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


Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) .- The matter now before the House is not. one for allegation and counter-allegation concerning the loyalty and patriotism of honorable members. The problem before us requires careful and considered judgment and should be regarded as of first-class importance. I have been disappointed in the two speeches delivered by Ministers. Each honorable gentleman has attempted merely to score some minor debating points. I am not concerned about what might have appeared in the pages of Hansard years ago. If I am told that I failed to meet the position when my Government was in office I admit quite frankly that I must accept my share of the responsibility. It is true that as Prime Minister I did not introduce a measure to give effect to this proposal. But the House itself moist also accept responsibility. Public opinion has taken a long time to develop in Australia, and the general public, too, must carry its share of responsibility. But what will it boot us if, because action was not taken in the past, we merely examine what Jones, Brown or Robinson may have said without taking action in the present? What we have to deal with now is the problem of 1942. What we do with this problem in 1942 may have a great deal to do with what will happen to us in 1943. The essence of the amendment, in the moving of which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) made a forceful and reasoned speech, is in the words, "may be effectively welded into one fighting army ". I do not desire to discuss the question on theoretical grounds, because war is a grim, practical business and cannot be conducted on a theoretical basis. I am not concerned whether there is a political tradition in Australia in opposition to conscription. I am concerned about the present circumstances in Australia. I ask myself: Can our circumstances be improved by adopting the suggestion contained in the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition? Putting that question to myself, I have not the slightest doubt that the answer should be in the affirmative. Let as look at the subject: It is said that, to-day, when the enemy is almost upon our shores, is not the time when we should be discussing the sending of our men outaide Australia. Maybe that is right in one sense, but in another sense it is quite wrong because it is based upon the fallacy that men may be sent outside Australia on- a sudden inspiration. How did the Japanese come down upon Malaya with such diabolical swiftness and in such vast numbers? They did it because, for months, and for all we know, for years, they had been practising combined operations in the use of aircraft, naval craft, and armed forces. Doubtless the Germans also engaged in such practice operations before they actually employed them in war. The capacity to perform such operations does not spring full-fledged from nowhere. It is the result of long planning and careful organization. What is our position in Australia?' It is true that at this moment we have back with us large numbers of the Australian Imperial Force. It is also true that we have here large armies belonging either to new formations of the Australian- Imperial Force, or to reinforcements of it, or to the Australian Military Forces, commonly known as the Militia. I ask the Minister for the Army to consider these questions: Is he keeping these various arms of the fighting services separate? Is he proposing to aggregate them in one force? Does he intend to placard one section of these forces, " Not to go abroad ", and another section of them " To go abroad " ? The whole essence of the army reorganisation plans about which we have read in the newspapers recently is that we shall have one force. We have a supreme Allied Commander, General Douglas MacArthur, and he has under him the

Commander in Chief of the Australian Forces, General Sir Thomas Blarney, who, in turn, has under him staff commanders and commanders of corps and divisions. Is it intended that any corps shall contain only militiamen? Of course not The corps will consist partly of militiamen and partly of members of the Australian Imperial Force. These two forces will be blended into one organization which, at its apex, will have one supreme commander. In the last resort thesupreme commander will be related to oneallied strategy. We may say, in effect, that the total force at our disposal in Australia will consist of the Australian Imperial Force, the Australian Military Forces, and the American Forces which,, together, will form one army under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. That seems to me to be a state of affairs which does not call for a lot of tediousantiquarian research on the subject of conscription. It requires the application of horse sense in the determination of what we ought to do in the face of such circumstances.

