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Wednesday, 17 December 1941

Senator FOLL (Queensland) .- I endorse the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) that the Government should immediately amend the National Security Act in the directions he has indicated. Should Parliament fail to give such power to the Government before it adjourns for the Christmas recess, we shall be guilty of criminal folly in so far as the safety of this country is concerned. At a time like the present, we cannot afford to discuss the merits and demerits of conscription for service beyond our shores. We are faced with the fact that within a comparatively short distance from this country stands an enemy of over 100,000,000 people. That nation possesses a powerful fleet, and has gained an initial advantage by its treacherous violation of a pact to which it was a signatory at The Hague. Without warning, it set upon its neighbours, and in so doing gained .a considerable advantage. In addition, the measure of our security has been seriously reduced as the result of the loss of the British battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse. We arc not here to criticize those responsible for that disaster, should such responsibility rest upon any one. We only regret that the brave efforts which those ships put forward was not successful. At the same time, we must recognize that as the result of that loss, the danger to Australia has become more imminent. It is useless to reply to the Opposition's request that the Government be given unshackled power in this emergency by saying that we ourselves failed to take such power when we were in office. Had we done so at that particular time we should have caused a controversy both inside and outside of this Parliament which would have seriously impaired our war effort. Since then, however, circumstances have changed considerably. My sole reason for urging the Government to amend the National Security Act in the directions indicated by my leader is in order that the Government shall not find itself handicapped for want of that power in an extreme emergency.

Senator Ashley - All of the men we require will be forthcoming.

Senator FOLL - It is not so much a matter of getting men, but rather whether the Government will lack power which it may require in an extreme emergency. At present we are handicapped by the National Security Act and the Defence Act because we cannot utilize those, acts to the fullest degree. It is only fair that we should have some regard for what is being done by our neighbours and allies. When Japan struck, one of the first acts of the United States of America was to remove whatever obstacles existed to the sending of American troops to any part of the world. Legislation to give that authority to the executive was passed through the United States of America Congress without debate, so that no handicap would exist in the prosecution of the war. At present, the Defence Act and the National Security Act place us in an anomalous position. The Government could send militia units to Papua but, although they could proceed as far as the Dutch border, they could not legally cross that border should the enemy land in the adjoining Dutch territory. The position is ludicrous. The Government should have power to send our troops into these territories should the necessity arise, and such a contingency is not at all improbable. Within a few hours of Japan's move into Thailand and Malaya, owing to the great demand made upon Empire air force units stationed in theFar East - apparently there was not the volume of air support that we should have liked - our allies in the Netherlands East Indies, who have built up a substantial air force in a comparatively short time, sent air force units into Malaya in order to assist our troops. We should be in a position to reciprocate by going to the aid of the Netherlands East Indies should the need arise. It may be deemed necessary in the near future that militia units at Darwin should go to adjoining territories such as Timor or other islands only a few miles from our coast, but unless the Defence Act be amended, that could not he done. So far as I know no such limitation exists in other dominions or in other Pacific countries. The Government of our sister dominion, New Zealand, has assumed full power to send men to any part of the world where it is thought the battle of New Zealand can best be fought, and apparently the same position applies in the Netherland East Indies. The Government should at least adopt the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition for the creation of an Australian defence zone and thus avoid the necessity to call Parliament together should the sending of troops to adjoining territories become imperative in the near future.

Senator Arthur - How does the honorable senator suggest that these men would be equipped?

