Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 26 March 1942

Mr RYAN (Flinders) .- The statement delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) yesterday gave a very clear picture of the war situation, though, in my opinion, it made that situation look slightly better than, in fact, it really is. I hope that the statement will be read and understood by the people of Australia. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) said, there is still a large measure of complacency among the people, and I find it difficult to understand why that should be. It must he clear to any thinking man who can judge the probable course of events, that Australia stands at this moment in a position of extreme gravity. We have just seen the collapse of the campaigns in Malaya and the south-west Pacific. The Malayan campaign was one of the most inglorious and calamitous in British military history. In order to find a parallel, it would be necessary to go back 150 years to the American war of independence, when a British army under General Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga. At Singapore an army of over 60,000 British, Australian and Indian troops surrendered, apparently without a fight. To me, and to almost every one in this country, it is not only a matter almost of shame, but also one which, I think, impresses upon our minds the very great difficulties which will face us in opposing an enemy flushed with victory in that campaign. The result of those two reverses, particularly that at Singapore, has been to create in the minds of a number of Australian people, and among a large section of what I may describe as the second-rate press of Australia, the feeling that we have been left in the lurch by Great Britain. I should like to say something regarding what Great Britain has done during the war. It is true, of course, that Great Britain has made grave mistakes, but the fact remains that, but for Great Britain, there would be no free Australia at all to-day. After the collapse of France, Britain was left practically defenceless, with only a small air force, and a small army, poorly equipped. The fleet, of course, did then, as it has done since, magnificent work, but, in a military sense, Britain was practically defenceless, and was opposed by a victorious and apparently overwhelming German army. In spite of that, however, Britain built up new armies, and manufactured new supplies and equipment. The air force was enormously strengthened, and for the last eighteen months Britain alone has been the bulwark of democracy opposed to the Axis powers. But for Britain, the war would have been over to-day, and we should have lost it. Australia would now be occupied by Japan, Italy or Germany. Therefore, when we consider the present situation, we should not forget, as some of us do, how much we owe to Great Britain. And that is not all. Great Britain is supplying with equipment a large part of the world opposed to the Axis. No doubt, honorable members have seen the figures recently released in the United States of America by Lord Halifax, figures which show that SO per cent. of the equipment manufactured in Great Britain is going overseas. We are receiving some of this equipment, and it will be very useful to us in this crisis. It has been said that Britain neglected Australia by not sufficiently strengthening the defences of Malaya. I point out that the choice before Britain at the time was whether to defend the Middle East effectively, or to disperse its forces, and try to defend both the Middle East and theFar East. Britain, decided to defend the Near and Middle East. By sending troops and equipment there, the British leaders indicated that, in their opinion, the best strategy at that particular time was to block the advance of Germany to the oil wells of the Caucasus, and also prevent a junction of the German forces with those of Japan. Britain did not then know, and could not know, what was going to happen in the Pacific. At that time, the American fleet wasstill in being and constituted a menace to any drive by the Japanese to the south. What took place subsequently at Pearl Harbour could not be foreseen. Britain, therefore, chose wisely in concentrating upon the defence of the Middle East. The facts I have mentioned should be widely known in order to prevent confusion of thought. And Britain is still helpingus enormously, if not by sending troops, at any rate through the power of its fleet, and that, also, should not be forgotten.

