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Friday, 18 June 1915

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - After listening to Senator Bakhap one might be pardoned, I think, if he were to fall into the trap and believe that the Opposition in this National Parliament are in sympathy with what the Labour party are doing, and that their protestations and pretensions of assistance are genuine. We have all, I am sure, been following politics fairly closely during the past few weeks. We have also been reading the newspapers during that period, and we are bound to come to the conclusion that neither the Opposition nor their newspapers care very much what is going to happen so long as they can get their own particular view of politics put with sufficient force before the people. If honorable senators read the debates in another place, they will find .there ample justification for the statement I am making, that the Opposition are not so keen in assisting the Government in this crisis as they are in criticising their actions for political purposes. The very same remark applies to the press of Australia. It is only a few weeks ago that the newspapers, particularly the Conservative journals, woke up to the dire necessity of the situation ; woke up to the fact that the Federal Government, and particularly the Defence Department, were doing nothing. It is only a few weeks since they began to declare on all hands that the Defence Department had gone to sleep, that the authorities ought to do this and to do that; that they ought to call in the assistance of every manufacturer in the Commonwealth; that they ought to set to work and manufacture shells; that they ought to have started long ago to manufacture rifles and munitions of war. All these statements have been made quite recently by the Conservative press of Australia. Yet the Minister of Defence got up here yesterday and made an official statement in which he told the Senate and the country that since the present Government took possession of the Treasury bench they have been unceasing and untiring in their efforts to do just the very thing which the newspapers only found out a week ago that they ought to have been doing. For seven months the Government have been doing these things, and the press say that they have not done anything yet. The Minister of Defence read yesterday official telegrams containing ample proof that the Administration were doing everything that the Government of any country similarly situated could possibly do. Yet the newspapers to-day have not the courage or the honesty to say that the Labour Government deserve some praise for the forethought which they have displayed in connexion with the war. We find, too, that the members of the Opposition in this chamber, as well as in another place have not the courage, or the manliness, or the honesty to do credit to the Government who have done so much.

Senator Bakhap - I think it is openly conceded that a great deal has been done. The only thing is that at present public opinion in Australia requires more to be done.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I recognise that no matter how much the Government have done, even although they may have done everything which is humanly possible, it is still open for certain carping critics to find fault with them, but those critics will not in their speeches make a reasonable suggestion. It is perfectly easy for any person to find fault, but most difficult to make valuable suggestions. It is a more difficult thing to-day than it was yesterday, because yesterday we did not know what the Minister "was doing, and our opponents, if they had liked, could have made some valuable suggestions, To-day they know that everything has been done which could be done, and they have not a suggestion to offer, or, as Senator Guthrie interjects, " a leg to stand on." Yet they are still prepared to get up and offer criticism of the action of the Government, which is the easiest thing in the world to do, and tell us that their criticism is not animated by any political motives. We are not so blind or so stupid as to be led into a trap of that kind. We know perfectly well that underlying the whole opposition to the Government is the fear that in the near future an opportunity will be given to the people to do something which honorable senators on the other side, and their friends outside, do not want them to have a chance of settling for themselves. I desire to refer to a few of the statements made here this morning, and endeavour to show how unfair, in view of what has been done, some of the criticism of the Government has been. We were told that not sufficient men were being sent to the front. I have no doubt that we could send at any time plenty of men, untrained, unequipped, unsuitable, and inefficient, but what the British Government want at the front is that which is required either in Europe or in Asia to-day. I venture to say that the British Government want the very best men we can possibly get. We know that in neither of the countries where the war is being waged are half -trained men wanted. The Minister of Defence told us yesterday what has been done as regards providing equipment. We know from press reports that England is sorely pushed to equip the men she is sending to the front in France and Belgium. We have no hope of success in appealing to England for any assistance in the matter of equipment We have no doubt that America has been called upon to the fullest extent by the British authorities for equipment, and for other supplies to meet the large amount of wastage which is taking place in munitions of war, guns, and rifles. We in Australia, therefore, are thrown back entirely on our .own resources. For fifty or sixty years the. country was governed by what is known to-day as the Liberal party, and not one step was taken to provide for a war such as the present one. For fifty or sixty years we were living in a fool's paradise. But when the Labour party came into power, and accepted the responsibility of establishing a Munitions Factory, a Harness Factory, a Small Arms Factory, and every other kind of factory required in connexion with the defence of the country, where were our Liberal friends? Were they standing behind the Government of that day? Were they standing behind the first Fisher Administration in the building of the Australian Fleet?

Senator Bakhap - The honorable senator forgets, perhaps, that before Federation many of the Australian States had the nucleus of a fleet.

