Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 28 August 1941

Senator ARMSTRONG (New South Wales) . - In view of the wonderful work Senator Cameron performed as a conciliator in the coal strike in New South Wales last year, and in other grave industrial upheavals over a long period of years, the Government parties might avail themselves of his services to solve the troubles in which they find themselves to-day. Having heard so much from honorable senators opposite of the tribunals that could be availed of by the workers in order to solve their troubles, it seems a shame that they themselves, who set up these tribunals, cannot ask these brain trusts to solve their own troubles.

I had hoped to take advantage of the debate on the ministerial statement made in this chamber last week to deal generally with government policy; but anticipating that I shall have an early opportunity to deal fully with such matters, I propose, at this juncture, to address myself only to one or two subjects. A report of a meeting of the Red Cross Society, appearing in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald, deals with a matter which- has troubled my mind ever since the outbreak of the war. According to that report speakers at that meeting said that the defence authorities were sponging on the society. Those authorities are sponging on not only the Red Cross Society, but also on nearly every other organization which has been set up for the purpose of raising funds for patriotic purposes, including the Lord Mayor's Fund Committee in Sydney. Requests are made repeatedly by the military and naval authorities to these organizations for articles for the members of the services which it is the first duty of the Government to provide. I recall that requests were made to the Lord Mayor's Fund Committee for such things as socks, singlets and underwear for members of our fighting services. Such articles should be a first charge on the Government; but for some reason or other, the Government shirks that responsibility as it shirks every responsibility which it can evade. The Red Cross Society has presented a mobile hygiene and bacteriological unit to the Army, and a refrigerator to the Navy to be installed on H.M.A.S. Sydney. No honorable senator, I feel sure, would suggest that that is right. If articles of that kind are required by the Army or the Navy, it is the Government's duty to provide them. However, according to the report which I have mentioned, Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn told the meeting that although these things were necessary, they were not items that the Red Cross Society should supply. He went on to say that if the society could obtain them more quickly than the authorities concerned, the Government should recompense the society for such expenditure. The statement that a body, such as the Red Cross Society, can obtain supplies even more quickly than the Government is, to say the least, amazing. It is an indictment of the business methods of the Government. Another gentleman at that meeting, Mir. George Paterson, said that the authorities were apt to sponge on the society. This is a matter to which, I suggest, the Government should, in its few remaining troubled days of office, give consideration. It reminds me of the Government's policy of obtaining men from private enterprise and appointing them to extremely high executive positions without pay. All thinking men will, on principle, disagree with that practice. The fact that many men in the community arc prepared to offer their services to the Government in an honorary capacity is to be commended, but, while appreciating such offers, the Government should pay for the services of any man it employs in that way. T d-d ay, when we have budgets, not of the old totals of £60,000,000 and £70.000,000. but nearly £200,000,000. the least we can do is to pay wages to men whose services we employ in our war effort, and also ensure that essential articles required by the Army and the Navy are not sponged from charitable institutions such as the Red Cross Society. Those organizations have a big enough job to do in their own particular provinces.

I desire to say a few words concerning the effect of petrol rationing in country districts. All honorable senators frequently receive communications from drivers of motor vehicles in the country districts who complain of the effect of the present drastic petrol rationing. The man in the country - and I now refer to people who reside, not in country towns, but in areas about 8 or 10 miles from any town - is in a different position in this respect from the man in the city. When the latter is deprived of his quota of petrol for pleasure purposes he can still avail himself of other means of transport, and can turn to other forms of entertainment which' take the place of the motoring which he previously enjoyed. I have received a letter from a gentleman who resides about 12 miles out of Canowindra, in which he states that his pleasure ration has been absolutely eliminated. He is still allowed his ration for work around his farm. The point I emphasize is that pleasure in the country districts is inextricably bound up with transport facilities. In most cases a country resident seeks his pleasure in visits to other districts, or to the local township where the farmers of the district are accustomed to congregate. With the elimination of his quota of petrol for pleasure purposes, the man in country areas is now denied such amenities.

Senator McLeay - -He receives special, consideration; but, in any case, his position would be worse if he were in Tobruk.

Senator ARMSTRONG - The honorable senator's observation hardly applies in this connexion. If I were to deal more widely with petrol rationing I could point out that the Army authorities in Australia, by wasting petrol, are not showing a very good example to their comrades in Tobruk.

Senator McLeay - Can the honorable senator prove that?

Senator ARMSTRONG - On previous occasions I have proved waste in the use of petrol on the part of the Army authorities. I have shown that not one vehicle used in military-camps is equipped with a producer-gas unit. It is obvious that a certain percentage of the department's motor vehicles must be retained for ordinary commercial work, and I suggest that such vehicles, as distinct from cars and trucks actually used in military work, should be fitted with producer-gas units.

