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Friday, 1 May 1942

Mr McEWEN - I want to make my point, if possible without being provocative, but in doing so, I am obliged to say, what I have just said, and in support of that I cite the fact that the Labour party opposed compulsory military training before this war.

Mr Frost - Has the honorable member read the policy speech delivered by Mr. Curtin at the 1937 general election?

Mr McEWEN - I have not, but I have heard his speeches in this House and they are what count. If compulsory military training had been introduced in this country before the war, not only would there have been perhaps 250,000 trained men at the outbreak of war, but also, and more important, there would have been the equipment for them. The refusal of the Labour party to accept the doctrine of compulsory military training in days of peace is the basic explanation of the shortage of equipment at the outbreak of war. The policy which was objected to by Labour in days of peace is now accepted. Immediately after the outbreak of war opposition was raised in this House by the present Prime Minister and the Labour party to the despatch of an expeditionary force from Australia, but supporters of the Government now agree that that was a wrong policy to adopt. Because the Labour party lags behind in this matter, it is not to be expected that the people will realize the error of their ways, unless the facta are brought before them lucidly. The purpose of the debate is to continue the education, in the interests of the security and the honour of Australia. It is an uncomfortable feeling to realize that whilst we are prepared to accept the assistance of conscripted Americans, Dutch and British personnel, and have asked for their assistance in the defence of the country, we are not prepared to organize the military manhood of the country on a basis that will enable our allies to be accompanied beyond the shores of Australia, shoulder to shoulder, in the final effort to overthrow our enemies. We have sought aeroplanes and equipment from overseas, and the aeroplanes that -we have received were partly made by women industrially conscripted in Great Britain. Yet, while asking for and accepting this help, we still maintain a legal condition which renders it impossible for the greater part of the Australian Army to fight outside our own territory. It is a reflection on the honour of Australia, as well as a contribution to the danger of this country, and I ask honorable members to reflect on these subjects. I regret the temporary absence from the chamber of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles). He forwarded to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), who at the time was Prime Minister, a letter in which he set out 21 points clearly and concisely, as expressing his considered views on what should be done to enable Australia to play its part in the allied cause. The point promoted to first place was -

To prosecute the war till victory is won, supplying men and materials wheresoever the Government considers essential.

That is the essence of the subject now before the chamber. The contention that it would be militarily practicable to disintegrate the Australian Army by selectively withdrawing certain personnel - the members of the Australian Imperial Force at present being merged in the Australian Military Force - from it and then despatching that selected body of troops on an overseas expedition is a figment of the imagination. One of the main lessons to be learnt from this war is that it is essential that a military expeditionary force shall be adequately trained before it is called on to fight. The Government to-day is doing something with which, if carried a step further, I am in agreement. It is combining two Australian armies raised on different bases. Our country is in the greatest peril, yet Australia is the one belligerent country that perpetrates the anomaly of maintaining two armies, one to serve in any theatre of war, and the other to serve within confined territorial limits.

Mr Blackburn - Has the honorable member forgotten South Africa and Canada?

Mr McEWEN - Canada has already taken a step comparable with what is proposed to-day.

Mr Blackburn - South Africa, has not taken that step.

Mr McEWEN - South Africa does not maintain two separate armies.

Mr Rankin - That is mainly because of racial differences.

Mr McEWEN - Although we are merging the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Force into one Australian army, it will not be possible at a given time to abstract from that composite formation the men who have volunteered to serve abroad, recompose them into a separate army, and immediately despatch them abroad for active service. Any man with a knowledge of military affairs will admit that that is not militarily practicable. It has 'been suggested by the " Government spokesman ", to whom I shall snot refer further at the moment, that the public need not unduly worry because when the occasion does arise the Government will take the necessary steps to see that legal disabilities in the Defence Act are corrected. Even if we accept that as the intention of the Government - although the Prime Minister has partially denied it - it will not be possible, because the planning of the sphere of activities of an expeditionary force is a military project which would require long consideration. It is imperative to know that certain forces are available, to withdraw shipping from our allies in other theatres of war to transport such a force, and to specialize the training that is essential in a military enterprise such as the British Empire has not engaged in since Gallipoli. That special training is necessary if an expeditionary force is to attempt a landing on the shores of a hostile country, and adequate "landing craft" will have to be provided. If these preparations were being made and the equipment was being prepared, the fact would soon become known. If at the last moment the Government were to summon the Parliament and ask for legal authority to despatch an expeditionary force abroad, it would be a direct intimation to th« enemy that we were about to launch an offensive against him. Australian manhood "which is to be utilized in an army of that description should be integrated in one armed force at a time as remote as possible from when the action is to be taken. The Government should be given authority to act secretly and with celerity when the occasion arises.

It was with pleasure that I heard « speech by the honorable member for West Sydney recently when he referred to the splendid bombing operations recently undertaken by our American allies in th

Mr Holloway - Is the honorable member suggesting that Australia has not done the honorable thing in the past?

Mr McEWEN - No, and I hope that honorable members are not under any misapprehension about it. As we have accepted assistance from our allies in the defence of Australia, it becomes obligatory upon us so to arrange our force that they can be used in any military activities that are considered essential for the successful prosecution of the war.

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