Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 13 November 1941

Senator BRAND (Victoria) .- There is one feature that the Fadden and Curtin budgets have in common and that is an appreciation of the extreme urgency of the situation, and the need for a full war effort in this country if the present conflict is to be prosecuted successfully. Events during this, the third year of war, have brought home to Australian citizens the necessity for greater sacrifices. The Fadden budget proposed to' spread the sacrifices evenly over the whole community, and had the Labour party not been so anxious to obtain control of the treasury bench, many supporters of the previous Government would have assisted them to make some amendments. It is always possible to adjust a budget. It is a very unusual budget indeed that does not admit of some amendments. In times such as these, compromise should be resorted to more frequently. The sacrifices which the Fadden Government proposed to call upon the citizens of this country to make, were nothing compared with the sacrifices which our soldiers, sailors and airmen are making overseas. Regardless of the additional pay our fighting forces may receive, their sacrifices in health, mutilation and possibly death, and the doubtful prospect of employment upon their return from overseas, are out of all proportion to the sacrifices made by those who are living at home in comfort and security. It is surprising that many members of the Labour party, whose sons, nephews and other relatives are overseas, did not see in the Fadden budget an endeavour to make those sacrifices more equitable; to make the conditions endured by our fighting men overseas the yardstick for measuring our contributions. The Curtin budget has widened the inequality of sacrifice between the man in uniform and the man at home. It is an early election budget; a budget of hope - hope that those thousands of people who have escaped increased taxation will forgo some of the advantages which they are enjoying, and contribute a little to war loans. Last week I addressed several war loan and recruiting meetings, and the experience was most heartbreaking. Nothing will awaken the people of this country except an Invasion. During the past twelve months the returnedsoldier Government supporters periodically met the then Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) in conference, in order to exchange views on military subjects. The Minister appreciated those conferences, and when the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) assumed office, on the very first day we returned.soldier politicians, numbering 22, went to him and told him what had been done very quietly in the past, and assured him that we would be prepared to give him the benefit of our reservoir of knowledge and experience. Mr. Forde thanked us very much. He is a layman and therefore cannot be expected to be acquainted with all the details of army organization. Of course he has his official advisers, but too often official advisers see things only from the official point of view. We returned-soldier politicians can view matters in a different way. We are not sitting back in the traces. We are prepared to give all possible support to the new Minister for the Army, in the tremendous task which is ahead of him.

I congratulate the Fadden Government upon the appointment of General Sir Iven Mackay as General Officer Commanding the Australian Home Forces. I am confident that when Sir Iven Mackay gets into his stride there will be an improvement in the training of our troops. For some time I have been a little apprehensive as to the value, of camps covering a period of three months. Information at my disposal leads me to believe that the offensive fire-power of the infantry has not been developed to the extent that it should have been. In these days of mechanization there is a tendency to place the infantryman in the background. He and his weapons are supposed to ho out of date; but are they? What is keeping the Nazi divisions out of Leningrad and Moscow ? - the Soviet man-power and Red infantry. The leaders of these two great conflicting armies have merged all auxiliary arms, including dive-bombers, into the infantry units. Every engine of this modern war comes under the infantry leader's control and direction. There is nothing new in that technique. Dive bombing is merely a substitute for the artillery barrage of the last war. Perfect co-ordination and co-operation between this air artillery and land troops must be practised in our militia camps. Should there be any objections on the part of the Royal Australian Air Force, the officials standing in the way mast be removed. I am not suggesting for one moment that the Royal Australian Air Force should be taken over by the General Officer Commanding the Australian Home Forces, hut he should have under his direction sufficient squadrons of aircraft for training purposes. I am very pleased to know that 33 per cent, of the Australian Home Defence Army has been called up for the duration of the war. That is a nucleus around which full mobilization can be carried out smoothly and expeditiously. What is troubling commanding officers generally at present is the continuous demand for exemption from military training, and a shortage of certain types of war equipment. The latter disability is being remedied gradually, but lack of personnel is a serious drawback. A tightening up of reserved occupations and exemptions must

Senator made, otherwise, upon mobilization, gaps in the ranks will have to be filled by untrained men who will be only hi the way. I hope that the Minister for the Army will instruct Sir Iven Mackay to submit a report to Parliament on the preparedness of Australia's army for active operations. Nobody could do that job better than Sir Iven Mackay. What does it matter if the enemy knows these things ? Probably he knows them already. It is better for us to find out our shortcomings so that they may be remedied. Recruiting for the Australian Imperial Force also has been affected by the long list of reserved occupations. Not every one in such occupations desire3 to evade enlistment. Undoubtedly many of them want to enlist, but they are held back by senior officers. No one is indispensable. In all the service departments there are scores of technicians who cannot be replaced, but also there are scores of young men whose places could be taken by members of the Australian Women's Army. It is the holding of these eligibles in government departments that is causing the lag in recruiting. Altogether too many men are engaged in the production of non-essential goods. The Government has a golden opportunity to peg the production of non-essential commodities. The previous governments were unable to do that because they did not have the numbers. They had to contend with an unsympathetic Opposition, but now the Opposition is sympathetic. The Government can rely upon the full support of the Opposition to increase munitions production by curtailing drastically the output of unnecessary commodities.

