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Tuesday, 16 December 1941


Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) . - I compliment the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) on the manner in which the documents relating to the war against Japan have been presented to the House, and also upon the procedure which he has adopted in connexion with the declaration of war upon Japan. The procedure of this Government was different from that of the Menzies Government when war was declared upon Germany. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, declared that a state of war existed between this country and Germany automatically because a state of war existed between Great Britain and Germany. The procedure that has been adopted on this occasion conforms to that provided in the Statute of Westminster. In this case His Majesty the King has acted on the advice of his Australian Ministers. I mention this fact because it has not been referred to previously in this debate, and because it is important to Australia as an integral part of the British Commonwealth of Nations.


Mr Duncan-Hughes - We have not yet adopted the Statute of Westminster.


Mr CALWELL - That is true, but we have had an assurance from the Minister for External Affairs that the Statute will be submitted to us for ratification when Parliament reassembles in March. In passing, I express the hope that Parliament will not adjourn until March. It should meet not later than the first week in February, because these are momentous days in our history. Changes which could occur in the war situation in even a week or two could seriously affect Australia. In these circumstances, Parliament should not be kept in recess for long periods.

Two courses "were open to Australia in connexion with the Japanese situation. The Government could have urged the appeasement of Japan until the conclusion of the European war, or it could have acknowledged the inevitability of war between Japan and Australia. It adopted the latter course, but, at the same time, it should have demanded from Great Britain and the United States of America adequate guarantees, and the retention of our men and materials within Australia and its territorial waters until Japan had been defeated. The Commonwealth Government has been kept fully acquainted with the negotiations which proceeded between the governments of Japan and the United States of America. Thi3 is clearly indicated by the documents submitted to us. That the Government acknowledged the inevitability of the war which has broken out is attested by the statement made to the nation on 13th February by three members of the Advisory War Council, namely the then Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden), the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). These gentlemen declared that a situation of the utmost gravity prevailed. A situation of the " utmost gravity " could not of course become more grave; but the situation of utmost gravity continued from that time until the date of the declaration of war. The various governments that have held power since that date were therefore seised of the importance of the issues, and the almost certainty that war would sooner or later break out in the Pacific. That being so, I feel, without reflecting upon any Prime Minister or Minister, that great opportunities were missed for bringing into this country vital war materials which would have enabled us to defend Australia not only as a portion of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but more particularly as an outpost of white civilization in the Pacific, with a huge territory of 3,000,000 square miles inhabited by only 7,000,000 persons. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the various governments that have held office this year, British ships have arrived in Australia within recent months loaded not with those implements or materials which are essential to the prosecution of a complete war effort, but with woollen blankets, summer and winter suitings for men's attire, footwear and headgear, and in some instances, steel skates for Christ- mas toys. It seems anomalous that any factory in England should be using steel for the making of steel skates; yet the Myer Emporium, of Melbourne, has recently received consignments of these articles. It is most unfortunate for us, because our plight is terrible indeed, that those bottoms were not used to carry to this country defence equipment, or raw materials which could be fashioned into implements of war which would be of great assistance to the defence of this country. The British War Council, to which reference was made by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), is essentially European-minded. The English people generally are Europeanminded. I do not blame them for that. They regard the Pacific as a very far-off place, in which their interests are not so vitally affected as are ours. To the Australian people, the Pacific at the moment is of far greater importance than even Europe. The Australian people are essentially Pacific-minded, and the perturbation of mind which exists throughout Australia to-day is occasioned by the realization that, unfortunately, we are not so well defended as we might be ; that we have neglected opportunities for increasing the supply of defence equipment; and that many portions of Australia are practically defenceless, lt has been suggested that the duty of Australia is to defend Malaya. I do not disagree with the view that Malaya and Singapore form a very important part of the outer bastions of the defences of this country. Malaya, of course, is not solely the responsibility of Australia; that responsibility is shared by the United States of America, Great Britain and the Netherlands East Indies. I hope that the Government will be able to assure the House that what was so woefully deficient in Malaya less than a week ago, when the Prince of Wales and the Repulse were sunk, is now being supplied ; that the deficiency is being made good from American or English stocks. The Russian armies, which have so magnificently resisted the aggressor for the last six months, have now achieved a situation which has caused the Germans to retreat. It might, therefore, be possible to arrange for the diversion to Malaya, at least temporarily, of supplies that are being sent to Russia. We shall never hold Singapore or Malaya unless the air force there is much larger than it has been so far. According to press reports, when the attack on Malaya was begun, quite a number of members of the Royal Australian Air Force in England urged Australia House to arrange for their transfer to that scene of operations, because they wanted to fight the Japanese in order to defend Australia. I hope that the Ministry will arrange that when fighters and bombers are being sent from England, as undoubtedly they will be, their pilots will be members of the Royal Australian Air Force who desire to go to Malaya. I cannot see that there could be any great objection to that course being followed. I do not know what difficulties in respect of equipment or other considerations there might be in connexion with the transfer of the Australians who are in Syria; but there would be a greater feeling of security in this country if our people knew that any men sent out of Australia, wore sent to Malaya and to the islands which constitute the outer defences of this country, instead of considerable numbers still being sent to the Middle East. It might be possible for the Government to arrange for the transfer to Malaya of the four divisions in Syria. The English leaders believe that England's armies, numbering about 4,000,000 men, must be kept in England. They have the right, of course, to insist that England must not be overthrown. But ill the logic of that position holds good, then no Australian should leave Australia; because our task of holding this country is far more difficult than their task of holding a much smaller area, with so many more people. I am not disputing the essential rightness of their attitude from their point of view. If, however, we are asked to send so many Australians to the Middle East and Malaya, Ave might very logically say to the British War Council that Australia's responsibilities in certain sectors might very well be transferred in order that our forces might be concentrated in Malaya. In England the fortress complex has persisted from the day that' Avar broke out. I am hopeful that, with the further pro- gross of the war and a continuance of the defeat of German arms in Russia, it will be possible for British troops to be released from the defence of Great Britain itself. There is no essential difference in the attitudes of the members of this Parliament in respect of the war with Japan. We realize, and say with one voice, that if Australia should fall, and Japanese soldiery should take charge of this country, our fate would bc even more terrible than would be the fate of England if it were defeated by Germany, because it would be defeated by a white race and would eventually throw off the invader, whereas, the consequences of our defeat by an Asiatic race would be so terrible that we dare not contemplate them.


