Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 29 November 1944

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Acting Prime Minister and Acting Minister for Defence) . - Notwithstanding the forensic ability of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), it is obvious that he has failed dismally to convince honorable members. His five-pointed attack was flat and anaemic. It lacked conviction, and savoured of petty, party political propaganda. It came from a man who to-day tries to convince the people of Australia that he could govern the country in a statesmanlike manner, although he failed to do so when given opportunities such as few men have enjoyed.

Mr Conelan - He walked off the job.

Mr FORDE - Yes, he walked offthe job, but he afterwards came back, and in 1940 he was given a mandate to govern. He was returned with a majority in both Houses of the Parliament; yet, despite his great eloquence, he failed to convince Parliament, or even the members of his own party, of his sincerity of purpose. It was because of the dissension within his party that he was cast overboard. Some honorable members, who were not elected to support the Labour party, considered that the only way to get constructive and fearless government in Australia, government that would re-organize the country's war effort, was to support the Labour party. The record of the present Government speaks for itself. Its definite, progressive, and fearless administration is in sharp contrast to the policy of " business as usual ", laissezfaire and procrastination which characterized the regime of the Government that was so misled that it fell to pieces around its leader in the Cabinet room. What are the charges that the right honorable gentleman makes? We know that he can go into the courts and argue for one side or the other.

Mr Menzies - Unlike the Acting Prime Minister, I never attempt to argue for both sides at once.

Mr FORDE - Notwithstanding his court experience, the right honorable gentleman floundered badly to-day. That was because he had a weak case. The right honorable gentleman charges the Government with having made a public attack upon the integrity of the justices of the High Court. His contention is absolutely fantastic.

Mr Calwell - Hear, hear!

Mr FORDE - There has been no attack by the Government whatever on the integrity of the justices of the High Court of Australia. I suggest that the prestige of the High Court is not enhanced by the effort of the Leader of the Opposition to drag it into, the realm of party politics.

Opposition members interjecting,

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will be removed from the chamber if he does not cease his interruption.

Mr Harrison - I have not interjected.

Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable gentleman thinks that by loud laughter he can interrupt the Acting Prime Minister he will find that he is wrong. There is an organized attempt at interruption.

Mr FORDE - By indulging in cheap party political tactics the Leader of the Opposition is trying to convince the doubting members of the alleged new Liberal party who are giving him conditional support for the present, but are not yet convinced that he is the man to lead them. By dragging this controversy into the realm of party politics he would do a disservice to the High Court - a body in which I, the acting head of the Government, have implicit confidence.

Mr Anthony - It took the right honorable gentleman a long time to say so.

Mr FORDE - I do not favour criticism in this Parliament of the justices of the High Court unless such criticism be followed by action in the terms of section 72 of the Constitution of Australia. There must be good reasons for taking the step set out in that provision. I was not present in the chamber when two honorable members indulged in some criticism of justices of the High Court, but I find, on reading the reports of the proceedings in the Parliament, that the criticism did not come from only one side of the House. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who, as Leader of the Australian Country party, was deputy Prime Minister for a time in a government led by the present Leader of the Opposition, had a good deal to say on the subject. I believe that the honorable member isan estimable gentleman in many respects, and I have a high personal regard for him, but he set the lead in one ofthose characteristic speeches to which we have become accustomed. He criticized the Chief Justice of the High Court in these words -

After some moving from one court to another, and after various adjournments, the Chief Justice of the High Court finally appeared in an entirely new role. I cannot understand why, on an issue which called for an interpretation of the Constitution, he should sec fit to suggest to the litigants that they might confer in an endeavour to Teach a settlement. When a litigant challenges in thu High Court the validity of a Commonwealth regulation, or an action taken under that regulation, there can be no such thing as a compromise. In such a case the court is constituted primarily, if not solely, for the purpose of determining the rights of citizens and other interests under the Constitution. I trust that this will prove to be the last time that a member of the High Court bench will adopt the role of mediator, and suggest that the parties should compromise on an issue involving the interpretation of the Constitution. ... If the Attorney-General were still a brother judge, instead of being merely a kind of step-brother. T nin sure he would agree with me.

