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Friday, 1 May 1942

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - Last evening we witnessed consternation among government supporters when the House debated Statutory Rule No. 11 ; but that consternation was as nothing compared with the devastating effects apparent when this amendment fell among them with the force of a 5,000-1'b. bomb. The Government has not completely recovered from the shock, and most Ministers appear to be "bomb happy", in the way in which they have delivered their speeches. I have a high regard for the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), whose clarity of speech and fertility of imagination provide an object lesson for all honorable members ; but the right honorable gentleman was never seen to greater disadvantage than he was to day. I admire the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) for his logic; he takes his stand on the highest principles. But to-day, he succeeded only in explaining that political and industrial Labour was opposed to the amendment of the Defence Act for the purpose of enabling the Australian Military Forces to be sent to distant theatres of war. For the first time, the honorable member forsook those high principles and placed his party before the national need. Although I was not privileged to listen to the speech of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), I have no doubt that he also succeeded in ranging himself on the side of the Government. The Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) endeavoured to make clear to the House something about which he himself was obviously not clear. I shall be generous to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), because he is called upon to do a most difficult job. I pay him the tribute of saying that he carries out his responsibilities quite successfully and I shall not criticize him. Doubtless he would be much happier in mind if he knew that he had one army under one commander-in-chief responsible for Allied operations in the Pacific theatre of war, in order to obtain the maximum results from the forces.

As I see it, there are two courses open to Australia: We can, as' a nation, organize purely for the purpose of defending Australia, or, as one of the democracies and a member of the British Empire, organize in order to encompass the defeat of the enemy. If the Government proposes to adhere to the first policy, it means that we shall not seek to regain for ourselves and other countries their lost democratic privileges, but we shall pursue a policy of isolation. Incidentally, some honorable members opposite are noted for their advocacy of that policy. If we adopt their outlook, we must recall all our troops who have been despatched abroad. Without them, the complete defence of Australia is not possible. Some honorable members opposite have spoken glibly of the man-power that is available in Australia. They overlook the fact that there is a great difference between available man-power and an efficient, welltrained army. The Government is now welding the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces into one force, and 1 agree with that policy.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Is the Government welding or soldering the forces?

Mr HARRISON - They must be welded into one army. When the offensive, for which we earnestly pray, is launched against the enemy, it will not be fair to ask the Australian Imperial Force to defend in distant theatres the principles of democracy, because this is a privilege which devolves upon every male Australian. I pay this tribute to the Australian Military Forces, that many of its members who formerly did not feel theurge to don khaki would now be grievously disappointed if they were not permitted to fight with the Australian Imperial Force in order to finish the job once and for all. Honorable members need make few inquiries to satisfy themselves of that. If the Government intends to follow the first course, it should formally advise the enemy that we shall prevent it from landing in Australia, but not pursue it beyond Australia, and our allies that, no matter what blows may be struck at them, we have no interest in anything but our own fate. We shall tell 'the world that our all-in war effort, of which wo are so proud, is a tinselled sham, and that we are not willing to translate our words into action. To our everlasting shame we shall tell those who are supporting us that, whilst we are prepared to use all their organization and resources, we are not prepared to go outside Australia to protect their interests.

If we decide upon the second course, to pursue the enemy to his ultimate defeat, then let us delay no further our decision as to what we must do to make the most effective contribution to the successful prosecution of the war by the use of our men and resources. Let us remove the legal impediment which prevents the Government from using the forces of Australia to the best advantage. If this legal impediment be removed, the Government will have the right to move our men under the Commander-in-Chief, according to the strategy laid down for the Pacific zone, when the time is ripe to do so and to train our men with that objective in view, for, mark you, if forces are to go overseas, they must be trained in the technique of invasion and in the building of invasion equipment. Months and months of intensive training will be needed to fit shock troops to invade the shores of enemy-occupied islands. Those men can be trained in invasion tactics only if the legal barrier to their going overseas is swept away. The removal of that barrier will permit the cohesion of the Australian Imperial Force and the Australian Military Forces into one army and develop a brotherhood which will be irresistible when the offensive takes place. Unfortunately, however, not only this Government, but also the great bulk of the people of Australia, who by some mischance or other are infected by the Asquithian microbe of "wait and see ", believe that the time is not ripe for this barrier to be removed. Successive governments must shoulder the blame for any deficiency in our war effort; not only governments, but also the general public have dallied and dallied and dallied, always saying, " The time is not ripe " for this or that. If we put off action we ought to take now until such time as we consider that the opportunity is present either to invade or to develop an offensive - and honorable members opposite say that when that opportunity comes the necessary steps to remove this impediment will be taken--

Mr Blackburn -No, they do not.

