Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 1 May 1942


Mr FADDEN (Darling Downs) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I move -

That all the words after "That" be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - ", in order that the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces may be effectively welded into one fighting army available for offence as well as defence, this House is of opinion that all territorial limitations upon the power of the Commonwealth Government to employ the Australian . Military Forces should be removed ".

1.   wish to make it perfectly clear that it appears to the Opposition that itis all-important that there shall be for the defence of the Commonwealth an Australian army which the Government can employ anywhere without statutory limitation of any kind. We take as the basis for that submission the recent decision of the Government to weld the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces into one fighting force. That decision fortified and stabilized whatever views we held in connexion with this particular matter. That the Defence Act should be so amended as to enable the fullest utilization to be made of the whole of our fighting forces is a view that is not new so far as the Opposition is concerned. I trust that it will be recognized and accepted that the action now taken by the Opposition has no other purpose than to remove any embarrassments or legal impediments the Government may encounter in connexion with the proper utilization of the defence forces in accordance with the requirements of its military advisers, and that this very important matter will be debated in a cool, calm, sensible "and broad way, without the intrusion of party political considerations. In order to prove conclusively that the Opposition is not motivated by such considerations, I shall later read to the House a letter on the subject that I addressed to the Prime Minister as far back as the 17th December, 1941. It will reveal that the Opposition has been patient, and imbued solely with the desire to help the Government in order that the fighting forces of Australia may be utilized, not as the Opposition or the Parliament may desire or direct, but as the men who are entrusted with the defence strategy of Australia may require.


Mr Holloway - Why, then, is the Opposition now interfering?


Mr FADDEN - I submit that this is not an interference but an attempt to help the Government. I wish to make the position quite clear to those who are capable of viewing the matter nationally. At present, the Defence Act, reinforced in this respect by a provision in the National Security Act, precludes the utilization of the Militia Forces beyond Commonwealth territories. Those territories are defined. The Opposition does not seek to lay it down that any forces shall be sent out of Australia, or to prescribe where they shall be sent, but merely seeks to remove a legal impediment which prevents their being used beyond Commonwealth territories. All of us know that, within recent months, and particularly within recent weeks, defence strategy in Australia has been developed on the basis of offensive action. It is universally recognized that the war cannot be won in Australia. All of us hope that the fight for the eventual destruction of our enemies will take place as far as possible from our own territories.If offence is to be the policy and the objective of our military advisers, surely we cannot have an army, one section of which would be available for defensive action in Australia and offensive action beyond it, and another section for defensive action only in Australia! How could there be a merging of the forces without a chaotic condition developing should the necessity arise for action to be taken outside Australia? The defensive frontier of Australia is not Darwin, Hobart or Fremantle, it may be anywhere in the adjacent islands. It may be in New

Zealand, New Caledonia, or the Netherlands East Indies. Can the Government logically argue that the members of the Militia may be sent from Tasmania to Cairns, but not from Tasmania to New Zealand - a much shorter distance - in order that Australia may be defended? Such a contention would have no sound basis. The point that I desire particularly to make is, that the Opposition does not require that the Militia shall be sent anywhere. It is not advocating that it shall be sent out of Australia, but it does put the view that the existing legal impediment must be removed in order that any plans which the Government may consider are necessary in order to meet a contingency may be expeditiously implemented, in accordance with the advice of those who are competent to form a sound judgment. That legal impediment can be removed only by this Parliament. Its removal in advance is just as necessary as planning in any other regard. It is an indispensable part of any adequate planning for the proper defence of Australia. In April, articles appeared in the Australian press which were obviously inspired by a Government spokesman - that mysterious overworked phantom of the night. Then the Adelaide Advertiser of the 7th April last stated -

Provisions ofthe Defence Act restricting compulsory military service to Australia and its territories will not stand in the way of the utmost freedom of disposal by the Supreme Allied Commander in the southwestern Pacific (General MacArthur) of Australian forces under his command. It has been known practically from the beginning of the Pacific war that the War Cabinet considers that no technicalities can limit the effective use of Australia's protection of Australia's armed forces. It can now be authoritatively stated that the Government will regard as territories of Australia for the purpose of the Defence Act any territories which are occupied by Australian forces for the purpose of resisting Japan, and which consequently de facto come under the Australian flag.

The newspaper went on to suggest that the Government would not accept kindly any move to have the Defence Act amended by Parliament in order to give formal expression to powers that it might need to exercise before the end of the war. We do not know what is the War Cabinet's real mind on the matter. I give the most emphatic denial to the suggestion, if it be made, that any move by members of the Opposition to have the Defence Act amended is actuated purely by party political motives. I am fortified in that denial by the letter that I wrote to the Prime Minister, dated the 17th December last, which in temperate language conveyed to the right honorable gentleman the view that the Opposition then held, and afforded incontrovertible evidence of our desire to co-operate in this particular regard. That letter was in the following terms: -

At a meeting of the Opposition to-day a discussion centred around the dangerous position in which Australia finds itself, and which you have publicly stressed in many of your recent utterances. The Opposition took into full consideration the difficulties that confront you and your Government in the defence of Australia and gave very careful consideration to the disabilities that may arise in Australia's defence from the fact that your Government is unable to send militia troops abroad or to the neighbouring islands or the Dominion of New Zealand owing to the provision in the National Security Act.

