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Friday, 1 May 1942

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! If a request is made that the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) withdraw his remark, he must withdraw it.

Mr Menzies - Do I understand, Mr. Speaker, that I am being asked to withdraw my observation?


Mr WARD - I am quite indifferent to anything that the right honorable member for Kooyong may say. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that I am not guessing. I am reliably informed as to what happens in the Caucus meetings of the parties opposite. Honorable members opposite believe that their Caucus meetings are secret. We have ways and means of finding out what happens at those meetings.

Let us examine the motives behind this proposal. I repeat that the right honorable member for Kooyong has decided that this is an appropriate time to make another bid for leadership of the Opposition parties; and, in order to achieve his ambition, he has forced into action his unwilling partner who happens to occupy that position now. At the outbreak of the war certain honorable members who now support the Government, took a very realistic view of the situation. We determined that it was to the best advantage of the allied cause, and the cause of this country, that no man should be sent out of Australia for service overseas. We came to that decision because we believed, as it was obvious to anyone who had made a study of the matter, that Australia must be retained as a base from which operations might be directed against our enemies. So, we said that the maximum man-power must be retained in this country in order that Australia should be adequately defended as a base, and as a source of supplies for the allied cause. What has happened since that time ? The Opposition, when in power, even pressed upon the British authorities the need for sending an Australian expeditionary force overseas. The British authorities did not make the original request to the Australian Government to send troops abroad at all. However, because certain honorable members who sat on the Government benches in this Parliament at that time, wanted to win favour in certain quarters, they pressed upon the British authorities the need for despatching such a force overseas. All that they were concerned about was to get Australian troops on to the battlefield. They were not concerned whether our troops were properly equipped, or as to whether they were actually being sent to be slaughtered, owing to the fact that they were not properly equipped.

Mr Paterson - That is an appalling statement, unworthy of a member of a national parliament. It is a damnable statement.

Mr WARD - Every one should bear in mind that the Opposition which now makes this attack upon the Government was itself in part responsible for what happened in Greece, Crete, Libya and Malaya. It was not a Labour government, nor a Labour Minister, who sent those men into battle ill-equipped and without proper air protection. We were not responsible for those things. This Labour Government has laid it down that wherever troops are required to serve under a Labour government, they will be properly equipped, and thus enabled to meet their enemies at least on equal terms. To-day honorable members opposite are parading their patriotism. I believe that you could not find a bigger group of Quislings in any country in the world than among honorable members sitting on the benches opposite - men who would sell their country for party interest and advantage, and are prepared to-day to sacrifice the interests of the nation. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), as a member of the Advisory War Council, is in a position to know exactly what the situation is. Only a few days ago he was shown cables dealing with the international position. Despite that, he is still prepared to launch an attack upon the Government in an attempt to divide the nation in the hour of its greatest trial. Are not such men guilty of a real disservice to their country? Are they not guilty of raising an issue at this moment which will divide the nation from end to end? Why do they raise this issue? It is not because they want to help the country in its hour of danger, but simply because, as the Leader of the Opposition himself has said, they feel greatly perturbed over the actions of certain Ministers, who, they allege, are, under the cloak of war emergency, capable of trying to introduce phases of socialism into the government of the country. Thus this attack is not designed to assist the nation. It is an attempt to destroy the Government, because honorable members opposite believe that vested interests are in danger. They are more concerned about protecting vested interests, and their privileges, than about defending the country itself. But to the Labour Government the interests of the country mean everything. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that no matter what brand he might place upon the politics of the Labour Government, I should not worry in the slightest if the Government should entirely sweep aside all vested interests if such action were necessary for the protection of this country against aggressors. But as soon as legislation, or regulations, are introduced, which adversely affect vested interests, honorable members opposite are prepared to seize on any issue in order to divide the nation in the hope that it will mean the destruction of the Labour Government. I feel sure that it will never be said that Australians must be compelled to fight against the enemies of this country. That has never been the case in the past; it will never be so in the future. I think that it was the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) who once said that if a man was not prepared, voluntarily, to defend his country, there must be something wrong with his country. Australians will respond to the call of their country; they will readily make the sacrifices involved in the defence of their country; and they will volunteer to defend it wherever they are required to do so.

