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Friday, 1 May 1942


Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) . - It was with mixed feelings that I heard this amendment moved - feelings partly of relief and partly of disappointment. My feeling of relief arose from the fact that,' on the 6th April last, the statement was broadcast throughout Australia that this Government, by an evasion of the Defence Act, might conscript persons for overseas service. Statements to the same effect appeared in the daily newspapers on the following day and during the following week. The answer made by the Prime Minister to this amendment dispels, I think, any fear that the Government will resort to compulsion for overseas service by either an amendment or an evasion of the Defence Act. For that reason, I am glad that the amendment has been moved, whatever may be the fate of it. I am pleased that the Government is nailing its colours to the mast, and has declared that it will not depart from the traditional policy of the party and the movement that it represents. However, from one point of view, I regret that the amendment has been moved, because I regard it as tending to divide the people of Australia, and to put fear into the hearts of the parents of those men who are being called up for the defence of Australia.


Mr Rankin - They do not want to be ashamed of their boys.


Mr BLACKBURN - No; but my view is that there is no moral obligation on Australians to fight for the defence of any territory other than Australian territory. That is my view and the view of the party with which I have been associated for a long time. That is also the view of the people of Australia.


Mr Rankin - The honorable member is now talking about the " conchies ".


Mr BLACKBURN - No, I am not. I do not recant my opinions so quickly as does the honorable member for Bendigo. It is not so long ago since he made a declaration in this House against conscription for overseas service, pointing out what might be the result if Australia were denuded of men by sending them to serve overseas.


Mr Rankin - I have not changed my opinion.


Mr BLACKBURN - The first Defence Bill introduced in this House in 1901 contained a provision which, upon examination, showed that it was the desire of the Barton Government to be able to send Australians to serve, not only in any part of Australia and its territories, but also in any place on the face of the earth. Credit for exposing that design. - because it was wrapped up in words - is due to the late Mr. Justice Higgins, who was then a member of this Parliament. When the exposure was made, the whole House rose against the proposal, not the Labour party only, but. the rank and file of all parties. The bill reappeared in 1902 in an amended form, but even then it did not satisfy members of the House, and they were not content until a provision had been inserted to the effect that no member of the Military Forces, even of the Permanent Forces, could be required to serve outside of Australia and its territories without his consent. The only issue which divided them was whether the prohibition should extend to the territories of Australia. Some, including- Mr. Higgins, thought that men should not even be sent to the overseas territories of Australia without their consent, whilst others thought thai there should be power to do this. Section 49 of the Defence Act stood unaltered and unaffected until 1939. In that year the government of the day introduced a bill which, in my opinion, and in that of some others, extended the obligation of military service, because it specifically provided that Australians might be compelled to serve in the mandated territories administered by Australia. The position to-day is that no member of the Australian Military Forces, even if he be a professional soldier, can be required to serve outside Australia and the territories of Australia and the mandated territories administered by Australia without his consent, or unless he has specifically enlisted for that service. That position has not stood without challenge. There were two attempts to alter it. In 1916, the Government led by the right honorable member for North Sydney a..= he now is (Mr. Hughes) asked the people by referendum to say whether they were prepared to give the government the same power in relation to service overseas as it enjoyed in regard to service for the defence of Australia. The people were asked to authorize the Government to put. legislation through Parliament altering the Defence Act so that Australians could be compelled to serve in areas beyond the control of Australia. That referendum was taken, not because the consent of the people to the alteration of the act was necessary, but because a majority of honorable members in both Houses, and especially a majority in the Senate, were opposed to any such alteration. It was thought that a favorable expression of opinion from the people would overawe them. In spite of the fact that every organ of public opinion in Australia, except the Labour party, was in favour of the alteration, the people of Australia refused to approve. During ;he next election, the right honorable member for North Sydney had to give a specific pledge to the electors that the question would never be raised again. I lc gave that promise in 1917, and broke it at the end of the same year. He did take another referendum, and the people again rejected his proposal, this time by m larger majority. In this referendum, not only did New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia vote against conscription, but Victoria also voted against it. The Labour movement of \ ustralia passed through the fire of that struggle, and many of the men now prominent in its direction owe their position io the stand they then took. I refer particularly to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway) and the Prime Minister himself (Mr. Curtin). As young men, their opinion upon this subject was formed in the course of that st ruggle. I speak as one who is no longer a member of the political organization of Labour, but I believe that there is no possibility of the Labour party unitedly accepting conscription, or even of a majority accepting it. I honestly believe that this motion is now being pressed largely with the intention and hope of breaking up the Labour movement in A itf tralia and dividing the political Labour party.

