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Friday, 1 May 1942

Mr FORDE - Yes, and into the hands of Quislings in other countries who wish to prevent the despatch of men and equipment in order to strengthen our defences. They are using every conceivable method in an endeavour, by hook or by crook, to interrupt the flow of men and materials to Australia. By engaging in this bitter party political strife, the Opposition is helping those people at a time when our security is endangered as never before. Members of the Advisory War Council, who know the true position,, are not free to tell the facts to the House. All the forces that we can muster in Australia must be properly trained and equipped to defend this country. We have more than 100,000 men of the Australian Imperial Force, many thousands of whom have not served abroad. In addition, many thousands of men of the Australian Military Forces, who have been placed on the Australian Imperial Force reserve list, can be called up at any time to fight in the Australian Imperial Force either in Australia or abroad. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) stated that the Government has refused to organize the manhood of Australia. Surely bc was not serious! He knows that the number of men in training in Australia is more than two and a half times the number in training six months age. He is also aware that the strength of the Australian Imperial Force in Australia was never greater than it is at the present time. No legal impediment debars those men from being despatched overseas.

Mr Holloway - Members of the Opposition constantly complain that Army call-ups are embarrassing industry.

Mr FORDE - That is true. The industrial man-power of the country was never trained before as it is trained today. The munitions factories employ a much larger number of hands than ever before. That is due to the complete- re-organization that has occurred since' the Labour Government took office.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) and other speakers have criticized the contentions of the Opposition in various ways, and I shall not go over the same ground. The honorable member for Bourke correctly pointed out that the previous Government gave all kinds of undertakings that men would not be compelled to fight outside Australia. The Labour Government has been criticized for having omitted to amend the Defence Act for the purpose of permitting the despatch of the Australian Military Forces to distant theatres of war. If honorable members opposite believed in that principle, why did not they amend the act when they had an opportunity to do so? At that time, the need to retain troops in Australia was not so urgent as it is to-day. Honorable members who have attended secret meetings of the House realize the dire necessity for improving our defences. We have not yet reached the stage when we can afford to release our troops to fight shoulder to shoulder with our American allies in the defence of New Zealand or elsewhere. Considerably more than 100,000 men are willing and anxious to be despatched abroad to any point where they will come to grips with the enemy. Much has been made of the fact that, as certain units of the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces are being trained side by side, it is not fair that one section should be sent overseas, whilst the other is not. The point was rightly taken by the honorable member for Bourke that section 49 of the Defence Act provides that no member of even the Permanent Military Forces shall be sent to a distant theatre of war unless he consents. Honorable members opposite know the policy of the Labour party. In the past, we stood definitely for the voluntary enlistment of men for the Australian Imperial Force, and for reinforcements. We continue to stand for that policy.

Mr Rankin - What was the attitude of the Labour party in 193-9 ?

Mr FORDE -- Admittedly, changes have been made ; but the honorable member for Indi has also altered his view.

Mr McEwen - I have adapted my view to various developments in the war.

Mr FORDE - The Labour party has been bitterly criticized because it considered, early in the war, that Australian troops should not be sent abroad. It was not alone in holding that view. A former Minister for the Army, the late Mr. Gr. A. Street, stated on one occasion that this war was vastly different from the war of 1914-18. In view of the threat from Japan, he could not visualize the despatch at that time of an expeditionary force from these shores. Some time later, the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) admitted that members of the United Australia party were criticizing him because the Australian Imperial Force had not been despatched overseas. But the right honorable gentleman declared that the threat to the north of Australia prevented the Commonwealth Government from denuding the country of troops, as they might be required at any moment to resist an invader.

Mr Calwell - A complete metamorphosis has taken place.

Mr FORDE - If the Menzies Government considered it prudent to take precautions against an invasion two years ago, surely the danger from Japan is ten times greater now. As Minister for the Army, I state that a dire necessity exists for us to strain every nerve in order to improve our defences. Any honorable member, who introduces a note of dissension and plays the game of politics, does a disservice to Australia.

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