SenatorFOLL. - That is merely a catch-cry which the honorable senator has seized upon. As I said earlier, it might be deemed necessary to send some of our fully equipped anti-aircraft batteries to adjacent territories. I merely cited that unit as an example of what could be done. No one on this side of the chamber has ever suggested that Australian soldiers should be sent away without equipment, and no government of which I have been a member has ever sent our men away without proper equipment. It is true that we have not at all times had all the equipment that we should have liked, but on all occasions, before Australian troops went into action, we insisted that they should be adequately equipped. That assurance was always sought and secured. I remind Senator Arthur, who is so ready to make suggestions, that few people know the difficulties which have confronted the heads of the service departments in equipping our men. Yesterday, on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, I spoke for a few minutes regarding articles in a Sydney newspaper which practically pilloried three or four heads of our defence services. It was most unfair to select men like Sir Charles Burnett, Major-General Gordon Bennett, Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, and LieutenantGeneral Sturdee for such attacks. I know, and honorable senators opposite know, of the difficulties that had to be faced in the early days of munitions manufacture and aircraft production in this country. Our war industries started about two years ago from practically nothing. On numerous occasions orders were placed overseas and advice was received from the Old Country that certain engines, guns and equipment of all kinds had left for Australia, only to be sunk by enemy action. The problems which confronted the heads of the service departments and the service Ministers themselves, under such conditions were of a tremendous character, and they still arise. Therefore, I do not intend to rush in blindly to criticize even my political opponents who are now in control of the service departments. Such criticism should be made only in the light of the fullest information, and not merely for the sake of criticizing. No doubt our troubles will be even greater than they have been in the past, and it ill-becomes anyof us toattempt toallowmenwho have rendered splendid service to their country. If it can be proved that men are incompetent, then no doubt the Government has the power to replace them, but, merely for the sake of cheap popularity and notoriety, I have no intention of joining in a heresy hunt or a head-hunting competition until I know definitely that some one has fallen down on his job. It was not until the outbreak of war that the Empire Air Training Scheme was brought into being. The war was actually in progress before the foundations of the scheme were laid. A former Minister for Air, the late Mr.Fairbairn, accompanied by certain air force officials, proceeded to Canada and laid the foundations of the scheme. I am not exaggerating when I say that the work being done under that scheme may turn the scales in favour of the Empire, because it will assure an adequate supply of pilots and other airmen. I recall the difficulties with which we were faced owing to certain differences of opinion among some of the senior officers of the Royal Australian Air Force when the scheme was launched, and I know how essential it was that Australia should obtain from overseas the services of an officer of the type of Sir Charles Burnett. It was necessary that we should not only get the benefit of the vast experience of such an officer, but also send some of our own young officers abroad for training. At that time our Air Force was comparatively small. If honorable senators will recall its dimensions at the time of the Munich incident, as compared with its strength to-day, I think that it will be agreed that the officials at the head of it are entitled to a great deal of credit for the improvement that has been effected. Similar remarks are applicable to many of our other service chiefs. It is not sound policy, because the war seems to have gone against us at the outset, to look around for scapegoats. At present we must hold our chins up and keep our heads cool. We should have faith in our leaders until it has been actually demonstrated that they have fallen down on their job. We should not commence a heresy hunt amongst officers on the administrative side of our fighting services. Statements made by amateur strategists should be discounted, because those critics are not acquainted with the control and organization of the various branches of the fighting service.

I was pleased recently to notice that the Government had announced that it would review the list of exempted occupations. I have always held the opinion that large numbers of persons who are sheltering in reserved occupations could well be called upon to strike a blow for their country. I have contended that the list of reserved occupations was drawn up too much in accordance with old-world conditions, and in a manner suitable for a much larger population than that of Australia. I hope that the Government will not be stampeded, as the result of representations made to it from time to time, into receding from the stand that it has made with regard to the list of reserved occupations. I still believe that it will be found necessary to mobilize woman-power, so that women may take the place of men now employed in reserved occupations. We must realize that the population of this country is only about 7,000,000. I have no doubt that Britain and her Allies will finally smash the Japanese forces ; but, if the war lasts a long time, and the Japanese are able to continue the minor successes that they have already gained, it may be necessary for every man who is capable of doing something in the defence of this country to be called upon to do so. The Government should not hesitate to take every necessary power to ensure that all members of the community pull their full weight in the defence of Australia. If people ask me whether in a national emergency I am in favour of the conscription of wealth and property, I say definitely that I am, because I believe that the Government of the day should take everything that is required for defence purposes. If men are called upon to give their lives in the defence of Australia, the Government should not hesitate to take anything that it requires from individuals. What is there of greater value that we could lose than our lives and the right to live in freedom? To me every inch of our land is sacred. Mr. Churchill, after the disaster at Dunkirk, told the Huns that if they effected a landing on British soil they would be fought in every city, town, village and street. That is the spirit of the people of Australia. Every one of us should he prepared to do all he can to ensure that no alien invader shall set foot in this country. I am prepared to give to the Government in an honorary capacity any service of which I am capable. I shall gladly do that because we have now reached a time when we in list forget party divisions and all pull together. The enemy is only two days' sail from our shores. We are fighting against an unscrupulous and well organized foe. There is nothing that we should not be prepared to do to ensure the safety of this country.

Senator AMOUR(New South Wales) [3.55 | . - I believe that the present Government has done its job well, and I appreciate the lucid statement on international affairs submitted yesterday by the Minister for Information (Senator Ashley). The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) made a serious mistake when he said that when Ministers were unable to attend their departments in the capital cities 100 per cent, war effort was not being obtained. It ill becomes the Leader of the Opposition to suggest that departmental heads and other government officials do not give their best services when the Minister in charge of a department is not present.

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