Senator Guthrie - Yes, some shells.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I believe that South Australia was the first State in the Commonwealth to provide a warship.

Senator Bakhap - No; Victoria was the first.

Senator Guthrie - The old Cerberus.

Senator Bakhap - It was a war vessel of its day, and good enough.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think that without going into details I could show that South Australia secured the first warship for the Commonwealth.

Senator McDougall - A warship was built in Sydney when I was a boy.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am pointing out that the honorable senators who today are so severe in their condemnation of a Government who have only been in power for a few months, had an opportunity for years and years, but did practically nothing towards securing the defence of Australia.

Senator Keating - It was the Government of which I was a member which started the Small Arms Factory. I myself acquired the site for the Commonwealth.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But the Clothing, Harness, and Woollen Factories w,ere not established by the Government of which the honorable senator was a Minister.

Senator Keating - Borne was not built in a day.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Our opponents seek to justify themselves by declaring that Rome was not built in a day. But when they indulge in criticism of the Government they convey the impression that Rome ought to be built in an hour. Notwithstanding the unfavorable comparisons which they have attempted to institute, I am convinced that during the present crisis - a crisis which is unexampled in history - the Government have acquitted themselves in a way of which we have every right to be proud. They have despatched troops more than half way round the world; they have equipped those troops so thoroughly that they constitute absolutely the best equipped Force in the theatre of war to-day. The Labour Government have done this, and they have done it within an exceedingly brief period. It is an achievement which has never been equalled in the history of warfare. Honorable senators who are so prone to find fault with the Government are giving this country a very bad advertisement - an advertisement which it does not deserve. In my judgment, every Australian should be proud of the splendid work which has been accomplished by the Defence Department in sending to the front a most capable Army from the stand-point of its equipment, its munitions, and its pay. It is the best paid Army in the world, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that within the brief space of seven or eight months the men composing it have been drawn from every part of Australia. Since their arrival at the front they have acquitted themselves admirably. They have made a name for themselves which it would be difficult for any troops to excel. An attempt was made this morning by Senator Gould to institute a comparison between the contribution of this country and that of Canada. Now, Canada possesses a very much larger population than does Australia, it is very much older, and it is better equipped from the stand-point of factories, because my honorable friends opposite have always advocated the policy of sending Australian money abroad, to the neglect of our own local industries. As a result of this fatuous policy, Canada is in a much better position to send troops to the front than we are. When we consider the disadvantages under which we labour, we cannot fail to recognise that Canada emerges from any comparison with Australia very badly indeed. I do not say this with a view to disparaging the performance of that Dominion. Canada has done very well, but Australia has done much better; and I deplore the action of those little Australians who are continually decrying the splendid work which this country has accomplished. Some honorable senators opposite appear to be always bent on hindering the operations of the Defence Department. We know that a very large proportion of the work of that Department must be conducted secretly. Yet day after day members of the political party opposite ask the Government, " How many troops have been despatched to the front? " " How many are in training? " "How many rifles do we possess?" and " How much ammunition have we got? " One would almost imagine that they were seeking that information in the interests of our enemies. Such questions ought not to be asked at this juncture. If thereis one reason why I would like to see this Parliament adjourned till the termination of the war, it is because of the undesirable character of many of the questions put by my honorable friends. I have heard questions asked in this chamber which were foolish in the extreme. The German Emperor himself could not devise a better scheme for securing information than that of prompting inquisitorial members to put to the Government questions which fall within the category I have outlined. Only this morning we were assured by honorable senators opposite that the people of this country do not yet realize the urgent necessity which exists for despatching men to the front. Yet when the political exigencies of the moment prompt it, we are told that the people are so excited over the war that it is impossible for them to think of anything else, and that consequently, it would be wrong to ask them to vote upon the referenda proposals. Obviously these statements cannot be reconciled. I have a higher opinion of our people than have honorable senators opposite. I say that every man and woman in the community is thoroughly alive to the fact that a tremendous war is being waged in Europe. Too many of them know it to their cost. But the fact is that a tremendous majority of our people are compelled to engage in their ordinary avocations, and that circumstance alone distracts, to some extent, their attention from the present Titanic struggle. A very large section of them recognise that the war cannot last for ever, and that, in the near future, they will require to be better equipped for carrying on their daily avocations than they are to-day. It is for this reason that they are anxious to have the referenda proposals placed before them. They were thinking of their own necessities when, only a few months ago, they returned the Labour party to power. They expect that party to respect its pledges to them. The press of Australia and the so-called Liberal politicians may talk as they like; but the Labour party is determined that the electors of this country shall be afforded an opportunity of settling those questions for themselves at a very early date. Notwithstanding the carping criticism in which some honorable senators have indulged, not one valuable suggestion has been forthcoming from them.

