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Monday, 5 June 1939


Mr BRENNAN - As claimed by the Government, certainly the times are not normal ; they have been made abnormal by this Government. And having regard to the fact that the appeal has been in each of these cases to the patriotism of the people on the basis of a national emergency, and to the fact which was well stated by the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney), and which, I think, will be acknowledged by all - that in an emergency the people of Australia may 'be absolutely relied upon to come to the service of this country - we can only rightly conclude that the people have not believed the Government. They have rejected its advice. They have turned it down on this question of international danger. There is no evidence anywhere that the country has accepted the judgment of the Government that there is a call for drastic militarist propaganda and action such as is involved in this bill. The dispassionate observer, therefore, must accept as true that the Government has no mandate for the continuation of intense militarist propaganda, and, further, that the electorate is unimpressed by every effort that the Government has made up to this time in that direction. Referring to his speech in December last, the Minister said -

Then I went on to say the widest steps necessary to implement the Prime Minister's declaration are, briefly, (1) the organization of man-power and women's voluntary effort

And a little later, in his modern version of the late Prime Minister's speech, he said -

Action to put these necessary steps into effect has been taken, first of all, by the introduction of a women's voluntary register and the compilation of this is now in progress.

I am sure that the ladies will be delighted to know that there is to be no compulsion upon them. That act of chivalry on the part of the Minister is entirely worthy of himself and of the Government, and I am sure a vote of thanks will be duly accorded him by the representatives of ladies' organizations with which he is in great favour. The fact that the Minister declared there is to be no compulsion put upon the ladies to organize is a pretty broad hint that compulsion is to be put upon the men. That is the natural inference which we draw from the fact that no compulsion is to be put upon the ladies. I do not know why the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) is so sensitive to even my mildest interjection.


Mr Collins - The honorable member is not present.

Mi-. BRENNAN.- I am sure that he is one of the vast army who Will read my remarks if they have been unfortunate not to be present to hear them. But this afternoon - and in some degree this applies also to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) - the honorable member for Swan said that so far from favouring conscription for overseas military service, he would be favorable to having a law passed to prevent it. He probably meant an amendment of the Constitution, because there is an existing law which prevents conscription for overseas service. The honorable member for Perth is also opposed to it. So are they all, " who, you all know, are honorable men ", opposed to conscription for service overseas. I was so interested in the psychological development of the honorable member for Swan that I asked him politely, " Since when has this change taken place?" His response was a display of petulance which, however, in characteristic style, I heartily forgive. I repeat the question: Since when have these gentlemen ceased to be compulsionists for overseas service? There may be something in the fact that both the honorable member for Perth and the honorable member for Swan come from Western Australia, for that State was a hotbed of conscription during the war. It remained conscriptionist to the last. The honorable member for Perth, who, on the warfront of home service, spoke eloquently and persuasively in favour of conscription, now declares that, in no circumstances, would he favour compulsory service for overseas. I have great respect for these honorable gentlemen, but, in the light of history, I cannot accept their word with regard to conscription for overseas service. My experience has been too bitter. We greybeards, or baldheads, as the case may be, have been through too much ; we remember, but we do not trust. That is my answer to the honorable member for Swan. I think that these gentlemen are like the character in Hamlet of whom it was said, " the lady protests too much, methinks ".

I made another note while the Minister was speaking. He said -

At a conference held in this chamber at the end of March last, a firm basis was established for co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in times of peace and war.

I sometimes think that it would be a good thing if the Hansard reporters were empowered, on certain occasions, to insert in parenthesis the word "Laughter" as an indication that an observation has been either not seriously intended or' not seriously received.


Mr Street - Onthe contrary, it was most seriously meant.

Mr.BRENNAN.- On a firm basis?


Mr Street - Yes.


Mr BRENNAN - At a conference between the Commonwealth and the States?


Mr Street - It was a special conference.


Mr BRENNAN - Was it the conference at which the right honorable, member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) presented his scheme out of which arose the Supply and Development Bill?


Mr Street - No.


Mr BRENNAN - The Minister may . think that I am wrong, but I remember the conferenceto which I am referring. 1 do not remember any conference between the Commonwealth and the States at which a firm basis for cooperation between them for the purpose of defence, was ever established, but I do remember a conference at which the right honorable member for Cowper submitted a thoughtful scheme of works and development which received but scant courtesy at the hands of those present. My recollection of it is that the representatives of each State made a bold bid for as much money as they could get for public works to provide work for the unemployed. On that occasion, Mr. Stevens, the Premier of New South Wales, propounded the new doctrine that, by means of a fiduciary issue, money should bo raised to meet the necessities of the unemployed.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Iask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill.


Mr Archie Cameron - Obviously, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is short of ideas.


Mr BRENNAN - I am not profoundly disturbed by the honorable gentleman's interjection, but if I were short of ideas, that would be all the more reason why I should make the best of those that come to my mind. The address of the Minister - and this applies to most of the speeches by honorable gentlemen supporting the Government - contained frequent references to manpower and war material. For example, 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 be 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.

