Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Senator COLLETT (Western Australia) (10:45 AM) . - Owing to the pressure of important Government business, there has been little opportunity for private members to speak on matters in which they are greatly interested. I, therefore, ask the indulgence of the .Senate if I take up some time in associating myself with other honorable senators who have felt impelled to offer comment on the conduct and progress of the war. The war itself is a subject that fills the minds of most of us in our waking hours and often, I fear, intrudes upon our dreams. It is, therefore, all to the' good if we are able, from time to time, to examine the position anew, and seek, where necessary, the means to amend our plans so as to cope successfully with contingencies as they arise.

In the opening paragraphs of a recent statement made . by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), he declared -

Now, in April, 1042, we stand with the United Nations in a war encompassing the world. From confined campaigns within limited areas, the war lias passed to an affair of wide-ranging strategy; of disposition of supplies and reinforcements covering two hemispheres; and of vast but inter-related theatres of military activity.

This enlargement of the war, and the direct danger to Australia which has arisen with it, have compelled radical changes in our own war policy. To-day, after five months of war in the Pacific, and our association with the United States of America as an active ally, the full scope and significance of these change* are becoming apparent.

I wonder if honorable senators ever ro-read the speeches that they have delivered. Sometimes it may be a labour well rewarded - serving, perhaps, to keep us humble. I have been guilty of so doing and yet I am unabashed. In this Senate on the 30th November, 1938, nine months before war broke out, I outlined what were, in my opinion, the principles to be observed in planning an effective defence of Australia. In the full light of subsequent events, I see no reason to qualify the views I then expressed. Nor do I intend now to repeat myself; but I intend to comment on some matters that obtrude themselves into any considerations of war happenings and war measures. A retrospect of the two years and nine months that have elapsed since the commencement of hostilities, at first sight, affords us but little comfort. Our British idealism and sense of international fair play; our acceptance in good faith of the protestations of our neighbours of peace and good will, led us into a state of unpreparedness for war, bringing lamentable consequences. We have suffered many reverses; there may yet be others to come. Nevertheless, we are conscious that we are rapidly recovering from a series of unpleasant shocks, from a condition of almost stunned surprise, and even- from a feeling of defeatism in some quarters; and are now gripping ourselves, as of old, with an inward and ever-increasing determination not only to hold that which we have but also to move forward on to lost ground and beyond and exact some guarantees serving to avert a repetition of the tragedies of this enlightened twentieth century.

But although the chances of war - and chance is an ever-present feature of warfare - have brought us ill fortune, we have nothing of which to be ashamed with respect to the measures taken on and since the 4th September, 1939. The previous decade was one of economic and political turmoil, during which consideration of the provision of an adequate defence system was forced to the background and the arena filled instead with, contention over the ideologies of the several parties. It was the threat of danger to our very existence that rallied us to make common cause. Overnight Labour took unto itself the much maligned system of compulsory military training, and to-day, facing a vivid picture of what the strategy of future campaigns may entail, the same party is prepared to look upon the existence of section 49 of the Defence Act and section 13a of the National Security Act as no obstacle to an advance to ultimate and complete victory. This is not the time or place to discuss this matter at length. We have now one Army, and one Army only. It is a citizen force welded together for a common and vital purpose with, I trust, a common spirit. In view of the gravity of the task confronting us, it admits of no limitations of service; and for this all-important reason I hope that the hindering provisions of the acts that I have mentioned will quickly be repealed. We shall then be in line with, the rest of the Empire, for it is obvious that if our Allies have crossed thousands of miles of ocean in order to go all the way with us, we ourselves should show no hesitation in accompanying them - " knee to knee " as the Prime Minister has said.