Senator Guthrie - We are told to get guns from China !

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I would point out how absolutely ridiculous such a proposal is. We are asked by Senator Bakhap to get guns from China. In other words, we should arm our troops with as many different weapons as possible. We should complicate the position by having to send here, there, and everywhere for supplies of ammunition. What would be the result? One day an unlucky shell would come along and, perhaps, blow up a whole train-load of this Chinese or Japanese ammunition. Then every man who was armed with one of these Chinese or Japanese weapons might just as well go home, or lie down, or be shot, because he would not be in a position to use a single cartridge until a fresh supply had been obtained from the countries I have mentioned. If that is & sample of the suggestions of the Opposition, we shall be infinitely better without them. Even if we sent to China for our ammunition, we would have no assurance that we would get what we had ordered. History might repeat itself, and we might be supplied with a useless counterfeit, just as certain troops were supplied by that country with bayonets that were made of lead. I am confident that the Government will not seriously regard advice of this character. Then we have been told that the Ministry and the Leader of the Opposition should organize a friendly campaign for the purpose of stimulating recruiting - that they should go out into the highways and byways, with a view to telling the people that there is a. war in progress, and inviting our young men to rally to the colours. I do not know that that is necessary in Australia. At the commencement of the war, the British Government intimated that they were prepared to accept a certain number of troops from the Commonwealth. Up to the present we have supplied three or four times that number. In every State of the Commonwealth recruiting is considerably ahead of the requirements of the Government. I do not think there is anything in the suggestion that a troop of travelling politicians, comprising the leaders of the Government and of the Opposition, should go through the country to induce men to enlist. I make the suggestion to my honorable friends opposite that a combination of the Government and the Opposition might be formed in connexion with another matter. The leaders of the Opposition might join with the leaders of the Government in going out in a few months' time to advise the people of Australia that the Constitution under which we are working is not what they thought it was when they agreed to it some fourteen years ago. If our honorable friends opposite would agree to that proposal, they would be fighting the great battle of political liberty in their own country, and might do much in that way to induce Australians, if any inducement be necessary, to go to the front to fight the battles of the Empire in other parts of the world. I make that suggestion for what it is worth, and if it is viewed from .the national stand-point, it will be admitted that there is more in it than there is in the suggestion that we should obtain munitions of war from China and Japan. We know that Australia was far from being prepared' to face the war a few months ago, but we know also that Great Britain was not prepared to face it. No one will suggest that, because of that unpreparedness, Great Britain has not done remarkably well in meeting the calls made upon her for men, munitions, and money. Though we may confess that we were not prepared for war, largely owing to the neglect of previous Administrations, we need not condemn ourselves on that account any more than the British Government condemn themselves for their unpreparedness. I do not know that a Coalition Government was absolutely necessary in Great Britain, but we have no right to find fault with what has been done there. We can hope and believe that the Coalition Government will do better work than the party Government did in the past. But conditions in Great Britain are entirely different from what they are in Australia. Our opponents nave shown that' there is no need for a Coalition Government here because in all their criticisms they have" not been able to point to one instance in which the present Government has failed to meet the requirements of the times. They have made certain criticisms for party purposes, which we can afford to treat as they deserve, because they have not substantiated a single charge they have made, and have not made a single suggestion to meet our difficulties which was not foreseen by the present Administration. We have beard a great deal recently of political unionism, but to-day the Minister of Defence was able to inform us that there has been a great union of workers formed in Great Britain, and a noble Lord has been chosen as the leader of the union. What would our friends opposite think if something of that kind were done in Australia ?

Senator Maughan - Fancy Sir John Forrest leading the waterside workers !

Senator Needham - Or Sir William Irvine leading the miners!

