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Wednesday, 9 September 1942


Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - The House is greatly indebted to the right honorable the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) for his speech last week and also to the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) for his illuminating statement, this evening. Both speakers have made it clear that this country is a partner with other countries in the prosecution of what we can well describe as the greatest cause for which men have ever fought. That partnership is a real one, and we must try to realize from day to day what it means, not only to us because of the strength that we may draw from our partners hut also what it means to them because of our reciprocal action. Just as we have combined the total resources of all the partners 'because of the danger to those forming the partnership, so must we allocate those resources in the interests of all the partners. That means that there must be some day-to-day measurement as to where those resources can best be employed. The parliaments of the democracies are representative of tinpeoples of their respective countries, and it is only natural that those peoples should ask that the total resources' of the combined nations should be so employed as to give to them the greatest sense of security. Political decision? made by governments must inevitably reflect the demands of the people to secure from the common pool the maximum allocation for the particular job which the people regard as being most vital to their own security. It is indeed proper that the government of a country, while recognizing its duty to the common cause, should regard as its paramount responsibility the safety and security of its own people. But in the political consultation* which take place consideration must be given to the views of all those who participate in such consultations. A decision made politically might please some country and its people in that it would increase their security, and yet it might be a bad decision from the standpoint of the successful prosecution of the war. For that reason, political considerations must be merged in a sound strategic appreciation of the progress of the war. There must be professional guidance, as well as political considerations, in determining what are the major theatres of war, and in what proportion0 the man-power resources shall be allocated to them, having in mind not only the immediate problem but also the ultimate solution of the total problem of the war. No one can deny that war means the destruction of life and resources, th'? occupation of territory, and advances and gains by an enemy. Such information helps to form public opinion, and somelimes it has the effect of causing a state of disquietude. Those gains can easily be magnified beyond their real importance, and, as a consequence, pressure is brought to bear upon governments; if governments were so misguided as to yield to such influence the state of the war, bad as it is at present, might become worse in the future. And so I say that, in dealing with this global problem, the people and the Government of Australia, and indeed all responsible public opinion in Australia, must expect not only that the effect of the partnership will be a contribution to our strength, but also that we shall share the perils of all the countries that are engaged with us in the struggle. We must not, regardless of every other consideration, ask that things shall be done to make our position safe. We cannot put forward that claim. And because it will not be put forward, we have to take the day-to-day measurement not only of our peril but also of our obligations as made by the Chiefs of Staff and the political councils that have been established.

As I see it, the problem of Russia is one of acute anxiety to the peoples of the democracies. I regard it to he the duty of the United "Nations to assist Russia to the maximum. Any contribution made to assist other theatres of war which would mean a subtraction from the maximum effort which we are physically capable of making on behalf of Russia would, in the last analysis, not only prolong the war but also produce a state of affairs in which the chances of losing the war would be increased. For those reasons, the consultation which took place recently between the British Prime Minister and the leaders of the Soviet Administration at Moscow had for its purpose not merely the granting of assistance to Russia, but also the granting of it in such a way as to ensure that the total opposition that can be offered to the Axis powers shall be maintained at its maximum. Russia is one of the principal active theatres of actual conflict, and therefore it is understandable that the obligation which the United Nations have towards the maintenance of Russian resistance to Germany involves the contraction of supplies to other theatres, including Australia. It is true also that the struggle in the Middle East is of vital importance; but the decision as to whether the strengthening of our forces there might involve a subtraction from the help which w7e could give to Russia is a matter for determination, not by public meetings, but by those in possession of all the facts, and then only after the most careful assessing of the situation. The argument which I have advanced in respect of Russia and the Middle East applies also to the conflict in the Pacific. These arn three major theatres of war in which the United Nations are engaged. Those nations are widely separated geographically; their capacity to produce is superior to that of the Axis powers, but their capacity to distribute their products has to be measured by their ability to transport them across the seven seas. Last week the Minister for External Affairs, and to-night the right honorable member for Cowper, stressed the significance of shipping to the fighting capacity of the United Nations. If we could place where we want them the things that we are capable of producing, we could increase our resistance against the enemy, but ever since the war began

