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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr MCLEOD - The honorable member should have seen that they were sent away properly equipped.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable mem ber apparently thinks tha.t if we have not exactly the same number of tanks, guns and planes as the enemy has, we must sit down and allow him to overrun us, whilst we hold a stop-work meeting, according to the practice of the supporters of honorable members opposite. He forgets that while we waited for tanks and planes to be built and guns to be forged, our country would be taken, our women ravished, and our men murdered. In due course, if some other country produced the necessary number of tanks to bring us to parity with our enemy, I suppose the honorable member would expect Australia, which by then would be producing a race of half-castes, to decide to fight.

We are to-day faced with the heaviest budget in the history of Australia. The Government is asking the people to produce approximately £550,000,000, £440,000,000 of which is 'to be expended on the war. Although we may not approve of every project that the Government puts, forward, every one in Australia who is entitled to call himself a man is, I am sure, prepared to say tha t the money must be produced, even if it cannot be produced voluntarily, as the Government hopes it will be. When I think of the gap of £300,000,000 between estimated receipts and total estimated expenditure, I wonder whether it is possible to get that amount voluntarily from the people of Australia. We must remember that a great many people here are apparently still not aware that there is a war on, and do not realize that they and their country are in deadly danger. The time is very close at hand when this Government, or whatever other government may be in power, will have to obtain the money, no matter what means it employs. 1 believe the correct plan was put forward by the former Treasurer (Mr. Fadden). We should have compulsory loans and post-war credits, and all that great section of the community which to-day is escaping direct taxation should be compelled to pay its share.

Mr Lazzarini - Even then we should not get half enough. What else would the honorable member do?

Mr RANKIN - I am quite prepared to face what a great number of Government supporters advocate and would like to see introduced : that is, that, every man who has property should give a section of it, a quarter or a half if necessary, in order that he should retain the other half and that this country should be free. I am not afraid to face it, but I doubt whether some honorable members on the other side are ready to do so. I would agree to giving half of our salaries, as is suggested by an interjector, because the money must be raised. One of the worst things the Government does to-day is to retain 2s. a day as deferred pay from the members of the armed forces until the end of the war, saying to them, in so many words: "We are taking £8,000,000 from you because you are in the Army, the Air Force, or the Navy, and are not in a position to object ". On the other hand, the man in the munitions factory is in. a position to object strongly. He is very vocal, through his union secretary, who is often an imported Communist, like the secretary of the Ironworkers' organization in Sydney, or Mr. Thomas of the Builders and Carpenters Union - fellows who should be behind bars, if they are allowed to. live at all. I question very much whether they have any right to live in this country, which they are trying to tear down.

Mr James - What would the honorable member do with them?

Mr RANKIN - I should put them up against a wall without any hesitation. They had no interest in the freedom of

Australia, or in the British Empire, until the Russians came into the war. Magnificent job though the Russians have done and are doing, it. would come very much better from the Prime Minister, as representing Australia, if, instead of appealing to the people to get the outlook of the inhabitants of Stalingrad, he remembered that after all we have a very wonderful history of our own. It is not necessary to go very far back. He could urge Australians to get the same outlook as the men at. Lone Pine had, or the men at Passchendaele. who stood for weeks on end up to their knees in mud and slush, during the bitterest winter that Prance had known for 40 years; or the men at Menin Gate, who went down that road duy after day, and night after night, knowing that they had to supply the men in the front line with food and munitions, and that they would be extremely lucky if 75 per cent, of them returned; or the men of Tobruk, who stuck it for seven months, or the men of Milne Bay, or the men who to-day are fighting for the safety of Port Moresby and at the same time for the safety of Australia, because, if the enemy takes that very valuable base, the whole of Australia will be in grave danger. Why not ask the people of Australia to get the same outlook as the people of our own Empire and our own motherland ? Why appeal in an indirect way for the support and vote of men like Thornton and Thompson and those other Communist gentlemen who come out here not in the interests of the Empire, .but if possible to upset the Empire? It would be much more appropriate for the right honorable member, a? Prime Minister of a British dominion, to appeal to the people to remember their own country and its glorious past. My mind goes back to the last war, when my comrades were looking for assistance from Australia, and the representatives of the party opposite went to their famous triennial conference at Perth. I am reminded very seriously of the resolutions that they passed there, including one demanding the return of the Australian Imperial' Force to Australia, and another that Great Britain should make the best, peace terms it could. They might as well have suggested putting a man into a cage with a well-fed tiger and saying to him, " Make the best terms you can with the tiger; possibly he will allow you to live till the morning if you pet him and scratch his ears. If you do not, it is just too bad, but anyway he is bound to eat you in the morning". That was the suggestion, and the men who were then struggling on the slopes of the Galilean Range, or trying to stem the tide at. Amiens, or facing the German hordes which were marching into France, find it hard to forget such things.