I repeat, that up to date we have nothing of which to be ashamed. As honorable senators well know, the development of our munitions output has been little short of wonderful. The improved position of to-day is a tribute to the past and present administrations, the captains of industry, engineers, scientists, craftsmen, mechanics and the workers generally. It is true that production might have been greater still; but that phase I shall not go into now. The causes for default range around questions of a highly controversial nature, and will recur unless the Government definitely determines and announces that ideals that depend for their requisite development on static peace-time conditions may be, and frequently are, entirely alien to a wartime policy, when the very life, as well as the possessions, of the people is the stake.

At this stage it is best that I should refer to a matter of considerable importance which it is still possible to adjust, namely, the extension of the standard gauge railway from Port Pirie to Broken

Hill and from Kalgoorlie to Perth. The creation of a uniform railway system was envisaged at the time of the drafting of the Commonwealth Constitution. On numerous occasions it has been further emphasized since the late Lord Kitchener stressed the necessity for a uniform gauge in his report of 1910. Amongst other things that soldier then said was the following: -

Different gauges in most of the States isolate each system, and the want of systematic interior connexion makes the present lines running inland of little use for defence, though possibly of considerable value to an enemy who would have temporary command of the sea.

The failure to arrive at a solution of this now almost age-old problem can be blamed, largely, upon two States for their selfish and parochial outlook, and also upon successive governments of the Commonwealth and Western Australia for their indifference to vital national interests. What was foreseen is happening. For reasons well known, Western Australia is at the moment almost cut off from the rest of the Commonwealth, not only as to the requirements of defence, but also in respect of many essential commodities and conveniences in ample supply elsewhere. Again, despite the acceptance of the principle of the defence of Australia as one indivisible whole, I must confess to the existence of a condition of grave anxiety amongst the people of Western Australia. This difficulty I know the Government is aware of and is taking certain measures to meet it. Time is, however, the all-important factor, and I trust that vigorous action will be sustained. The contemplation of the possible consequences of undue delay is depressing indeed. It stands to reason, therefore, that if the war is to last, as it may well do, for some years, the construction of these railway extensions should be entered upon at once as an integral part of the programme of the Allied Works Council.

There has happened to us something at which I hinted in 1938. To-day we are on the defensive - devoting every ounce of our as yet imperfect strength and resources, not only to the purposes of the immediate protection of this country, but also to a great counteroffensive to be undertaken at some time in the future when the tide of fortune is more in our favour. There is no need for me to enlarge upon, or belittle, the dangers to which Australia is exposed. I think that they are now apparent to all. Realism has taken the stage and is directing our minds and energies. In this respect I recall that in 193S one honorable senator said, "No nation is likely to attack Australia directly ". "When I asked, " What makes the honorable senator think that?" the reply given was, " I have sufficient common sense to understand the position". To my further question, " Does the honorable senator know what has been going on during the past three years?" the reply came, " I do ". And yet the Prime Minister has told us, "Invasion is a menace capable hourly of becoming an actuality". That incident goes to show how difficult it is, in some cases, to clear the mind so as to allow of the normal processes of thought. For real value the opinion expressed was. on a par with the profound announcement we read, not so long ago, as to the "psychological effect - in war - of a good haircut ". But I desire to he serious. The circumstances that have brought us to our present position are to be deplored. Nevertheless we, as a people, can take heart from the stout example set us by our brothers of the British Isles, who, Phoenix-like, have risen from the ashes of disaster and are to-day stronger than ever and resplendent in the display of courage and determination - qualities so characteristic of the race. We, ourselves, are reinforced in our resolves to persevere by the epic deeds of our Navy and Air Force; by the brilliance of the conception and execution of the first Libyan campaign; by the second Gallipoli enacted at Tobruk; by the generalship used and tenacity displayed in securing the victory in Syria; by the heroism and sacrifice in Greece and Crete; and last, but not least, by the gallant and not altogether fruitless attempt to stem the flood of invasion in the Malay Peninsula and in neighbouring territories.