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Both those gentlemen are amongst the staunchest supporters of trade unions. There is no better unionist in Australia than is Sir William Irvine. This is the gentleman who refused to appear in a case with a colleague of his own in the Federal Government because he had not the same brand or hall-mark of unionism upon him as he had himself. Of what use is it for our friends to talk as they do about unionism when they are faithful themselves, not only to their political unions, but to the professional organizations to which they belong ? Great fault has been found with the inclusion in Government contracts of a clause permitting a union official to enter a factory, and interview the workers during meal hours. It is suggested that that is an awful crime. A few years ago a worker had to hold his lunch in one hand while he attended his machine with the other. If it were not for the work of the trade unions that kind of thing would be going on in Australia to-day. The workers took the matter into their own hands, and insisted not only upon reasonable hours, but that a place should be provided for them in which they could eat their food with something like comfort and decency. Now that the organizations have done so much for the workers, our friends opposite suggest that the representatives of those organizations should not be permitted to enter a factory to interview the operatives during meal hours. Had the old condition of affairs continued, and were the workers obliged to go out into the streets to eat their meals, would our honorable friends object to the officials interviewing them there? If they would not, why should they object to union officials interviewing workers in a factory during their meal hours? They are permitted under clause 31a of the Government contracts to interview the workers, but not, as some of our opponents have suggested; in the capacity of spies ; not in order that they might interfere with the work, and not to advocate the go-slow policy. There are no advocates of the go-slow policy today, if ever there were. Every, industrial worker and trade unionist knows that efficiency must be the motto of the worker and of his organization. Union officials have a right to enter factories to see that due care is being taken of the personal comfort and safety, of the operatives. One gentleman in South Australia has objected to this condition governing contracts, and I was glad to hear from the Minister of Defence that he will have no hesitation, when he requires Mr. McGregor's blanket factory at Hindmarsh, in going over and " collaring " it. It is just as well that Mr. McGregor should know that.

Senator Shannon - Have not the Government commandeered it already ?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do not know whether they have or not, but if they do want it the Government will commandeer it. It is as well that Mr. McGregor and others of his kind should know that this country is at war, and that we have passed legislation which places their factories entirely at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government. We want, by our referenda proposals, to make it impossible in the future for Mr. McGregor and men like him to defy the Government of this country for their own profit or selfish ends. The manufacturers of Australia met in conference at Adelaide some time ago. They have a union, and I say, "Good luck to them!" I would not prevent any man enjoying the privileges which I enjoy myself. The manufacturers have as much right to form a union of their own as have the workers. At a conference of manufacturers .In South Australia some months ago, it was decided that, because the Chambers of Manufactures of New South Wales and of Victoria had agreed to clause 31 (a) of the Government contracts, and were prepared to accept tenders under it, the South Australian section should secede from the union. I do not knew whether in their case their action would be called "blackleg." They broke away from the union largely, I suppose, because of the influence of Mr. McGregor and men like him, who do not sufficiently appreciate the needs of the people of Australia. This should be a sufficient reply to those who say that it is wrong and wicked to insist upon the condition of clause 31 (a) in connexion with Government contracts.

Senator Shannon - If it prevents the output of war materiel, will it not be wrong and wicked ?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator is putting a hypothetical case, and I say that up to the present there has been no suggestion that it will have any such effect. The manufacturers who oppose this clause do so on the ground that it, involves an interference with their business.

Senator Shannon - Is the honorable senator prepared to answer the question I put to the Minister as to whether any contracts have been refused because 'of that condition ?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I could not answer that question. I know that Mr. McGregor, of South Australia, said that he refused to sign a contract containing clause 31 (a). I took the precaution at the time to send his statement to the Minister of Defence, and to ask if it were a fact that this gentleman had refused to sign a contract containing clause 31 (a), and, if so, whether he was permitted to go on with the work without signing the contract. The Minister's reply was that Mr. McGregor's contract was signed before clause 31 (a) became operative. We have been blamed for carrying on our political fights here and elsewhere during the war, but I may remind honorable senators that there was a general election in Greece the other day, and if there is one country which, more than another, may be said to be involved in the war, it is Greece. The Greeks are right in the middle of the row. The men who wanted to involve Greece in the trouble were turned out of office, but have now returned to power with an overwhelming majority. Evidently a certain section did not want to be involved in the war while another party did, and I am using this as an illustration to show there is no earthly reason why Australia should not carry on its legislation as usual, in view of the fact that Greece, which is almost sure to enter the arena in a few weeks, did hold a general election. They have done what we did in the Commonwealth. They swapped horses while crossing a stream, and a deep stream at that. Whilst we can listen with toleration to our friends from the other side, we can point to any amount of instances where this war has not affected the usual progress of countries which are more closely involved than we are. I would like to refer to a great many more questions to-day, but I feel it would hardly be fair to delay the passage of this Bill, and, as doubtless we shall have further opportunities of dealing with the questions from time to time, I will close my remarks. I am sorry to say that on account of what is occurring in another place, we are at present debarred from expressing our views on certain questions, because measures are delayed in coming to us.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 postponed.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

European War - Panama Exposition Commission - Appropriation Bill - National Association for Labour Legislation - Commonwealth Offices - Expeditionary Forces : Boots.


SenatorRussell. - I would suggest that unless honorable senators have an objection, we take the schedule as a whole.

Senator Needham - Are you going to put the whole of them?

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