The next step is this : That being our organization what is it designed to do?' Is it designed simply to defend Australia from actual invasion? If that be the whole purpose of it, I take leave to remind this House and the people of Australia that we could escape invasion and still lose this war. It would be a miserable, narrow conception of this war were we to say that the only function of this great army, including the Americans, is to prevent the enemy from actually setting foot upon Australian territory or conquering it. Why, sir, it is clear to every body that Australia's mime significance in this war arises from the fact that this country is visualized by so many people as a base from which ultimately blows may be delivered against the enemy where the enemy lives. Consequently, this is a force that is provided and organized not only for defence, but also for an offensive. Who am I, who is any one in this House, to say when an offensive shall come? Sitting in our chairs, we may say that it looks as though many long months must elapse before we can act on the offensive. One thing that has happened in this war is that the prophets have been, falsified every time. I cannot remember a solitary time-table worked out in this war that has not been proved utterly absurd in the final event.

With that general picture of the position, I merely want to indicate very shortly why I support the amendment. Perhaps the reason is implicit in what I have already said. The first point that I want to make in elaboration of what I have been saying is - and it is a commonplace of this war - the utter fluidity, the utter mobility of the events that have taken place in it. At one time it might have been said that to take an army to a hostile country, in rugged territory, through jungles, for a distance of 500 miles, was an operation that might be expected to occupy months. It has been proved in this war that it might occupy hardly more than a few days. It might have been said, as recently as the beginning of December of last year, that it was impossible for Japanese bombers to raid Pearl Harbour; yet they did it! If there is one thing that we ought to have learned, it is that fluidity is of the essence of this war. Paney the absurdity of having this great land army built up in Australia organized on a completely inter-mixed basis, and at the same time preserving a state of affairs which, until it be altered, will make immobile a portion of that army, will make it necessary to break up that army in order to achieve mobility and to send it to another place! It is time that we re-organized our ideas on the subject of armies. If this war has taught us anything, it should have taught us that. What would we say about a ship of war, some of the crew of which, were bound, not to leave Australian waters except of their own free will, and the rest of the crew of which had enlisted for service in any part of the world ? Every body, of course, would laugh at such a spectacle; they would say " This is an utter absurdity. The ship carries one set of guns, as one operational purpose, yet some of its men are bound to stay here and some are bound to go there". What essential difference is there, in these days, between the organization of a battleship and the organization of a military division? What would we say of a squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force if some of the members of its crews had enlisted for service anywhere in the world, whilst others, coming in under compulsory training, were not bound to go anywhere in the world? What sort of mobility would a squadron of that kind have? Yet, Ministers and members who would never dream of suggesting that such an illustration was anything but fantastic, see nothing fantastic at all in an army corps in Australia, under one commander, having one division that can go abroad, a brigade of another division that can go abroad, two brigades which cannot be sent abroad, and so on, each element not kept separate but woven inextricably into the total fabric. That, sir, is a denial of every military principle.

The second thing that I want to say is this - I talk about this quite bluntly, because, we are grown-up people and might as well face some of these unpleasant circumstances: There is at this moment in this country a good deal of mutual criticism between the two armies - the Australian Military Forces and the Australian Imperial Force. We know perfectly well - we hear it on all sides - that there is in the Australian Imperial Force, with the best will in the world, a disposition to make side remarks at the Militia, to suggest that the Militia is a secondary force ; that, not having gone abroad, the members of it are, so to speak, chocolate soldiers.


Mr Pollard - That existed when the right honorable gentleman was Prime Minister.


Mr MENZIES - I am not concerned to know when it started, but I am very much concerned to know what its results are to-day, when these two forces must, for the safety of this country, be welded into one force. There cannot be morale in a total army unless there be mutual confidence and respect among the component parts of it. There is only one way in which that may be secured, and that is bv making it clear that every man who belongs to the Australian Army, who is side by side with American troops in the total allied armies in this country, serves on the same terms, has the same reward - such as it is - has the same rights and exactly the same liability. No man who stands side by side with another on even terms, with the same liability, can afford to criticize the man who is next r,o him. I believe that we cannot make a more magnificent contribution to a really high fighting morale in our forces than by equalizing in every sense the terms of service of the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces.