In those words the honorable member for Barker referred to a man who occupied high ministerial rank in this country before he was elevated to the High Court Bench. No man in this country has had. the respect and confidence of honorable members in a greater degree than has Sir John Latham, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. The criticism of him by the honorable member for Barker was most unfair. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell), who has not had so long a parliamentary experience as the honorable member for Barker has enjoyed, rose in his place to defend the Chief Justice. As in his speech this morning the Leader of the Opposition entirely ignored what the Minister for Information had to say on behalf of the Chief Justice, I shall read to the House the words of the Minister -

The honorable member for Barker has taken it upon himself to reflect upon the Chief Justice for the action that he took in the rase. It was a perfectly legitimate exercise of his judicial functions for the Chief Justice to take the case himself and eventually make a decision upon it. Some other people perhaps did not like his action. I am told some of his brother justices were- not pleased, but. because the honorable gentleman or some other people are dissatisfied, that does not make thu action of the Chief Justice wrong or improper, but if the honorable member can reflect, as he lias done, upon the Chief Justice for his action, I can, I assume, express my views on the actions of several other justices in the case.

I believe that all. honorable members heartily endorse what was then said in praise of the Chief Justice. The Minis ter for Information in his own characteristic style - a style not unlike that of the honorable member for Barker - indulged in some criticism of two other justices, but he would be the first to say that his remarks were not intended as any reflection on their honour and integrity. We must remember that these incidents occurred during a highly controversial debate. That they occurred is to be regretted; but they do not constitute ground for any lack of confidence in the Curtin Government.

Mr Menzies - There must be a conviction on that count.

Mr FORDE - The Constitution provides that there shall be a legislature, an executive and a judiciary. Those are the three distinct constituents of the entity known as the Commonwealth of Australia. In my opinion, it is only right that each of those constituents should, as far as possible, refrain from criticizing the others, except in cases of grave misbehaviour, in which event the Constitution sets out the course to be adopted.

I come now to the second charge of the right honorable gentleman, namely, that there has been an attempt by the Government, through Ministers who still retain office, to intimidate a public officer in? respect of court proceedings to which the Minister for the Interior was a party. That charge also is absolutely fantastic. What- are the facts? A Mr. Watson was nominated by the Commissioner of Railways for appointment to the position of Secretary, Commonwealth Railways, and the appointment was approved by the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings). Urgent representations were then made by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia against the appointment on the ground that Mr. Watson was hot a returned soldier. That fact had been overlooked when the appointment was made, but on attention being drawn to it, the Minister for the Interior directed that the appointment of Mr. Watson 'be rescinded and that Mr. Eric Harding should he appointed in his place. Mr. Eric Harding was awarded the Military Medal in the war of 1914-18 ; he lost a leg in action. He has been president of the Limbless Soldiers Association of Victoria for many years.

Mr Martens - Is he fully qualified for the position?

Mr FORDE - He joined the New South Wales Railways in 1909 and the Commonwealth Railways branch at its inception in 1914. and he is next in seniority to the Commissioner.

Mr Francis - Why was he overlooked?

Mr FORDE - On the outbreak of war, Mr. Harding was seconded to the Army Department as Assistant Secretary, and lias done valuable work.

Mr Menzies - Hear, hear!

Mr FORDE - In that position he has carried on the splendid service that he rendered to the country on active service in the last war. In directing that Mr. Harding be appointed Secretary of the Commonwealth Railways, Senator Collings was giving effect to the law that returned soldiers shall have preference in the Public Service. Mr. Watson contested the legality of that appointment and asked for a ruling from the High Court that he had been appointed to the position, and the court has ruled that his appointment is in- order. So, it stands. In the action, Mr. Gahan, the Commissioner, was not only a witness, but also a defendant. From that point of view, the Minister for the Interior considered that the sending of the telegram was justified, and it was only from that point of view that it was sent. I sent a letter to the Minister for the Interior. Certain passages of it were quoted in the telegram and others were not. The letter was intended to try to bring about an amicable settlement of the case. There is no reason why it could not have been settled, as one of the contenders for the position was one of the finest soldiers Australia ever produced. I said in my letter to the Minister for the Interior -

It is my desire sis Minister for the Army and the desire of the permanent head that Mr. Harding's services, which have been of great value to the Army, should continue with this department for the duration; therefore, the question of his return to the Commonwealth Railways during Mr. Gahan's term of office does not arise.

Mr McEwen - What does " during Mr. Gahan's term of office " mean?

Mr FORDE - Mr. Gahan was appointed a little more than a year ago for a further twelve months, and he was appointed again recently for another twelve months.

Mr Menzies - After this disclosure was made.

Mr FORDE - As Minister for the Interior, Senator Collings had strongly recommended his appointment for a further period and I supported the recommendation. Mr. Gahan's re-appointment as Commissioner was approved by the Cabinet subsequent to the hearing of the case, but before the judgment was delivered.

