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Monday, 5 June 1939


Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Leader of the Country party) . - lt would be very interesting to know whether the views of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) on the international situation and a national register are those of the Labour party. Despite the applause which came from the Opposition while the honorable member was speaking, I do not think that that honorable member expressed the considered views of his colleagues. It was not said that the Government was attempting to create a war hysteria immediately prior to the Munich conference, or when the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia on the 10th March or the Italians marched into Albania a month ago. No one can contend that the European situation is normal, and that there is no- need to prepare for the defence of Australia. The Leader of .the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) holds an opinion totally different from that of the honorable member for Batman because, on many occasions during the last two years, he has stated very plainly that it is absolutely essential that every preparation must be made for the defence of this country. In explaining the defence policy of the Labour party, the Leader of the Opposition said - ' 1 now present a programme as being Labour's conception of Australia's defence needs and which it will implement as a government. Survey of man-power and woman-power resources (industrial and primary), is essential that the number of men and women able to carry out all forms of work be known. The Labour party believes in organization, not disorganization. It would be fatal to have all the best men called up for active service, leaving industry at a standstill. There should lie an allotment of man-power and woman[lower between services and industry.


Sir Henry Gullett - Who said that?


Sir EARLE PAGE - Those remarks were made by the Leader of the Opposition only four or five months ago. The Government is endeavouring to do what the Leader of the Opposition proposed. I thought that almost every one believed that we should have an inventory of the man-power resources of this country. Great Britain, Germany and Italy have had similar registers in operation for some time, and it is obvious that we cannot plan the defence of Australia unless we know exactly how many persons we have available, and the work which they are capable of performing. This proposal is not new to the Labour party because, in 1915, when a Labour government was in office, it introduced a bill in which provision was made to take a census almost identical with that now proposed. The policy enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition is similar in most respects to that proposed by the Lyons Government, which is now being sponsored by this Government. There should not be any need to argue as to the necessity for a register of our manpower, because the principle as approved by practically all sections of the community. There may be room for. discussion as to the method by which such an inventory should be obtained, but an effort should be made to secure the greatest goodwill and the maximum of unanimity as to the policy to be adopted. That is why the previous Government originally proposed a voluntary, instead of a compulsory, register such as that now proposed. It was thought that a voluntary register, although not so complete, would be more expeditious. Suggestions were made by the late Mr. Lyons, the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) and the then Treasurer (Mr. Casey) how a voluntary' register would enable us to get this information. An attempt was made to compile a voluntary register, but it was found that the complete co-operation which was looked for and was necessary in the community was not forthcoming. As nothing but a complete register would be of any value, it became necessary to provide for the compilation of a compulsory register.


Mr Ward - What attempt was made to compile a voluntary register?


Sir EARLE PAGE - About a year ago, when an attempt was made to secure the co-operation of the great trade unions of this country for this purpose, the Leader of the Opposition said that in his opinion the method proposed was a good way to approach the matter. We all remember how the trade union leaders refused to co-operate with the Government on that occasion. An attempt was also made to secure the fullest degree of co-operation of employers, but it was found that, owing to the lack of complete co-operation, the whole field could not be covered. That being so, it seems to me that the bill now before the House presents the only possible means of obtaining this very necessary inventory of the man-power of the Commonwealth. I am sure that no patriotic or sane person in Australia believes that such an inventory should not be compiled.


Mr Ward - Quite a number of people do.


Sir EARLE PAGE - I do not agree with the honorable member. In these circumstances I believe that we should make arrangements for the taking of a compulsory register. If the principle is agreed to, then we must do one of two things; we must either do what is proposed in this bill, that is, take a special partial census of the people of Australia between the ages of 18 and 65 years to enable us to know exactly what they are doing, or we must have a complete census of the whole of the people of Australia, including in the questionnaire the questions which appear in the schedule to the billnow before the House. This bill represents, in my view, an attempt to implement the decision of a previous government to compile the information necessary in a way that will he most satisfactory to the people generally. It represents an attempt to secure the goodwill of every section . and class of the people ofth is country. The bona fides of the Government are shown by the inclusion in thebill of a schedule which indicates the details that will he required, and by the undertaking given by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) that he will accept an amendment to the bill to provide that the terms of the document to be submitted to the people may he altered only by the consent of the Parliament. Could any faireror better attempt be made to secure the goodwill and trust of the people of Australia than is represented by the hill now before the House? Although the Leader of the Opposition agrees that the compiling of this register is inevitable and necessary, individual members of his party do not hold that view.


