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Tuesday, 16 December 1941


Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) .- livery member of tins House, I believe, supports the motion endorsing the action of the Government in relation to four foreign powers. Ordinarily it would not be necessary to say very much about it. Australia is, in relation to everything essential in this war. a completely united nation. There is not a member of this House who is not prepared to set an example to the whole of the people of Australia, in willing service at a lime like this. Beyond saying that, it might not be necessary to say very rauch but for some of the things already said in the course of this debate. In particular, I regret - and I have some right to regret it as one who was Prime Minister of this country for the first two years of this war - that: the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), should have so far departed, not only from generosity, but also from accuracy of statement, as to say, as he did earlier to-day: "The Government has been stocktaking. It has inherited a situation in which, for one reason or another, the defence of om- country has been treated as a subordinate and subsidiary part of a distant war." I say that that is an outrageous and misleading statement. I propose to demonstrate that it is outrageous and misleading. I would not bother to do so if it were a mere matter of defending my own administration, because this is not a time for anybody to be concerned to defend his own administration, and time will tell the truth about many things that are now dark; but it would be deplorable if the people of this country^ now brought face to face with war winch may bring bloodshed in their own streets before we are many weeks older, should be taught by responsible Ministers of the Crown to believe that for the two years this war has been going on their interest, safety and security have been prejudiced because some earlier government subordinated those interests to the conduct of, not a vital war, not a war that meant everything to Australia, hut one to be described as a distant war.


Dr Evatt - I ask the right honorable gentleman not to interpret my words in that way. That certainly was not the meaning I intended.


Mr Anthony - They appear in a written speech and were not uttered ex tempore.


Mr MENZIES - I am reluctant indeed to engage in any form of controversy at a time like this.; but these are plain words which occur in a written statement.


Mr Harrison - They were applauded by the honorable members supporting the Government only a few minutes ago.


Mr MENZIES - I have no interest or concern in or any desire for personal controversy with the Minister . for External Affairs. I welcome his statement that ho did not intend his words to be given the meaning which I have attached to them ; but as they have been recorded it is imperative, in the interests of the people of this country, that I should quietly and with restraint record what I believe to be the facts. This Government inherited not only a situation but also many other things about which I have not heard very much in the last week or two. I remind the House and the people of Australia - it may be a little optimistic on my part to say that, because it is unlikely that anything I say will be reported by the newspapers - that this Government inherited in Australia an army of numbers previously unknown in the history of this country, and forces of militia, compulsory military trainees, and permanent troops, all of which had been laboriously built up over a period of two years.


Mr Pollard - With the approval of the Parliament.


Mr MENZIES - Of course; but that does not prevent the inheritance of these forces from being of immense significance to Australia. This Government inherited an Australian army in Malaya, for the existence of which we shall be devoutly thankful before we are many days older. It inherited a munitions organization, an effort of which I thought every present Minister and every Australian was proud. No munitions organization can satisfy any one of us as being perfect - nobody knows better than I the gaps in our provision - but for the last two years there has been a degree of work, of organization, of striving in Australia to produce munitions and equipment, -which has excited the admiration of the world. I say that with firsthand knowledge of what is thought in many countries. This Government inherited an air force vastly multiplied, compared with its strength at the outbreak of the war. It inherited an aircraft construction programme. It inherited an Empire Air Training Scheme which, viewed in its proper Empire light, is probably the greatest piece of Imperial co-operation in the history of this war. It inherited all sorts of things of that kind and in addition a naval shipbuilding programme and an organized and financially stabilized community. Are these small things? They did not seem small when we were tackling them. It did not occur to me in the two years that I was in office that they were small things. In spite of that, however, he Minister for External Affairs has unfortunately used an expression, which, unless it is strictly read by the public in the light of what he has been good enough to say since, may be understood to mean-


Dr Evatt - My meaning corresponds to what the right honorable gentleman himself has said.


Mr MENZIES - I accept that assurance with pleasure hut I do not want the public of Australia to be under any misapprehension. The second part of his statement to which I have drawn attention is that the defence of our country has been treated as a subordinate and subsidiary part of a distant Avar. From the moment that the war broke out in 1939, Australia was in a position of extraordinary difficulty. It was - andI have said this not only in Australia but also to audiences of significance in Great Britain and the United States of America - one of the few countries in the world which had simultaneously, with a small population and with meagre resources, to try to do its share first to defend itself and its own shores, and secondly, to make an effective contribution to the total war effort of the British Empire. In other words, from the moment this war broke out, we were forced as honest and patriotic Australians to consider two concerns - one, our own position in Australia, and the other, our position overseas. And from the beginning to the end of the whole period of its administration the previous Government made it perfectly clear that

Our first duty was to do everything we could to secure Australia's own territorial integrity. The result of that was the building up of this vast local defence army, the building up of the organization for the equipment of Australian forces, and the carrying out of all of the programme to which I have made a mere passing reference. Hearing some of the things that have been said to-day, one would think that Avar with Japan literally came like a thief in the night. The first impact of the war came like a thief in the night. I agree with everything the Attorney-General has said about the infamy of the circumstances under which hostilities were commenced ; but he would have been a very complacent fool who believed that at any time during the last two years war with Japan was not a distinct possibility. From beginning to end, Ave always had an eye on the possibility of attack by Japan. Why was it that Australian troops went to Malaya and squadrons of the Royal Aus tralian Air Forcewent to Singapore? Why did my colleague, the former Minister for Air, concern himself month after month in re-orienting the Air Force of Australia so that we might be in a position to defend ourselves from an attack from the north? Why did Ave develop Darwin as a naval base? Why were the defences of the outer islands put in order. All of these steps were taken because right through the piecewe knew that, althoughwar with Japanwould not come by our own act, it might neverthe less come because Japan willed it. Itwas my duty at the. beginning of this year to go to Great Britain and America and there to conduct discussions on behalf of the Government and the people of Australia about many matters connectedwith thiswar. It is known to more honorable members in the chamber than myself that a very great deal of my time in Great Britain this yearwas occupied on this very matter of improving our defences in the Far East. If itwere possible to disclose the details of my discussions in London on Far Eastern policy and Far Eastern armaments and equipment, the peoplewould realize that this bracing of ourselves for warwith Japan is no mere afterthought. This matter has been engaging our attention and has been inducing in us the greatest anxiety for many months past. I have sometimes wondered in the last few days whether Ave have overlooked the enormous significance of what has happened to the United States of America in this Avar. Onlya fewweeks ago, the United States of America was riven in two by isolationists and interventionists. Only a little while ago the intervention of the United States of America in diplomatic negotiations in the Far Eastwas regarded as something new and almost dramatic. I interrupt myself to remind the House that the present Government also inherited from the previous Administration a diplomatic service. The Minister for External Affairs will, I am sure, bo the first to say that our own diplomats abroad have played a magnificent part in the vital discussions of the last fewweeks.


Dr Evatt - Certainly.


Mr MENZIES - Through the sudden treacherous act of Japan, the United States of America finds itself a belligerent in the Pacific - a belligerent against Japan and Germany, and a belligerent against Italy, not that that matters very much. This enormous power of 130,000,000 people, the greatest industrial nation of the world, finds itself a united nation and has pledged all its resources to the winning of this war. I regret, as we all regret, the loss of brave men in engagements at sea ; but I regard the price of a few battleships as a small one to pay for the full-blooded alliance that their loss has produced between our own people and the people of the United States of America. What will happen to us in Australia, no one can prophesy. For myself, I believe that we in this country shall know attack, at least from the air. I believe that we in Australia shall know something of the red havoc of Avar as they have learnt it in Great Britain in this Avar.







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