Mr McLeod - What did the honorable member promise to those men?

Mr RANKIN - I did not promise them anything. I went away to fight, for the country to which I belong. After my return I did my utmost to get, a fair deal for my comrade?. The only Commonwealth government which tried to revoke the principle for preference to returned soldiers was a Labour government.

Mr McEWEN (INDI, VICTORIA) - The government supported by the honorable member gave the men a swag, a billy and a bit of tucker.

Mr RANKIN - We did our best to help the men. Only the Labour party ha= endeavoured to interfere with the principle of preference to returned soldiers, but when it discovered the serious reaction of the people to that policy, it bent its head to the storm and restored the principle.

Mr McLEOD (WANNON, VICTORIA) -- All the returned men wanted was work.

Mr RANKIN - I agree with the honorable gentleman. The men who return from this war, and also the people in munitions factories, will also want work when the war is over, though, in ni,y opinion, the munitions workers are entitled to only half the consideration that men who return from active service should receive. I do nor believe that the people of Australia, in general, and the returned men, in particular, will accept conditions similar to those offered after the last war. Our people will not be prepared to go back on the dole, and I would not expect them to do so. Men who return from the war and have a business, or a farm, or a job, to go to should be allowed to go to it promptly. Men who have no job to go to should be retained in the Army, not. on

Army pay but on the basic wage. They should be constituted a labour army to engage on works of national importance. This Parliament should say to such men, " You have risked your health and your very lives for this country, and have done a magnificent job on the field of battle. We now want you to do a good job on big national works such as* water conservation enterprises and the like that are waiting to be undertaken." It will not do to say to these men, " We thank you very much for your magnificent effort, and we regret that we have no job for you ". We must undertake water conservation on a large scale in this country. We shall not be able to hold Australia with a population of 7,000,000, or even 15,000,000, people. We shall need at least 30,000,000 people to hold the country. We shall forfeit all moral right to this island continent if we do not increase our population to something like that number. It has been the common experience for some people in Australia to laugh and sneer at big undertakings such as the one proposed by Dr. Bradfield, an engineer with an Empire-wide reputation and great vision. This great engineer has recommended that the waters of rivers on the Atherton Tableland be diverted through Queensland into the Darling River.

Mr McLeod - Money is necessary for such undertakings.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable gentleman is obsessed with the idea that only he and the members of his party have the courage to face these big issues ; but he is mistaken. We shall need big hydro-electric works in Australia. Above all, we need immediately to standardize our railway gauges. We may escape defeat on this occasion, but if we allow ourselves to be caught in another war before we rectify our utterly stupid railway system, we shall deserve defeat.

Mr McLeod - For at least ten years the Labour party has advocated the standardization of the railway gauges.

Mr RANKIN - I saw the result of unco-ordinated railway services when I was in Damascus, and I confess that I am frightened at what might happen to this country if an enemy should actually invade our shores. As a Victorian, I say to the Government, " Forget about the standardization of the Victorian railways if you wish ; but, for God's sake, get to work at once on the standardization of the railway from Port Pirie to Broken Hill and across New South Wales. At least lei us have a standardized railway from east to west so that we may transport our iron and coal, as well as our troops, expeditiously. Let us get on with this job to-morrow." Honorable gentlemen opposite must, forget their narrow-minded ideas about man-power. If there are insufficient men available in this country to do the work, let us get Chinese or Pacific Islands labour for the purpose. When the job is done, the men who are brought here to do it may be sent back to their own country.

Mr Conelan - The honorable gentleman is now spoiling a good speech.

Mr RANKIN - People like the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) would apparently rather see their country overwhelmed than break away from the old trade union traditions. The Chinese, he should remember, are our gallant allies in this war. He and some of his colleagues would rather lose their country than allow men to work for less than the basic wage of £4 18s. 4d. although big national works of the kind to which I have referred are urgently necessary. They would rather have men withdrawn from the Army for public works than bring in workers from other countries, such as China and the islands of the Pacific. The honorable member for Griffith has appealed to the Minister for the Army to release soldiers for civil work.

