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Tuesday, 16 December 1941

Mr SPEAKER - Two hours haying elapsed since the meeting of the House, Standing Order No. 119 requires that the debate bc interrupted.

Motion (by Mr. Curtin) - by leave - agreed to -

That, po much of tlie Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent tlie debate being continued.

Mr MENZIES - This danger, which has come so close to us, has made every Australian realize, however obscure he may have been about it before, that this

Avar is literally a Avar for our own existence. I need engage in no " highfalutin ". Tlie fact is that Ave are fighting for our lives. We may shortly be fighting for our lives in our own towns and in our own countryside. It being true that that almost mythical person, " the man in. the street", now realizes as perhaps he never realized before, the imminent danger and the urgency of this Avar, I believe that the Government can to-day do with universal approval things which only a few months ago might have produced division of opinion, dissension, and even hostility in the community. This is the great moment. Whatever the Government may do to seize it Will be supported by me. It will, I believe, be supported by every honorable member. None of us should ha\re any personal interest to serve. We must, be ready to serve Australia, and Ave are. The public will also be ready to serve. But as the clays pass and this danger materializes more and more clearly, the public will increasingly urge the establishment in Australia of a small, highly-authorized executive government. The public will not continue to believe that we can have effective administration by a kind of public meeting. They will increasingly say : " There is the National Parliament. It is the Parliament that counts in Australia, and it has in it men of character, ability and experience ". I have never believed that all of the character, ability and experience in this Parliament is to be found on only one side of the House. Therefore, the real problem for any government in office at this moment is to discover the most efficient way in which to harness to the service of the State the best governing elements in the community. It has been said, a little lightly and without adequate emphasis, that it would be a good thing to have in Australia a Supreme War Council. Personally, I regard the setting up of a Supreme War Council in Australia as of the first order of importance. I shall engage in no academic discussion about this subject. It has been debated on previous occasions, and my views and actions in relation to the formation of national governments and the like are well known. Let us at this moment put aside all words and phrases. When the country comes to realize the full gravity of the position, it will demand that a small executive comprising the best men in Australia, irrespective of the political parties to which they belong, shall handle the affairs of the country. What does it matter whether they support one party or another? We shall all he one party when the bombs fall in our streets. To that Executive or Supreme War Council, Parliament must be prepared to give full and unqualified executive authority. I should strike from the limbs of the Executive every existing shackle. I do not say that because I desire to induce some debate on the subject of conscription or the voluntary system of enlistment; the real thing is that in a time of emergency like the present, when everything Ave have is at stake, there should be at the head of affairs in Australia a relatively small body of patriots - I do not care to what party they belong - who possess intelligence, industry and courage. The people should be able to see that we have said to those chosen men, " Upon you we confer all power and authority. Use it to save us."

Mr.DUNCAN-HUGHES (Wakefield) 1 5.7]. - I propose to go on from the point at which the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) concluded his speech. To the Government, I emphasize the necessity for a fuller degree of co-operation than Cabinet has to date been prepared to allow. Speaking in Adelaide last week, I made several suggestions that I propose to repeat to-day. The first was that we should have now, as we should have had long ago, a national government. Although efforts were made to achieve this objective, they were not successful. A national government - and this falls into line with the comment of the right honorable member for Kooyong - should be formed on the basis of complete freedom from all restrictions by enactment which may at present apply to the powers of the Administration under the Constitution Act. Briefly there are two such restrictions. The first relates to industrial matters, the second to the despatch of troops to theatres of war oversea. It seems strange that the Labour party, which has always supported the granting to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of the fullest possible powers, should endeavour to restrict its powers, or to permit them to remain restricted, as they are in regard to those two matters. In my opinion, the contentions of the right honorable member for Kooyong were perfectly sound. We have heard too much about the war "having just commenced ". The plain truth is that Australia has been at war for more than two years; but the war has come much closer to us since Japan attacked British and American bases in the Pacific. It is highly undesirable that honorable members should leave Canberra without having done everything in their power to ensure that no restriction is applied to the Executive, however that Executive may be composed. A few days ago somebody remarked to me, " Why has Parliament been summoned ? There is only one thing that Parliament, as such, can do. At a time like the present the Executive controls the affairs of the country. But Parliament at least can see that the Government is vested with the fullest possible power, and that all restrictions to the Constitution are removed, so that its efforts will not be shackled ".

My second suggestion, which contains a good deal of merit, is that a National Government or Supreme War Council should include men who have seen active service at the front. Whilst I do not wish to make any disparaging remarks about any member of the present or previous Government, the fact remains that since the deaths of J. V. Fairbairn and G. A. Street, no returned soldier has held any one of the four defence portfolios. In my opinion, it is in the highest degree desirable that at least some Ministers should have a background of war service and know what war means. Those particular portfolios should not be granted exclusively to men who possess no practical experience of active service, quite apart from their qualifications and their willingness to serve their country to the best of their ability. War itself involves, as all who have served know, a considerable background. A.t the present time, it is most unwise that no man who possesses an actual knowledge of war conditions should hold a defence portfolio. Such an omission must inevitably hamper the control of the departments concerned.

Mr Sheehan - The present war is different from the last war.

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