In having a thorough appreciation of our real position, we must go beyond the material and place a sane estimate upon the moral. Of the justice of our cause there is no doubt. Thus far we are " thrice-armed ". Napoleon is credited with saying, " The moral is to the physical as three to one ". In these days of mechanization, and the higher development of lethal weapons, that dictum may be discounted. Nevertheless, if the people are prepared, as I think they are, to give their all in an attempt to preserve the civilization we have helped to build up, then victory is possible. After all, we are a homogeneous community with an acknowledged record of great achievement and worthy traditions. In adversity we have kept out' heads, and despite a few whimperings, and fewer shrieking, in higher places, we have comported ourselves with dignity. The only discouragement offered to those who look to this Parliament for guidance has been our failure to agree to the formation of a government truly representative of the people's war-time aspirations and needs. There was the plea, heard by some of us, the tenor of which was, " For Heaven's sake do not compel our men to serve outside Australia or you will split the Labour party". In view of the gravity of our position and our commitments, such an appeal is quite untimely.

We need to mark, and continue to take inspiration from the example and deeds of our volunteer forces who have been, and may still be, abroad. They have rendered great service, and I am told by their leaders that the men of to-day are the equal of the men of 1914-18. That goes, too, for the members of the home forces who may not yet have been under , fire, but whose discipline and promise are almost all that can he desired. Let nothing be done, therefore, to discourage or divide them. Their morale is of immense value in the purpose of their existence, and every support should be extended to the leaders in their endeavours to improve it. Complaints as to the behaviour of individuals in the capital cities whilst serious enough, should not be stressed. Those concerned in unseemly incidents are a very small percentage of the whole forces, and whilst they evince the effect of their civil upbringing and environment, can be suitably dealt with provided that there is no political interference with legitimate military authority. Only hard training will impress on young minds the real needs of an army that is to be an efficient fighting machine. Sobriety, cleanliness and orderliness are important factors in its make-up. I have had the privilege of perusing an Army order on these subjects issued recently by the Commander-in-Chief. This will, I am 3ure, if properly - enforced, meet the situation. An initial fault, not that of the Army, has been the failure to recognize that men are men, and to provide . accordingly. Well-regulated canteens, and a tighter control of the liquor trade, are desirable, and, indeed, necessary. With these should go a delegation of authority, such as was conferred by the Defence of the Realm Act in Great Britain, so that undesirable women and establishments can be banned from occupied areas. Every general has a strong personal interest in his troops. I well remember, as do other honorable senators; the great influence for good exercised in the first Australian Imperial Force by men such as Lord Birdwood, the late Sir Brudenell White, and others of high rank.

This brings me to another important point. Men will fight all the better for a good cause if they realize -that the degree of their sacrifice is fully appreciated, and that some attempt at adequate recompense is to be made on their return to civil life. Those who serve in the fighting forces are entitled to great consideration at the hands of their fellow citizens. This Government has been in office for seven months. In its possession is the declaration of the previous Government in respect of preference in employment, and also full reports on the measures necessary for the successful repatriation of discharged personnel, Upon these two issues the Government has not, as yet, made a pronouncement. I urge it at once to stand up to its responsibility and make its position clear. The party to which the Administration owes allegiance is, as we well know, pledged to preference to unionists ; but there are greater things than that, and, unless the right action be taken now, not only will ou-r sailors, soldiers and airmen be shamefully neglected, but there will also be, I fear, storing up for the future such political strife as has not hitherto been experienced in Australia. In the end, it would seem, much harm must thereby be done to the Australian Labour party, and its good work.

