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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (5:52 AM) . - The Treasurer's statement, unfortunately, is remarkable for the paucity of the information it imparts. We have been told that this is a bill to grant supply foi- three months. We do not know when the Parliament will next meet; it may not meet for three months after the 30th June. I shall not acquiesce in a proposal to close the Parliament for a lengthy period. I have said many times that Parliament ought to meet almost continuously. I do not agree with all-night sittings, or the Government's policy of thus rushing business through. The majority of honorable members seem to be entirely unconcerned in regard to events in the various theatres of Avar.

Mr CHIFLEY - The Government is not rushing business through. Neither the gag nor the guillotine has been applied since it assumed office.

Mr CALWELL - By common consent. Parliament will be closed for many weeks. The thinly-disguised dictatorship of that spurious, specious body, the Advisory War Council, will take its place. That is not democracy, but a travesty upon it. I deeply regret that the Advisory War Council was established, because it has never fulfilled any useful function. On the contrary, it is causing a lot of trouble; and its possibilities for evil seem to be almost infinite. Most honorable members are so concerned about their own comfort or pleasure that they would not sit for a day longer, even though it meant that the extra sitting day would give to them the opportunity to hear the Prime Minister relate the latest information in secret. We have been misled into believing that there was a possibility of a secret sitting. That, of course, will not now be held. We have sat for six weeks, and one of the few things we have not discussed is the war situation. Most honorable members appear to be entirely unconcerned as to whether or not we ever discuss the war situation. Their only concern is to leave the National Capital as quickly as they can, to remain here when they must for as short a period as possible, and not to worry about what is happening on the production front or in regard to the safety of the nation. Such is the state of democracy to-day that apparently nothing matters so long as the Parliament can be closed. The matter of production for purposes of the war demands constant attention by Parliament. Last year, the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley) and tie Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), as private members, spoke at length and very gravely concerning the munitions shortage with which we were faced, and the muddle in the munitions factories generally. The same control is operating to-day, and there 13 still a. very great shortage. I have been informed by workers in munitions factories of the muddle that exists. Two men recently assured me that the information they had given to me had been brought to the attention of the Assistant Minister for Munitions (Mr. Holloway) and his predecessor (Senator Cameron). I do not purpose telling the whole story in open sitting.

Mr Holloway - I was in the workshop from 8 o'clock one night to 2 o'clock next morning, inquiring into the matter, and found that 90 per cent, of the statements were wrong.

Mr CALWELL - I say that 90 per cent, of the statements are not wrong, because I have been given the file numbers and the facts concerning them. These are so disconcerting that an investigation, not in the workshops only, but in various parts of the administrative establishments, must disclose that there is something radically wrong in connexion, with munitions production. The Parliament ought to be continuously advised of the present production figures of all the essentials of war. Last February, comparisons were made between that month and November of last year. I want to hear the story »s at to-day, because I accept gravely my responsibility as a member of this Parliament and do not purpose functioning by proxy or delegating any of my powers, responsibilities or duties to any Cabinet or the Advisory War Council. I do not regard such a course as helping to preserve democracy, but most honorable members, unfortunately, are prepared to transfer their responsibilities, to others.

We are asked to approve of the appropriation of £50,000 for the Department of Information. If ever there was a department that ought to be abolished, it is that department. Recently, I asked questions in regard to the recent Japanese " hate campaign ", and found that the cost, of press advertisements was no less than £4,468.

Mr Archie Cameron - A wicked waste.

Mr CALWELL - A shocking waste. No words of condemnation are too strong for the whole conception of the campaign, and its conduct over a period of weeks. There was neither intelligence, dignity nor truth in any of the advertisements, which were designed allegedly to pep up the morale of the Australian people. The matter published was a grave reflection on the mentality of those who prepared it, and an affront to the decent instincts of those who were expected to read it. The department expended £4,468 in press costs alone. That does not take into account the high salaries of those who prepared the awful stuff. Apparently the department is to continue, because we are still expending at the rate of £200,000 a year on it. The money is being raised by all sorts of methods that are obnoxious to me, such as sales tax, and various other forms of indirect taxation which bear most heavily on the working class. The Government does not seem to worry about squandering money. It should worry, because the Parliament would not then be obliged to pass such taxation legislation as it has recently had to pass if so much was not squandered on this department and in other ways, particularly in the Army department, where extravagant spending is even more extensive.

