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Monday, 5 June 1939


Mr CLARK (Darling) . - I oppose this bill. Very little good will be done by obtaining the particulars which the Government desires. A few minutes ago the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Henry Gullett) spoke of planning for national security and the necessity for tabulating man-power in order to learn how it might be applied to industry. Honorable members on this side believe that if the Government is anxious to secure information for this purpose, it should be anxious also to conserve Australia's man-power; but such is not the case. No greater condemnation of the Government has been offered than the departure from this country during the last few months of hundreds of skilled artisans, who have gone to New Zealand to seek permanent employment. They are representative of the best of our manhood. If man-power is necessary for defence, the Government should provide employment, instead of which it is discouraging men who are asking for work. When the Government decided to carry out new defence works, hundreds of applications for employment on government works were made to me and to other honorable members; but the Government tells us that there is no employment offering. If the country is to be defended, it should be made worth defending by ensuring economic security for its citizens after they reach the agc of eighteen years. Many of them now live in economic terror. Men with families know not what to-morrow holds in store for them. A different state of affairs exists in other parts of the world. Canada is carrying out a policy of training artisans for skilled occupations, so that there is no necessity for its young men to seek work in other countries. The direct opposite is the case in Australia. The Government is encouraging the entry of foreign migrants, many of whom cannot even speak English. A businessman told me only last week that when he advertised for an employee the first fourteen applicants for the position were foreigners who had arrived recently. He was astounded at the number of applicants who called on him during the day. It is appalling that men should be brought to the country believing that there are plenty of opportunities for employment, while some of the flower of our manhood are being forced to leave. Any scheme of economic planning should be designed to protect and benefit the very people who are leaving our shores. If the Government would only guard the welfare of its people, there would be little fear of their failing to do their duty should an emergency occur. I do not think that, the need will arise in the near future. Much of the alarm that exists has been caused by the Government. Some honorable members have described this measure as a forerunner of conscription. To support this contention, we may refer to what ha3 been done in the past, both in Australia and in other parts of the world. A census of man-power taken in Great Britain recently was followed immediately by conscription. We are told, that conscription was brought about, not so much for the safety of Great Britain itself, as to meet the demands of countries with which it had made treaties. The War Census Bill was introduced in Australia in July, 1915, during the Great War. The opposition to that measure was similar to that which is offered to the present bill. Parliament was told that the War Census Bill was not in any way a forerunner of conscription, but twelve months later the government of the day tried to enforce conscription. The measure was introduced by the then Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes), who is again AttorneyGeneral in this Parliament. In his second-reading speech in 1915, he said, amongst other things, " The bill does not contemplate conscription." Those words would appear to be reassuring to Parliament and to the country. He added -

I do not believe that conscription is necessary . . . The measure contemplates the organization of our forces for the better waging of the conflict upon the principles of voluntary military service.

That measure, however, was passed through Parliament in the face of opposition from both sides of the House. To show the atmosphere of suspicion that surrounded the measure and the belief that it was associated with conscription, I shall quote the statements of a number of prominent members of the House at that time.

Sir JohnForrest said

We cannot make use of it except by recourse to conscription.

Sir LittletonGroom, then member for Darling Downs, said -

The measure may give us certain information that will prove of use if we are to have conscription.

Mr. Glynn,who represented the Angas electorate, said -

I confess I cannot see the necessity for it, unless it means conscription.

Sir JosephCook said

If we take this measure of compulsion - I hesitate to use the word - to the manhood of Australia, the reflex influence coming from a man having to record details of himself in this compulsory way will be excellent when the recruiting sergeant makes his appearance.

He apparently had the view that the measure would enforce a sort of economic conscription by compelling men to join the armed forces because of the information which they had given to the Government.


Mr GEORGE LAWSON (BRISBANE, QUEENSLAND) - None of those men were Labour members.


Mr CLARK - That is so. Further opposition was expressed by Mr. Hannan, the member for Fawkner, who said -

Fear has been expressed by many people that the intention of the Government was to introduce conscription. I am perfectly satisfied after the assurances given by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, that conscription is not the intention.

Sir AustinChapman, member for Eden Monaro, said that he had no fear that conscription would be introduced under the measure, but many other members expressed the opinion that it would be a forerunner of conscription. It was definitely pointed out that otherwise it would have no value, because men could not bc allotted to any particular sphere of activity under a voluntary system. Opinion expressed outside Parliament supported that view. It was stated in the press and elsewhere that the bill would lead to both industrial and military conscription. Because honorable members were dubious about supporting the bill, Mr. Fisher, the then Prime Minister, said -

Any attempt to associate this bill with conscription is an attempt to mislead the public.

I recall the famous statement made in the same debate by the present AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Hughes), who was also Attorney-General at that time -

In no circumstances would I agree to send men out of this country to fight against their will.

If the day ever comes when men will not fight when their country is at death grips, it will be because the country is rotten to . the core, and not worth fighting for.

In view of these statements one would have naturally expected that no attempt would be made to force conscription upon the people of this country. We know, however, what happened pursuant to the compilation of the register ,in 1915. Indeed, the speech made by the Minister in opening this debate reminds one of the speech made by his colleague, the Attorney-General, on that occasion. In fact, the two speeches are almost identical except that the Minister's speech includes current topics.