Now let us consider the other side of the picture. When we feel disposed to criticize what our Allies have done, and are doing, we should examine closely, and with humility, what we ourselves have done in the way of preparation for th is war. Well, what have we done? In the first place, we have produced a very fine body of men, the second Australian Imperial Force, and sent overseas large numbers of airmen who have done magnificent work. We have also provided gallant crews for the Australian Navy, and also, in part, for the British navy. Allowing for all of these achievements, however, we have still not done, in my opinion, what might have been expected of us. It is true that we have established an efficient munitions industry, which is operating at an in- creasing tempo, and turning out greater and greater quantities of material, but if wecompare Australia's effort with that of other countries, and particularly of the totalitarian countries, it is clear that, we have fallen far short of what we might have achieved, and are now trying to achieve. Germany has a population of 70,000,000 people. From that population, it has provided over 200 divisions, besidesa very powerful air force and a strong fleet. For several years past, Germany has also been producing enormous quantities of munitions and equipment. We have a population of 7,000,000 people, one-tenth that of Germany. In proportion to Germany's effort, we should have about twenty divisions under arms, apart from our Air Force and Navy. If we measure our efforts according to financial expenditure, the same position is revealed. Great Britain has been, for a long time, expending over 50 per cent, of its national revenue on war and the production of war equipment. The figure for Germany is even higher. That for Russia is about the same, whilst Japan is expending between 50 per cent, and 60 per cent, of its income for war purposes. The last Commonwealth budget showed that we were expending only 23 per cent, of our income on defence, less than half of the amount expended by other countries. I recognize that there have been difficulties in Australia. In the production of munitions, we started from scratch. We also started with no Army and no Air Force. It has been necessary to establish factories, and to create organizations for the Army, Navy and Air Force. The point I wish to make is this. If the situation as it presents itself to us to-day had been before us two years ago, would not our preparations be far more advanced than they are now? We can do more, and we must do more.

I turn now to what we are actually achieving at the present time. Every honorable member knows that since Japan entered the war we have speeded up enormously the tempo of our preparations. That was only to be expected. The point which I desire to make is that our preparations are not proceeding so well as they should, and we are not achieving the results which we should achieve. There is in this country a great degree of inefficiency. If honorable members visit some of our ports and study some of our preparations for defence, they will see that both time and energy are being wasted.

Mr Duncan-Hughes - There are still a good many strikes.

Mr RYAN - Yes. I do not wish to refer specifically to places, because that would be inadvisable at the present time; but the Minister for Labour and National

Service (Mr. Ward) knows of the enormous waste of time that has taken place iu certain important ports in the unloading of munitions and other supplies, so much so that the work has been undertaken by our allies, and in some instances by our own troops. All that is wrong. On the wharfs in Melbourne, stores are accumulating and, because of inefficient organization, the utmost difficulty is experienced in distributing them. The explanation is that the men are not organized to work. Employed on a parttime basis, they work when they feel so disposed, and do not present themselves for engagement if the spirit does not move them. The result is a shocking waste of time and unwarranted delay in unloading essential war supplies. That is only one example of the inefficiency which exists throughout our whole organization. At present we are attempting to conduct the war with a series of committees. That fault does not lie wholly with the present Government, because the committees were appointed by a previous government; but the fact remains that the system is being continued. We cannot carry on war in that manner. The idea has been tried in the field, with most disastrous results. If we introduce it into the ordinary war-time organization behind the front line, we shall experience exactly the same delays and disappointments. The reason for the appointment of the committees is that Ministers will not accept responsibility for making decisions without consulting dozens of other people.

Mr James - With whom is the honorable member quarrelling? I think that he is trying to start an argument.

Mr RYAN - -My quarrel is with the committee system, which should be abolished and replaced by individual responsibility. In other words, the Government should select one man to do one job efficiently and expeditiously. If that were done, the results would exceed any that have so far been achieved.

Mr Pollard - When the Government introduced a regulation to achieve that objective, the Opposition strenuously opposed it.

Mr RYAN - Naturally, the Opposition opposed the kind of regulation to which the honorable member refers.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member for Flinders wants it all his own way.