Senator McBride - Those who know do not agree with the honorable senator.

Senator ARMSTRONG - That interjection is similar to the interjections which the honorable senator invariably has made when I have been speaking on similar subjects in the past. I recall that when I presented a case for shipbuilding in Australia, he used practically the same words, saying that those who knew did not agree with me. Yet, two months later, the Government, on the advice of experts, inaugurated a programme of shipbuilding. Apparently the necessity for doing certain things must be forced right under the nose of the Government before it can realize the inevitability of such action being taken. A high percentage of military vehicles used by the Russian Army are equipped with producer-gas units ; yet Russia has ample supplies of petrol at its doorstep. We have failed to take action in this direction simply because the Government lacks the drive and determination essential to the handling of problems of this kind. Producergas units figure prominently in the every-day life of the Scandinavian countries.

Senator McBride - And in Australia also.

Senator ARMSTRONG - No ; the percentage of producer-gas units used in transport operations in Australia is a scathing indictment of the efforts of the Government to solve the petrol position. The Government has been on the retreat the whole of the time, and its indecision finally plunged this country, commercially and in other respects, into a depression which could have been avoided.

Senator McBride - The honorable senator urged that petrol rationing was not necessary.

Senator ARMSTRONG - I did nothing of the kind.

Senator McBride - His party did.

Senator ARMSTRONG - Had the Labour party been in control within recent years, petrol rationing would not have become necessary. Restrictions on the use of petrol are not imposed in South Africa, and even in Great Britain the effect on users, proportionately to the number of commercial units involved, is less severe than in Australia, despite the fact that supplies have to be transported thousands of miles through hostile waters, and that probably from 16 per cent, to 20 per cent, of the vessels conveying it are sunk by enemy action. The defeatist attitude of the Minister for Supply and Development has characterized every action of the Government since the commencement of the war. An all-in war effort cannot be developed under the present administration. The sooner the existing turmoil in the ranks of the Government is brought to a head, and present Ministers are replaced on the Treasury bench by gentlemen who now sit in Opposition, the sooner will a war effort in accordance with the wishes of the people be put in operation. Every opportunity is afforded to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to place before the country, through the columns of the press and over the national network of broadcasting stations, the policy and programme of the Government, but we wait in vain for the translation of his words into action which will give hope to the men and women of the nation. What has happened to the new prospectus which was given birth when the Prime Minister returned from Great Britain? Three additional Ministers were appointed, and the promise was made that thenceforth the war effort would be on a proper basis. Has there since been any acceleration of operations which would alleviate the doubt felt by men and women of the adequacy of the measures being taken? Are tanks trundling along our main streets ? Are front-line fighter aeroplanes being produced? Has one Bristol Beaufort bomber been wholly constructed in Australia? The production of those things, by whose means alone can wars be won, is deplorably below anticipations, despite the fact that the war has been in progress for nearly two years. Another year or two years will elapse before there is evidence of the results desired, if the present occupants of the Treasury bench are allowed to continue in office. What is the use of having a standing army of 250,000 men, if it i3 armed only with the 303 rifle? What would be the position of this country if it were faced with a crisis ?

Senator Leckie - The honorable senator is not up to date.

Senator ARMSTRONG - I wish that I could believe what I am told by honorable gentlemen opposite; but I know that what I say is right. Not even the Prime Minister himself can point to one tank, fighter aeroplane, or Bristol Beaufort bomber which is being produced in Australia. Until that has been achieved, the present Government will not have done its part in making Australia safe from any attack which might be launched against its shores. Only when it has been driven from office is it likely that the will of the people will prevail in this Parliament. I lay the blame for the present position, not so much on the responsible officers of the Defence Department as on the psychology which gives rise to the view that this country cannot be defended. Because of that psychology, production in Australia is devoted not so much to those things which are needed for our own defence as to items which can be sent to other countries. The Army and the Air Force should not only be trained but also have placed at their disposal that which is essential to enable them to wage war.

The position of the country petrol user needs to be revised. Because of the war, and the shifting of population from country towns to the cities, in which munition works are situated, those towns which have not a military camp or other activity which will keep money in the district, are facing a parlous future. Many of the main streets of the principal towns in the western and southern portions of New South Wales have rows of empty shops, and unless the residents of the district are given sufficient petrol to enable them to conduct their operations, the fate of those towns is sealed. I urge the Minister so to act that country towns and industries may survive. This result can be achieved if the men and women who are developing those industries are encouraged to continue the work that they are doing in the interests of Australia.

Suggest corrections