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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - by leave - In the south-west Pacific, the organization of our war effort, in co-operation with our Allies, has proceeded satisfactorily. The joint machi nery described to the House last April has been in operation, and is functioning smoothly and efficiently. As Minister for Defence, I am in continuous contact with the Commander-in-Chief, and periodically meet him, as well as the Commanderin Chief of the Australian Army and the Chiefs of Staff. I publicly acknowledge the whole-hearted manner in which General MacArthur is co-operating with the Government; and I have no doubt that the Commander-in-Chief is equally appreciative of the way in which the Government is working with him.

So far as operations are concerned, the principal event in this area during the last month has been the naval action in the Coral Sea. In this action, heavy losses were inflicted on the enemy, and extravagant claims as to our losses have been made by Japanese propagandists. I need do no more than ask why the enemy withdrew his forces from the scene of battle and returned to his northern bases. The action was a signal success for the Allied forces engaged, and averted an immediate threat to Australian territory. Successful as it was, however, we do not regard it as being anything more than the first round of a fight which is going to be long and hard. Even nearer home, enemy submarines are active in our waters. The recent attack on Sydney Harbour has brought the battle closer to our daily lives than did any previous incident in the war. The vigilance and prompt action of the naval forces guarding our shores prevented any material success from being achieved by this desperate venture. The Government extends its sympathy to those who have been bereaved. Whilstthe outcome must strengthen our confidence in the men who protect us from the enemy, the attack itself emphasizes the need for ceaseless vigilance, and dispels any lingering doubt that any one may have had that Australia is not in the front line. Allied air attacks on the enemy's advanced bases to the north have continued with unabated vigour, and the superiority established has been sufficient to deny their use to the enemy as safe places for the concentration of forces for a more southward move. The enemy air attacks on our outposts have been costly to him, and the air fighting has shown a definite balance in our favour. A vita! factor in continuous offensive action is the supply and maintenance of aircraft. Our land forces daily grow stronger, better trained, and more fully equipped; that is true of both the Australian Military Forces and those of the United States of America. I pay a tribute to the bearing of the American forces in this country. It is no simple matter for an army from another country to settle down among strangers in a new environment. The American forces have quickly won the affection and respect of the Australian people by their soldierly bearing and manly qualities. On the industrial front the production of munitions and supplies is steadily progressing towards the peak of our capacity as new factories come into production. The prototype of a new class of aircraft recently did its initial trials in a satisfactory manner. The range, as well as the volume, of our production, is being extended as speedily as possible.

I turn now to other theatres of war. On the Russian front, the claims continue to be conflicting. The recent attacks by the Russians, launched under difficult conditions, must have seriously disorganized German plans for offensive action in the Ukraine. At the same time, the scale of the fighting on the Russian front demands great quantities of equipment, and we recognize that assistance given in this respect represents a vital contribution to our ultimate victory. It is pleasing to note that, within the last few days, a large convoy has fought its way through to Murmansk, despite repeated attacks by U-boats and enemy aircraft.

In Libya, Field Marshal Rommel has launched a new offensive, the initial results of which were favorable to us, and great damage was inflicted upon enemy tanks and mechanical transport. The Royal Australian Air Force has played a prominent part in these operations. Latest reports indicate that the enemy has succeeded in occupying the area between the gaps in our minefield, and that the battle is now approaching a crucial stage,

On the western front, the British bombing offensive has reached record dimensions. On two nights within the last week, more than 1,000 bombers were over Germany, and the huge weight of bombs dropped on the vital centres of Cologne and Essen will undoubtedly have caused widespread dislocation of' the German war machine. The new air offensive is a factor of considerable importance in relieving the pressure on Russia. In this bombing offensive, airmen from the Dominions, trained under the Empire air training scheme, have played a prominent part. So far as land operations on the western front are concerned, it would not be proper for me to forecast how or when the allies will further relieve the pressure now directed against Russia, by launching a full-scale land offensive.