Ave have been faced with the fact of total inadequacy to do the things that require to be done. When the war commenced wc pooled all that we had, but even then we did not have enough to equip our forces adequately to resist the strength of an enemy that had prepared for war for many years. From that day io this a state of total inadequacy has been the lot of the United Nations - inadequacy not only in the number of aeroplanes but also in regard to their types, inadequacy in respect of naval strength, in the armaments required by our land forces, and in the transportation organization necessary to dispose them to the best advantage. . The problem of supply is of just as great strategic importance as is the problem of military, naval and air dispositions. Since the war in the Pacific theatre commenced, the governments of the United Nations have done their utmost to maintain the closest liaison for the purpose of making the beat decisions for the conduct of the war. It is true that all of us have suffered disappointments. I have not the least doubt that the allied commanders in the Middle East have considered that the flow of material bo them was not equal to that for which they had hoped, and that Russia has reason to believe that supplies received from the democracies have not kept pace with its requirements. In this Australian theatre, the supply has not kept pace with what we consider to be the desirable volume. In all theatres, there are deficiencies. Because of that, we have to ask our- selves what is the ultimate requirement that we ourselves have to meet. I believe that it is not practicable for any very great increase of the fighting efficiency of our own country to be brought to this theatre for some little time. That does not mean that the flow of materials which have been and are coming here will be lessened. It means that there cannot be, by the mere declaration of our necessity, so tremendous a response in the form of aeroplanes or naval vessels that the strength of the enemy in this theatre will be immediately reduced. In my opinion, that is not a feasible or practicable hope to entertain, because it could be realized only by subtracting from the supply of materials that are equally, or, in some respects, even more urgently, necessary in one or more of the other great theatres of this global conflict.

We do not urge that we ourselves shall be made safe regardless of what happens to the other partners with whom we are joined in this great struggle for civilization. For that reason, it is my considered opinion - an opinion not lightly formed - that the obligation of Australia to hold this country must be primarily met by the man-power and resources of the Commonwealth. The contribution that we shall get will be the maximum which the exigencies of the war enable our partners to give to us. Owing to the nature of the problem, they will have to send great quantities of material to the Middle East and to Russia. We have to ensure that the problem of Africa, already fluid, shall not be made impossible of solution by our own forces. What does that really mean? The position is that, for some time to come, the obligation to hold Australia will be imposed upon those who are responsible for conducting the war in this theatre. I cannot imagine that one can engage in grandiose offensives unless one has the resources with which to conduct them; and the problem of supply and transportation for the forces that would undertake the offensive represents a demand upon shipping so great that in this theatre, at any rate, no sensible man would expect to see it satisfied in the near future. Therefore, the House will be justified in planning for a period which, as I see it, will be at least months, in which not one single thing that this country can do for its own defence ought to be left undone.

Let me state the matter generally. Time and time again, representations have been made to me for the release of men from the Army for the purpose of engaging in the production of civil goods, many of which are necessary to the population as a whole. In the absence of naval and aerial superiority in this theatre, I am not prepared to risk any contraction of the Army from the strength which our advisers consider to be the minimum required for the task confronting them; and the present strength of the Australian Army is not so great as I consider necessary. To take large numbers of men out of the Army for the purpose of doing this, that or the other thing is to interrupt the continuity of their training. Most certainly, the intensity of it is diminished. Furthermore, the release of numbers of men creates in the public mind an altogether false impression that men who have entered the Army for the purpose of fighting can be pulled out of it periodically in order to engage in some other occupation. That is a fundamental mistake, which does not enable our Army to be nearly sio efficient as continuity and intensity of training would ensure.

Why must we have an army of that size? The population of this continent is no greater than the population of Tokyo; it is equal to that of Greece or Belgium. Our man-power is greatly limited. Because our population is small and our territory so large, we have to retain in our Army a strength that is capable of holding, shall I say, Darwin or

New Guinea. We have also to provide a holding force for Western Australia ; and, in case the enemy by-passes those places, we have to station an army, strong enough to resist an attack, on the eastern coast of Australia. We have also to see that the vast uninhabited, but tremendously important north-west of Western Australia, and parts of Queensland, are not left open for the enemy to establish land bases, from which to use aircraft in attacks upon the more thickly populated parts of the Commonwealth. In addition to that, we have to maintain reinforcements for the 9th Division, which is at present in the Middle East. Another obligation is to ensure that reinforcements shall be constantly assembled for the purpose of maintaining garrisons that we have established in parts of the Commonwealth where the climate is such that men ought not to be expected to remain there indefinitely without relief. Therefore, forces which are stationed at Darwin, in New Guinea and in the northern parts of Queensland ought to be regularly relieved by trained, seasoned troops. To move about our man-power for the purpose of reinforcing the Army, we must have in training the requisite numbers of men.