What is the issue before the House? It is nothing more or less than the issue of conscription for overseas service. 1 do not want to be always quoting what Labour members say, because honorable members opposite will not accept our views. But the right honorable member for Kooyong himself, during the last war, was opposed to sending mer compulsorily on service abroad. On thi? matter he was attacked by the then Leader of the Country party, the right honorable member for Cowper (Si Earle Page), just after the death of Mr. Lyons. All honorable members are aware of what the right honorable member for Kooyong was accused of on that occasion. I shall not repeat those charges, except to remind the right honorable member that he then reserved to himself the right to say whether he should have served in the last war. I ask him whether he can, now, after he has passed military age, consistently support an amendment which takes away that right and liberty from the individual to determine for himself, according to his own special circumstances, what service he is able to render - the right which the right honorable member so zealously reserved for himself in the last war. I take from Hansard the following statements made by the right honorable member for Cowper on that occasion: -

The Australian Government needs a leader with not merely the qualities I have mentioned, but also the three qualities of courage, loyalty and .judgment, in such degree as will ensure that the people of Australia will give the last ounce of their energies and resources in a united national effort to ensure our preservation ... I come now to the third incident:

Mr SPEAKER - Order! Comments by a third party - on a member of the House are not relevant to the subjectmatter of the debate.

Mr WARD - Whether you, Mr. Speaker, say the quotation has any bearing on the subject or not, it certainly appears to be inconsistent for any honororable member to take advantage of a situation, for party purposes, to reverse a decision which he had previously made in regard to the course that he himself must pursue. Three years ago, the right honorable member for Kooyong stated that for private and personal reasons ho had not been able to offer his services in the last war. Many Australians are in a similar position at the present time. Every man who does not join the Services is not necessarily a coward, or a person who does not wish the Axis to be defeated. He may have real private and personal reasons for not offering his services. In proportion to our population, more men are serving in Australia to-day than are serving in the armed forces of Germany.

What would happen if the proposal of the Opposition succeeded? Australian troops could be compelled to fight in distant theatres of war. As the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) stated, many thousands of men in Australia have already volunteered to serve either in Australia or overseas. The previous Government, disregarding the advice of the Labour party, despatched expeditionary forces to the Middle East and Malaya. Recently, the necessity arose for the Labour Government hastily to recall them to Australia for the purpose of defending this country. The previous Government, which was responsible for sending them ill-equipped into battle, endangered them in the conflict and subjected them to risks of disaster on the return voyage to Australia. There will be no doubt as to the co-operation of the Labour party with our allies in defeating Naziism and Fascism, and the Labour party, supported by organized workers, will do everything to assist in the overthrow of our enemies, wherever they may be. But the Government will pursue a policy approved, not by vested interests, but by the Labour movement. Those persons who clamoured for an all-in war effort, will have an all-in war effort, though not of the kind that they expect. Honorable members opposite who endorsed action to restrict the liberty of the worker and to peg wages, now object strenuously to the policy of the Government, because it affects their friends. I should like to know why the right honorable member for Kooyong now supports a policy that he opposed in May, 1939, when he said -

I have already said that compulsory military service overseas in time of war is not part of the policy of this Government, and that the Government stands against it.

In respect of its defence, Australia is in a better position to-day than it has been at any period since the outbreak of war. The improvement has been effected by the Labour Government during the last six months. This morning, I listened to the speech of the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson). Whilst I concede to him the right to make his individual decision upon what he should do or is capable of doing, I deny to him the right to make personal attacks upon the Labour Government which is genuinely doing its best to ensure the adequate defence of the country. What is the position of the honorable member? An ardent advocate of conscription for service overseas, he announced in the House on one occasion that he would be on the first transport that left Australia.

Mr Anthony - Was it his fault that he was not?

Mr WARD - I know that he missed the boat. So he was not on the first transport.

Mr Anthony - The Minister knows that the honorable member was rejected by the medical examiner.

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister should be fair.

Mr WARD - If honorable members will allow me a moment to explain, I shall be strictly fair. The honorable member for Deakin offered his services. I understand that he was rejected because of faulty vision. He failed to satisfy the doctor that bis eyesight was up to the standard required of a soldier. But the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) has informed me that the physical standard has been reduced, and that possibly some of the men who failed in the medical examination on a previous occasion might succeed now.