In these days we are apt to talk rather glibly, and without a full understanding of the morale of the people. This morale is appreciably raised, or lowered, according to the quality of the public press in our midst. A newspaper service of some kind is indispensable; but honorable senators on both sides of this chamber, and thinking people outside, must have encountered many disappointments during the last two and a half years when viewing the treatment meted out to questions that were the real issues before the nation. Of course, there have been, and are, exceptions to the general rule, and, on the whole, the editorials, excluding a few instances where personal bias has obtruded itself, have been of a high order of journalism and really helpful. But I refer particularly to the so-called " news " items wherein futile conjecture and indulgence in sensationalism and personalities, combined with the suppression of inconvenient matter, seem to be the governing factors almost to the entire exclusion of factual matters, and healthy precept. This treatment is, in the long run, extremely harmful, and has been the subject of much adverse comment. That comment does not, of course, ever receive much publicity; but honorable senator* must recall many occasions when thoughtful and valuable speeches delivered in the Senate have been allowed to pass entirely unnoticed or the space in print which they might have occupied has been given over to an account of some clash of personalities in the House of Representatives, the reading of which has served only to belittle this Parliament in the eyes of most Australians.

It is possible that some kinds of journalism operate two codes. Glimpses of such duality have been conceded to us from time to time and I regret that further revelations were denied to the community by this Government one of whose first acts, after assuming office, was to amend the terms of reference to the royal commissioner appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding certain expenditure from secret funds and the alleged mis-use of secret or confidential documents. My expression of opinion is comparatively mild, but I can recall an occasion when the present Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) when Leader of the Opposition in this chamber declared, inter alia, in emphatic tones -

The newspapers of Australia must stop their damnable practice of crying war, and emphasizing imaginary dangers when it is well known that within recent months we have been getting further and further from the danger of war. I remember how relieved we all were when the Munich Agreement was signed. I remember one Australian newspaper - I forget which one - saying a few weeks later" Now that the emotional and mental strain has been relieved, now that men are beginning to collect their reason which they had almost lost in the trying times of a few weeks before, the question is being generally asked ' What price has been paid for peace'?" This newspaper said it would be far wiser to ask " What price would we have paid for a world war ?"

At that stage Senator Wilson interjected -

Does the honorable senator suggest that there should be a censorship of the press?

The present Leader of the Senate continued -

I am not suggesting anything of the kind. Even members of the Government in this chamber has expressed personal grievances against the press. I never do that. After more than 50 years of public life - not the whole time in Parliament - my opinion of the press is that when I receive its approbation I have cause to be ashamed. Whenever I feel that perhaps my public record would need to be bolstered up a bit, I point with pride to what this or that newspaper has said about me, and I am perfectly happy. As honorable senators know, I am not in the habit of raising personal grievances in this chamber, but I say with all the emphasis at my command that this Parliament has a duty to protect the people of Australia from the press. I do not mind very much what is said about me by the mad dogs of journalism - perhaps I should substitute the word " newspapers " because there is very little journalism in this country - but I believe that a sane Commonwealth government would publish its own newspaper not for the purpose of expressing party opinion, but in order to tell the truth about government policy and state the why and wherefore for its actions.

That opinion was uttered on the 17th May, 1939, or four months before we again became involved in war. To some who heard it the statement was sensational ; to those who read it, it may have been news; but no mention of it ever appeared in the press.

Since then the Prime Minister has publicly stated that the Australian press is a good one. As he is a journalist, he should know. Certainly, it must have rendered him great assistance in the performance of a most responsible and difficult task. Possibly some change, imperceptible to many, has occurred and my honorable friend opposite is now easier in his mind. Or does he intend to pursue his ideal of a government-owned newspaper? Nevertheless, there is a type of journalism acutely harmful to the community. Its effect in one direction is best summed up in the words of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who, speaking recently of whisperers, said -

We have whisperers who seek to destroy the reputation of public men and leaders, and in doing so destroy the confidence of the people and bewilder them.

There is a continuous threat to the stability of public morale by a press whose better function is to raise our ideals and encourage the people to unite wholeheartedly in the great common cause with which we are all so vitally concerned.