Mr Conelan - Who told the honorable gentleman that? Country party members have been making appeals of that kind.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) also has made appeals of that nature.

Mr James - What proof has the honorable member of that statement?

Mr RANKIN - I can produce a letter to prove my statement. I believe that our men who return to civil life after this war will demand social security. If they are not assured of it by the government of the day, they, themselves, will take charge of the affairs of the country, and they will have the assistance of the men of the original Australian Imperial Force in brushing aside honorable gentlemen opposite as a person might brush midges from his face. Ever since the last war I have fought to get the very best of conditions for returned soldiers, and I shall continue to do so, whether I remain a member of this Parliament or not.

I am dissatisfied with the administration of the Repatriation Department. It is time that we implemented the decision that the Parliament made two and a half years ago to remove from the returned soldier the onus of proof that, a disability was the result of war service, and to place the onus on the Repatriation Department. The amendment of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act that was subsequently agreed to has not been effective. In 99 cases out of 100, the men who apply for war pensions have little legal knowledge and many of them do not think that they get a fair deal from the department. I regret that I feel obliged to say that I consider the doctors and officers generally of the Repatriation Department seem to regard it as their job to prevent as many returned men as possible from getting a pension.

Mr Barnard - That is not a fair statement.

Mr RANKIN - Nevertheless, I believe it to be a true statement.

Mr Barnard - I consider it to bc grossly unfair to the officers of the department, who, in my experience, have a sincere desire to help returned soldiers.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable gentleman may state his case if he so desires, but he would need to be a greater orator than Alfred Deakin to convince a greatnumber of returned soldiers that they have had a fair deal from the department. Even men who have returned from this war have been treated shabbily by the department. I have in mind a young married man who had his shoulder blade broken by a bomb explosion. After his return home he was an inmate of the Caulfield Military Hospital for two or three weeks, but he received no treatment. I took up his case and subsequently he wa3 given some treatment, but was finally discharged on an unsatisfactory basis. He is a farmer's son, but he is physically incapable of working on a farm. He has been granted the magnificent pension of 10s. 4d. a week, and his wife has been allowed 4s. a week. I do not blame the Government, because it was a matter of administration. That is only one of a dozen almost similar cases that I could cite. I believe that the act does not operate justly. Over a period of years it has been amended with a view to making its operation .more equitable. Not long ago, members of this Parliament believed that it had been so amended that the unfortunate soldiers would receive a better deal than they had previously been given; but a legal trick was worked. That has to be altered. The men who suffer disability in this war will demand that it be altered.

The Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) stated recently that nothing had been done in regard to war organization until he took charge of the department. In Hansard of the 3rd and 4th July. 1941, the honorable gentleman is reported to have said -

I should not have risen at this late hour but for a matter which I consider to be of supreme importance. Certain constituents of mine, members of the Militia Force, have re,wired notice that they will be required for continuous military duty for the duration of the war. I have not made any bones about where I stand in regard to conscription. I am opposed to conscription for home service as well as for service overseas. I am opposed to it on religious grounds, because I do not believe that any man or any government ought to force any individual to take up the art of killing his fellow mcn.

Why has the honorable gentleman changed so remarkably? To-day, he is a member of a government that is in favour of conscription for home service and for the defence of New Guinea. Surely the extra. £1.000 a year has not so gilded the pill that he is prepared -to swallow it and to renounce his religious convictions ! He must realize that a great deal of war organization had been effected before he assumed control. He is merely building on the foundation provided by a previous government. A man with such strong and deep-seated religious convictions surely could not change his opinions overnight ! He may be likened to the man who betrayed his master for 30 pieces of silver. At page 1149, vol. 157, of Ilansard, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), now Minister for Labour and National Service, is reported in the following terms : -

It is amusing to hear people say that we shall not give up New Guinea - to those people I would say that if it should become necessary to defend our mandated territory they should defend it themselves. As far as I am concerned, all I can judge about the necessity for retaining New Guinea is that a handful of exploiters have got hold of the country, some interested in aerial transport, some in gold-mining, and some in the search for oil. These people want to retain New Guinea in order to preserve their own commercial interests.