Mr Anthony - It is a real peril.


Mr CALWELL - It is, and therefore we must do everything possible to ensure the defence of this country. We have a right to expect that those who have material assets which Ave do not possess should make them available freely in order that Singapore may be held.


Mr Anthony - Have not Ave in Australia the same obligations to make sacrifices and accept responsibilities?


Mr CALWELL - That obligation does rest upon us, but I think that the sacrifices which Ave have already made and are still prepared to make are substantial. Australia's Avar effort has been remarkable, although I believe that there is need to overhaul our plans in the light of the changed circumstances which have arisen. What might have been satisfactory a few weeks ago may no longer be satisfactory. Before the fall of France, there was complacency among the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations; but after that calamity there 1,vas a stiffening of resolution, and a speeding UP of production. Something further has to be done in Australia 110W. in view of the greater perils confronting us. I hope that when the Government examines the munitions programme it will be able to make a number of changes. I have visited a number of munitions establishments, and I am not satisfied that all is well. If the Government would grant the Parliament an opportunity to discuss Australia's preparedness in a secret session, there are some things that I could saywhich I do not think it desirable to say in open session.


Mr Anthony - Would the honorable member favour the holding of a secret sitting?


Mr CALWELL - Yes ; I believe that every member of the Parliament has equal responsibility with Cabinet Ministers for the defence of this country. Everything that the Government knows on the subject should be told to members, as has been done in New Zealand where the Parliament sat in secret last week with the heads of the three services in attendance.


Mr Anthony - And anything that we know could be told to the Government at the special session.


Mr CALWELL - I agree. Nothing would be lost, and something might be gained, by such a sitting. I know that many honorable members have made personal inquiries, I have done so, but I do not think that I should have to tell the Minister that I have found out this or that. There should be an opportunity to discuss these matters in the presence of other honorable members.