Mr Menzies - But after the telegram.

Mr FORDE - I had no knowledge whatever of any telegram being sent by Senator Collings to Mr. Gahan. My letter was a communication to Senator Collings himself, and the assertion of the Leader of the Opposition that it had any sinister significance shows his b.ase instincts. Obviously, the threat of dismissal that has been read into the telegram is imaginary and absolutely fantastic. Mr. Gahan, as Commissioner for Railways, gave his evidence fully and clearly. With his knowledge of the background of the whole matter and his knowledge that the Minister for the Interior had strongly recommended his re-appointment, he would be fully aware that Senator Collings desired his reappointment and did not wish to threaten him in any way. Therefore, this claim that there was a threat is untrue and malicious and is designed to gain a party advantage.

Another charge is that the Government has interfered with the discretion of the Maritime Industry Commission, presided over by a judge. Let us examine the facts. The commission decided at a special meeting on the 16th November last to restore the war risk bonus from the 1st November, 1944, to the 31st January, 1945. A previous order by the commission had reduced the war risk bonus from 50 per cent, to 33^ per cent., 25 per cent, and 15 per cent, in certain areas from the 1st November, 1944. The commission placed on record the fact that the statement that the Government had directed it to review its previous decision was incorrect. The meeting of the commission was convened in accordance with the by-laws of the commission. The chairman, Mr. Justice de Baun, in a public statement on the 15th November, announced that his reasons for resigning were contained in a letter to the Prime Minister, but that the immediate cause of his resignation was the failure of some members of the commission to abide by its decisions, particularly in regard to War Risk Bonus Order No. 46. In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, dated the 15th November, 1944, Mr. Justice de Baun said, inter alia -

The industry has been very quiet recently mid is now upon a stable footing due to the work done by the commission during the last three years. This has been made possible through- the co-operation of members which, until recently, has been given freely; and with the assistance given to the commission and myself by members of the Government.

I wish especially to thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, and the Minister for Supply and Shipping, Mr. Beasley, for the special interest both of you have taken, an.l the support you have given to the communion whenever required. 1 wish to place upon record, too, the help and guidance which the commission has received from officers of the Marine Branch of the Commonwealth Service: this help and assistance have been appreciated by me personally.

The Maritime Industry Commission consists of a chairman, four union representatives, three ship-owners' representatives and a. government representative. The motion restoring the war risk bonus was carried unanimously at the meeting on the 16th November after a motion to suspend the new war risk order had been carried by five votes to three. The Government confirms the statement made by the commission that it gave no direction for the restoration of the bonus. We are a.ware that the members of the commission were given certain advice by the Director of Shipping (Sir Thomas Gordon). It will not be suggested that Sir 'Thomas Gordon is one of the leading lights of the Australian Labour party. Indeed, he is well known by the Leader of the Opposition, who would not dare to cast any reflection on his integrity. Sir Thomas has done a splendid job in the control of shipping.

Mr Menzies - I am sure he has.

Mr FORDE - As Director of Shipping, he gave certain advice regarding shipping requirements. Was any other man in Australia more fitted to give advice? W,t> there any other man possessed of more comprehensive knowledge of the whole of the shipping requirements of the fighting services and the civilian population in the outposts of Australia than Sir Thomas Gordon? In reviewing its decision on the war risk bonus, the com mi sion would undoubtedly have gi vt n mort careful consideration to the advice of the Director of Shipping that the operational requirements of Australian and American force in forward areas would be seriously affected if there were any interference with the movement of ships. Because of the tremendous strain placed on the shipping tonnage possessed by the United Nations, Australia has not all the ships it needs and it is imperative to make the utmost use of those available, Any delay in ports would bring serious consequences in the operational areas. Apart from that aspect, it is essentia] to keep ships moving for the transport of fodder for starving stock, in addition to normal requirements in respect of céa ironstone and essential civil supplies. Many thousands of tons of coal has to be shipped every week from Newcastle to Victoria and South Australia to keep industries and essential services in operation. Coal stocks are low in those States and unless regular imports be obtained the operations of the railways and gas and electricity undertakings will come to a standstill. No one knows the needs better than Sir Thomas Gordon. On the 10th November, he advised that if the trouble on- the ships continued in the next week, shipping movements would become chaotic. All the heavy industries would be affected in a very short time and the consequent shortage of strategic and essential requirements would have very serious consequences for the country as a whole. The commission's decision means that the war risk bonus will be extended for three months. The Government believes that an overwhelming majority of the people of Australia will agree that it is just that some recognition should be given to the valiant services of the men of the Australian

Merchant Marine. These men unflinchingly carried on when ships were being regularly torpedoed off the Australian coast with serious loss of life. Any honorable member who goes to a capital city and pays public tribute to the men in the merchant marine will be deafened by the applause from the people present, who know the dangers the seamen have encountered and the services they have rendered in sailing through dangerous waters to operational areas in order to supply the armed forces with foodstuffs and munitions. Those facts frequently are lost sight of.