Several honorable members have said that there is no difference in principle between compelling a man to serve for the defence of his own homeland, and compelling him to go overseas to fight. I" believe that there is a great difference. Though I dislike military compulsion of any kind, my objection to compulsory service for home defence is quite different from my objection to compulsory service for overseas. I object to compulsory service for home defence, because I cannot conceive of any adequate protection being afforded by the law to that small, honest minority which the honorable member for Bendigo despises so much, the conscientious objectors. There are not many of them. They have not many votes, and some never vote at all, but they honestly believe that it is wrong to bear arms in any circumstances, that it is wrong to resist evil by means of evil. The law of Australia does not protect them. There is. however, a vast difference in principle between compelling a man to serve in defence of his own homeland and compelling him to serve overseas. When a man is fighting in defence of his homeland he is fighting against an enemy who has come there as an unmistakable aggressor. Every natural instinct compels him to defend, not only his beloved soil, but also his wife, his children and his parents. Natural instinct, apart from law, would call .upon men to rise in defence of their homeland. The law .of nations recognizes this, because it is provided that if an army invades another country, the whole people of the country are entitled to take un arms to repel the invader. It is recognized that although the people may rise without military training, and fight without military organization, they will, if they act openly, be regarded as combatants, and be entitled to be treated as such. There is no real difference between the levee en masse - the organized rising of the invaded people - and the citizen army - the same people organized. Compulsion to serve for the defence of one's homeland is vastly different from compulsion to serve in another man's country. Once a man takes the oath of enlistment, he is bound to obey orders, and he may be given orders which violate this natural instinct. Men so enlisted may be required to carry war to other countries against whose people they have no quarrel whatever. They may be required to put down insurrection among the Burmese, the peoples of India or of Indonesia who think, perhaps, that this is a favorable opportunity to rise for the liberation of their country. Australians can have no conceivable quarrel with coloured peoples who wish to win their freedom from the white races, and there should be no risk of Australians being employed against them. When a man is called upon to defend his own soil, there can be no doubt that the person assailing that soil is his enemy, and the enemy of the institutions he holds dear, but when he goes overseas to fight, he may find himself opposed to those with whom he has no quarrel. The essential difference is that in the one case compulsion merely enforces a moral obligation, and is instrumental in providing an effective organization; in the other, compulsion goes against a man's natural instincts.

A good deal has been said of the fact that American conscripts are serving in Australia. The fact that they are here constitutes a breach of the promise given by the Government of the United States to its own people. The provision for the selected draft would never have been accepted by the people of the United States of America if President Franklin Roosevelt had not given a solemn promise that conscripted men would never be sent to serve overseas. The selected draft provides for service in the United States of America, including the territory of the Philippines, but not for service beyond those areas. Speaking in October, 1940, President Roosevelt said : -

Your boys are not going to be sent to any foreign wars. They are going into training to form a force so strong that by its very existence it will keep the threat of war far away from our shores.

In December of the same year he invited his hearers to nail down as deliberate lies any talk of sending armies to Europe. It is not my wish that Americans should he compelled to serve in Australia. After the alteration of the American act, I read statements in newspapers published in the United States that there was as yet no question of compelling conscripts to serve overseas, and that forces required for service abroad would comprise volunteers recruited from among the selected draftees. Be that as it may, the fact that the United States of America, Great Britain and New Zealand have imposed conscription upon their people for oversea service, whilst Canada may follow suit, does not influence me. Those countries introduced conscription during the las; war. In New Zealand, persons who were conscientious objectors in 1914-18 are now vigorously enforcing the conscription of the young manhood of that dominion. Australia rejected conscription in 1916 and 1917, and I believe that the opinion of the country is still opposed to it. The greatest difficulty will be experienced in securing men for military service if they understand that there is a danger of their being compelled to fight in distant theatres. If the Government allows them to believe that, after having been recruited specifically for home defence, they may later be despatched overseas against their will, that belief will destroy their morale. Any one who wished to demoralize and divide the Australian people could achieve his purpose by no device so effective as the means to which the Opposition has resorted. However, the amendment will now provide Parliament with an opportunity to decide the matter. It will not be necessary to resort to an evasion of the Defence Act.

