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Thursday, 24 September 1942


Sir CHARLES MARR (Parkes) . - I have listened with interest to the debate on the position of the fighting forces, particularly in Papua. Those who had the opportunity and the privilege to view the film that was screened this morning must have been impressed by the work which the members of the forces are doing in that country, and the difficulties that confront them. The thought that they are fellow Australians made one feel very proud. I agree in the main with the remarks of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott). We have known for a long time that the training of men to fight in tropical countries must be different from that, required in other countries in which similar conditions are not experienced. Arrangements have already been made by the Government and its military advisers which should result in placing our men on an equality with the forces opposed to them. There is no doubt that we have greatly underestimated the fighting qualities of the Japanese Army and Air Force. It is useless for honorable members to say that we have no right to admit that the Japanese in this war have so far proved themselves better than those who have been opposed to them. They have not been better fighters, but they have been cunningly trained in jungle tactics and in camouflage. This has made them superior in many respects. Both the generals in command of the fighting forces in New Guinea are known to me. They are extraordinarily brilliant, and have earned the promotion they have received. In the early days of the Japanese invasion of New Guinea, our troops there had had little or no training. Possibly this could not have 'been obviated, because the war with Japan had been thrust on us hurriedly, and armies cannot be trained to any degree of efficiency in less than five or six months. No man should be subjected to active service conditions until he has had at least six months' intensive training.

Recently, an ordinance was promulgated in respect of the control of Papua and its industries by the Army. During the last two months, I have had occasion to meet senior departmental officers at Army Head-quarters, and I am not at all satisfied with the arrangement that military officers, who have had no experience of agricultural methods, shall be given control. So far, not one agricultural expert has been placed on the staff to give advice in connexion with not only the occupied territories, but also the reoccupation for which we hope in the very near future. Tropical agriculture is a special science. We have had in New Guinea experts in agriculture who have advised the Administration. The majority of them have been taken prisoner, or have disappeared as the result of the Japanese occupation. The Army has selected men who have had no experience of the kind of work that has to he done. It is proposed that the Army shall bc allowed to take control of and manage all the plantations, the shipping, and every other activity. The officers selected have probably occupied clerical positions, and have not had experience in other respects. This matter is of the utmost importance, and immediate consideration should he given to it. I know what views are held by officers of the department that has been responsible for the administration of the territory; they are diametrically opposed to those of the Army. While in Melbourne, two months ago, I saw the officer in charge of the whole of the Administration. He made voluminous notes of pertinent questions that I asked him, and promised to send replies to me. 1 have not since had word from him. The matter is of the utmost importance. I shall give one illustration. It was proposed that blitz methods should be used in the gathering of rubber. Blitz methods ruined rubber trees in Java. The advice of practical men should be obtained.

In regard to army methods generally, I shall not criticize the staff, who are doing an exceptionally hard job. Although I have not agreed with all that has been done, that does not prove that the military leaders were wrong. But we do not appear to have learned from our opponents. I know how hard the Minister works. I suggest to him, however, that a little more driving force is needed in certain directions in order to obtain the best results from the service he controls. I saw on the outskirts of Sydney three Bren-gun carriers parked on the top of a bridge on a main road in the Galston Gorge. There was nobody in charge of them., and some officer was responsible for their having been left there. When I reached the nearest town - Hornsby - I telephoned the barracks and complained to the general who was then in charge. I said to him : " This is the worst thing that could possibly happen in war-time ". Yet no action was taken. The Minister was not responsible for that. The commanding officers must accept responsibility when such incidents occur. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) gave instances of lack of discipline. I do not expect the Minister to examine the whole of the forces in order to ascertain whether there is lack of discipline. But he is responsible to Parliament for the administration of the service and the appointment and control of its officers. Those officers with whom I am personally acquainted proved their ability in the last war. The discipline in the Air Force i3 vastly superior to that of the Army. Without discipline, there cannot be a fighting force. I say that, merely for the purpose of helping the Minister to make our force more efficient than it is to-day. I am satisfied that Australian troops, if given proper training, will acquit themselves like men and be a credit to the country for which they are fighting. The film that we viewed this morning showed that there is a good deal of efficiency. The dropping of foodstuffs from aeroplanes is being practised extensively. It has been suggested that the experience of getting supplies to the Bulolo goldfields ought to be capitalized. It has already been put into operation. Instead of holding post-mortems, we should consider means whereby the difficulties that exist may be overcome, and faults may be rectified. If we do that, we shall obtain more satisfactory results. What appealed to me at to-day's exhibition of the film was the speech of the commentator; it made a most stirring appeal to all who heard it. He said that the soldiers in Papua are living in austerity. We saw a sample of the meals that are served to the men. It would not be possible to have better food in the circumstances. But while men are suffering in this way, some persons in Australia are threatening to strike because they have not what they regard as a sufficient cigarette ration. It is time that every honorable member forgot politics. I have given all the assistance of which I have been capable in connexion with the works that the Government has had to carry out. I hope that any criticism I haveoffered has been constructive. Had I wanted to make party political capital, my remarks and actions might 'have been different. It is the duty of every one to support the Government in its efforts tobring the war to a successful conclusion. We should endeavour to improve morale, and dissipate complacency wherever it may be found, instead of attempting tohave men exempt from service. I am in favour of the conscription of both wealth and man-power. I would never ask a man to offer his life if I were not prepared also to conscript wealth.


Mr James - The honorable member desires that something big be done.


Sir CHARLES MARR - If the hon.oragle member and others encouraged people to serve, the country would be better off.


Mr James - What does the honorable member do to assist in the war effort?


Sir CHARLES MARR - I am prepared to do anything that the Government may ask me to do. I offered my services when war was declared, but was informed that I was too old to serve. The man-power authorities should have the right to allot jobs to all. I hope that the Minister for the Army and Ministers generally will not take my criticism personally, but will accept the advice offered by the Opposition.







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