I have asked questions of the Department of Trade and Customs concerning the cost of preparing certain patent medicines, and the reduction of prices, both wholesale and retail, which the Prices Commissioner or the Minister for Trade and Customs might make for the benefit of the general public. In reply to those questions I received evasive answers. If the Prices Commissioner and the Minister for Trade and Customs are unable to give more informative replies than I received, it is time that the commission was abolished, and that the Minister gave more serious consideration to this phase of his work.

Attention has been drawn to the fact that members of the Australia First Movement have been interned, and not brought to trial. The Acting AttorneyGeneral has stated that some members of the organization are on trial in Western Australia, but I have been given to understand by those who know that there is not a tittle of evidence to justify the incarceration of most of those who have been interned in New South "Wales. They are being held although there is no evidence against them. I should like the Acting Attorney-General to lay the files of the Military Intelligence Section on the table of the House so that honorable members may judge for themselves how much justification there was for the statement of the Minister for the Army when he linked all the members of the Australia First Movement with a subversive plot which, if it existed at all, existed only in Western Australia. Those members of the organization against whom there is sufficient evidence should lie tried, and the others should be released.

I also draw attention to the fact that a man has been held in Melbourne on the allegation that he committed a minor offence, although no charge has yet been preferred against him.. He has already been held for nearly seven days, and the papers in connexion with the case seem to have been lost. I understand that it is permissible, under the National Security Act, to hold people in this way.

Mr Blackburn - The period prescribed in the act is ten days, and we had a fight to get it down to that.

Mr CALWELL - I can well believe it. From what I have seen in the twenty months I have been in Parliament, the fight must have been long and bitter to secure even that regard for human rights. A Labour government should reduce the period still further. The holding of people without trial is opposed to everything for which the Labour party stands, and cuts across what every decent citizen believes to be a fundamental principle, namely, that persons taken into custody should be charged as soon as possible so that they may apply for bail, and thus have an opportunity to prepare their defence.

I wish that there could have been a secret meeting of Parliament to allow honorable members to hear details of the Darwin raids. I am convinced from what I have heard that the public has not been told the truth. I do not propose to state what has been told to me, beyond saying that the number of dead was very much greater in the first raid than was revealed, and that the authorities had fully 22 minutes'- warning of the approach of the raiders.

The Minister for the Army, speaking on the 25th March, made the following statement regarding the despatch of men to battle stations: -

Consideration is being given to the practicability of a suggestion to relieve any inadequately trained members of the Australian Military Forces between eighteen and nineteen years of age who are now at Darwin and Port Moresby. The Government may be relied upon to treat the whole matter most sympathetically.

The degree of sympathy may be gauged from the fact that none of the men sent to Port Moresby have yet returned, whilst more are being sent all the time. I have received from the general secretary of the Labour party in Victoria, Mr. MacNamara, M.L.C, a communication enclosing a copy of a resolution passed by the Victorian branch of the Australian Railways Union protesting against the sending of youths under 21 to battle stations. The communication is as follows : -

At the last meeting of the State branch council of this organization, it was agreed that representations be made to the Federal Government to prevent lads under the age of 21 years being sent into battle areas; also, in support of a protest against the practice of sending adult soldiers without adequate training to battle stations.

I have received much correspondence from all over Australia protesting against the sending of inadequately trained youths and men - some of them almost unarmed - to forward positions. Mr. J. E. Kunkel, a returned soldier from the last war, says that his son was called up in Brisbane on the 22nd December. He was given five hours' final leave on the 24th December, and the next heard of him was from Port Moresby. Mr. W. R. Keats, a returned soldier, also residing in Brisbane, states that his son, eighteen years of age, was called up in similar circumstances, and sent to Port Moresby. Mrs. J. Banks writes, stating that her experience has been the same, and similar communications hare been received from M. Mulquiny, Charlton; R. Sinclair, Carrum; A. A. Kreeck, Kensington, Victoria; J. 0. Wood, Bendigo; M. Tierney, Elwood; 0. Thom,

North Fitzroy ; Mrs. J. Cain, Kew ; N. J. Coyle, Mrs. C. K. Fitzgerald, Essendon; Mrs. B. Welsh, Camberwell; and Mrs. E. Jackson, Brisbane. None of the men in respect of whom complaints have been made have been 1- "ought back to their home States, and it appears as if none will ever be brought back.