Mr Gander - The Leader of the Opposition is opposed to this bill.


Sir EARLE PAGE - What will be the position if this bill is not made law? The taking of a partial census of the, people such as is envisaged in this bill is absolutely necessary in the public interest in order to determine the manpower resources of this country. As I have said, if the bill is thrown out, there is no alternative but to take a complete census of the people to include the questions contained in the schedule to this bill. The Government has power under the Census and Statistics Act 1905-1938 to take a. complete census of all citizens and to put any questions it wishes to the people. Section 8 1 of that act provides -

The census shall he taken in the year One thousand nine hundred and eleven and every tenth year thereafter or at such other time as is prescribed.

It will be seen, therefore, that the Government already has authority to prescribe that time at which a census shall be taken. Section 16 of the act provides -

The Statistician shall, subject to the regulations and the directions of the Minister, collect, annually, statistics in relation to all or any of the following matters: -

(a)   population;

Paragraphl evidently refers to matters prescribed by executive council minute. So that the position is that the Government would be able to deal with this matter in a very broad way under the Census and Statistics Act if the desire of the Opposition to defeat this bill happened to succeed. It. has been suggested that the mere fact that provision has been made in the bill to ensure the return of census cards must necessarily mean the preliminary to conscription. I give that the lie direct. In regard to the general question of conscription for war purposes or for service overseas, a very definite undertaking for the life of this Parliament was given by the late Mr. Lyons, a former Prime Minister, the Leader of the United Australia party (Mr. Menzies), and myself, as Leader of the Country party, that no Australian shall be conscripted for overseas service.


Mr Forde - Does the undertaking of a former Prime Minister bind the present Prime Minister?


Mr Street - Yes.


Sir EARLE PAGE - I have not. the slightest doubt that if the present Prime Minister were asked if he isbound by the election declaration of the former Prime Minister, he would say that he is definitely bound.


Mr Forde - The present Prime Minister has never admitted that.


Sir EARLE PAGE - When the War Census Bill, a similar measure to that now before the House and brought down by the

Labour party, was debated in this Parliament in 1915, when a war was actually being waged and this country was making its maximum effort both at home and abroad, the leaders of all parties were unanimous that information such as that proposed to be secured in this bill should be compiled. The present AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Hughes),, who was then Prime Minister, during the reading of the War Census Bill, said -

It is regarded as a means for more effectively waging the present conflict upon the principle of voluntary service. That is the purpose of this bill.

Sir WilliamIrvine, speaking for the Opposition at the time, said -

Honorable members, whether they think that any compulsion, moral or otherwise, should bc used, will agree with me that it is desirable that the whole community should know who are the people who might best go to the front; who might render the most effective service with the least disorganization and with the least suffering to this 'community.


Mr Brennan - Will the right honorable gentleman quote my speech on that occasion ?


Sir EARLE PAGE - The honorable member will have an opportunity not only to quote his own speech, but also to read the division list which I take it was called for before the bill passed the secondreading stage, which Will show how the great majority of the Labour party voted in regard to the measure. This attempt to delay the passage of this measure by drawing in the red herring of conscription is not in the interest of the safety of this country, and should be resisted to the end.

If there is much objection to the bill in its present form by certain sections of the people - and in my opinion every measure for the defence of this country should have the backing of all sections of the community - I suggest that the only alternative left open to the Government is to take a complete census of the people. All that would be required to do this without delay would be to advance the normal time for the taking of a census by a year. This course is worthy of consideration because it would result in the saving of approximately £150,000. It seems to me that the questions proposed in the schedule to this bill could be printed on a form of a different colour from that on which the general questions- are asked, so that the information' obtained on these particulars could be immediately collated by the census office. Even if this course meant a delay of six months in the compilation of the information, it would be worth while if it had the virtue of overcoming objections which might be raised to the present proposal. This matter should be determined irrespective of party politics. I see no objection to the alteration of the year for the holding of the census because it will be remembered that, for reasons of economy, the taking of the last census was deferred from 1931 to 1933. In my opinion, we should coinpile this national register immediately. My only reason for suggesting a wider census of the people is that by that means we may be able to get unanimity of opinion and overcome any objections to the method proposed in this bill. I urge the House to pass the bill as it stands.







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