The House will recall that, in my statement on the 29th April, I referred to the dangers that would face the united nations if our enemies secured a foothold in Madagascar. That danger was largely removed by the British occupation of the island naval base of Diego Suarez on the 5th May. In a communique issued at the time of the operation it was stated that, whilst this action had been taken to forestall a Japanese move against Madagascar, it had been made clear to the French authorities that the united nations had no intention of interfering with the French status of the territory, which would remain French and continue to be a part of the French Empire. This pledge was honoured when, after the protocol of the 7th May with the local Vichy commander had made over Diego Suarez to the British forces, a communique was issued in London stating that it was the intention of the United Kingdom Government that the Free French National Committee should play its due part in the liberated French territory. This action in Madagascar has greatly strengthened the security of our lines of communication across the Indian Ocean. I am now in a position to inform the House that the Commonwealth Government took an active part in urging decisive action in Madagascar from the beginning. We are most gratified that this successful operation has forestalled the enemy.

Throughout their long struggle with Japan, the Chinese have suffered numerous disappointments, of which none has been more keenly felt than the loss of Burma. This has deprived China of its principal supply route foi' the importation of war materials from allied countries, and has thrown it back to an increasing degree on its own resources. Tint ti if resolution of the Chinese nation and its gallant leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, in the midst, of adversity, continues to stand out in clear relief, and the Chinese are stubbornly resisting the new Japanese attacks from the cast, designed to prevent the use of aerodromes by the allied air forces in attacks on Japan. British and American experts are endeavouring to develop new routes, along- which allied aid may continue to reach the Chinese. Meanwhile, they are being assisted by constant and punishing- raids against Japanese lines of supply by .British and American air forces based on India.

Thu shipping position continues to give cause for anxiety. Losses of shipping, although I hero bus been some improvement recently, are still serious. The shipbuilding programme of the United Nations, however, is expanding, and it may be added that the Axis powers are not without their difficulties in this respect, heavy losses having been inflicted on their shipping in recent weeks.

Authentic news of France is lacking, but the indications are that France still refuses that full measure of collaboration which Hitler deems imperative in order to secure his western flank and facilitate hig flow of supplies to North Africa. The Government has no confirmation of the reports that Italy is attempting to subject the Vichy Government to pressure for the cession of Nice, Corsica and Tunis. It is not thought likely that Italy is in a position to make any demands upon Vichy without German connivance, and until Germany gives some clear indication that it has abandoned the hope of using M. Laval and his government for its own ends, Italian pretensions are not likely- to count for much at this stage.

All our information from Italy suggests that the morale of the Italian people is low, and that they want nothing so much as peace. Food shortages, and


rising prices have strengthened opposition to Mussolini and his regime. There is little likelihood of a complete crack, however, while Italy continues to be held down, as it is at present, by strong German armed forces and by many thousands of Gestapo agents.

The United Nations have pained a new ally in Mexico, which declared war on (icr.iiia.ny. Italy and Japan on the 28th May. Shortly after the attack by Japan on the United States of America, and the declarations of war by other Axis countries, the Mexican Government, in interpretation of the meaning of continental solidarity in the western hemisphere, and the obligations it had accepted at successive Pan-American conferences, broke off diplomatic relations with Japan. Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary and Roumania, but still remained a neutral. In spite of neutrality, however, Mexican shipping wa3 subject to wanton attack byth e Axis, and, realizing that firmer action was needed both to maintain the integrity of the country and to collaborate in safeguarding the American continents, the Mexican Government entered the war. The support that this new ally can give, particulary in helping to combat the submarine menace in seas adjacent to its coasts, and the valuable resources of oil and metals which it possesses, will bc a real addition to the strength of the Allies.

The Commonwealth Government is anxious, as I have informed the House previously, to establish an early form of reciprocal representation with the Soviet Union. During his visit to London, the Minister for External Affairs has been able to discuss this matter with the Soviet Ambassador, and it is hoped that the Soviet Government will shortly be able to inform the Commonwealth Government of its views.

