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Wednesday, 4 August 1954

Mr MAKIN (Sturt) .- First, I express gratification at my re-entry into this Parliament. I acknowledge the confidence and goodwill which the electors of Sturt expressed in choosing me as their representative here. At the recent general election I obtained the greatest majority that has been recorded since that constituency was formed. It is, indeed, a happy experience for me to renew my acquaintance with this Parliament in such circumstances.

I congratulate the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Lindsay) and the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand) upon their maiden speeches that they have just delivered. I have no doubt that all honorable members were keenly interested in the subjects with which they dealt and I believe that all of us will be happy to hear those honorable gentlemen whenever they participate in the deliberations of this House. If they felt somewhat nervous in making their maiden speeches, they did not reveal that fact. All honorable members who have undergone a similar ordeal fully appreciate the feelings which these newcomers to the House must have experienced in addressing this assembly for the first time.

Honorable members will be well advised to get straight certain facts about the result of the recent general election and to appraise accurately the degree to which the Government really represents the people of this country. This Government is a minority government. It does not enjoy the confidence of the majority of the electors, and honorable members opposite would do well to recognize that fact. The total polling figures provide clear proof that the majority of the electors do not endorse the policies which this Government seeks to implement. Recently, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), by some remarkable mathematical process, attempted to prove that a majority of the electors had voted for Government candidates. He made a statement to that effect practically at the very moment that the Chief Electoral Officer in Canberra, on the 16th June last, when the counting of votes had been almost completed, announced that candidates of the Government parties, that is, both Liberal and Australian Country' party candidates, had polled a total of 2,117,669 primary votes whereas candidates of the Australian Labour party had obtained a total of 2,256,164 votes, or 138,000 more. Having regard to those figures, it is clear that the Government parties were returned to office solely because of the disproportionate distribution of voting strength in the various electorates caused by the growth of new housing areas and the movement of population. For that reason, although Government candidates polled a minority of total votes, the Government obtained a majority of seven seats in this House. Consequently, honorable members opposite cannot justify their claim that the people have again given them a mandate to govern. Further proof of the truth of that statement is the fact that the Government's majority of seats in this House was actually reduced at each of the last two general elections. Therefore, to-day, not the Government parties, but the Australian Labour party, speaks for the majority of Australian voters. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) should take great encouragement from the fact that the majority of the people so clearly endorsed the policy that he enunciated during the last general election campaign. Their endorsement would have been even more emphatic but for the fact that many people regarded Labour's policy as being a little too progressive or somewhat in advance of the times. Evidence is not wanting that those people have, since the 29th May last, realized the mistake that they then made. I have not the slightest doubt that the great majority of Australians are now concerned that this Government, being capable of implementing every pledge that the Leader of the Opposition gave to them on behalf of the Australian Labour party during the recent general election campaign, has not the power to govern. Tn these circumstances, Government supporters should not preen themselves upon the fact that they enjoy a majority of seats in this House. If the number of voters had been spread more equitably throughout the various individual electorates, not the present Government parties, but the Australian Labour party would now occupy the Treasury bench and a Labour government would be implementing its policy, fashioning a better way of life for out people, and advancing the welfare of this nation by enabling it to defend itself adequately and to exploit its magnificent natural resources.

I am astounded that the Government did not consider it necessary to summon the Parliament before to-day. During the last few weeks, grave international problems have arisen, and the public has been deeply concerned about the seriousness of the situation. The general election was held on 29th May. To-day U the 4th August. I believe that the Parliament should have been summoned at least three weeks ago because honorable members, as the elected representatives of the people, wore entitled to information about the international position. However, we had to rely upon the newspapers for information -about a number of grave matters. The Government admits that the .international situation is complex. . His Excellency, in his Speech to the Parliament this afternoon, said - .

The conduct of Australia's external relations over the last three years has been a complex task. The course of world events gives ground for concern that this task will he no less difficult during' the life of the 21st Parliament.

If that statement reflects the view of the Government about the seriousness of the international situation, why was not 'the Parliament summoned earlier in order that the honorable members might be informed of the position? The Parliament has a right to information about the situation. The Prime Minister, in answer to a question this evening, indicated that he would make a statement' to the House to-morrow on this subject. The statement will be three weeks late. The Parliament should have been given information about those matters when the vital negotiations were in progress, so that it could have expressed its views about the policy which should be adopted by the Government in the interests of the people of Australia.

National defence and the present international situation are inseparable subjects. We have reason to feel concern about, our defence position. In the dying hours of the, last Parliament,, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride). enunciated, a policy for. the defence, of Australia. I remind the House, in passing, that the statement was made more than, four years after the 'Government had assumed office. When the policy was disclosed to the world, even some supporters of the Government felt gravely concerned about the inadequacy of it. The london Time: described it as a poor policy and asked, hi effect, "Is this- another instance of too little too late?". Undoubtedly, that statement by the Minister for Defence aroused considerable apprehension in the minds not only of Australians, but also of the people of countries close to us in these matters. They saw Australia as a country that was only starting to determine a policy.

What has the Government done, and what does it propose to do, to strengthen our defences? I believe that this House, before it considers the budget, should have debates on international affairs, and national defence. The Minister for Defence should initiate a debate on defence matters by making a statement on that subject, laying the paper on the table of the House, and moving that it be printed. In that way, the House would be afforded an. opportunity to review fully these questions. Only in that way can. we be completely assured. I was one of the Labour ministers who were requested to take up the loose ends that a government of a similar political complexion to the present Government left when it was incapable of carrying on the war effort at the most serious period in the history of Australia. When we investigated the position, there was not a single fighter aircraft in this country, the last 30,000 rifles had been sent away, and the best of our trained men were in the- Western Desert. At that moment, we weise threatened with invasion by an enemy force. The anti-Labour Government had failed in its responsibilities to this: nation, and it was: left to the Curtin Labour Government to provide leadership and drive for the organization of the national, resources, which helped, in a large measure, to safeguard this country and other countries adjacent to it. That being so, I consider that- members, of the Government will need to- be- much more convincing in their general expressions, and. will need to provide additional proof to this. House before we shall feel satisfied they have fulfilled their obligations to Australia. I shall not prolong this debate,, because I. consider that it. should be concluded reasonably early; so. that honorable members may devote their attention to the vital matters of policy that I have mentioned. I thank the House for its indulgence and for the attention that it has paid to my remarks. I trust that many of the fine and happy associations that I have had in this Parliament in the past will be. renewed while I. represent the- Division of Sturt in this chamber..

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