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Friday, 1 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) made a statement on the war situation for the information of honorable members, and to the right honorable gentleman's motion " That the paper be printed " the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) has moved an amendment, the effect of which is to ask Parliament to approve the principle of conscription for overseas service. So far, thedebate has been upon the amendment, whilst the statement on the general war situation has been completely ignored. If a vote be taken upon the amendment, undoubtedly the House will be asked immediately afterwards to vote on the original question, and there will be no further opportunity granted to debate the various phases of the war situation as outlined by the Prime Minister. That is most unfortunate, because honorable members have little opportunity to discuss what is, after all, the most important matter that could come to the notice of the Parliament at this critical period. Members are told very littleby this Government - they were told less by previous governments - about the changes in the war situation. Recently, a meeting of Commonwealth and State Ministers was held in Melbourne to discuss, among other things, uniform taxation. After internal politics had been disposed of, a meeting was arranged at which the Premiers were addressed by such important persons as the Prime Minister, General MacArthur, CommanderinChief of the south-west Pacific area; General Sir Thomas Blarney, CommanderinChief Australian Military Forces and Commander of the Allied Land Forces in that area; Rear-Admiral Sir Guy Royle, Major-General R. K. Sutherland, Chief of Staff to General MacArthur ; Lieutenant-General Sturdee, Chief of Staff, General Head-quarters; and Air Vice-Marshall W. D. Bostock, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff.

State Premiers have no constitutional right to be addressed, advised or consulted upon matters concerning the defence of this country, but they were given the fullest information on the war situation direct from the mouths of the military advisers to the Commonwealth. Although they are an estimable body of men - I am personally friendly with most of them - they have no right to be so addressed whilst members of Parliament, who have a constitutional responsibility to the nation, are ignored. We have received no information of a worthwhile character from the Ministers and, as a Parliament, we have not been given the opportunity of hearing General MacArthur or any other high military, naval or air force authority. All that the Parliament is told is contained in a typewritten document that has been prepared for the information of the House; it is read to us, and then we are invited to ask a few questions. As a representative of the people I protest against that practice. Any information I have received in recent times on the war situation has generally been passed on to me by pressmen who, by the very nature of their calling, are in closer touch with the Ministers than are most honorable members. I hope that the Government will, in the near future, alter the existing practice; but while it continues to exist I shall, with justification, continue to protest.

I am afraid that the debate on the amendment may have the effect of further inflaming the minds of parents of youths, aged eighteen years, who are already at operational stations throughout the country without having received any previous military training. There is agitation in the minds of many parents because the instruction that the Minister said he had issued has in most cases been ignored. I have received a number of letters and press cuttings from people who desire that their protest should be beard in opposition to the policy of the Government of sending youths direct to battle stations. The first press cutting is from the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial of the 20th March. It reads -

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