The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who volunteered atthe same time as the honorable member for Deakin, was accepted for service. Later, the then Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) withdrew him from the Army, and he became a Minister. The need for his services as a Minister no longer exists. We may rightly ask this man to explain why he did not return to the Army.

Mr Rankin - Is the Minister prepared to come with him?

Mr WARD - If I were to accompany the honorable member for Bendigo, I should be quite certain of returning to Australia. I should be quite safe if I remained with him.

Mr Rankin - The Minister knows that that is an offensive lie.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The expression " offensive lie " is objectionable, and I must maintain the dignity of the House. Any more of these expressions will have to be unequivocally withdrawn.

Mr WARD - All I ask is that members of the Opposition will be consistent. Every one cannot be in the Army, the Navy or the Royal Australian Air Force. As I stated previously, the proportion of men in Australia who are serving in the fighting forces is greater, in proportion to population, that it is in any other country, including Germany. We must maintain and expand our essential industries. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) has complained of difficulties caused by the lack of man-power in the rural industries in his electorate. What will happen if the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition be adopted? Persons in the electorate of Bendigo, who are now appealing to the Government to make more labour available to them, will be placed in a worse position than ever. In addition, Australia will be "bled white" of its manhood. We must have some regard for the future of the country. During the last war, the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), believing that the conscription referendum would be carried, converted showgrounds and race-courses into camps for the purpose of receiving large numbers of men. The right honorable gentleman also had in the harbours of Australia ships carrying coloured labour that was to take the places of Australians to be called up for military service.

Mr Hughes - There is not a word of truth in the Minister's bed-time story. It is a lie.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The right honorable gentleman must withdraw that remark.

Mr Hughes - I withdraw it.

Mr WARD - The right honorable gentleman will not deny that there was coloured labour aboard ships in Australian harbours at the time the referendum was submitted to the people. That is common knowledge.

Mr Hughes - I say that is a lie.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The right honorable member for North Sydney must withdraw that remark.

Mr Hughes - I withdraw it.

Mr WARD - I hope to be able, probably next week, to submit some evidence to show that the right honorable gentleman has not been stating the facts to this Parliament.

Mr Hughes - Go on. My speeches may be shorter but they are much more to the point.

Mr WARD - A mere denial of what I say does not dispose of my statement.

Mr Hughes - Not a denial by you.

Mr WARD - The word of the right honorable member for North Sydney, who has been in all political parties and on all sides of politics, does not count for much in this country.

Mr Hughes - That is a lie, too.

Mr SPEAKER - The right honorable member must withdraw that statement.

Mr Hughes - I withdraw.

Mr WARD - It appears as if members of the Opposition, who, with their allies the anti-Labour press, have been quoting what other honorable members have done in the past, resent very much being reminded of the many skeletons they have in their own cupboard. We want the Opposition to understand that they are doing an actual disservice to this country. In my opinion, some of them unconsciously - I can say that of some of them because they have been unconscious for years - and some of them consciously, have been guilty of fifthcolumn activities. What do they aim to do? Let us consider the right honorable member for North Sydney, who to-day is greatly incensed because of something of which I may remind him, hut which he hoped had been long forgotten. Along with the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), he was involved in an inquiry that was held in regard to the distribution of Commonwealth money - dishonorable distribution.

Mr SPEAKER - It is about time these personalities ceased.

Mr Hughes - Why does the honorable member not retire to his cesspit?

Mr Fadden - A nice scene for a National Parliament.

Mr WARD - The people who are responsible for the scene that discredits this Parliament are the Leader of the Opposition and those members with him who introduced such a question at this time. They know the facts, for they have been shown secret cables, and yet they seek to injure the nation and stab the Government in the back by submitting an amendment which they know is designed for one purpose only. That purpose is not to assist the Australian war effort. There is no suggestion that Australian troops will be required to go outside this country. We have been appealing to the United States of America to send troops into this country. I ask the Leader of the Opposition why he has raised this question. The amendment means that members of Parliament who are condemned at present to be in Opposition, but who wish to cross to the Government benches, think that this is a favorable opportunity to destroy the Government. The Australian soldier does not want conscription. He declared himself against it when he had the opportunity on two occasions. He is a. volunteer.