I have a few other matters in mind, but they can be dealt with more appropriately when the unofficial returned soldiers' committee meets the Minister for the Army in his own rooms, where discussion is freer and more personal.

As regards company taxation, the fact that all classes of the community are interdependent is lost sight of by the present Government. No real objection can be taken to imposing heavy taxation upon the very rich, especially those who, although they amassed their wealth in Australia, are now living abroad.

However, strong objection is taken to increasing the burden of taxation on companies. That is class taxation. The working man, the widow, the spinster, aud the man who is too old to work, have invested their money in these company pools, and they are entitled to some return in the form of a reasonable dividend. An analysis of the lists of shareholders in most companies shows that the middle-class community holds most of the shares. In seeking to get at the far bigger man, the Government's severe company tax proposals are akin to "burning down the house to roast a pig". After meeting all commitments, little is left of the profits for transfer to a reserve fund, and in the absence of reserve funds, progress is impossible ; business will stagnate or deteriorate. In either case, employees are in jeopardy, and are likely to be discharged. In short, continuity of work and wages for the employees depends absolutely upon the financial stability of the employers, either individually or collectively. Yet the Curtin Government proposes, by excessive company taxation, to dry up the sources which provide a livelihood for the working man. When this war is over, a company without reserves will be unable to make headway. During the depression years from 1929 to 1932, the companies which stood the strain and kept a 'large proportion of their staffs in employment were those with substantial reserves. In addition to the company tax, shareholders' dividends also are to be taxed. Groups of well-founded, wellmanaged companies are an asset to the nation. They give stability and guarantee continuity of employment. It seems to me that the Government, in its endeavour to please the masses, is penalizing the thrifty. We must depend upon the thrifty, and not. upon the spendthrift section of the community for the rebuilding and development of Australia in the post-war period. Some people predict that there will be a boom in Australia after the war, whilst others consider that a period of very lean years is more likely to be experienced. The best contribution to post-war rehabilitation will be made by groups of financially sound companies capable of employing thousands of those who will be released from war production.

The Treasurer may ask how necessary revenue could be raised, if company taxes were kept at a reasonable level. The thousands of persons who now spend money on horse-racing, betting, beer, and other pleasure pursuits might well be called upon to contribute a little more by way of direct taxes. This source will have to he tapped eventually. The section comprising persons with taxable incomes over £1,500 a year is very limited, and I believe that those on the lower incomes would, if the matter were put to a vote, gladly consent to pay more.

I should like favorable consideration to be given to the completion of the NorthSouth railway by bridging the gap between Alice Springs and Birdum, a distance of 316 miles. It is believed that that link could be constructed within two years at the rate of 30 miles a month, and each 30 miles of completed railroad would save thousand's of gallons of petrol. Nobody can prophesy accurately the duration of the war, or to what degree Australia will be involved. The completion of the North-South railway is a matter of national importance, and a vital one from the point of view of defence. It is generally considered that railways are a major mode of transport for defence and heavy haulage. The cost of the proposed work is estimated to be £4,000,000, and the services of 1,500 unskilled men and 30 technicians would be required. Most of the necessary material is available in the locality, and I suggest that, if sufficient Australian man-power is not available, prisoners of war could be used for this work to the degree permitted by international convention. If necessary, they could be paid the basic wage. The necessary guards over prisoners of war need not be large owing to the concentrated nature of the work. The utilization of their services in that way would be a better proposition than distributing them in small groups on farms throughout Australia. I submit that the proposal might well be investigated by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, should the Government reregard it favorably. The committee could present a report to the Parliament on the matter within a month.

The reply given to me yesterday by the Minister representing the Minister for the

Army to my question regarding the Volunteer Defence Corps was partly satisfactory. I asked the question in order to draw attention to lack of official encouragement to that body of patriotic citizens. I wished to give to the Minister an opportunity to say if there was any justification for referring to the Volunteer Defence Corps as a sort of Cinderella of the home defence force. To say that the members of the Volunteer Defence Corps who took part in the recent military exercises known as " The Battle of Corangamite " did good work was an acknowledgment that that section of our home defence force is worthy of encouragement. Those members decided to put forward a special effort to demonstrate the value of the corps, and they succeeded in their purpose. In future, no doubt, we shall hear less comment regarding official lukewarmness to the corps. The Military Board is not entirely to blame. It has a difficult task in meeting all demands for equipment. The majority of the patriotic men who form this corps are returned soldiers, but a large percentage of them are not. They use their private motor cars and their own petrol in order to travel to the localities selected for training. Many of them cannot go because of the shortage of petrol, but, in the country districts of Victoria, one sees many private motor cars being driven to mid-week race meetings, the occupants carrying field glasses which should have been sent to our fighting forces in -the Middle East. We should see that the Volunteer Defence Corps receives an increased allowance of petrol to enable its members to carry out their patriotic work.

Suggest corrections