Mr HARRISON - Then the honorable member agrees that the enemy will not be pursued beyond Australia?

Mr Blackburn - Not by conscripts.

Mr HARRISON - I am surprised at the honorable member. He should immediately advise our allies that it is unfair for them to conscript their troops to help us to fight the Japanese and that they ought to revert to the voluntary system. What an extraordinary state of affairs it is for honorable members opposite to advocate the use of conscripted troops by our allies and to deny the right of Australia to conscript its men to march shoulder to shoulder with them. If we do wait until that opportunity comes to amend the Defence Act and regulations against the despatch of conscripted troops overseas, we shall say to Japan : " Now, boys, you can expect the offensive within two or three weeks. We are ready. We have the equipment and we have altered the law and now we are taking the offensive." What a ridiculous state of affairs! Why not lift the legal impediment to-day and permit our men to be trained so that we may strike without warning? It has been said by some honorable members and the press that General MacArthur, for whom I have the highest regard, will be given the right to use troops when and where the occasion demands. That specious argument will not cut much ice with the people. In the first place, General MacArthur is limited to the number of troops that the Government is prepared to make available to him, and, secondly, he has no control over the southern Pacific zone, so that, if New Zealand were invaded, notwithstanding all the flapdoodle and poppycock about his being able to use his forces according to necessities, our sister dominion would be left without aid from this country.

Mr Forde - All the troops needed to go to New Zealand would be made available.

Mr HARRISON - When the time is ripe! The Government's attitude reminds me of the drought-stricken farmer who, having lost all his feed and stock but one dying horse, pleaded, "Live, horse, and you will get hay ". When the time is ripe, men will be made available to General MacArthur! What an attitude! The tempo of modern war is so rapid that if the Government waits until the time is ripe to take action, the opportunity will be missed. Thus I place no reliance whatever on that statement.

Mr Holt - What about New Caledonia ?

Mr HARRISON - Yes, but New Zealand is a sufficient example. I believe firmly in the principles of democracy. Governing is the responsibility of the Government, and, with all deference to General MacArthur, for whom I again express my admiration, I have grave doubt whether it would be competent for him to do the Government's work. Nor would he be prepared to do it. He would not presume to attempt to govern this country by directing the Government to supply his full needs or by demanding the amendment of our law. He would take what was given to him by the Government, and, even if not satisfied, would make no public demur. The Government cannot burk the issue It has a job to do and should do it. I intend to vote for the amendment, because the present position is impossible. I cannot conceive that when the ultimate offensive is launched the Government will say to the Australian Military Forces " Halt ! You have gone as far as the confines of Australia. We shall now declare peace on your behalf. Forward, Australian Imperial Force! Go abroad and clean up the enemy". The Australian Imperial Force would not shirk that order. It is carrying on the traditions of the Australian Imperial Force in the last war, when I saw battalions, sadly depleted, fight on and hold almost impossible positions because of their undaunted and unconquerable spirit. The Australian Imperial Force will go abroad, but now that the men in the Australian Military Forces are in khaki, they also will want to go forward marching side by side with their comrades in arms, to finish the war.

Government supporters have charged the Opposition with playing party politics. I am firmly convinced that on reflection they will not try to pin that charge on the Opposition, but the Opposition can, in truth, match their charge, because ten days after the United States of America came into the war, we, because we were tired of waiting for the Government to act, sent a letter to the Prime Minister. We have patiently awaited a reply to that letter, but he has not had the courtesy to answer it. Our patience is not inexhaustible, and we were compelled to-day to proceed with this amendment in order to indicate our stand. Honorable members opposite live in the thick of party politics.. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) showed that when he said that the Government was afraid that, if it lifted the embargo against Australian conscripts going overseas, the trade union movement would wipe it out of existence. To describe the attitude of the Government, I use the words employed by the honorable member for Bourke and say that it is putting party before national interests.

Mr.WILSON (Wimmera) [4.0].- I had not intended to speak during the debate but certain statements have been made which call for a reply. Previous speakers on the Government side of the House have replied on certain aspects, but I propose to quote an extract from an important Victorian country newspaper published in one of the major towns in my electorate, which, to my mind, fairly and accurately reflects public opinion on what appears to be a censure motion launched by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden). The article was published in the Swan Hill Guardian on the 27th April, and is as follows : -

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