Another point is that there is no great inherent mobility in an army in this country. We cannot move large numbers of troops from western to eastern Australia, or from eastern to western Australia. We have not, within ourselves, that capacity for the rapid movement of a large number of men, and their equipment and ancillaries from the south of Australia to the north of Australia. Such a movement can be done only by a complete concentration of road, rail and sea transport, all of which is limited and all of which has new demands upon it because of our war-time production, which make it unequal to requirements. For example, coal must, be shipped from Newcastle to Adelaide and Melbourne in order to meet the demands of the munitions factories there. Steel must be transported from Port Kembla to munitions factories in Victoria and South Australia, whilst iron ore has to be carried from South Australia to Port Kembla. In addition, we have to supply the forces that we have now dis posed for the defence of the frontiers of this country. For this work, ships will be required in increasing numbers. This shipping ought to be permanently allocated to the forces in order to ensure continuity of supplies to them; but it is impossible to satisfy the needs of industry, and the needs of the forces, unless our shipping resources be expanded. All this begets problems of great difficulty. Stores, munitions and petrol must be distributed at places in Australia which, until recently, were without road or rail communication. For that task, ships had to be employed. In the meantime roads have been constructed. We had to engage in a vast programme of works construction in parts of Australia that I shall not specify, but I inform the House that in the last four months, a sum of £14,000,000 has been expended on works of this description. That will indicate to honorable members the physical magnitude of the works.

Honorable members should also be informed that the primary source of supply for the defence of this theatre of war must be within the Commonwealth. In making that statement, I do not want it to be thought that I am dissatisfied with what the United States of America and Great Britain are doing in this theatre. I have no complaint of any description to make about what those two great powers are doing in this part of the world. Like any other man, I would be glad if they could do more for us. We should have cause to be thankful if the other demands on them could be lessened, so that they could do more for us. But the outstanding certainty is that for some period at least, the problem of the United Nations is such that the best thing any Australian can do for his country is to make sure that he uses every ounce of his capacity to assist in its defence. That means that, if the Army is not to be prejudiced in its training and in its useful operations, we have to see to it that its numbers and personnel are adequate to the task that it has to carry out. I say quite candidly that the strength of the Army, whatever it is - and I shall not mention it in numbers - is less that I should like it to be, and is less than the Command would like it to be, and, if there be those in the country who would say that the Array is immobilized and that there are men sitting in camps instead of digging potatoes, producing wheat or cutting firewood, or whatever it might be, my answer is that, whatever be the criticisms that can be made in respect of the Army, the Army is far more efficient than it was, that its training is getting to some degree of maturity, and that it is becoming increasingly efficient. The best way in which to make it less efficient is to interrupt the training with this spasmodic in and out of camp to engage in what is regarded as an essential vocation. It may he an essential vocation. That carries me to this point: those essential occupations have to be carried on, because they are indispensable to the Army itself and to the maintenance of the nation, and, if the Army ought not to release men for rhein. persons not engaged in essential occupations shall be transferred to them. That does mean closing down of many enterprises, it does mean interfering with the personal liberty of citizens, it does mean that the men and women of this country cannot of themselves judge what is the right use to make of their industrial capacity. There has been a great transfer to the fighting forces and to war industries as the result of the policies that have been carried out. I make no apologies for the dislocation caused. I admit that mistakes have been made, that things have not worked nearly so smoothly as we should have liked them to work, but, this problem has terrific urgency. The danger that confronts this country to-day confronted it last February. I remember standing at this fable and announcing the commencement of the Battle of the Coral Sea. At that hour no one knew how it would terminate. Fortunately Aor us, it resulted in. a rebuff for the enemy, and allowed us a breathing space in which to go on with the programme for the organization of this country foi- the prosecution of the war. Had it turned the other way - and it could have - it would have been said that we had not grappled with the problem. It is true that we have not clone things completely; it is perfectly true that we have not been able to consult all the experts in the country. That was owing to the unwillingness of the Government to delay action for fear that too long a delay would mean that we should be too late, and, as a consequence, 1 regret, some things have been done which, if we had had longer time to reflect about them and more time to elaborate the machinery, would have .been clone a little better, with less interference, and with not so many square pegs in round holes. I acknowledge all that. I say to the House and to the country that the Government has laboured under the imperative urge to get things done as rapidly as they can he done, in order to cope with a situation which, any week, might have become unmanageable - unmanageable because the enemy was much nearer than he turned out to be. We can all be wise after the event. The requirements of the munitions and aircraft industries for man-power are greater than they were. As we produce more munitions and aircraft, and have larger forces under arms, we must have machinery for servicing equipment and for keeping aeroplanes in the air and trucks on the move. That repair and service aspect must increasingly make demands upon the labour power of this country. The larger the army the larger the supplies and the greater the demand on the industrial resources. Therefore, increasingly, as our capacity to fight improves, our capacity to maintain the civil order must diminish, because from the civil supply has come the strength of our fighting forces. By taking capital and labour devoted to the ways of peace, we have been able to develop the capacity which we have and which we hope to make greater in order to carry on the war and to defend and hold the country. I know no easy road in this matter. I shall not be able to say to the country that that is conceivable until the enemy has been dealt a serious blow, until the initiative has been wrested from him. He -would not be a man concerned with the welfare of his country who would say that things could be made more comfortable in the next week, the next fortnight or the next few months. No, he would not be. He would not be true to the requirements that his views impose upon him. The only way in which he can be is by saying that he can only make the fighting forces stronger by making things harder for the civil population. To say anything else would be an utter denial of reality.