Recently, the Government appointed Sir Herbert Gepp to a position having to do with waterfront activities. Many people associated with the Labour movement are asking why no Labour supporter was appointed to the position. They are asking themselves whether there was no suitable Labour man in Australia for the job. The feeling in Labour circles is that the Government should not continue to pander to the wealthy interests. The Central Executive of the Labour party in Victoria is of opinion that the Government should, without delay carry out the policy of the Labour party. In my view it should nationalize the banking institutions, the mines and the insurance companies, as well as transport and munitions production. If it did those things, it would inspire confidence in the masses that its policy is really different from that of its predecessor. A Labour government has nothing more important to do, whether in peace or war, than carry out its election promises. It will lose the trust of the people if they believe that it is avoiding doing what it said it would do, because of some temporary political difficulties that stand in the way. I am in disagreement with many members of my party on this issue, but I believe that it would be much more satisfactory from every point of view to adhere to the Labour policy; a policy of flabby expediency; instead of following a policy of mean and irritating political opportunism. I say these things in the hope that the Government will act more in keeping with the aspirations of the Labour party. The people have been looking for a government that will do, when it is in office, those things which it said it would do when it was in opposition. Unfortunately, this Government has not done those things in connexion with the war effort which it advocated when in opposition. In saying these things, I am not inspired by any spirit of personal animosity to Minis ters. They are entitled to their opinions and I am entitled to mine; but the statements that I am making now are what the Labour movement outside Parliament is thinking.

The chamber is asked to vote three months' supply totalling £37,000,000, and much of that amount will be paid out under the cursed cost-plus system to people who are using the war for purposes of personal aggrandizement. I regret that previous governments adopted this indefensible system of payment for services to the Crown. In New South Wales a company received from the Commonwealth Government more than £1,000,000 of capital expenditure, and the basis upon which it proceeded to manufacture aircraft for the use of the nation was that there should be a cost-plus management fee annually of a minimum of £5,000, plus £50 for each engine, with a maximum fee of £13,000 per annum. There is no equality of sacrifice involved in this huge expenditure of public money with one firm when it is remembered how many families are suffering as a result of the war. What occurred in that case was equalled in another instance when the Commonwealth Government spent £300,000 in order to make an annexe suitable for manufacture, and then proceeded to pay a cost-plus management fee which, I understand, has not yet been settled, but the company has asked for £20,000 for technique and a fee of £6,000 per annum. The Joint Committee on War Expenditure has recommended certain improvements of the cost-plus system. I hope that those recommendations at least will be adopted, because when history is written, it will be found that the cost-plus system of payment for work done will have robbed the people of Australia of many millions of pounds. In the final analysis the masses will pay the bill, and they are the people who are represented, or supposed to be represented, in the main, by Labour members.

Mr Badman - They pay no income tax.

Mr CALWELL - They make heavy contributions to Consolidated Revenue through indirect taxation, and I fear that constant pressure by the press and other agencies will eventually create an atmosphere favorable to the imposition of taxes upon the lower incomes, and the workers will he mulct in more heavy payments in order to maintain the war effort.

I repeat with added emphasis that the Parliament is entitled to the fullest possible information that the Government can give to it about our war effort, but honorable members receive almost as little information upon the subject as it is possible to imagine. The practice is for the Government to make a couple of statements that contain more platitudes than facts, and more pious hopes and aspirations than details of creditable achievement or courageous endeavour. The public think that honorable members know a great deal about the conduct of the war. They would be surprised if they knew how little we are told. They would be extremely surprised if they knew that, when Parliament is sitting, most honorable members have to listen to wireless broadcasts or read the newspapers in order to find out even the elementary facts about the war situation. Generally we know nothing; generally, we are told nothing; and, unfortunately, most honorable members are content to be so ignored. Therein lies the most deplorable fact of all, namely, the acquiescence of honorable members in the degradation of democracy that is taking place before our very eyes.

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