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Tuesday, 16 December 1941

Mr RYAN (Flinders) .- I had not intended to speak to this motion, but certain remarks of some honorable members opposite, particularly those of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) caused me to do so. The speech of the honorable member for Dalley was excellent in two respects : it was an excellent debating speech and an excellent party speech; but, judged - against the background of current events, it was pathetic. He delved into history, and sketched the course of the war from its beginning to the present time, and the result of his survey was a series of complaints regarding the high command, the late Government, and the general conduct of operations in various parts of the world. He referred in particular to events in Crete. He told the same story that he told some months ago in this House, and his statements were not in accordance with facts. He said that our troops were not properly equipped. The fact is that they were properly equipped, but they did not have ancillary arms in sufficient quantity. For reasons which are well known, we were not able to provide aeroplanes in sufficient numbers. The honorable member referred to our reverses in Libya, and spoke of our " socalled naval command of the Mediterranean ". He said that we had been informed that the British fleet held the command of that sea, but that everybody knew that that was never the case. We did have command of the Mediterranean but it was intermittent. In these days of strong bomber forces and submarines it is impossible to prevent entirely the passage of troops and supplies from Italy and Greece to the North African coast. The honorable member referred also to Singapore. All honorable members are aware that the late Government had been for some time trying to induce the British authorities to send naval reinforcements to Singapore. We know, however, that the British fleet is straining every nerve to perform the many tasks that have fallen to it, and that to do all the things that we should like it to do is physically impossible. Finally, he spoke of what he described as the " tall poppies " - in other words, the generals, admirals, statesmen and diplomats responsible for operations, for policy and for national diplomacy. Again, I say that he was most unfair to a fine body of public servants, and military and naval officers. He mentioned a man who, he said, had been sent out by the. British Government to Cairo to spy on officers, and report on those whom he did not like so that they would be sent, home. He referred, I imagine, to Mr. Lyttleton, a British Cabinet Minister, who is doing very fine work.

Mr BLACKBURN - I think it was the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) who referred to that man's activities.

Mr RYAN - Perhaps I am. mistaken in attributing the statement to the honorable member for Dalley. If it was the honorable member for Bendigo, my comment is still the same - I am sure that Mr. Lyttleton's work has resulted in a great deal of good for the common cause. Anyway, it. was the honorable member for Dalley who spoke of the tall poppies who should 1)0 cut ofl". I ask him what he would do if, after these tall poppies were cut, off, and a new crop had come up, wc suffered another series of reverses. The honorable member reminds me of the politicians of another country who, as soon as reverses wen; suffered, shouted, "We aro betrayed by our leaders, cut off their bends!" That; was true in the past of the politicians of Prance, but I should not like it to be true of Australia.

Mr Anthony - That is always the cry of cravens.

Mr RYAN - That is so. We must maintain, confidence in the people who lead us, and that implies that we should not decry the capacity of our leaders until sue.h time as it has been proved that they have failed. It is true that great leaders have suffered sometimes from loss of hen 1th, and sometimes from loss of nerve, and have had to be removed. By and large, however, the time to remove leaders is not. when reverses ure being suffered, as is the case now. Such reverses arc the fortunes of war. I agree with the honorable .member for Dalley that, in the course of this war, we have so far suffered many more reverses than

Ave have achieved successes, but I ask honorable members to look back to the time before the Avar if they would find the reason. It is not that Ave, as a race, produce worse soldiers or sailors than our enemies. Before the Avar, I met most of the German leaders of the past and present, and I say that they are no whit superior to our leaders. What they have that Ave have not is what Napoleon described as the " big battalions ", and until

Ave get. them Ave must expect reverses. The fact that our battalions are small is due to ourselves alone and, in part, to the attitude of honorable members now supporting the Government who ten years ago abolished compulsory military training. The Labour party has never been in favour of pushing our military preparations forward as they should have been advanced. That is true also in Great Britain. Great Britain led the world in the policy of disarmament and as the result the British Empire, prior to the rise of Hitler to power and for some years afterwards, was more or less completely disarmed. That policy was very largely responsible for the first Japanese incursion into Manchukuo. The position in which this country finds itself to-day is due to the lapse of the Empire leaders in the past. It is unfair to attribute the reverses which have taken place recently to faults in leadership or lack of determination in either this country or Great Britain.

I make but one suggestion to the Government. As a part of our air raid precautions, plans have been worked out for many months for the evacuation of civilians from our coastal areas in the event of can invasion or severe air raids, I remind the Government that there is another aspect of evacuation which should be taken into consideration, namely, the evacuation of sheep and cattle from coastal areas. In the event of invasion, whether in the form of a raid or a large scale air attack, the existence of flocks of sheep and herds of cattle in the coastal areas will be of enormous assistance to the invading force. An invading force would have to depend largely on local supplies of food and the presence of sheep and cattle in the coastal areas would be of inestimable value to them. Steps should be taken to arrange that in the event of invasion sheep and cattle shall be evacuated or slaughtered. The same remarks apply to petrol stocks, which I have no doubt the Government has arranged to have either removed or destroyed. I urge the Government to give consideration to these important matters.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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