The fifth charge made against the Government by the Leader of the Opposition is that it has failed to enforce the law against war-time strikers. The right honorable gentleman failed to substantiate that charge. Characteristically, like a dilettante, he flitted from one subject to another, and, indulging in histronics, endeavoured to embarrass the Government by pointing to stoppages in the coalmining industry. Any one would think that when he was Prime Minister his Government, was able to settle all industrial disputes. He used to pat himself on the back and say, " I went to the coalfields. I addressed the coal-miners"; as if he had ventured into the very fire of the enemy and merited the Victoria Cross. He takes to himself great kudos for having addressed the miners, and having been addressed by them as " Bob ". But, like his eloquent speech this morning, his action produced no results. He failed to stop strikes ; and during his very short period of glory as the Prime Minister of this country, coal production in Australia fell to a record low level. There are stoppages in the industry in this country, just as there is in any other country where the industry is carried on. But this Government has obtained more coal that would have been obtained by its predecessor; even had it remained in power until to-day. That fact is clear from the figures, which show that during the three years of office of this Government, coal production has totalled 35,360,537 tons, whereas in a similar period under previous governments, total production reached only 13,316,860 tons. The Prime Minister and I, and our colleagues, have done everything humanly possible to increase coal production. It is cheap for the right honorable gentleman to wave his hand and say, in effect, "Put me at the head of the Government and I will solve the problem ". When he was in office he proved a dismal failure in everything that mattered in the administration of this country in the dark days that then confronted us. He failed so dismally that he walked out of one government, and was kicked out of another. I shall not quote from the speech made by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in this Parliament when he refused to serve with the right honorable gentleman in the same government. Although the right honorable member for Cowper had worked with him for many years previously, he would not serve under his leadership. Later, the Leader of the Opposition tried to induce the right honorable member for Cowper to reverse his decision, and, in the interest of Australia's war effort the latter decided to co-operate with him. This is the man who endeavours to vilify and besmirch the reputation of other public men in this country, but, smarting under the rebuke meted out to him by the right honorable member for Cowper, he went around crying for sympathy, and claiming that a personal attack has been made upon him. No one could, make a more dastardly attack upon a public man than that which the Leader of the Opposition made upon the Prime Minister in this House last session when we discussed transactions concerning certain broadcasting stations. He knew that the Prime Minister was absolutely above suspicion in that matter. I, as Acting Prime Minister, have visited all of the coal-fields of New South Wales, with the object of familiarizing myself with the industry. I met the representatives of the coal-miners in conference.

Mr Rankin - Did they call you "Frankie"?

Mr FORDE - No, they reserved that approach for "Bobby". I met representatives of the miners federation, the Colliery Proprietors Association, and the New South Wales Government. It is useless to try to fool ourselves in this matter. Let us tear aside the veil of hypocrisy, and admit that there is no short road to increased coal production. The Sydney Morning Herald of the loth November last published the following cablegram under a London date line -

All steps taken by the Government, coalowners and miners appear to be unable to stop the fall in Britain's coal output, says the Industrial Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.

The output dropped by 3,159,300 tons in the second quarter of this year, compared with the first.

Output per wage-earner fell from 67.0 tons to C5.4.

The correspondent points out that at the present rate of production, coal won this year will be 8,805,000 tons less than last year.