Mr Fadden - We already have conscription under Statutory Rule No. 77.

Mr WARD - There is no conscription for overseas military service, which is an entirely different matter. Although the Leader of the Opposition may refer to it as conscription, the Government, when drafting the regulations for the control of the man-power of this country, did what the previous Government would never have done. Before the restrictions were imposed, we conferred with the representatives of the workers. There was convened in Melbourne the greatest trade union congress that has ever been held in this country. The regulations were not enforced on the workers, who, however, voluntarily accepted them through that great trade union congress. They voluntarily forewent the liberties they had long cherished, and they did so because they wanted to serve the nation in its hour of need. They responded as the Australian workers have always responded. If there is any doubt in the minds of honorable members on that point, let them indicate one instance of the Australian workers being called upon to strike a blow for this nation and refusing to do it voluntarily. If members of the Opposition wanted to serve this country and to do the best thing possible for the workers and the nation, they would not at the present time be sowing the seeds of discord between Australian and overseas troops. They are sowing discord also in the minds of the American public. The Government of the United States of America has not made any demands on the Australian Government that have not been met. The American people, however, will not be fully aware of the situation, but will believe that their forces are being hampered in this country because of the failure of the Australian Government to co-operate with the American Government. America has made no complaint; there has been no suggestion of it, but, on the other hand, there has been the greatest possible measure of co-operation between our American ally and the Australian Government. This debate, reports of which will be broadcast, will tend to create an impression in the minds of the American people, whom we are anxious to influence in the direction of taking a favorable view of sending reinforcements: and equipment to Australia, that there is some doubt whether the Australian Government and the Australian people are worthy of assistance. This Government will govern. It will get the maximum war effort and do the best for this country and its allies, with whom we shall work in the closest cooperation. But there is no need for the bogy of conscription to he raised. This issue would divide the country. The trade unions, which are giving full cooperation in their war effort, would reconsider their position and some would withdraw their support. That is clearly the purpose of the amendment. I hope that the majority of honorable members will not fall into the trap laid by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), into which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) fell when he yielded to the pressure upon him to use his position in this chamber to try to destroy the Government so that the right honorable member for Kooyong might step forward once more to the centre of the stage, in the hope of soon re-occupying the position of Prime Minister. The people do not want the right honorable gentleman as Prime Minister. He, in my opinion, would be one of the most unlikely of choices. The workers in this country have not forgotten his action against the Port Kembla waterside workers, who struck work and refused to ship pig iron and other metals to Japan.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! This would have been more appropriate to the debate yesterday.

Mr WARD - I am always ready to accept the decision of an impartial Speaker. I used the instance of the Port Kembla strike to emphasize that there is uo need to coerce the workers into co-operation in the war effort. The Port Kembla waterside workers struck work with the highest of motives, not because they wanted more pay or better conditions, but because they refused to ship pig iron to a member of the Axis. Rut those men were coerced into shipping that metal to Japan.

The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who is striving to interject, I remember, defended the action of the Commonwealth Government in assisting in the closing of the Burma Road so that Japan could be assisted against our gallant Chinese allies. It was the anti-Labour Government which made representations to the imperial authorities for the closing of that road.

Mr Menzies - I have never known the Minister to say anything correct.

Mr WARD - The right honorable gentleman would not deny that the United Australia party-Country party coalition Government was in control of this country when the .British Government decided to close the Burma Road.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Minister for Labour and National Service must connect the closing of the Burma Road with the amendment.

Mr WARD - I shall do so. Had the anti-Labour Government not urged the British Government to close the Burma Road in order to hinder our gallant Chinese allies-

Mr ARCHIE Cameron - Only by sending armed forces to Burma could the road have been kept open, and that is the one thing that this Government does not want to do.

Mr WARD - Had the anti-Labour Government not been responsible for the closing of the road, China would have obtained more adequate supplies and, no doubt, would have succeeded against the Japanese and made it unnecessary for this talk about sending troops out of Australia.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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