There are things that are implicit in what I have said. This nation cannot ii nora to waste its substance, and its substance consists of its physical capacity. [ know the need for relaxation, but this country cannot afford a 36-hour cessation from concentration on the task of the war each week-end. [Extension of time granted.'] We cannot afford a day and a half of release from the obligations of war just because it happens to bc Saturday afternoon and Sunday.


Mr Anthony - Two days.


Mr CURTIN - Yes, in many instances the week-end means 48 hours, but I put it at 36 hours, because I know that in that period there is a great loss of energy to the economic structure of this nation. If we are ever to look forward hopefully to the future we can only do so as the result of holding Australia, as the result of victory coming to our cause. And victory has its price. The British Prime Minister said that the price of victory is : " Blood and sweat and tears". Well, I do not ask for that, but I ask for constant application to the task' of industry on the part of those upon whom that devolves. J.f men are required to dig potatoes, to get coal, to transport sugar, or to provide for any of the services of the civil population, I put it to the country that those services must be rendered by persons who hitherto have not been engaged in useful industry, and not at this juncture by men taken from the Army at the price of diminishing the strength of the fighting forces. It must be the contrary, having regard to the casualties we are sure to suffer, and the wastage that sickness creates. I say that, because thousands of our men are going into the jungle country, into places where malaria is prevalent. It is inevitable that disablement and enfeeblement will come to many; sickness will make inroads upon their strength. Those who fall sick will have to be replaced and, increasingly, our manhood will have to ensure that it shall maintain the requisite supply to keep the fighting army at strength, for in war the fate of nations rests entirely on the result of the clash of arms. Strength to overcome the enemy at the place where the ene--.iv is to be met will decide whether the country is to be free or not. As one who has fought for social betterment and as one who looks forward to the rebirth of every plan for making the world a better place, I say that, in order to make it better, at this period of trial to the country and ourselves, we must ensure that in looking forward to the millenium we shall not fail to deserve to have it given to us as the result of the sacrifices and industry demanded of us. I say to Australia that for the next six months the problem of the united nations, the partners in the preservation of civilization, is so stupendous that it is not conceivable that we here in Australia can expect to have given to us anything that we ought to provide for ourselves. The title which we shall have to demand from our partners more than is given to us is that we shall have completely exhausted our own capacity to provide it ourselves. We should put our nation on the same plane as the fighting forces - on the same plane as the heroic, population of Russia. Take Stalingrad for the last few weeks. There, with fearful battles incessantly raging, the people still stand fighting because of the reborn patriotism which has marked Russian history ever since the Bolshevik Revolution. I know that there has been much injustice in this country. I know that there are wrongs to be righted. 1 know that thousands fighting for us got a dreadful deal during the years of depression. I know that there is great truth in the challenge that the rich get advantages even in war-time and that all the burdens are on the poor. Nobody knows better than we that history is full of black patches, but neither history nor hopes will save us. What will save us is concentration by us all on the problems of the present.







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