To-day, strong though his ideas in regard to defence may be, and remarkable as his outlook is in respect of the Army, I believe that he will admit that it is essential that we shall continue to hold New Guinea. If we fail to do that, we shall not be able to hold the north of Australia. I doubt whether even he would be prepared, as was the Army at one stage, to say to the people of Queensland, "If we are attacked, we shall walk out of Queensland and defend New South Wales ".

Mr Conelan - This Labour Government altered that state of affairs. The Government supported by the honorable member left the back door of Australia wide-open.

Mr Fadden - It was the Japanese who altered it.

Mr RANKIN - At page 1199 of the same volume, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is reported to have said -

From my point of view it is ridiculous to expend money on defence in amounts which increase by millions of pounds with every flow of hysteria from the swashbucklers. From my point of view it is ridiculous, but from the point of view of the diseased sensationalists it is the acme of perfection.

The Minister for Health and Social Services (Mr. Holloway), who attended a famous conference at Perth, is reported to have made the following statement: -

I do not charge the Government with not expending enough money on defence - I make it clear at the outset that I think it is expending too much. When a Government begins to expend on defence money which should be used for the internal development of the country, then, in my opinion, it is doing wrong. The Government is expending much too rapidly on defence - it is making plans for more than the adequate defence of Australia. I make no excuse for saying that. When the Government suggests that more millions should be expended on ' defence, should be provided out of the funds which ordinarily the States would devote to their economic developments, then it is time to call a halt, and that is where we are now and where we should stop.

Mr McLeod - Did the honorable gentleman in 1937 oppose the making of provision for an aerial fleet to defend Australia?

Mr RANKIN - I did not.

Mr McLeod - The honorable gentleman was a supporter of the Government that did.

Mr RANKIN - Neither before I entered this Parliament, nor since, have I on any occasion opposed an appropriation for the defence of Australia or the Empire. I have never been a little Australian, as many honorable gentlemen on my left are. I defy the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), or any other honorable member opposite, to produce a statement by me in which I said that too much was being expended on defence.

Mr Johnson - In what year were the remarks made that the honorable member is quoting?

Mr RANKIN - In 193S. But I have in mind a conference that was held in 191S, when brother Australians of honorable members opposite had their backs against the wall in Flanders and Palestine. It was then that members of the Labour party said that they were not prepared to support them, and that Britain should make peace at any price.

Mr Johnson - This Government must be doing a good job if the honorable gentleman has to go back so far in order to find material with which to attack it.

Mr RANKIN - I have not to go back so far. I can quote statements that were made in June, 1941, nearly two years after the outbreak of war. The present Prime Minister said in 1938 (Hansard, vol. 157, pp. 1093-94.)-

The international crisis has passed. The threatened danger is no longer as great as it was, for it must be apparent to every body that the Munich pact has lessened the probability of a European war in the near future. . . The Government, as a matter of fact, has brought the country to the verge of war hysteria in order merely to provide the requisite atmosphere to enable certain changes to be made in the Ministry.

Mr Barnard - Is the honorable gentleman reading from an electioneering pamphlet?

Mr RANKIN - These are facts which the party to which the honorable member belongs will have to answer at tho next election. At page 1095 the right honorable gentleman is reported to have said -

I say that any increase of defence expenditure after the Munich pact so far as Australia is concerned appears to me to be an utterly unjustifiable and hysterical piece of panic propaganda - that is what I say in respect of the alarmist statements that have been made.

Mr James - That was prior to the last election.

Mr RANKIN - The hope of the honorable member is that people have very short memories.

Mr Holloway - The honorable gentleman will admit that the British people also were deceived.

Mr RANKIN - Certain British people were deceived ; where are they today? They are not leading their country, as are those honorable members whose utterances I have quoted, and who are a potential danger to it. Those who in Britain held such ideas have since been relegated to the political obscurity from, which they should never have been allowed to emerge.

The Government is busily occupied in connexion with the rationalization of industry, the dehydration of meat, and many other matters. I am afraid that it will dehydrate not only meat but also the primary industries as a whole, leavinc what are now the mainstay of this country a dried husk. A meat committee is to be appointed. Are those who produce meat to be given reasonable representation on it?

Mr James - Perhaps the honorable gentleman is to be appointed to it.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) may know something about the coal industry. At all events, he did at one time, but so long ago that probably he has forgotten what he then knew. His knowledge of the primary industries of Australia is so slight that it may be described in one word - " eats ".

Mr Sheehan - The only subject of which the honorable member has any knowledge is the sweating of the workers.