What strikes me about this debate is the curious attitude of the Minister at the table - whoever he may be - how objectively he refers to the "masses of mankind ". For instance, the Minister for Defence spoke of mankind as cattle apart, or material apart. He looks at mankind all the time from the outside. When he speaks of organizing man-power he does not say ".We shall organize ourselves", or that "I, this Minister, and you, the members of this Parliament, and all of us human beings shall do certain things ". Instead, looking at the mass of mankind. - the cattle which are to be operated upon - and regarding mankind objectively, he says "We must organize this man-power, and this material, for the defence of the country." But when it comes to saying in whose defence they are to be organized, he finds that that is a vastly different thing. We find that the organizing of man-power - these cattle and this material - is entirely designed for the protection and maintenance of the material goods possessed almost exclusively by those gentlemen who speak so glibly about " the defence of this country " when they mean the defence of themselves and their possessions. The masses are to he organized in their interests. They see things from the point of view of a bullock-driver in charge of a team of bullocks. When they say that men shall be allocated to the task for which they are best suited, they say, in effect : " We shall put Ginger in the lead, and Baldy in the pole near the load, and Rough-neck in the middle ". The Minister is the picturesque gentleman who wields the whip with the long handle and the impressive lash for the purpose of organizing the man-power and the material in the load in the interests of this country, "which country we are," as the oath taken toy every juryman puts it. At one stage during the Minister's speech, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) asked : " Is this an economic or a defence measure ? " The Minister replied guardedly - if I do not quote him exactly he will be able to correct me - " This is a measure which could be employed for the purpose of social betterment or uplift." He did not claim that the main purpose of the bill was the betterment and uplift of the people, the improvement of their social conditions, and their rescue from the mire, but he suggested that in more sympathetic hands it might be so used.


Mr Lazzarini - When Labour comes into power it will be so used.


Mr BRENNAN - As the honorable member has so aptly indicated, a Labour government might employ this legislation, or a similar measure, to improve the lot of the common people.


Sir Henry Gullett - When Labour comes into power!


Mr BRENNAN - I shall never occupy a place of power if the approach to it means adopting the policy favoured by the honorable gentleman. I would rather remain in opposition, as I have during most of my political life, than seek the prizes of office by the sacrifice of principle.

Under this legislation, a board is to be established. More will probably be said on that aspect during the committee stages. The chairman is to be a representative of the Defence Department, and the board itself will function under the Minister for Defence. These and other facts demonstrate conclusively that the bill is merely a measure of militarist propaganda.


Mr Bernard Corser - The honorable member has no proof of that.


Mr BRENNAN - I did not expect the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) to understand it, but I claim to have demonstrated my point. About the third point - " industrial matters " - the honorable member for Perth gave us a little enlightenment when he asked, " What is it but an inquiry as to the men we have and the niche into which we can put them " ? I wonder could political impertinence proceed further than an inquiry as to the niche in which men are to be put. Has the honorable member ever read John Stuart Mill's essay on " Liberty " ? Does he not know the fundamental principles of the human night? Does he know nothing as a lawyer of the basis of British jurisprudence? This is supposed to be a. democracy. The European democracies are endeavouring to present a combined front against the fascist countries. I assure my honorable friends opposite that my friends in the Opposition know perfectly well that the dividing line between democracy and fascism as understood by honorable gentlemen opposite is fine. Indeed, they are prepared to step over to the fascist ranks at the slightest hint of opportunities.


Mr Archie Cameron - On that reasoning the honorable gentleman would not accept Britain and France as democracies.


Mr BRENNAN - I do not accept the honorable member for Barker as a democrat. Neither do I accept Britain and France as democracies. I accept them as capitalist, imperialist countries, whose governments are out of sympathy with the interests of the working class for whom I stand in this Parliament. I am not in the least interested in this Parliament to uphold the interests of capitalist imperialism in any part of the world. I am concerned to protect 60,000 electors and their young families, members of the working class, in the electorate which I represent. In this bill we find no single measure of social uplift, no relief of unemployment, uo intelligent inquiry, indeed, no inquiry as to how men may be best placed.


Mr Pollard - Or where.


Mr BRENNAN - Yes, or where they may be best placed in their own interests. There is no mention of reproductive or necessary work, nothing of that kind, no employment of the man-power and resources of Australia for the advancement and development of the rising generation, no scheme for the uplift of womanhood. There is only regimentation for the purpose of war against an unknown and an unthreatening enemy, and, incidentally, no time, no money for the creation of better relations with nations, neighbour nations, for example, but all time and all money for war mongering.

Finally, my fourth point is that this is unnecessary re-duplication for no purpose which is worth achieving. So far as it represents a census, so far as it represents useful information for the purposes I have mentioned, we already have a Census and Statistics Department employing capable officers and machinery, but the Minister tells us that a further 'band of officers is to he employed in conjunction with that department.


Mr Beasley - And in the Electoral Department.


Mr BRENNAN - Yes. The Census Department is an intelligent compiler of useful information. At any rate, a new department and new employees are to be set up. There may be some consolation in that 30 or 40 jobs are created for the tens of thousands of people who aYe out of work and looking for jobs, but that will be a partial and, I fear, futile attempt to deal with the big problem. When these departments are scrapped and these attenuated emergencies have been finally thrown aside and cast into the bin as damaged electoral goods, what is to become of the thousands of people who are now employed in making munitions, in compiling registers, in the abortive national insurance, in the Department of Supply and Development? When all this hysteria has died down will it again be the sad fate of a Labour government to inherit the consequences of the misdeeds of its predecessor, and so earn the displeasure of the electors, as it -did before in similar circumstances. Because I do not believe that this bill contains any germ of usefulness for the people whom I represent, because Government policy is guided by war hysteria and because I feel that this House is wasting time instead of pressing on to do something of real benefit for a disappointed and disillusioned people, because the rising generation is clamouring for employment and opportunity and the adult generation - 29,000 people in the munitions works alone - is struggling to keep its employment or secure other work, and because this Government has neglected opportunities and is serving only personal ambition, I am opposed to the bill.







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