The Minister for External Affairs has completed his work in London, and returned to Washington. Dr. Evatt has achieved important results in the special mission entrusted to him. There arc some who, earlier in this year, had sought to do a disservice to the unity of the Allied cause and the solidarity of the Empire by distorting my plain and frank statements of the emphasis which the Australian Government placed on the importance of the Pacific theatre in the grand strategy of the whole war, the forces required for the security of Australia as a base, and the forces required for offensive action in this theatre against Japan.

The correctness of my own original statements was confirmed soon after I made them by the following events: -

(1)   The directive issued to the Supreme Commander by the United Nations fully provided in principle for my contentions.

(2)   The division of the globe into areas for greater facility in the higher direction of the war placed Australia and the southwest Pacific area under the operational responsibility of the United States of America. At the same time, Mr. Churchill also gave me assurances that he did not consider this arrangement as in any way absolving the United Kingdom Government from its determination and duty to come to our aid to the best of its ability.

Probably the greatest, service Dr. Evatt has rendered was the winning of a sympathetic understanding of our viewpoint in Washington and London. He has now had an opportunity to discuss our position with the President and his advisers in Washington, and with Mr. Churchill and other Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff in London, where he has also been able to explain the Pacific outlook to the people and the press of Britain.

As I have indicated, there never was any real cause for doubt or misunderstanding, but I am happy to say that any trace of either has completely disappeared. In conformity with Mr. Churchill's earlier assurances, Dr. Evatt has also received promises of material aid which I am unable to elaborate at present, but they are a practical gesture of great significance to the Australian people.

Mr. Churchillhas expressed to me his pleasure at having had the opportunity for personal discussion with the Minister for External Affairs, and we, for our part, are most appreciative of the facili ties afforded to our Minister while in London to enable him to carry out his mission. I take this opportunity to record publicly the deep appreciation of the Government and myself for the aid and assistance which the British Government, and especially Mr. Churchill himself, have afforded to the Minister for External Affairs and to the Commonwealth of Australia, whose representative he is.

I also express my gratitude to President Roosevelt for the assistance and help thathe has extended to the representative of the Australian Government. I have received a most cordial message of goodwill which I have suitably acknowledged. It is a matter for great satisfaction that the President, with all his onerous responsibilities, is able to preside at meetings of the Pacific War Council. While in Washington. Dr. Evatt will have an opportunity for discussion and consultation with Sir Owen Dixon, who will represent Australia on the Pacific War Council there.

With Dr. Evatt's departure from London ithas been decided to appoint Mr. Bruce as the accredited representative of the Commonwealth Government on the United Kingdom War Cabinet and the Pacific War Council in London. Mr. Bruce is well qualified to discharge these great responsibilities. As a former Prime Minister, he can speak for Australia, with knowledge and authority, and he is also a member of His Majesty's Privy Council. In order to free Mr. Bruce from a portion of the responsibilities he will now bear, it has been decided to relieve him of the routine functions attaching to the office of High Commissioner. The official secretary at Australia House, Mr. Duncan, will act as Deputy High Commissioner while Mr. Bruce is the accredited representative of the Australian Government in London. Sir Earle Page, whose illness we all regret, is, I am glad to say, recovering, and hopes to be well enough to return home shortly.

Representatives of the United Nations recently met at Ottawa to discuss problems connected with the training of aircrew personnel in relation to the availability of aircraft. General principles were agreed upon, and will be the basis of future policy. After the conference, representatives of the British Commonwealth discussed the continuation of the Empire air training scheme beyond the expiry of the present agreement in March. 1943. Agreement was reached on main principles, and the scheme will be continued.

I sum up by saying that the past month lias seen the organization of our war effort in co-operation with our allies operating smoothly. We have not only held our enemy in the north, but have also had the best of our encounters with him in that area. The threat to our security, however, remains a serious one which demands unceasing vigilance and effort. There is a rising spirit of aggressiveness among the Allied nations, based on confidence in the growing strength of our arms. We are now able to exchange blow for blow with the enemy, and we feel the better for it. Whilst we know that he still has plenty of fight in him, we can begin to see his weak spots. We believe that when the full weight of America's war potential is translated into actual terms of man-power and equipment, we shall sweep forward irresistibly to a victory which will enable us to establish the foundations of a lasting peace.

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