It appears to the Opposition that it is allimportant to create an Australian army for the defence of the Commonwealth which the Government can employ anywhere without any statutory restrictions whatsoever. Malaya and the Pacific Islands are as truly part of Australia's defences as are our own coastal forts. In our opinion the Government must be able to employ as it may wish, and as the necessity demands, any Australian troops anywhere, be they voluntarily enlisted or raised under the Defence Act. As the law stands at present, it would bo impossible to reinforce the sister Dominion of New Zealand, or even to send troops to Timor, other than Australian Imperial Force personnel.

The Opposition stresses the importance of meeting the enemy outside the shores of Australia as well as within, and the distinction which must be drawn between Australian Imperial Force and militia at the present moment may seriously hamper the strategy of your Government and interfere, the Opposition feels, with the adequate defence of this country.

While having no desire to raise any controversial political question, but animated with a sincere wish to free the hands of your Government, the Opposition would be prepared to give unanimous support to a measure amending the National Security Act in such a manner as to enable the Governmentto employ any of our troops in any area vitally necessary for the defence of the Commonwealth. The Opposition unanimously desired me to convey the intimation to you in the friendliest possible spirit, and we are animated, 1 was asked to assure you, by the single desire to assist the Government andto free its hands of what may prove an embarrassment.

Swift action may bc necessary, and il appears to us Hutt, whilst Parliament, is still in session the opportunity should bo taken to amend the act so th.it thu Government will not find itself hampered by lack of power, but may by regulation as it thinks fit meet a situation which wc all hope will not arise.

No action has been taken in connexion with that matter. The Opposition is sincere; the Opposition- has been patient. lt is clear from that letter and from the general attitude of the Opposition, that we have no desire to play politics. The importance of this subject transcends all political considerations. Let it be clearly understood that the desire of the Opposition to have the Defence Act amended arises only from its anxiety that Australia should be placed in a proper posture for defence and offence against its enemies.


Mr Holt - Was any reply received to the letter?


Mr FADDEN - No. The press in Australia published the statement to which I have previously referred as coming from an authoritative Government source. On the 7th April, the Brisbane Courier-Mail published the text of a broadcast, which had been made during the 7 o'clock new3 broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It was as follows : -

The Government will send Militia troops outside Australian territory if necessary. A high Government authority made this clear to-day. The Supreme Commander of the Anzac forces in the South-western Pacific (General MacArthur) can send troops wherever they ure most needed. The Australian Government had asked that all forces in the South-western Pacific should be under General MacArthur's control. Obviously this request included the Militia as well as the Australian Imperial Force.

According to the press, no confirmation of this statement was forthcoming from the Prime Minister, or from any other Minister or from any Government authority, but the fact remains that the statement which was first broadcast, and later published in the press, has never been denied by the Prime Minister or by any one on his behalf. I know that speakers will get up on the other side and accuse the Opposition of advocating conscription. Let me point out that, at the present time, we have a very effective form of conscription in Australia. Under Statutory Rule No. 102 the entire man power of Australia may be conscripted, and rightly so. We have conscription for the raising of a militia force for use within Australia and its territories, but who knows where the defence outposts of Australia may be in' the future? They may be in the Dutch East Indies, in New Zealand, or in New Caledonia. Will any one say that the Defence Act should not be amended so that our militia forces may be used for the effective defence of Australia in the manner indicated in the Australian Broadcasting Commission's broadcast? We are seeking to put our house in order so that we may be in a position to meet all possible contingencies. We ask that the fighting forces of Australia shall bc available for the defence of Australia, if necessary in areas beyond those which Government supporters describe as the continent of Australia. Will any one deny that we should be able, if necessary, to send Militia troops to the defence of New Zealand ? If our military advisers say that it is necessary to send forces to New Guinea or New Caledonia, should we not be in a position to send them ? We have merged the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces. The Australian Imperial Force was originally enlisted for offence and defence wherever they might be required. The Militia was raised for defensive action within a certain defined area. Now they have been merged into the one force, and if it be found necessary to send troops to the assistance of New Zealand how are we to cull the one section from the other so that only those who enlisted for overseas service may be sent? Surely honorable members opposite oan visualize the hopeless chaos which would result from any such attempt. If the proposed amendment were made the decision to send forces for service overseas would still he one for the Government. The Opposition is not trying to dictate to the Government in this matter, or to say where forces should bc sent. We merely say that legal power should be taken now to send the forces to any place which the military authorities may recommend, and the Government approve. Now is the time to make the necessary amendment. Wo should not wait until the actual need arises. I have heard it said that there is no legal obstacle to the employment of our military forces overseas, that Australian forces can be compelled to serve wherever the Australian flag is planted. It is suggested that wherever we plant our flag becomes, for the purposes of the Defence Act, Australian territory. That seems to be a dishonest way of getting round the difficulty. We have been urging this amendment since December last, and I give the lie direct to anyone who says that the Opposition is motivated by political considerations. Our only purpose is to arm the Government with such powers as may be necessary toenable it to meet whatever contingency may arise for defensive or offensive action within Australia or beyond it, and it is in that spirit that I submit the motion.







Suggest corrections