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Friday, 1 May 1942

Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- Opposition members have claimed great credit for the manner in which they have co-operated with the Government in the war effort, but to-day we have witnessed a fair example of what they consider to be co-operation. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) has been driven unwillingly by a section of his followers to launch what is tantamount to a motion of censure, and to create embarrassment not only to the Government of Australia but also to our allies overseas', in an effort to bolster the fast-fading political fortunes of their ex-leaders. The Leader of the Opposition laid stress on broadcast statements alleged to have been made by that mysterious individual whom nobody seems to be able to track down - " a Government spokesman ". I propose to read an extract from a report in the Sydney Daily Telegraph in relation to a rowdy Opposition caucus meeting held yesterday, to show what is really behind this move. The report is as follows : -

The Opposition's decision to press for this is the first serious reverse for Mr. Fadden as Opposition leader, and a triumph for the Menzies group.

Fadden against it.

The proposal was moved by Mr. Menzies, who was supported by a strong section of Victorian members, and an almost solid vote from the South Australians.

Among his supporters were Messrs. McEwen (Victoria), Spender (New South Wales) and Senator Mc'Leay (South Australia).

Those gentlemen probably still think that there is a chance to form a new government. The report continues -

The Menzies group said it was ridiculous for' the Government to talk of merging the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Militia Force when it could not send the Australian Militia Force outside Australian territory.

They also argued that American troops in Australia were mainly conscripts, and Australia could not expect America to send maximum aid if she was not prepared to send all her own troops to any theatre.

Mr. Fadden,the United Australia party leader (Mr. Hughes), Mr. Spooner (New South Wales) and Mr. Anthony (New South Wales), opposed the proposal.

This report, which indicates an intimate knowledge of happenings at the Opposition caucus meeting yesterday, concludes with the following remarks: -

Mr. Menzies'success in the party room to-day is significant because of persistent reports that he intends challenging Mr. Hughes for the United Australia party leadership.

It is reported also that if he succeeds hf will later attempt to oust Mr. Fadden from the Opposition leadership.

It is argued that Mr. Menzies was certain of victory to-day because the majority of th>." Opposition has always advocated conscription.

In a fight for the leadership he might not command such strong support.

It is obvious that this amendment has been moved not in the interests of Australia or of the Commonwealth Government, or of the war effort, but as a manoeuvre for political position. The purpose of the move is to enable Mr. Menzies first to decapitate the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) as leader of the United Australia party and then to become a Richmond in the field against Mr. Fadden for the leadership of the Opposition. As that is what is behind this move, it was not surprising that the Leader of the Opposition showed such a ' noticeable lack of enthusiasm in submitting the amendment. We have been told that the object of the Opposition is to remove a legal impediment. That impediment could have been removed at 'any time during the two years of war for which the present Opposition held the reins of government, particularly as throughout that period it commanded a majority in both Houses of the Parliament. But no action to that end was taken. It is only since certain members of the Opposition have found themselves on the left of Mr. Speaker that they have felt this itch to remove the so-called legal impediment. Wo have been told that this move is not designed to introduce conscription for overseas service. Oh, no! Perish the thought! Honorable gentlemen opposite realize that " conscription for overseas service " would not be a popular cry in the electorates. They know, too, that the position of the Curtin Government has been strengthened greatly by its action in bringing the Australian Imperial Force Lack to Australia. The Opposition would not openly advocate conscription for overseas service at the moment, for that would not provide them with good political capital. But, in a hypocritical spirit, they have not hesitated to hold up the business of the country in order to promote the political ambitions of certain of their former leaders. The so-called legal impediment which they profess to desire to remove has existed for about, 40 years.

This amendment has been moved, I. repeat, not to assist the Government but to assist individual members of th-: Opposition. If the Government desired to take such action as is implied in th? amendment, it could do so without the assistance of thu Opposition. But this Government is pledged to give effect to the platform of the Labour party, one plank of which provides that appropriate steps shall be taken to ensure that no Australian citizen shall be conscripted for military service overseas. If the Labour party desires to remove that plank from ite platform - which is not the case - there is a means by which effective action can be taken.

Why did not the Opposition take action to attain its desired end when it was still in control of the affairs of the country? Obviously, honorable gentlemen opposite arc relying upon the old shibboleth that the defence of Australia should be conducted anywhere but in Australia. They are standing by the theory that they have held for years that Australia should be defended wherever there is, or may he, a war frontier. But that idea has been exploded. This war has proved to be too mobile for theories of that description. A situation has now arisen which has made it necessary for the Government to bring back to this country the many thousands of men that the previous Government sent away from it bo other theatres of war. The Prime Minister has informed us that without a provision such as ie sought in the amendment we have at present more volunteers available for overseas service than were raised and sent to war theatres overseas by the last Government. We must bear in mind that Australia is so seriously menaced to-day by the Japanese that we cannot afford to send our soldiers overseas. All the talk of the Opposition about conducting an offensive immediately must be regarded as sheer humbug while Australia is menaced in the north by greatly superior forces of Japanese. As we could not see any prospect of obtaining help from Great Britain to defend this country, we have relied upon support from die United States of America. Because American assistance has been forthcoming we have been able to gather substantial forces to help us to save the country if it should be invaded. But however fast we may be able to manufacture munitions and mobilize and equip our armies, we shall be hard pressed, with the forces at our command. Everything possible is being done by the Government to mobilize the resources of the country in order to keep the Japanese at bay, but whether we shall be able to do so will depend, in great measure, upon the combined efforts of Australia and America.

No more deadly blow could have been aimed at the Australian people than the moving of this amendment. I cannot conceive of a more effective fifth-column job being done outside this House than is being done inside it by the Opposition to-day.

Mr McEwen - That is an outrageous statement.

Mr ROSEVEAR -Whether it be outrageous or not I shall substantiate it. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) knows very well the degree to which Australia is dependent upon the United States of America for assistance in the immediate future, but, in my view nothing could be more calculated to embarrass this Government in its endeavours to secure further assistance from America, nothing could do more to strengthen the hands of the isolationists and fifth columnists in America, than the moving of this amendment in this Parliament. The Opposition is this morning providing ammunition for those people overseas who are working in the interests of the Axis and against those of the United States of America and Australia.Sections of the American press will certainly cite this debate as a reason for stating that the people of America should not continue to help Australia, because the Australian Government is not prepared to conscript Australians for overseas service. Such repercussions should not surprise us. There was no need whatever for honorable gentlemen opposite to raise this issue, for it can do nothing to help the war effort. In our present circumstances, it is humbug to talk about conducting an offensive from Australian territory in the near future. Our first business is to organize ourselves so that we may meet the menace that faces us in the north. We must do everything possible to prevent the Japanese from landing in. Australia. The carrying of this amendment could do nothing effective to achieve that end. No one can tell when, or where, the war will end. It may be that it will end with the Australian soldiers and their American colleagues still on Australian territory, but our present necessity is un questionably to concentrate our forces within Australian territory. It is for the reasons I have given that I consider the moving of thisamendment to be a deadly fifth-column job; the contention that the action has been taken to assist the Government carries no weight whatever with me. Without question, what has been done willembarrass the Government and hinder its efforts to protect the interests of the people and to help in the winning of the war.

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