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Monday, 5 June 1939

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - Honorable members on this side of the House are opposed to any measure that can be interpreted as likely to lead towards conscription for military purposes and service overseas. The history of the past struggles in relation to conscription should be sufficiently well known for honorable members to realize the determination of the Opposition to oppose any measure designed to impose conscription On the manhood of Australia. Government supporters may claim that the bill has no such intention. Indeed, Ministers have given certain undertakings in that connexion, and their supporters have contended that those undertakings ought to be accepted by us without question. We must, however, be guided by past happenings, and in this connexion I remind the House that similar declarations were given in 1915. With all the eloquence at their command, Government supporters of the day denied that the legislation to provide for a war census was the forerunner of conscription. The honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was Attorney-General in the Government of the day, declared emphatically that the Government was entirely free from any desire to impose conscription upon the people ; yet, within twelve months of that time, the right honorable gentleman used all the powers that he possessed in an endeavour to force conscription upon Australia. Government supporters should therefore realize that the Opposition believes that its fears are well founded and its attitude to this measure justified. Because we on this side cannot accept the declarations of Government supporters as to the purpose of this measure, we must exercise all the powers that we possess to oppose any measure which is designed to impose, or is capable , of imposing, conscription on the people of this country. In so doing, we are only faithfully discharging what we believe to be our duty.

In his opening remarks, the Minister declared that the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) had said that certain things were necessary. Those things he enumerated as follows: first, the organization "of man-power and of women's voluntary efforts; secondly, the regulation and control of primary production in an emergency ; thirdly, industrial mobilization of secondary industries in an emergency; and fourthly, Commonwealth and State co-operation in peace and war. Under those four headings, the right honorable gentleman declared the purpose of the Government and its intention to proceed along the lines indicated. From the stand-point of the Government, that apparently meets their policy, but the Opposition believes that even this declaration lacks one important essential. There is no suggestion that those who enjoy the wealth of this country arc to be' called upon to mobilize their resources in the interests of the nation, or to make any sacrifice for its defence. Labour believes that the wealth of this country arises from the application of man-power to industries, both primary and secondary, including the development of the country's mineral resources. These efforts have resulted in the production of enormous wealth, making possible to a few great comforts and a very high standard of living. In this regard the Labour party is continually striving to bring the standard of the masses more into harmony with that of the wealthier sections of the community, and thus remove the wide disparity in the living conditions of the people. It believes, however, that whenever efforts are directed towards calling upon those people who have done well out of Australia to make some sacrifice, there are influences always at work to prevent such efforts from being successful. If we are to decide .between one man's life and another man's wealth, there can be no question that a man's life is of more value than is all the wealth in the country. Honorable members know that in all ages, whenever wars have been waged, the sacrifice has .been made chiefly by the poorer people. They are called upon to make sacrifices far beyond what ought to be expected of them, whilst others in the community not only make no sacrifice, but even become richer and more prosperous because of war and conflict among the nations of the world. Wo believe that the position should he reversed, and that the first to make sacrifices should be those who have made most out of the country. There is, however, a tendency to regard their possessions as sacrosanct; no one is supposed to interfere in their affairs, or to inquire as to their wealth, their investments, or their income. These things are said to be the individual's own concern, and not matters for the nation to probe into. They are personal, and must not be touched, and this Government is providing the usual protection for them.

Mr Jolly - We do now under the income tax law.

Mr BEASLEY - But only to h very limited extent. There should be much wider powers of inquiry into these matters of wealth, if our defence programme is to be complete. If the Government desires to make a gesture to the working class its first move must be in the direction I have indicated. Otherwise the people must view with suspicion, doubt and, in fact, opposition, the Government's proposals because they will have at the back of their minds the feeling that the old story will be repeated if a war occurs and that the workers will be the greatest sufferers. We have only to survey tlie result of the last war to realize that the workers sacrifice all and gain little or nothing in times of conflict. To illustrate my argument, I need only cite the mandates which Australia administers as the result of the peace settlement. Those mandates have been of great value to shipping magnates and the investors in plantations and gold-dredging, but to the workers they have not been worth a snap of the fingers. It is well for the Government and its supporters to appreciate the fact that these things are paramount in the minds of the people, not only the rank and file, but also large circles of people outside their ranks, who, nowadays, are looking at these problems that confront us from the point of view that I have taken. In his second-reading speech the Minister for Defence recalled that he had previously set out, under four headings, the wider steps necessary to implement the declaration by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) of the Government's intention to press on with the completion of plans for all phases of national activity in an emergency.The Labour party's view is that the Minis'ter for Defence omitted the most important step of all when he made no mention of a census of wealth. Consequently, the attitude of the Opposition, particularly that of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), whose references to this matter have been quoted in this debate, is altered.