Mr RANKIN - A long time has passed since the honorable member sweated very much. A large number of those who are engaged in primary industries, believing the story they were told, voted for members of the present ministerial party. To-day they are like a rabbit in the cage of a boa-constrictor, waiting to be devoured. The Government is chiefly interested in seeing that the people who, it believes, will vote for it get cheap meat, wool, wheat, butter, potatoes, eggs, and other commodities, irrespective of the cost of production. We were told by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) on various occasions, before he became a Minister, that the members of the Australian Wheat Board should be elected by the wheat-growers themselves. He also made that statement after he became a Minister, but before the " acid " was put on him, and certain persons had to be pacified. They had satellites who wanted jobs. [Extension of time granted.] To-day the Minister is not prepared to allow the great wheat organizations throughout, the Commonwealth to have any voice in the election of the members of the Wheat Board. I have a good deal of sympathy with the Minister, because I realize that certain things have to be taken into consideration in a chamber constituted as this is. First of all, the Government's majority has to be taken into account. Like a snake in the autumn, the Minister has changed his skin. He is no longer the champion of the primary producers. The standard of the wheat-growers of Australia has been furled. The Minister now declares, " We shall have a. committee to control this great national industry. We shall elect it ourselves. Today I am Minister for Commerce. I shall see that this committee is appointed." Then somebody remarks to the Minister. " After all, there is the man who took a rather prominent part in a case in Western Australia with regard to some wheat that walked ". There is also a great exponent of the Douglas Credit system in Victoria, and that has something to do with the Government's majority. The Minister now says, "We shall drop the standard of the wheat-growers for a time, and appoint a committee which will he satisfactory to the man responsible foi our majority. Then we shall tell the wheat-growers that we have appointed a wonderful committee, and shall give to the farmer 4s. a bushel for his first 3,000 bushels of wheat, as 70 per cent, of the growers in Australia will benefit from that." There may be some advantage, from an electioneering point of view, in a scheme such as that, but the Minister does not say that four-fifths of the wheat is grown by men who produce over 3,000 bushels a year. He does not point out that the scheme would ruin the real wheat-growers, who depend upon wheatgrowing for their livelihood. He takes sides with the small man who may be a wool-grower, a dairyman or an egg producer, and grows a small quantity of wheat as a side-line. The true wheatgrowers of the Wimmera, South Australia and Western Australia, who can grow nothing but wheat, will be tied down to a gross return of about £600 a year, or they must grow wheat at a loss to enable the present Government to maintain its parliamentary majority.

Mr Calwell - Is not that the scheme put forward by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) ?

Mr RANKIN - I am not prepared to say what plan that honorable member has put forward. I doubt if he knows himself.

The members of the Australian Military Forces who are in the field to-day are entitled to the same consideration and pay as is received by members of the Australian Imperial Force. Whilst the pay of the married man with a wife and two or three children has been considerably increased, the single man, who is fighting and risking his life - and there are more single than married men in the forces - is expected to make an interest-free loan to the Government for the duration of the war. He is the worst-paid man in Australia. I do not ask that the Government should undertake any increased financial burden in that regard for the time being. I believe that 2s. a day is sufficient for a man in the field; but, when he returns to his own State and to his own people, he will need money to enable him to re-establish himself in civil life.

Mr James - Most of the members of the Australian Imperial Force are members of trade unions.

Mr RANKIN - That statement is incorrect. A visit to the homes of people in country districts throughout Australia shows that in families where there were five or six sons only one now remains on the land, the others having enlisted in the fighting services. The men whom the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) represents are mostly employed in comparatively safe jobs - in the munitions factories or in the coal-mines. I had the honour to command a regiment of the Australian Imperial Force in the last war, and I know where the majority of those men came from. Those who- say that most of the members of the Australian Imperial Force are members of the trade unions know that that is a deliberate untruth.

Mr Frost - Does the honorable member say that no members of the Australian Imperial Force are trade unionists ?

Mr RANKIN - No. There is a great number of good trade unionists in the Australian Imperial Force, and I recognize that they are entitled to combine in order to obtain such industrial conditions as they can get.

Mr Frost - The country man can be as good a unionist as anybody else.

Mr RANKIN - Yes ; but only a small proportion of the members of the Australian Imperial Force are trade unionists. When honorable members opposite say that the members of the Australian Imperial Force are members of trade unions they know that the statement is incorrect.

Mr James - It is not incorrect.

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