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Wednesday, 17 December 1941

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - I rise with considerable diffidence to speak at this juncture. We are all aware of the grave danger with which this country is confronted, and I hope that I shall not say anything that will result in an accusation that I am attempting to make political capital out of the situation. Whilst I hold strong views regarding the efficacy of a national government, I recognize that every person in this country, whether in or out of Parliament, is most anxious to do all in his power to safeguard the integrity and freedom of Australia. I listened with interest to the statement read by the Minister for Information (Senator Ashley), and to the statement presented in the House of Representatives by the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), to whom credit is due for the masterly way in which he surveyed the international situation. Although the Minister for External Affairs recognized that Australia was in great danger, he 'held out great hope for us, because we have as an ally that powerful nation, the United States of America. I draw attention to the following paragraph in 'his statement: -

T take leave to doubt whether the people of this country sufficiently appreciate the resources and latent power of the United States of America. They are immeasurable. All those resources will now bc devoted by a united nation to strike down for ever the might of the aggressors. It is wrong to lose con fidence in the ultimate outcome because of the severe shocks which have, been received at the beginning.

Having spent some time in the United States of America and Canada 25 or 30 years ago, I make bold to say that the Americans are not afraid to tackle any job. They have demonstrated their ability in the industrial field, and have undertaken work in that direction which other nations were not prepared to do. Whilst we deplore the terrible catastrophe that has overtaken the United States of America at Pearl Harbour, we must realize that that particular reverse has roused the American nation to such a degree that to-day it is as united as Australia in its determination to do everything possible to overcome the aggressors. When a country like the United States of America takes on a warlike task, we may rest assured that all the energies of its people and the full industrial capacity of the country will be put -into the work of producing the means essential to victory. In the meantime, however, there are terrible weeks and months ahead of Australia, and we must not forget the presence of a great danger.

The political representatives of the Labour movement are determined to do everything possible to safeguard this country. To those who may not see eye to eye with us politically, I point out that the policy of Labour is to support our troops overseas. When the Menzies Government was in power, it received cordial support in that direction from, the Opposition. Since the policy of the Labour party is to furnish reinforcements for our troops overseas, it is wrong to accuse that party or the present Government of acting contrary to its own policy It has not done so yet, and it will not do so. The present Labour Government will not do anything inimical to the interests of our men in Malaya; it will not forget Australia's obligations to them. I have mixed a good deal with the men in the various camps, and I know that they are only too anxious to assist their comrades. They are ready to go to Malaya, or wherever they are needed. Recently, at a picture show I saw photographs and heard the voices of some of our men in Darwin. They said that they did not want this and that in the way of comforts ; all that they wanted was to get at the enemy. Do honorable senators think that a Labour government will ignore the advice of those who control the naval, military and air forces of the Commonwealth? The policy of the Australian Labour party is in opposition to conscription for service overseas. No one denies that. At the present time we have conscription for home service; every man between the ages of 18 and 60 years can be called upon for the defence of Australia. Under the powers vested in it, the Government is calling up thousands of men for home defence. Some men have already been trained, and others will be trained. The Labour Government has taken, and is taking, all necessary steps to safeguard Australia, and at the same time thousands of men are flocking to the colours and are willing to go wherever they may be sent. There is no legal ob.iect.ion to sending to M'alaya any man who volunteers to go overseas. I put it to honorable senators, without bitterness or enmity of any kind, that at the present time there is no need for the demand that the existing law should be altered, because should the call be made, thousands of good Australians will be ready to go to Malaya. There is no crisis in that regard at the present time, and there is not likely to be any crisis because of the need to safeguard Australia against attacks by the Japanese. At least, that is the position as I see it. There is no need for those who favour overseas conscription to throw a spanner into the works.