Mr RYAN - The trouble is that in Australia we are still living in an atmosphere of peace. We still think in terms of our own peace-time problems. We still believe that we can carry on government in war-time in accordance with a rigid set of rules for the purpose of preserving a balance between the various sections. of the community and various interests. Those interests, whether they be employers or employees, are still trying to increase existing benefits, or to maintain benefits that they now possess. All their thoughts are directed not to the present but to the future. The present alone matters. If we are to make any real progress we must get out of that attitude. I hope that the time is not fardistant when the Government will give the necessary lead by impressing upon people the necessity for discarding their peace-time outlook. The fault does not lie entirely -with the Government. A government must depend upon the goodwill of those who support it. But the fact remains that the Government must give a strong lead to the people. The trouble, as I see it, is that the Government is not giving the lead because it does not feel strong enough to do so, or because individuals are too afraid of their own supporters. Honorable members may recall a despatch from the London Times correspondent after the fall of Singapore. After describing the reasons which led to the capture of the fortress, it concluded : " Until we, the British, exercise those powers of vigour and ruthlessness which made us so great in the past, cannot expect to be great in the present. '"'

Mr Brennan - How does the honorable member define " ruthlessness " ?

Mr RYAN - " Ruthlessness " mean; going a.head without minding the feelings of the individual.

Mr Brennan - Does the honorable member consider that all the rules of civilized warfare, if any, should be observed ?

Mr RYAN - Yes, we should keep to the rules of civilized warfare. My remarks are intended to stress the necessity for ruthlessness towards our own people.

Mr Brennan - That is worse.

Mr RYAN - The remarks of the Times correspondent contain a profound truth. What we in Australia require are the qualities of vigour and ruthlessness, which to-day are lacking here. The Government is administering the country in a manner which I can only describe as "flabby", and thatflabbiness exists throughout our services, and to a certain degree, within the army itself. Unless we recapture those primitive qualities which characterized our race, we shall not make very much progress in whipping up the country and equipping it normally for the prosecution of the war. These qualities are innate in us; they require to be awakened.

Mr Brennan - The honorable member cannot have ruthlessness and morality at the one time.

Mr RYAN - Of course we can. Ruthlessness can be carried out with justice, because the act of being ruthless does not necessarily imply unjustice. The two tilings are entirely different. Other qualities which we require are confidence in our leaders, and faith in our cause. I believe that we have confidence in our cause. I also believe that confidence in our leaders can be achieved if the Government sets an example of strong leadership.

I have been very disappointed that the Government has not attempted to reconstitute the Administration upon a broader basis. The responsibility which to-day devolves upon Ministers is very heavy. Upon the action or inaction of the Government depends the whole future of the country.

Mr Conelan - That is why the Labour party will not agree to a government upon a broader basis.

Mr RYAN -That is the reason why the Labour party should agree to a government upon a broader basis. As I understand mankind, I can conceive of no human being who, conscious of his own imperfections, would willingly undertake the responsibility of leading the country in war-time. The responsibilities are so onerous that I cannot conceive of members of the Government not wanting to share that responsibility outside the circle of their own supporters. But the Government will not realise the degree of its responsibility, which should be shared in order to strengthen our position. What Australia requires to-day is spiritual unity and that can come only through political unity, which, in turn, can result only from the formation of a strong government commanding the support of all Australians. The present Government fails to give leadership because it does not enjoy the confidence of a large section of the population. Many people believe that Ministers are using their war-time powers for the purpose of giving effect to the political aims of the Labour party. Undoubtedly there is reasonable ground for that suspicion. If any proof of it be required, I refer honorable members to the statements which have been made by supporters of the Government that they propose to govern by Labour methods during the war and to advance the Labour policy. That attitude of mind is entirely out of place. In the present crisis, no issues should divide the country or the political parties, because the only issue that matters is the winning of the war. Party political considerations, ideals and aims are entirely out of place at the present juncture. Even if we achieve them and win the war, I do not think that they will last. If we lose the war, which we are likely to do if this present disunity continues, those political ideals and aspirations will cease to matter. I urge the Government to broaden its basis for the sole purpose of placing itself in the position to give complete and strong leadership to the country. I believe that every government should contain a representation of Labour, but Labour alone in the present circumstances cannot govern effectively. In conclusion, I emphasize again the necessity for unity. The responsibility which rests upon the Government is enormously heavy. The Government must give to the country the lead which it demands, but which it has not got. That lead can be given only by the broadening of the present basis of administration so as to include representatives of all sections of the community.

Suggest corrections