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Friday, 1 May 1942

Not only the parents of those affected, but public opinion generally will endorse the decision of the War Advisory Council to remove youths of eighteen from battle stations. These youngsters are in no way fitted to stand the strain of front-line warfare and protests against the sending of them to advanced posts are tinged with justifiable bitterness when militiamen in the twenties are still serving their country in office chairs by day and returning to their homes at night.

While in the Philippines, General MacArthur made a scientific survey of his Japanese prisoners and has reported that their average age was 23 with the eldest 31, and they had had eighteen months' military service. There must be noquestion of sending mere youths todo battle with soldiers of this calibre. The place for the under twenties is in depots to undergo intensive training until they reach manhood.

I ask the Minister for the Army to tell the Parliament how many youths up to the age of twenty years have, in accordance with his instructions, been brought back from Port Moresby and Darwin; and how many youths aged eighteen years to nineteen years, details of whose cases have already been furnished, are still at operational stations to the west and north of the continent. Many parents are concerned because their young sons, in addition to being sent to operational stations, irrespective of the decision reached on the amendment we are debating, may at some future date be sent to the islands north of Australia when offensive action is taken.

If there be any merit in the amendment - and I claim that it has no merit - surely this is not the time to draw comparisons between conscripted American troops and non-conscripted Australians. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) painted a lurid picture of how the people in America would probably say that their sons were being sent away from home to fight for a country that refused to fight for itself. What a fine contribution the honorable member has made to the case for isolation that has arisen in the United States of America, a case that has been built up overmanyyears by stupid talk everywhere in the British Commonwealth of Nations about war debts owing to the United States of America by Great Britain. Continual talk about the lack of an all-in Australian war effort has helped to promote that growth of illfeeling in the United States of America, and has assisted those who claim that we do not appreciate the efforts of that country on our behalf. A considerable body of public opinion in that country had to be worn down by President Roosevelt before the United States of America would agree to the lease-lend legislation, and, subsequently, to agree to an active participation in the war. If the Japanese had not attacked the United States of America, that nation would probably not yet have entered the war and we should probably not be receiving that active assistance which we are now receiving. Those who wish to serve the best interests of Australia should avoid the comparisons which have been made to-day and should avoid trying to exacerbate American public opinion just as they should avoid inflaming Australian public opinion. I remind honorable members opposite that no Americans under the age of 21 years are conscripted, but if the proposal implicit in the amendment now before the House were accepted by Parliament and acted upon by the Government, eighteen year-old Australians who have no votes would be liable to conscription for overseas service.

Mr McEwen - That would be a matter of administration.

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