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Friday, 1 May 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- There is an air of unreality about the proceedings in this chamber due to the contrast between the tone of the debate and the tone of the war news that we have heard to-day. The news indicated a very critical situation for the Allied armies in Burma and the possible encirclement of the Chinese forces, and it carried the gravest implications for the people of this country. After hearing that, we came into this chamber only to hear honorable members still mouthing their old shibboleths, still stubbornly supporting outmoded planks of their party platforms, regardless of the enormous changes taking place at this moment which threaten not only our civilian rights and cherished beliefs, but also the very lives of our people. I regret that this debate has taken place. It was no wish of mine that it should be initiated. But the duty of the Opposition is to enunciate the principles upon which it believes that the defence of Australia should be founded and to do so with all the force and clarity that it can command. I sincerely regret that it should have 'been considered necessary to move an amendment which will require a division of the House. It is a bad policy to divide the Parliament on an issue such as this. There have been faults on both sides in the administration of our war effort, but the Government was gravely at fault when it refused to-day to accept power to conscript Australians for overseas service in the event of such actionbecoming necessary. Only yesterday, it asked for complete power over every individual and all property in the Commonwealth under Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77, so that in any emer- gency it should not be hamstrung by lack of power. All that this proposed amendment provides is that the Government shall not be embarrassed at any time dur ing the war owing to lack of power to send Australian troops abroad. Why on earth the Government could not accept that offer of power is beyond the comprehension of any reasonable individual. If it does not wish to exercise such power, owing to a fanatical belief in the principles of the Labour party's platform, there is nothing to compel it to do so. But the events of the war may occur so rapidly that the Government will find itself, willy-nilly, obliged to do things in contravention of all its beliefs, including preservation of the White Australia policy, about which we have already heard something, and no conscription for overseas service. These things will all go by the board if the danger threatening Australia is great enough. I shall not contrast our war effort with the war efforts of the United States of America, New Zealand and Great Britain, but I can properly compare our effort with what has happened in Canada in the last week. What was done there is merely what the Opposition desires to do here, by means of the amendment which has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Canada is not introducing conscription for overseas service at this moment, but it has taken a referendum for the purpose of freeing the Government from the pledge, which it gave on the election platforms, that it would not introduce conscription.Canada is one of the safest countries in the world, because alongside it are all the power and resources of the United States of America. However, the Canadian Government considered it necessary to have a free hand to conscript citizens for overseas service should it be desirable to do so at any moment. In effect, that is all that the Opposition desires to do here. But the Government, instead of accepting this power, looks upon the amend- ment as a challenge to its authority and treats it as a motion of censure. Could anything be more ridiculous in view of the danger that confronts us and in view of the Prime Minister's threat yesterday to resign if he were not granted the power provided in Statutory Rule No. 77. The right, honorable gentleman did not threaten to resign to-day, because he does not want the power which the Opposition seeks to give to him. This matter can be misrepresented both, overseas and at home. It is not a conscription issue. The amendment does not expressly request the Government to send conscripted troops overseas, hf honorable members on the Government side of the chamber earnestly believe that we shall win the war, as I do, they must know that it can be won only by the Allied Nations taking the offensive. It can never be won by merely defending Australia from aggression. It can be won only by driving the Japanese out of New Guinea, Timor, Java and the Philippines and. forcing them back on to their own territory. We shall have to send men, munitions and weapons on to Japanese soil. In the final analysis, that means that troops from the Allied Nations will have to invade Japan. ,Who will supply these troops - Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great, Britain or the United States of America? Of course, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), with his usual scorn of Great Britain and everything British, and his tribute to the people of the United States of America, regards the amendment as a fifth column effort.

Mr Rosevear - So it is.

Mr ANTHONY - Apparently, the honorable gentleman believes that it will prejudice Australia's chances of obtaining adequate aid from the United States of America. He fears the effect of this amendment upon American opinion. He is afraid that American conscripts will not be sent to Australia to help him and to save the Labour party's platform and everything for which it stands. That is all that is worrying him. Such a line of thought does not do credit to either the honorable member or this nation. Time after time in this House, I have heard the honorable member belittling the British troops, and everything that has been done for this country by Great Britain during the last 150 years. If I rightly judge what he has said from time to time, his sentiments would receive endorsement if Great Britain were given a good drubbing. In my opinion, division of the House on an issue such as this is not desirable. Nothing is gained by raising an issue that will he misrepresented in the country at this particularly serious stage of our history. Members of the Opposition sincerely desire to help the Government. On the 17th December last, a week or ten days after Japan had entered the war, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) wrote to the Prime Minister what I believe every body will agree was a very reasonable letter, in which he offered the complete co-operation of the Opposition, without any desire to embarrass the Government, in securing an amendment of the Defence Act which would enable the Government to act swiftly in any emergency that might arise. By the same token, the Opposition supported the request of the Government, for the endorsement of Statutory Rule No. 77. Although, as I said last night, I have some misgivings as to the administration of that statutory rule by certain Ministers, I nevertheless supported it, feeling that the Government ought to have the powers that it confers to act swiftly. That is the only reason for our acceptance of the statutory rule. After listening to the present debate, I believe that it is unlikely that the Government would exercise the power that the Opposition now offers to help it to obtain. That is regrettable. There would be no merit in giving such power to a Cabinet that would not use it in appropriate circumstances. The time must come when every member on the Government side will be obliged to recant what he has said to-day. If the Government does not take the action now advocated by the Opposition, Australia will not be able to pull its weight with its allies in this war. Whatever our private beliefs may be at the moment, force of circumstances will compel us to do our duty and play our part. We have to win this war. We have to make Australia secure for both ourselves and our children, and the only way in which that can be done is by defeating the enemy. We shall defeat the enemy only by taking the fight to his door.

I have said that, had the matter been left to me, I would not call for a division or have made this an issue in a debate. Even though the vote may be on party lines, I do not intend to record a vote.

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