Finally, in a military sense - and this lias been abundantly pointed out by previous speakers - what sort of absurdity is it to- suggest that, although this kind of change may be necessary if we drive the Japanese on to the defensive, and are able to chase them back into their own islands, it will be time enough to deal with the matter when that happy hour arrives?


Mr Rankin - Give them notice.


Mr MENZIES - What the honorable member says is quite right: - give them notice; say to the enemy: "We thinkthat we are ready for an offensive, so we are going to ask Parliament to free us from all restrictions in order that we may use all our troops in that offensive ". That, in a military sense, would be grotesque. But what is more important still is the point to which I made a glancing reference earlier : the essence of this war is long, painful, careful, hard training - much longer than was previously thought necessary - and swift, ruthless action when the time for action arrives. In the circumstances of modern warfare, an army cannot be trained in a few weeks, after Parliament has passed the necessary legislation to enable troops to be used abroad. If we are to have an Australian army, if we are to have an allied army, capable of taking Amboina, Timor and Java, and of rolling the Japanese back into their own territory, then the time to commence to train, not a portion of that army, not a selected few, but the whole of that army, is to-day. We have no time to lose. How can you begin to train an army on the assumption that it is one army, serving on one condition, when the truth is that it is two armies, with a different basis of service and a markedly different morale in consequence?


Mr Beasley - Was not the right honorable gentleman told that there were thousands of men in the Australian Military Forces who had offered for enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force?


Mr MENZIES - I am sure that there are.


Mr Beasley - And that they were not permitted to do so? Consequently, the right honorable gentleman's point falls to the ground.


Mr MENZIES - I am grateful to my friend because, with the facts that he has thrust at me I am in entire agreement. Of course there are thousands of such men. The honorable gentleman may go further; he may say to me that if we were to take the whole of the Militia in the circumstances regarding service in which we are placed to-day, and if we reached, the stage of acting on the offensive, SO per cent, of them would volunteer to take part in that offensive. . But that would not enable the army to be moved forward. You could not take 20 per cent, of the men out of a force, and throw the remainder of that force into action; you must have your army organized as one.


Mr Beasley - That point was cleared up at a meeting at which the right honorable gentleman was present.


Mr MENZIES - I am sorry that 1 do not understand that.


Mr Beasley - I am not permitted to give the details.


Mr MENZIES - All that I need say is this: I am discussing, as are other honorable members on this side of the House, a matter of great and vital public importance in Australia. If there be an answer to what I have been putting, then T should like to hear it; because I have not yet heard it, either elsewhere or here.


Mr Pollard - What happens to a unit when 20 per cent, of its strength arc casualties? It goes back into battle.


Mr MENZIES - The honorable mem her would be the last person to suggest: that such a unit would be at its full state of efficiency.


Mr Pollard - But that would not prevent it from going back into battle.


Mr MENZIES - I accept_ the honorable member's interjection; it sums up the whole of my case. My case is, that if an army had to go forward to the attack with 20 per cent, of its members extracted from it, it would be like a unit going into battle after having lost 20 per cent, of its strength and efficiency.


Mr McEwen - I wish to make a personal explanation. The effect of the partial quotation from a previous speech of mine in this House, read by the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford), has been to misrepresent me. The Minister for Air read the following words from a speech that I made in this House eleven days after the outbreak of war - t consider that the greatest obligation of citizenship of any man is the obligation to be trained, prepared, and ready to fight to defend bis land within its own borders ... In ruse there should be any misapprehension of my attitude. I may say that in existing circumstances I do not regard it as safe to permit any man to leave this country to fight oversea*.

That passage is not complete. A gross misrepresentation is caused by those words having been lifted from their context. I propose now to read certain complete sentences which will serve to make clear the attitude of mind which I was expressing in the chamber on that occasion. Here they are -

I consider that the greatest obligation of citizenship of any man is the obligation to be trained, prepared and ready to fight to defend his land within its own borders. To that end, the Government should lose no time whatever in re-proclaiming compulsory military service in Australia.