Good leadership, which includes sound planning, raises the morale of those who follow. Such leadership is expected from a government of the people chosen by the people. I am sure that the Prime Minister has our regard and respect. To-day he is the hardest-worked man in our midst. His problems are numerous and immense. I hope that he will secure from all his Ministers, as well as from his party, that good service, obedience, and loyalty that he invites from his fellow Australians. He has said, firmly, that the Government will govern. In Perth, on the 27th January last, he told an immense audience of the public that -

The Government would have to enforce discipline in order to win the war. In the course of the next few weeks some enterprises would be closed down and diverted. When this happened it would be no use appealing to the Government because the Government would not take any notice. Instead of contesting what is being done and being snaky about it, see how quickly you can adapt yourselves to the changed state of affairs. If you spend much time arguing with the Government you might later on find yourselves arguing with the Japanese. . . . " Fight or work " is the policy now for Australians."

No one will quarrel with that statement, but the desirable has not yet been attained. There are those who, seemingly, will argue but will neither fight nor work. Until there is a 100 per cent. response and national discipline is fully enforced we shall fail to arrive at the goal Ave have set up for ourselves. This is not the time for party platforms and shibboleths, but rather for hard unremitting labour in national interests alone. The people will respond as do the fighting services if the right standards are set up before them.

I believe that our relations with our allies are being developed along right lines. The Government is to be commended on its appointment of Sir Owen Dixon to succeed Mr. Casey at Washington. Our cousins from America, now joined with our own men on the sea, on the land, and in the air, are warmly welcomed. The same can be said of our very gallant friends from the Netherlands East Indies. United we shall grow from strength to strength, capable not only of effective defence but also, in due time, of a great counter-offensive. The appointment of General Douglas MacArthur, of the United States Army, as the sole director of our strategy and battle organization is an act of statesmanship which has greatly increased the confidence of the people and paved the way for a muchneeded re-organization of the services. The Prime Minister's and the General's strategical conceptions are, we are told, identical. The horizon is now clearer. General MacArthur comes to us with a well-established reputation for knowledge and skill and courage in action. Even if wo did not know this we have had the comfort of being informed upon it by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), who seems to repeat, parrot-like, anything that he is told. Mr. Forde ought to be proud of his association with the Army. He should endeavour, in his office, to make the Army proud of him. It does not help our vital cause to witness the operations of a system of intensive personal publicity illustrated by such poignant scenes as -

Mr. Fordein conference.

Mr. Fordevisiting the wounded.

Mr. Fordein a camp.

Mr. Fordeaiming the . . . gun.

Back view of Mr. Forde giving the civilian salute.

Mr. Fordeputting out his shoes to get cleaned.

I submit that there are better things to be done. Things such as these are of no value as a contribution to the war effort. If there is anything worse in war-time than a publicity-hunting Minister it is a publicity-hunting general. Both are apt to talk too much, and it is in this regard that the Military Board has, quite recently, issued a warning. I believe, too, that the arrival of General MacArthur has greatly encouraged our forces, who seemed confused upon the point as to whether or not the generals were really in command. I imagine that General MacArthur wears the " old school tie ", because among the first things he told us was that like the great generals of old he would " Keep the soldiers' faith ". Soldiers know what that means. Its profession inspires confidence amongst his followers. This leads me to say at this stage that I desire to thank the Assistant Minister for the Army (Senator Fraser) for the answer given to my recent question on Lieutenant-General Bennett's command during the operations in Singapore. I feel now that the very frank statement made by the Government as to its complete confidence in the officer named ought to satisfy all former critics of a soldier with so long and enviable a record of gallant service.