The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) has told us of the stoppages that took place in the industry when he was in Great Britain, He has told us also of the cooperation between all parties with the object of putting an end to stoppages in the industry and increasing production. The press of Great Britain is wholeheartedly assisting the Government in that work. Contrast that attitude on the part of the British press with the attitude of the Australian press which vilifies this Government, and the editors of which say, in, effect, " If we were only on the front Government bench in the National Parliament instead of in our editorial chairs we could promptly solve this problem ". Only constructive criticism is levelled against that Government, and honorable members opposite in this Parliament would do well to follow that example. Too much bitterness has been engendered in the coal-mining industry over the years, and it will take a long time to establish a new outlook towards it. However, we hope that that day is not far distant. We must remember that at one stage over 500,000 coal-miners in the United States of America were on strike. Our great ally has had its troubles in this industry. The same can be said of New Zealand and of all countries in which the industry is carried on. I shall not take up the time of the House by reading the decisions made by Cabinet yesterday with regard to this problem. It is most unfortunate that stoppages occur at present. In view of the industrial machinery now available for the settlement of industrial disputes, stoppages should not occur when, Australia is . engaged in an all-in war effort, and must of necessity concentrate the whole of its resources -upon the prosecution of the great offensive which we are to undertake in order to do our share in the struggle with the other United Nations. I say emphatically that this Government, during its regime, has made a strenuous attempt to co-operate with the industry in order to prevent stoppages and allay unrest. It has improved machinery for dealing with the problems of the industry. All the penal provisions with respect to stoppages of work and refusal to work, and for keeping employees or sections of employees at their work, particularly work essential to the prosecution of the war, have been passed, not by the Government led by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister, but by this Government. Generally, the regulations have proved effective for the purpose for which they were passed. The Man Power Regulations are designed to ensure that the available man-power of the Commonwealth shall be used with the greatest efficiency and the least risk of wastage. Hundreds of prosecutions, in respect of which hundreds of pounds in fines have been imposed, have been made by this Government, which has taken more definite disciplinary action than that taken by any previous government. I challenge the Leader of the Opposition to refute that statement. Moreover, this Government has averted considerable industrial trouble by conciliatory action. No man has done more in that respect than the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), whose long career in the trade union movement in this country is well known. The Government has also increased the number of conciliation commissioners, who have averted stoppages and interruptions by settling disputes on the spot.

Although the Leader of the Opposition has joined with a section of the press in attacks upon the Government, he knows in his heart that this problem cannot be readily solved. Does any one believe that any honorable member on this side of the chamber, having the interests of Australia at heart, would refuse to take any further action that might he. deemed advisable or necessary in order to increase coal production and put an end to stoppages ? We believe that, as the result of the recent conference between the Government and representatives of the industry, better results will be achieved in the future. However, some honorable members opposite have short memories. Let me quote for their special benefit the comment expressed by some newspapers concerning the failures of the Leader of the Opposition and the Government he led to grapple with this great problem. The Sydney Morning Herald of the 26th July, 1940, said-

It (the Government) has become stale; it contains too many dissentient factions, and its personnel is sadly deficient in administrative ability.

No one can say that, since that time, the party now led by the Leader of the Opposition has replenished its ranks with groat statesmen. At the last election, the Opposition parties ' were disgraced, and among their defeated candidates were some of the outstanding members of previous administrations. The same newspaper, on the 29th July of the same year, said -

Through deplorable political timidity the Government drifted on inactive for month after month.

To-day, the same journal is supporting the right honorable gentleman. On the 21st August, 1940, it said -

The mass of the electors would feel more confidence in Mr. Menzies if they were convinced - and they by no means are convinced - that he means to place national needs before party exigencies.

This is the right honorable gentleman who said that this Government should place national interests before party exigencies. We know that he adopted many expedients in his vain endeavour to hang on to office, but eventually he was cast out, not by honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber, but by his own colleagues. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Eadden) said during the last election campaign -

The stab in the back by Mr Menzies at this juncture makes another betrayal in the series for which Mr. Menzies has become notorious.

Those are strong words, and they were uttered, not by an honorable member on this side of the chamber, but by one of the colleagues of the Leader of the Opposition, who knew how he had acted as a member of the previous government during the most critical period of our history.

Mr Fadden - The present Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) acted similarly towards a former Labour Prime Minister.

Mr FORDE - The Leader of the Australian Country party must " take it ". He said that the Leader of the Opposition was guilty of a gross betrayal. Now, the Leader of the Opposition lias the audacity and effrontery to pose here as a Heaven-sent statesman who could solve all our problems-. He tried to put forward, for petty party political reasons, propaganda that is distasteful to an overwhelming number of the Australian people, who believe that this Government saved Australia during the darkest period of its history. The Government transferred 300,000 men and women from peace-time occupations to war production, enlisted another 300,000 persons in the fighting services and geared the nation to an all-in war effort. The Government obtained much greater co-operation from the masses of the people, particularly the workers, than a government kd by the right honorable gentleman could have achieved. I believe that if he had remained in office this country would have been overrun by the enemy, and he and his Ministers would, as members of a refugee government, been on board a destroyer bound for Canada or South Africa.

Suggest corrections