Mr Anthony - Would the honorable gentleman support the national register if wealth were included?

Mr BEASLEY - The Opposition will be able to say exactly where it stands if a proposal for its inclusion be introduced. Before I have finished the curiosity of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) will be satisfied. The Minister went on to refer to other matters which may establish doubt in the minds of many people. When the Government asks for the support of the Opposition for a. particular project, we are entitled to expect, that, as far as practicable, the cards will be laid on the table. The Opposition has a right to know more than it has been able to ascertain. The Minister for Defence- proceeded -

The Commerce Department has made considerable progress on the planning necessary for the regulation and control of primary production in emergency.

I do not know what that means. How much planning has been done? In the last fortnight, the newspapers have reported meetings of farmers in New South Wales to discuss an attempt to boycott financial interests which are fore-, closing on their properties, thus depriving them of their life savings. It looks to me, therefore, that any planning that has been undertaken by the Commerce Department has not led towards putting primary production in a position to meet the demands that an emergency would create. Again I must express my dissatisfaction. It appears to me that the problems of primary production have arisen from a shortage .all along of the financial resources needed to make this country able to meet an emergency. All of this tends to support the view of the Opposition that the Government has not yet laid down a policy of action which would provide for all the needs' that an emergency would create. The solution of the problem lies in a direction other than that ' in which the Government is moving. The " wider steps necessary " are not so much those enumerated by the Minister for Defence as steps in the direction of financial reform. I may not discuss the monetary system on this bill, but it is difficult to divorce it from this important subject. Dictatorship countries seem to be able to proceed to build roads and ships, and to grow all kinds of primary products by handling the monetary system in such a way as to have the work done first and the financing problems are apparently worked out later.

Mr Holloway - And those countries export very little.

Mr BEASLEY - Exactly. It is by management of their financial resources that those countries are able to " put it over " the rest of the world.

Mr Street - Do not forget that manpower also is regimented in those countries.

Mr BEASLEY - I. shall come to that. When Herr Hitler decides to build a road from one end of Germany to the other, the work is undertaken without demur or delay and agencies to provide employment and all necessaries for the German subjects are set in motion. But if we in Australia propose a public work, the construction of a road, for instance, all action is paralyzed until we solve the problem of financing it. The state of affairs in these countries contrasts strongly with that in Australia, because, whereas, in Germany and Italy works that are necessary are provided for, it is reported in the Sydney press that -financial stringency in New South Wales may shortly bring relief works and many other governmental activities in that State to a stand-still. -The authority for that statement is a Minister in the Government of New South Wales. We cannot, therefore, prepare for an emergency if we are facing a financial deadlock. It would seem that we are merely fooling ourselves' by putting such legislation as this on the statute-book. There is ground for suspicion that the Government, instead of dealing with actualities, is either merely tinkering at the problem or requires the register of man-power for a purpose quite apart from the purposes enunciated in the Minister's secondreading speech. As the discussion proceeds, the Minister may he able to give us more details of what is being done. He may be able to satisfy me that the credit resources of this country will be so marshalled as to ensure that the maximum production of primary industries will be maintained and that we shall he able to store sufficient products to tide us over au emergency. But he -has yet to explain why the farmers in parts of New South "Wales are fighting to remain on their holdings and are talking about boycotting those who are trying to dispossess them.

The Minister's speech mentioned that he had 'attended a conference of the Commonwealth and State Ministers at which it was agreed that there should be the closest co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in times of peace and war. An unfortunate feature of these conferences is that we never receive very much information about them. Premiers come and go, conferences are held and decisions reached, and we read about them in the newspapers. Beyond that we receive no information.

Mr Street - The official reports are circulated.

Mr BEASLEY - It is true that a report of the conference to which the Minister referred was circulated. That conference decided that a National Defence Council should be created. The national council was to comprise the Prime Minister, probably the Minister for Defence and the State Premiers. There was to be some planning-

Mr Street - That is not the conference to which the honorable member for Batman referred.

Mr BEASLEY - No, that conference ended in some disorder. I am referring to a subsequent conference at which the Premiers were ironed out, and became more susceptible to the wishes of the Commonwealth, Government than previously. I do not know the reason, but probably they received more loan moneys.

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