I shall say something more about generals. Great was my surprise recently to be told by a member on the government side of the chamber that there was difficulty in alight- ing upon the general who had the right outlook upon the conduct of the war. Need I say that it is not a recommendation for leadership to have been concerned in a major disaster. If honorable senators have read what Lord Birdwood has said about the battle discipline and courage of our soldiers, together with the effective use made of these great qualities by our own senior officers, they should realize that in our present leaders of the land forces we have men of character, sound training and ripe experience. Indeed, I doubt if it would be possible to find a better group of men elsewhere in the armies of the Empire. Most of them, if not all, have taken part in war conducted on a major scale. Like my friend and colleague, Major-General Brand, they have known what it was to appreciate a share and more than personal responsibility when there have been 500,000 men engaged in battle, for weeks on end, with a gun to every yard of front, tank and aircraft support, lethal gas, and other accessories of "modern war ". The principles of war do not change. I have been re-informing my mind by reading the Lees Knowles lectures delivered at Cambridge University in 1939 by General Sir Archibald Wavell. Sir Archibald has reminded us that Socrates, who lived in the era 400 B.C., was also disturbed in mind on the defence question, and this is what he wrote at that time -

The general must know how to get his men their rations and every other kind of stores needed for war.

That is the supply problem -

He must have imagination to originate plans, practical sense and energy to carry them through.

There is the strategist with organizing and directing capacity -

He must be observant, untiring, shrewd, kindly and cruel; simple and crafty; a watchman and a robber; lavish and miserly; generous and stingy; rash and conservative.

Then the psychologist and politician -

All these and many other qualities, natural and acquired, he must have. He should also, as a matter of course, know his tactics; for a disorderly mob is no more an army than a heap of building materials is a house.

Therein we observe the trainer of men and the disciplinarian. This ancient philosopher has left to us what would seem to be a complete catalogue of the military virtues; but we may, perhaps, forgive General Sir Thomas Blarney and his colleagues if they fail to register 100 per cent. However, there is one picture of a leader, but knowing the men, as some of us do, I should like to end this phase of my remarks by quoting General Wavell's concluding words -

The pious Greek, when he had set up altars to all the great gods by name, added one more altar, " To the Unknown God ". So whenever we speak of the great captains and set up our military altars to Hannibal and Napoleon and Marlborough, and such like, let us add one more altar, "To the Unknown Leader"; that is to the good company, platoon, or section leader who carries forward his men or holds his post, and often falls unknown. It is these who in the end do most to win wars.

The General goes on -

The British have been a free people and are still a comparatively free people; and though we are not, thank heaven, a military nation, this tradition of freedom gives to our junior leaders in war a priceless gift of initiative. So long as this initiative is not cramped by too many regulations, by too much formalism, we shall, I trust, continue to win our battles - sometimes in spite of our higher commanders.

In conclusion, and still on the subject of morale, I come to the part to be played by this honorable Senate. We are of the elect of the people, and it is to this Parliament that our countrymen look for leadership, guidance and example in seeing the nation through a sea of troubles; and, conducting it, ultimately victorious, to a haven of peace. I am sure that it is the desire of every one to conduct himself in accordance with the measure of his responsibility - having regard to the gravity of the task in hand. In English literature few of the human emotions have escaped examination and portrayal. Perhaps Shakespeare was the greatest exponent of this art, and honorable senators may find both exhortation and comfort in lines said to have been spoken 500 years ago and which, certainly, were written not later than the period of Queen Elizabeth. Henry V. is haranguing his forces. He is taking them into battle and seeks deeds rather than words. He says -

Fathers that, like so many Alexanders, Have in these parts from morn to even fought,

And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.

Dishonour not your mothers; now attest

That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.

Be copy now to men of grosser blood, And teach them how to war.

The Prime Minister concluded his statement to Parliament with this injunction -

The task that confronts us is the most formidable the nation has ever faced. Its magnitude is not a matter of statistics. It calls for everything the nation can do. Anything less than that would amount to criminal folly on our part and a base desertion of the cause to which we are pledged and the United Nations to which we belong, and who look to us no less than we look to them.

In that connexion, I have been pleased to read, in a recent instruction to the Army by the Military Board, the following words : - . . morale in a democracy is more than superficial optimism; it is the will to resist and endure, based on an understanding of the issues at stake, and made resolute by the realization that, the outcome of the struggle is of vital concern to every individual man and woman.

And on that note I end.

Suggest corrections