We were fortunate that on the 7th December there was no aircraft carrier near Australia to do damage such as was done at Pearl Harbour, in Hawaii. Had an enemy bombed any of our cities, we, too, should have had our death roll and our mangled victims. Indeed, some of our vital war production plants, which are situated on the seaboard in order that certain people may make greater profits because of cheap freights, might have been destroyed.


Mr Conelan -Have not the experts said that we are well-prepared?


Mr CALWELL - Many honorable members have expressed concern about the situation of some of these vital plants. The situation should have been remedied long ago. The Chinese people shifted war production plants many hundreds of miles to Chungking and elsewhere, and the Russian people transferred some of their plants hundreds of miles further from the German border. We, in Australia, should do something to remove essential wartime plant from places on the seaboard to other situations behind the barrier of a mountain range.

In view of the gravity of the situation, the Government should immediately undertake the construction of a 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge railway from Broken Hill to Port Pirie, a distance of, I think, 255 miles. In a recent broadcast, Hitler boasted that in three months, the German armies in Russia had converted 10,000 miles of railway to the German gauge.


Mr Badman - They did not do so.


Mr CALWELL - Perhaps not; but even if they converted one-third of that length of railway, it was a notable achievement. We hesitate to build another stretch of railway which would enable New South Wales rolling-stock to be used on the trans-Australian railway.


Mr Marwick - The job could be done in a few months.


Mr CALWELL - I have no doubt that excellent performances could be cited in this connexion. It may be that existing records would be broken if the task which I have suggested were undertaken. There is great need for more locomotives on the trans-Australian railway. The number in operation is not nearly sufficient even for peacetime requirements. One difficulty is that the railway authorities cannot get manufacturers to tender for the supply of locomotives, as they are engaged on other work. If we cannot manufacture the locomotives here, and are unable to get them from the United States of America under the Lease-Lend legislation of that country, let us construct 255 miles of 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge railway, so that standard gauge rolling-stock of New South Wales maybe used for the defence of the western portion of the continent. Various suggestions to overcome the difficulties caused by the breaks of railway gauge have been made from time to time. A third rail has been proposed, and proposals that either the whole line should be converted or that a separate line should be laid, have been made. I do not care what procedure is adopted, so long as something practical is done. We should not be deterred by the thought that we may not have enough steel for the purpose. There are in Australia sufficient unprofitable railway lines to justify the pulling up of some of them and using the rails for this work.


Mr Anthony - Troops could be employed for the purpose.


Mr CALWELL - I do not know which method ought to be employed, but I know that there are in Australia a number of anti-Nazi prisoners who have been brought here from Great Britain and Singapore, and whose dossiers are clean. They are anxious to do something, and would be prepared to work in labour gangs on such a job as this. There are anti-Fascist Italians who have resided in Australia for years but now find themselves in internment camps, and they could be similarly used. The president of the Labour party in Victoria, Mr. F. J. Riley, told me a few days ago that he would be prepared to organize a labour battalion to do work of this sort. There are thousands of persons in Australia waiting for a chance to do something to help the war effort. If we started on this work of constructing 255 miles of railway it would be completed in a reasonable time. We ought also to convert to standard gauge the line between Tocumwal and Seymour, in order to render unnecessary the double handling of war material and munitions at the New South Wales- Victoria border. These undertakings are so necessary that I am surprised that they have not been put in hand before now. I reiterate that I hope that the Minister for External Affairs will intimate that members will be given an opportunity to hear at a secret session as much as the members of the New Zealand Parliament were able to hear a few days ago. The people are crying out for efficiency in high places - in the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. They are demanding efficiency in high places in the administration of government departments, and in this Parliament, also. They are demanding that every member of this Parliament shall contribute of his best in order that the country may be saved. There can no longer bc any complacency, nor is there room for " passengers " in this Parliament. Every honorable member must do what he can, and the Government should afford to all of us an opportunity to speak our minds under conditions which will not endanger the safety of the nation.







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