I agree with Senator Foll and others that industry should be placed at the service of the Commonwealth Government. We have seen great changes economically in Germany, Russia and Italy, and we have read of similar changes in Japan. All of those changes have been towards unified control in tie interests of the State. Throughout the world there is a tendency towards the centralization of the control of the instruments of production, and of both civil and military forces, to the end that the best results shall be achieved from the employment of the labour of the community. The present Government must know, as must also its predecessors, of the antagonisms within the economic and industrial machine because of conflicting vested interests. My attention was drawn to this matter recently by a man in Brisbane, who told me that because of certain antagonisms between two rival companies, one of them was precluded from putting forward its best efforts in the production of materials of war. Senator Arthur has also told me of similar cases in Sydney. These problems have been completely overcome in Germany, Russia and Italy, because the governments of those countries will not allow petty antagonisms to keep machinery idle. Because of the danger confronting Australia, I am convinced that the time has arrived for the Government to take complete control of industry in the interests of the nation. Every man capable of producing munitions, or in any way assisting in the prosecution of the war, must be employed to his fullest capacity in connexion with the war effort. I say nothing against men associated with vested interests in this country, because they are the product of their environment; but. like many of our military leaders, they have forgotten the lessons of the past, and consequently they are jeopardizing the future. To-day, conditions are such that it is essential that the whole of the powers of the country shall be ordered. The time is ripe for the complete control of industry by the Government to the end that every man and woman shall be fully employed in prosecuting the war.

Senator Arthur - All profit should be taken out of industry.

Senator BROWN - I realize that profit is part and parcel of the present capitalist system, and that a revolution may be needed to eliminate it entirely from industry. If, in order to maintain the maximum production, it is necessary that the opportunity to make profits shall exist, then, so far as I am concerned, let men make profits if they want to do so. It may be that the incentive of profits is essential to the maximum production; but whether profits are made or not, there must be the fullest and most complete economic organization possible. I have heard on good authority that thousands of labour hours have been lost because men in some munitions establishments which operate on the cost-plus basis are not allowed to work. That such a state of alf airs is possible indicates that there is something wrong. Recently, a. man visited me at my home and told me that several nien in one establishment were thinking of going on strike because they had been told to " hang around " and they would be given a job. They were being paid for doing nothing. The reason was that their employer was being paid on the basis of the cost of production plus a. certain percentage of profit. I know that the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) and others have done splendid work in increasing the production of munitions, and eliminating the worst features of the cost-plus system. .1. am not, criticizing the previous Government for the cost-plus system ; but it is wrong that men should feel impelled to go on strike in order to draw attention to the fact, that they are not allowed to do their best for the country's war effort. I appeal to honorable senators to refrain from political recrimination. The time has come when we should forget the past in a realization of the magnitude of the task confronting us. 1 arn under no illusions as to the strength of our enemies. On a number of occasions I have been criticized for saying that in respect of discipline, ma nam v ring, gunpower and the things that constitute an efficient navy, Japan has one of the finest navies in the world. Naval strategists who are competent to judge, class the Japanese Navy as Al. The people of the world have been misled by magazine articles and newspaper writers as to the strength of Japan. They have been misled also by military and naval authorities who should have known better. The world has been told that although Japan has a large navy and possesses secret weapons, its naval guns are so big that they would wreck a ship if brought into action. We were told also that Japan had only a thirdrate air force. The world was led to believe that at, heights exceeding a few thousand feet certain physical disabilities, which, are common to most Japanese airmen, would affect their capacity to render effective service. Because of cer- tain alleged physical disabilities, such as the inability to close one eye, Japanese soldiers were said to be poor marksmen. All of these things have been said of the nation with which we are now at war; but the fact remains that the Japanese air force has performed deeds of destruction which its Axis partners have been unable to do. Members of the Royal Australian Air Force, who are among the finest air fighters in the world, have been struck with the effectiveness of the Japanese air force in destroying the Prince of Wales and the Repulse., We cannot afford to underrate the Japanese, and it is a pity that we are only now realizing that fact. However, it is useless) for us to repine. The situation confronting us is that the Japanese are making progress in Malaya, and are approaching Singapore by land. It was once thought that Singapore could bc attacked only from the sea; but. if the Japanese troops take airfield after airfield in Malaya, our position will become precarious. No one in Australia will do anything that will result in our men in Malaya being left in danger if it is possible to help them. This Labour Government is pledged to carry out a policy of attacking the aggressors in such a way as to get the best, possible results from the men at its command. I ask honorable senators opposite to give the members of the Government credit, for being as loyal as themselves, to he assured that it will carry out its policy of reinforcing the boys overseas, and that it will do its best to organize Australia to the end that this country shall remain free.

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