The position in Canada is that during the last war, the French Canadians as a body were opposed to conscription. A national government, consisting of Conservatives and Liberals from Provinces other than Quebec, was formed, and it succeeded in imposing conscription upon the people. The present Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Mackenzie King, was defeated because he opposed it. No intelligent person believes that the recent referendum in Canada makes certain the introduction of conscription. The Liberal party, which depends upon the support of Quebec, would hardly dare to introduce it, because 72 per cent, of the electors in that Province voted against the proposal. Indeed, the purpose of the referendum was only to secure the release of the Government from its election promise not to impose conscription.

At the federal elections in 1940, most explicit pledges were given by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) and other members, including the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), that the United Australia party- United Country party Government would not introduce conscription. In fact, the right honorable member for Kooyong was so anxious to make his position clear that in 1939 he inserted in the national security legislation a clause designed to prevent the introduction by regulation of conscription for service overseas. When, in 1940. the right honorable member for Kooyong again amended the National Security Act, he inserted a provision to the effect that no regulation made under the National Security Act shall enable the Government to impose an obligation of any kind of service overseas. That provision recognized the instinctive feeling of the Australian people.

The conception of liberty is embodied in certain principles. Edmund Burke said that to British peoples liberty is not an abstract generalization but crystallines itself about some definite immunity or freedom. For the English people, the most important immunity was that of freedom from taxation without representation. To us here it is the freedom from compulsory overseas' service. The greatest blow which the Labour movement of Australia struck for liberty defeated the conscription referendums of 1916 and 1917. Ever since, the Labour movement has been alert to preserve and encourage a widespread feeling against conscription for service overseas. As the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) stated, the platform of the Labour party contains a provision that an anti-conscription plank- should be included in the Commonwealth Constitution. Once it was placed there, it could be amended not by Parliament, but only by the people. Whatever happens in Australia, it will never be found that a government led by the right honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) and containing such members as the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), and the Minister for Health (Mr. Holloway) will be responsible for amending the Defence Act for the purpose of sending men overseas against their will. If that amendment is ever carried, the government responsible will be composed of members of the United Australia party and the United Country party. Perhaps a national government might force the amendment upon the country, but such an action would not be taken with the approval and consent of the Labour movement. Is the House prepared, after hearing the weak pleas of honorable members opposite, to adopt a policy which will be opposed at every stage by the Australian Labour movement ?

The plea has been made that units of the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces are so intermingled that they cannot be disentangled and that in the circumstances, the Government must send all or none overseas. That, position was foreseen long ago, because the Defence Act provides that no member even of the Permanent Forces shall be sent abroad without his consent. If the Government desires to raise forces for service in distant theatres of war, the men can be recruited. That is not beyond the capacity of the country. Some honorable members opposite declare that it is an insult to say to the Australian Military Forces that they cannot be compelled to serve abroad. That is absurd. The insult is offered when a man is told that he will be forced to serve. If a man is prepared to fight overseas, uo obstacle is placed in his way. I hope that the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition will meet the fate that it deserves.

The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) supported the motion unreservedly. Given his way, the honorable member would have despatched every fit man to distant theatres of war.


Mr McEwen - That statement does not correctly represent the views of the honorable member for Deakin.


Mr BLACKBURN - From the beginning of the war he has advocated overseas conscription.


Mr McEwen - That does not involve the despatch to distant theatres of every fit man.


Mr BLACKBURN - There is no misrepresentation of the honorable member's opinion. I feel no resentment against men who, having served in the last war, believe in conscription to-day; but I object strongly when men who, being of military age in the last war and, refusing to serve, now loudly urge the conscription of young Australians for service overseas, to leave unprotected their own homeland and to fight in foreign lands people against whom they feel no instinct of resentment.







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