Mr Street - I have never read the speech of the Attorney-General.


Mr CLARK - The Minister said-

There are, I believe, some who say that this is a form of industrial conscription! - that it is proposed to do something which is foreign to the spirit of democracy - something that is abhorrent to Australians.

The Minister pointed out that such was not the Government's intention, and he proceeded to show how this legislation would be applied in order that every one might be allotted tasks in which his services could best be utilized. Under the War Census Act 1915 similar information was obtained, and tabulated in respect of age groups, single and married men, occupations and so on. It is proposed to tabulate this information in a similar way. What could be the object of the Government in asking for this information if it did not intend to introduce conscription? It could only be applied in connexion with a compulsory service scheme. In view of what happened subsequent to the enactment of the War Census Act in 1915 honorable members to-day are justified in refusing to accept the word of the Govern* ment as to the purposes for which it requires this information. Denials similar to those , now being expressed by the Minister were given in 1915. The then Attorney-General denied in the plainest language that the Government intended to introduce conscription ; yet only twelve months later he was the leader of a government which endeavoured to force conscription on the people by way of referendum. In view of these facts, one must be wary of any assurances given by the present Government in this respect. Such assurances could not be accepted in 1915, and they cannot be accepted with any greater confidence now. It is significant that national registration was the prelude to the introduction of conscription recently in Great Britain. Our fears in this direction are also justified by the noncommittal attitude adopted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who has declined, in answer to numerous questions, to say whether the Government is for or against conscription. The right honorable gentleman has merely replied that a statement will be made on this matter at the appropriate time. Consequently, we are justified in regarding this measure as an instalment of conscription. It is the intention of the Government first, to obtain all of the information it requires, and then to go ahead with the introduction of conscription. I point out that when the attempt to introduce conscription failed " in 1916 the information obtained under the "War Census Act 1915 was never used. As the cost of compiling that register wa3 £150,000, I question the estimate of £40,000 which the Minister has given in respect of this register. I reiterate that this information can be of no value whatever unless the Government intends to introduce conscription. Therefore, it is not an urgent measure. The Government, however, persists in regarding it as such whilst it neglects its responsibility to deal with questions of vital importance to the national and economic welfare of our people. It is a frivolous measure born of war hysteria, and, therefore, futile. Any expense incurred in the compilation of this register will be wasted, because the register might never be used. Certainly it will never be used if the Government does not intend to introduce conscription. This bill represents the introduction of a vicious principle, and 1" say unhesitatingly that the people will not accept it. It provides for heavy penalties, ranging up to imprisonment for six months or a fine of £50, for failure to lodge returns. It is hardly necessary to manufacture additional crimes, because the liberty of our people has already been too greatly restricted. They should not be called upon to make these returns. An important omission from the bill is its failure to provide for a register of wealth, although in 1915 such information was collected.


Mr Archie Cameron - There was no Commonwealth income tax then, but the people have to make a Commonwealth income tax return annually now.


Mr CLARK - I remind the honorable gentleman, as I pointed out in 1933 when the returns from the last census were being discussed, that about 70 per cent, of the breadwinners of this country do not return any Commonwealth income tax return because they are not earning more than £3 a week. That is a disgrace to any government, and this Government would be doing a far greater service to Australia if it paid more attention to the compilation of a register of wealth instead of man-power. In connexion with this aspect of the War Census Act 1915, Sir William Irvine said -

I should not nave the slightest objection to district committees handling manhood returns. The wealth returns would have to be dealt with as confidential, and dealt with only by regularly-paid officers

At that time, apparently, the Government was prepared to allow manhood returns to be obtained by local committees, but regarded all information concerning wealth as most confidential. Discussing that measure in 1915, Sir Joseph Cook said -

I hope that the available material for the prosecution of the war will continue to pour in.

That summarizes the view which this Government takes of this measure. It regards the manhood of this country as war material. It is, indeed, unfortunate that the Government is actuated by hysteria and prefers to deal with measures of .this kind, whilst neglecting to implement economic and social reforms for the advancement and betterment of the people. If it attended to its duty, it would be more concerned about giving to the people conditions worth fighting for, which would remove all doubt as to whether or not they would be prepared to defend their country. The Government's defence policy is one of sham, show and expense. Daily the people are faced with new economic worries. The Government has much to say concerning what it describes as the major matter of defence, yet only a few months ago we were informed in the press that sufficient text-books were not available for distribution among the members of the militia forces. If this report be true, it is a serious reflection on the Government's sincerity and ability. I do not know whether such books must be imported.


Mr Street - They have been printed locally.


Mr CLARK - At any rate, it is a disgrace to the Government if they were not available when required. Surely we have military experts here capable of compiling these text-books! In conclusion, I repeat that the Government has failed in its duty to establish any planned economy for the social welfare of our people. It has forced many of our skilled artisans to find employment in other countries. That fact is sufficient to condemn any government. Yet we are told that the Government has inaugurated a plan for the technical training of our youth. Again I point out, by way of warning, that the happenings consequent upon the passage of the "War Census Act in 1915 compel us to view this measure with the greatest apprehension. We must not be satisfied to acceptmerely what the Government says it intends to do, because we shall probably find that another measure will be introduced to impose conscription, as was done in 1916. [Quorum formed.]







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