I.   now pass over a certain amount of matter which does not affect the issue.


Mr Mulcahy - Why not read the lot ?


Mr McEwen - If honorable members desire me to read the whole passage I shall do so. It continues - [ am amazed to find, in this, the second week of war, that Australia is drivelling along with a small volunteer force, and apparently is not intending to re-proclaim that system of compulsory universal training which, on the occasion "of the last great war, provided us with some assurance that we had within our own borders a body of partially trained mid equipped mcn who could immediately be put into the field to defend our own country. I am quite aware of the difficulties which the la-ads of the .military services have raised with regard to the training of the men who would be called up under a system of compulsory universal military training. Whilst I would not dispute that there are severe complications associated with the introduction of compulsory universal military training, J nay that war is war, and that we cannot be fobbed off with any story from the military experts to the effect that trained men are nol: available to train our manhood. If we were confronted next week with an attack by an enemy country whose shores are lapped by the same ocean as laps the shores of this country-

I was there obviously referring to Japan, our present enemy. The extract goes on - and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility, because these things develop and break between nations so quickly - we would not tolerate for one moment the story that it was impossible to put mcn in training because trained mcn were not available to train them. There ure in this country thousands of experienced ex-soldiers who are quite capable of giving preliminary, elementary training in warfare, and of instilling discipline into bodies of men, which is the very first step in preparing them for actual warfare. I believe that if this Government were as earnest as it should be, it would lose no time whatever in taking the formal step of re-proclaiming compulsory universal military service for the home defence of this country, and that then it would not tolerate any advice given to it by it* experts to the effect that it is impossible to find mcn capable of training Australian manhood for the defence of their own land. I am not one of those who believe that compulsion should be applied in connexion with the raising of troops for overseas service which might at any time he sent from Australia.


Mr Drakeford - That is exactly what I said the honorable member had said.


Mr McEwen - I was speaking at a time when this country had about 20,000 men in training, men who had done between six and twelve days' military service only. However, let me continue -

I really believe that the mind of the Australian people was sufficiently clarified on this issue during the last war for one to be able to say with reasonable assurance and accuracy that there could not be found to-day one man occupying an important place in the public life of Australia who would advocate compulsory military service for Australians abroad. In my opinion, that is an accurate statement of the position. I think that it is a crystallization of the public mind, brought about by the conscription referendum campaigns of the last war. For my part, I accept that willingly as being a proper policy foi this country. On the other hand, I believe that the ultimate fate of Australia may well be decided without one shot being fired within the borders of this country. A land. 3,000,000 square miles in area, with so sparse a population as we have - a -mere 7,000,000 people - is entirely incapable of the utmost efforts of its manhood and its resources which would be necessary ultimately to ensure it" own protection against attack by a powerful and populous military aggressor. That drives me to the conclusion that, irrespective of any necessity with which wo may be confronted immediately to defend our own country, our fate could well be sealed by the defeat of Great Britain abroad. To that end, if th<» time should arise when we were able to feel, hy a clarification of the relations between th» various nations - which is not apparent to-day - that it would be safe for this country to permit some of its own sons to participatein the defenceof the British Empire abroad, we should be willing to permit men to volunteer for that service. Those who volunteered should be facilitated to go abroad to fight for the defence of the British Empire, with which I am positive is wrapped up the ultimate fate of this country.


Mr Brennan - I rise to a point of order. During the last war, I made a number of admirable speeches against conscription, and I should like to know whether this would be an appropriate time to have those speeches re-published.


Mr McEwen - I should have preferred to be more brief, but it appears to be the will of the House to hear more of the speech. It continues -

In case there should be any misapprehension of my attitude, I may say that in existing circumstances I do not regard it as safe permit any man to leave this country to fight overseas .

I claim that the Minister for Air, by quoting certain words out of sequence has grossly misrepresented what I said.


Mr Drakeford - I desire to make a personal explanation.







Suggest corrections