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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- I have waited long for some Minister to reply to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). The matter raised by the honorable member touches the lives of Australian servicemen and their relatives. Many Australians are worried about the matters which the honorable member for Richmond' has brought forward. 1 did not think that such a matter could be raised in this Parliament without some Minister being found willing to reply to it. As the honorable member for Barker ; (Mr. Archie Cameron) pointed out, the honorable member for Richmond is not asking for the appointment of a royal commission or a board of inquiry; he has. merely asked that certain documents be laid on the Table. It may be that reasons which, in the mind of the Minister, appear to be good, can be advanced for refusing to table such documents. But there can be no excuse for complete silence by the Government, and complete refusal by all Ministers to acknowledge having heard the case that has been put by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) on behalf of relatives of Australians who have lost their lives. The only response from the Government side of the House has been cat-calls, not only from the back benches hut also from the front ministerial bench, and accusations, not in the form of a speech but merely by way of interjection. I know something of this matter, and also may be regarded as having some degree of responsibility in connexion with it. I have no fear of any inquiry. Nor, I am sure, has any honorable mem her who was a Minister in a former government which include myself, any fear of an inquiry or the tabling of any documents dealing with the period when this country faced the possibility of Japanese aggression. Obviously, the enemy had to come by sea, and through the islands to the north of Australia. Unquestionably, the prudent thing was to make preparations to meet such a threat should' it materialize, by having air reconnaissance. Consequently, arrangements were made, in collaboration with our prospective Dutch ally to establish air bases in that chain of islands. In country extending over many thousands of miles, air bases were prepared. Air squadrons were stationed at Darwin for the defence of that particular zone, and when- Pearl Harbour was attacked they wore moved to Lahar and another flying-boat base in Amboina, in accordance with what had been planned. It was obvious that invaluable equipment and a couple of air squadrons could not be left open to destruction by a minor raiding party. Every one realized that Australia could not afford to make available divisions of men either to defend air bases or to provide against the possibility of the destruction of these invaluable squadrons by a minor raiding party. A battalion was stationed at Darwin, and was kept ready to be moved. The 21st Battalion was moved. These were the preliminary preparations, which had been made many months before the outbreak of war with Japan, with the full knowledge of representatives of every party in this House. When the war with

Japan eventually broke, with a suddenness and an intensity which no one had predicted, the responsibility lay on the government of the day to decide whether the battalions at Darwin and Rabaul, and the small forces at Nauru and Ocean Island, were to be left in those localities as hostages to fortune, were to be reinforced, or were to be withdrawn. This Government withdrew Australian divisions from the Middle East. It could have withdrawn the battalion from Ambon had it considered that the right thing to do, or it could have reinforced it. It poured reinforcements into Malaya a few days before the fall of that island, and it could have sent reinforcements to Ambon. Whatever may be the responsibility in respect of this tragic episode, there can be no transference of i.t from the government of the day. I have risen to support the request of the honorable member for Richmond that the 'documents in* relation to .this matter be tabled in the House for perusal by honorable members. A matter of such tragic human consequence having been raised in this House, I am positively stunned that not one Minister has risen to reply to what has been said.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Friday, 88 June, 19J/6.

In committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Issue and application of £20,000,000).

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