends of the Government, who live in the luxurious suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. The Government is not prepared to conscript the wealth of this country for defence purposes, because its very existence in office depends upon the support of wealthy people. We should have a highly-trained and mechanized army of between 50,000 and 60,000 men.

Mr Street - Apparently we differ only on the matter of numbers.

Mr MAHONEY - Has not the Minister been advised by his experts that Australia needs a standing army of that strength ?

Mr SPEAKER - I ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill.

Mr MAHONEY - I am endeavouring to submit a method of providing for the defence of this country. Honorable membersopposite, with tongue in cheek, lave said that they support the system of voluntary ' enlistment, but, at the same time, they raise no objection to this national register of man-power. They have also said that no government has a constitutional right to compel Australian citizens to serve outside of this country. It has often been stated by the Minister that the Navy is our first line of defence. Is it denied that the men of the Navy will be the first to be sent outside Australia in the event of the outbreak of war in which the Empire is involved? The mothers of this country should be told that if they bring sons into the world who through no fault of their own are denied an opportunity to acquire skill in a trade, the Government will regard these young men merely as cannon fodder. Is it fair that certain people classed as being employed in key industries should escape liability for service in the event of an emergency, whilst unskilled workers are to be conscripted? What is wrong with the present militia system ? Although the response to the recent appeal for volunteers has been very generous, I understand that the system is to be abandoned because of pressure 'brought upon the Government by its wealthy supporters.

Mr Street - Did not the honorable member hear me give notice to-day of my intention to bring in a bill to amend the Defence Act?

Mr MAHONEY - What do I know of that bill ? I have no .doubt that it is merely an attempt to play up to the Opposition. If the Minister is sincere in his endeavours to place the unemployed youth of this country in industry, he must be prepared to lay down a policy which will embrace plans for their training. I submitted to' the House some time ago a plan for the employment of workless youths, and was told by the responsible Minister of the day that the employment of youths was the responsibility not of the Commonwealth, but of the States.

Mr Ward - Only the 'other day a Sydney boy aged sixteen years committed suicide because he could not obtain work.

Mr MAHONEY - That shows the state of mind to which these unfortunate youths are reduced. There is nothing in this bill to provide for the absorption of boys in industrial enterprises. When the history of this country is written no one shall be able to say that I helped to fasten conscription upon our youths. The former Prime Minister, the late Mr. Lyons, in a broadcast speech only a few days prior to his death, said that foreign capital was available for investment in this country. I understand that foreign capitalists have told the Commonwealth Government that conscription of the man-power of this country must be introduced in order to protect their substantial investments here in a time of emergency. If that is true, we should be rauch better off if foreign capital were kept out of Australia. This country should be able to finance its defence requirements through the Commonwealth Bank. When a Labour government is in office that, will be done. All necessary developmental works and defence measures will be (financed through the Commonwealth Bank, and a Labour Government will see that Australia's youths have equality of opportunity for employment in this great country.

The Minister has said that conscription of private wealth is not necessary for defence purposes. The Premier of Tasmania, Mr. Ogilvie, has said that he would not support the proposed compulsory registration of the man-power of Australia unless plans were also made for the registration of our wealth resources. That is Labour's policy. We believe that the wealthy people of this country - the idle rich who ride in their costly limousines to such luxurious places of entertainment as, say, the 40 Club - must be made to disgorge their wealth in the interests of the defence of Australia. If the Government is sincere in its expressed desire for equality of sacrifice, provision must be made for compulsory registration of the nation's private wealth. Why should anybody be ashamed to have his wealth resources registered by the Government in case of national emergency?

Mr Ward - Some people might have to explain how they got their wealth.

Mr MAHONEY - There may be something in what the honorable member for East Sydney has said. It is well known that the principal subscribers to defence loans are wealthy people, who invest in order to secure a high rate of interest. If the interest return is not good enough, they withhold applications, with the result that the government of the day is obliged to increase the rate of interest. This bill should include provision for the compulsory utilization of wealth, as well as man-power, in a time of emergency. People who subscribe to defence loans continue to draw their interest sometimes for an indefinite period after .the time of emergency has passed. For instance, interest is still being paid on loans raised over twenty years ago in connexion with the Great War, whereas the Commonwealth's liability in respect of the worker who enlisted ceased, in many cases, when the soldier gave his life for his country. If the Government wishes to conscript the man-power of this country for use in time of war, it should also say to its wealthy supporters, who contribute to its election funds, "You must be willing to give your wealth in a national emergency, at a reasonable rate of interest for the period only of the war ". There can be no adequate compensation for the loss of a life> because human life cannot be assessed in terms of money.

The bill contains simple but wellconcealed provisions by virtue of which the Government will be able to maintain its hold over the people of Australia. We have been, told that the Government wishes to take the unemployed from the street corners and make men of them. To do that, it is not necessary to conscript them. When the need arises, the nien of this country will offer their services freely, as they did during the Great War, and they will do all that may be required of them. Compulsion is abhorrent to all true Australians. One could imagine that this measure had been conceived in the military cockpits of totalitarian states. Clearly, it has been inspired by those arch-traitors of democracy in England, who are working hand in hand with Hitler and the other dictators. International armaments manufacturers and financiers, who sponsor legislation such as this, have by their scientific methods of plunder extracted millions of pounds from the working classes of all countries. The plan for conscription provided for in this measure has been adopted by totalitarian states in Europe and elsewhere. Many months ago the Government allowed the people to become alarmed at the prospect of an early world war, clearly with the intention to introduce conscription, notwithstanding that it is unable to provide uniforms and equipment for militia recruits obtained under the voluntary system. The Government should take over all essential clothing factories and thus make sure that sufficient equipment is made available to men who have voluntarily offered their services for the defence of Australia. But the Minister is not courageous enough to do that. Under this bill, my boy and other Australian lads must be registered when they attain the age of eighteen years. It is all very well for Government supporters to claim that by opposing this measure, the Labour party is adopting obstruction tactics for the purpose of hindering the Ministry in carrying out its defence programme. I assure the Minister that that is not the* case. The questionnaire to be submitted to the people is iniquitous. It requires the person registering to state his mother's name, his father's name, where he was born, and so on. A man might be unable to furnish the name of his father, but he could make a good soldier. Such a question is an insult to Australian citizens. The Assistant Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Holt) is regarded as the big man of the future in the Cabinet. Apparently, he is the man who is going to blast the workers into submission. I submit that all the information which will be sought under this bill in connexion with unemployment could be obtained from the State governments.

Mr Street - State governments have not all the data required.

Mr MAHONEY - I say that they have. Every man over the age of eighteen years who is out of work, is registered when he applies for sustenance.

Mr Ward - And all the necessary information was obtained in the Commonwealth census of 1933.

Mr MAHONEY - That is so. The taxpayers of Australia will be called upon to foot the colossal bill which this Government is incurring in the name of defence. The Ministers are holding on to office as long as possible by claiming that the country is in danger and so fostering a psychology of fear. If what I am saying is not true and if real danger exists, I challenge the Minister to assume immediate control of all essential industries. I would support legislation to that end. By introducing legislation such as this in order to put shackles on the workers, the Government shows itself in its true colours. The truth is that the country is becoming too democratic for this reactionary Tory Government, which sees the possibility of grave industrial upheaval unless the workers be suppressed. The workers in all countries are demanding peace. That this is the view of the great majority of Australian people was evidenced by the huge attendance at a peace gathering held in. Melbourne about a week ago, at which the Prime Minister was present. But in spite of this, the Commonwealth Government is preparing for war.

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