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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .The Prime Minister (Mr.Curtin), in his attempt to justify Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77,hasnotproperly interpreted the decisionofthe LabourConference in 1940. Thehonorable gentleman played avery important part in framingthe policy of thatconference, as he has done in framing the policy determined by Labour conferences during the last twenty years. But he was not theonly member of this Parliament who was a delegate at the conference. The honorable member forBourke (Mr. Blackburn.), the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), the Minister for' Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron, and I also were present as delegates. No argument such as the Prime Minister has used this evening was. even adumbrated at that conference in support of any regulations such as we are now discussing. The resolution of conference that the Prime Minister has quoted is most laudable. It said that the whole of the resources of Australia, human and material, should be at the disposal of the Government. Nobody in the Labour movement disagrees with that policy. The Prime Minister, in giving effectto that resolution in the form of the regulations, has gone further that our political opponents would ever have dared to go. If, immediately after the conference had ended, the then Prime Minister had interpreted that resolution, as. the Prime Minister interprets it now, and had. brought down regulations similar to those embodied in Statutory Rule No. 77, I hazard the opinion that the Parliamentary Labour party, then in Opposition, would have unanimously opposed' the regulations and the main speech in opposition would have been delivered in most eloquent terms by the then Leader of the Opposition and present Prime Minister.

Mr Curtin -Atthe time of that conference there was no war in the Pacific, and Australian territories were not being assailed by the enemy. The. defence of Australia has to be in degree much more intimate, and there is a graver responsibility now for the use of the platform and resolution than was the case even six months ago.

Mr.CALWELL.- I agree that the war situation to-day is more terrible than it was then, but what I say would have happened in 1940 is, Ibelieve true. We shouldhave opposed it then, and, therefore, we must oppose it now. I rememberthe circumstances of that conference verywell.Therewasalot ofdespondency about because of the collapseofFrance. If the Prime Ministerthinksthatheisinterpreting the wishes of the Labour movement correctly, he should, before he puts regulations of this sort into effect, take steps to summon another Labour conference and learn whether the Labour conference would agree with them or their spirit.

Mr.Curtin. - I do not propose to entrust the government of this country to amy body outside? this Parliament.

Opposition Members. - Hear, hear !

Mr CALWELL - If it were not for the organized Labour movement, nobody in this Parliament sitting behind the Government, and including the Prime Minister himself, would be in this Parliament.

Mr Curtin - No Labour movement ever expected that there would be a substitution of itself for the lawful government of the country.

Mr CALWELL - The Labourmovement has the right to be consulted by even the Labour Government,when it comestoaquestion of interpretation of policy,particularly when there is, I suggest again, unanimous opposition in the organized Labour movement to these regulations. No Labour conference, industrialor political, in any portion of Australia to-day would approve ofthese regulations, not one of them,and,that being so, I suggest that it is the duty of Labour members of Parliament to carryout the wishes and desiresof the movement and not to do something which, if it is not abused to-day can be abused to-morrow. We are deliveringourselvesintothehandsof thePhilistines.Themarch of timewill see other governments and other Ministers, and what ground will the Labour movement have to stand upon if anothergovernmentcomesalonganddoes abuse the power of these regulations? Criticism will be brushed aside with the remarkthataLabourgovernmentgave effect to the regulations and that at the time they were made Labour members were silent and raised no objection.

Mr Curtin - How does the honorable member expect to usethe material and human resources of this country to defend it unless the Government is so authorized to use those resources?

Mr CALWELL - I do not think that a government shouldbe authorized in the way thatthese regulations authorize this Governmenttoact.Inanycase,itwas contemplated that government should be by legislation rather than by regulation. Regulatory power is necessary in time of war, but government by regulation should not be the normal and usual form of government, and legislation only a memory. If this Parliament met almost continuously and regularly, more regularly than it does now, there would be ample opportunity for Parliament to have more supervision than it has. I remind honorable members that whilst we do not meet so very often, in 1941 the Congress of the United States of America, which was also concerned with war, perhaps a little less than we were, met for eleven and a half months out of twelve ; it remained in continuous session. I know that it is a bigger Parliament and that there are many reasons why, under the system of government of the United States of America things are possible in that country that are not possible here. I do not suggest that Ministers do not meet Parliament because they want to have an easy life. I know how overworked they are and how onerous are their responsibilities and duties, but, if Parliament met more frequently and we had a joint standing committee on regulations, which could review them, and, if we had some checks and balances upon the exercise of executive power, we should not be so fearful of the possibilities of these regulations. When we were in opposition, we opposed Statutory Rule No. 42a, which denied the rights of the community to criticize the financial policy of the then government. That statutory rule was the very breath of freedom alongside these regulations, but we disallowed it, and the then government substituted something that was less objectionable. The fact that the Leader of the Opposition has decided, after the Prime Minister has agreed to a slight modification of them, to withdraw any opposition to these regulations, makes me the more suspicious of them. His generous gesture towards the Government does not recommend the regulations to me.

The Prime Minister has admitted that the regulations are almost totalitarian in their effect. I like that word " almost". The regulations are, in effect, so totalitarian that it is hard to conceive of anything more dictatorial. Any Minister can do anything and can delegate his powers either by word of mouth or in writing. The Prime Minister should have another look at the regulations in view of the just, reasonable and honest criticism that has been offered by men on this side of the House who have spent a lifetime defending the liberty of the people and fighting against the misuse of power, hating dictatorships, Gestapos and the like in all circumstances and at all times. I have not to go back very far in my lifetime to recollect meetings, which I attended, called under the auspices of the Labour party, to protest against some misuse of power by some government here or abroad. It is intolerable that we should be asked as Labour members, to give to any executive these powers, because once we give them to one government, they will stand for all. The Labour Government exists by the votes of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson). No one can be certain just how long they intend to support this Government, and if they at any time decided to change their allegiance and we became the Opposition, I shudder to think of what might happen to trade unionism and trade unionists in this country when some of our political opponents got their itchy hands on Statutory Rule No. 77.

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