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

Sir GEORGE BELL (Darwin) . - The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) stated in his concluding remarks that the amendment had been moved because of the desire of certain dissatisfied members of the Opposition to rehabilititate themselves.

Mr.Ward. - Hear, hear!

Sir GEORGE BELL - If the Minister far Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) thinks that I am included in that number, he is welcome to his opinion; but I shall certainly support the amendment. I have never been a conscriptionist. I make that statement for the benefit of the few honorable members in this House whomay not have heard me discuss the subject. My most intimate friends here and elsewhere know that I have always opposed the view that we should have conscripted our men early in the period of this war and sent them overseas to fight. I have on other occasions given my reasons for that view. The conscription issue is not behind this move. The fact is that the men of this country have already been conscripted. The ground upon which a battle is fought influence the result very greatly, but it matters little to the soldiers engaged. Once I am compelled by lawto fight, the spot whereon I fight does not interest me at all. We have heard in the past about industrial conscription. Industrial conscription is now in force. But it. was introduced by thisGovernment, not by the previous Government. The Australian Military Forces in Australia are also a. conscript army, being composed of men called up, trained and compelled to serve anywhere in Australia. If that is not conscription. I should like those Ministers who have interjected to tell me what conscription is. I, of course, have prejudices, and acknowledge them, butI am not so blinded by them that I shall do what I consider is wrong in the interests of the Australian forces, especially the Australian Military Forces, by saying that they shall not be placed in precisely the same position as is occupied by the men alongside whom they are being trained and will be required to fight. I remind the House that the forces are mixed to-day. Men who enlisted and were trained in the Australian Imperial Force are now being attached to Militia units, and officers taken from the Australian Imperial Force have been transferred to the Australian Military Forces or the Militia, as it is commonly called ; yet the one section will be sent wherever needed, whilst the other will not. The word " morale " is freely used. I have heard it in this House, over the air. and from the pulpit. I am of the opinion that quite a lot of those who use it do not know its meaning. I hope that the Prime Minister does. I cannot imagine anything that would be so detrimental to the morale of any force as to be regarded as inferior. Certainly, the Australian Military Forces are to-day regarded as inferior by members of the Australian Imperial Force as well as by the people generally. I regret that tremendously. To the degree that my influence can' be exerted, I have used it in order to prevent this conflict between the two forces; but, unfortunately, it exists. The one decisive way of removing it is to place all on the same basis. If for no other reason, I am bound to vote for the amendment because of the effect which the present position must have upon the young members of the militia force, many of whom were willing and anxious to fight outside Australia but were not allowed to do so.

I suggest with all respect that the Prime Minister has never been heard to greater disadvantage in this Parliament than he was to-day. He did not answer any of the points that had been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden).

Mr Barnard - He did not get much opportunity to reply. .

Sir GEORGE BELL - He had all the opportunity permitted by the Standing Orders, and was not nearly so greatly interrupted as was the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think that he himself could complain of the treatment that he received. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) cannot be excluded from the ranks of those who offend by interjecting. The Prime Minister said a lot about what he would term " strategy ". That word also is loosely used. As a matter of fact, there is little scope for strategy in Australia today. What is perfectly obvious wall, of necessity, be done. We do not know at what point in Australia the enemy may land, but in his offensive war he is not handicapped, as is our high command, by not being allowed to use any of his forces wherever they are required. In reply to an interjection that I made, the Prime Minister said that there is a sufficient number of Australians in this country to take the offensive at any time. That is a completely absurd statement. I do not know precisely the number of Australian troops that we have at our disposal to use overseas, if necessary, but it is not greater than three divisions. Even if they were up to full strength, they would not be nearly sufficient to recover what has been lost and drive the attack right home to Japan; and if there should be fighting in Australia, obviously their ranks will be depleted. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) has definitely stated that no militiamen are to he permitted to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. How, then, does he propose that the Australian Imperial Force shall be reinforced ?

Mr Forde - Members of the Australian Military Forces are daily being enrolled in an Australian Imperial Force reserve, and when the Government decides that it is necessary to send forces outside Australia they will be available for service at any point at which they may be required, as members of the Australian Imperial Force.

Sir GEORGE BELL - The press, which often misrepresents Ministers as well as happenings in the party rooms, has definitely stated that the Minister said that no member of the Militia would be allowed to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. Even though the Prime Minister holds the view that it is absurd to talk about an offensive at this time, is that any reason why we should not remove the existing impediment in the interests of not only the forces themselves but also our ability to assist our nearest neighbours, should that be found necessary at any time? I am not one of those foolish people who think that they can predict what the enemy is likely to do ; the best brains in the Army are merely guessing, but it will be acknowledged by any thinking man that it is not unlikely that Japan would send a force sufficient to occupy New Zealand at any time suitable to its purpose. If it should send a force of 100,000 or 150,000 to New Zealand, is it conceivable that we would allow that dominion to be occupied and overrun, and not make an attempt to render assistance?

Mr Conelan - How would the troops be transported there?

Sir GEORGE BELL - Is there anybody in this House with any knowledge of the matter who is prepared to say that we could not find enough ships to send three divisions to New Zealand? Such a contention would be utterly absurd.

Mr Conelan - Where could they be obtained ?

Sir GEORGE BELL - Along the coast of Australia there is three times the number that would be required. The existing legal impediment to the full utilization of our forces must be removed in our own interests. We could not hold up our heads if we did not apply to our own men a degree of compulsion equal to that applied to the forces from America, who are here in our country ready to help to defend it, and ready to take the war to the enemy's territory. Surely we are willing to do our part! We should be shamed in the eyes of the world for ever. We should be ashamed of ourselves whenever we looked an American in the face. The overwhelming majority of the militiamen would be ashamed of themselves if they had to go into battle side by side with the Australian Imperial Force, and were, not on precisely the same footing of being obliged to_ fight wherever the High Command said that the fight should take place. If there were no other reason, that would be sufficient to warrant the action proposed by the Opposition. We should not wait until the time arrives to " raise the flag " outside of Australia. How can the flag be raised outside of Australia if we will not use our force out of Australia? The statement made to-day, coming as it did from the Leader of the Government, proves conclusively that he is in frightful difficulties in this matter.

Mr Frost - The honorable member does not like the truth.

Sir GEORGE BELL - The Minister for Repatriation has been interjecting very freely to-day. I well remember a previous debate on this subject in this House. 1 was tremendously interested in it, because the honorable gentleman and another colleague of mine from Tasmania definitely opposed their party. The Minister then advocated conscription.

Mr Frost - The Government which the honorable member supported did not have the courage to go on with it.

Sir GEORGE BELL - It did not, but what is being advocated to-day is an entirely different matter.

Mr Frost - The only government member who supported me was the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White).

Sir GEORGE BELL - Does the Minister stand to-day where he then stood?

Mr Frost - I do; but the honorable member does not. ' He has shifted his ground because of the pressure applied to him at the meeting of his party yesterday.

Sir GEORGE BELL - On the occasion when this matter was previously discussed, I occupied the position of Speaker. There has not been an occasion when I have been afraid to say where I stood. In the interests of the Australian Military Forces and for the honour of Australia, to enable us again to hold up our heads, look our friends from overseas in the face, and say that we will fight side by side with them under precisely the same conditions, and in order to show our preparedness to strike whenever and wherever the enemy can be attacked with advantage we should do what the amendment proposes at once.

Suggest corrections