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Tuesday, 16 December 1941

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- Two things prompt me to speak to this debate. First, I believe that the sooner we forget what has been happening in Australia during the last few years, and, instead, remember the immediate danger to Australia, the more united a people we shall be. I do not think that the finger of scorn can be pointed at the Government's predecessors. The two governments which preceded this Government did their very best for Australia according to their lights, and, in that respect, they did a very good best. It is only fair to say that. Any time spent in looking back merely in order to find fault with things done iri the past will be time wasted. The only reason which should induce us to look back is in order to see how we can better our defences and make our people more united.

My second reason for speaking to this debate is the revival of the proposal for the formation of a national Government, under some name, with the declared object of introducing conscription for overseas service. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Duncan-Hughes) are candid advocates of conscription for overseas service. The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) is not so candid. In guarded words, he says that he will strike every shackle off the Executive's power. The only shackles on the Executive are, first, that it cannot make any regulation which imposes compulsory service for overseas; and, secondly, any regulation it makes on any subject may be disallowed by the Parliament. The right honorable gentleman proposes that the Executive should be free to make any regulation it might wish to make, that it should be free of control by Parliament, and that it should be free ito introduce compulsion for overseas service. Without discussing in detail the merits of that proposal, I merely say that I do not think that it is possible to get a united people, or Parliament, on any proposal for compulsory service overseas. The Government party is led by men whose rise to influence in the Labour movement began with the conscription campaign. Their most sacred memories of conflict and struggle in this country centre in that struggle. Can any one imagine the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) or the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) being a party to the introduction of compulsion for overseas service? It is impossible to expect that the present leaders of the Government can so far forget their past words and deeds as to support conscription for overseas service. It would be impossible to unite the people of this country on any programme involving conscription for overseas service. Such a policy would be traitorous to Australia. It would be deliberate sacrifice of Australia. We cannot establish unity in this country upon a policy of sending men, unwilling men, to serve overseas.

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES - Would it make any difference were our cities bombed?

Mr BLACKBURN - That would be a greater reason why our soldiers should be here.

Mr Harrison - What about reinforcements for our troops in Malaya?

Mr BLACKBURN - -The only people who can defend Australia against blazing cities and burning houses are the people of Australia. The people of Australia are for the defence of Australia and not for the defence of countries in the Middle East or elsewhere. So far as Malaya is concerned, if we limited our activities to that country, it is certain that we could raise sufficient men for the purpose under the voluntary system. I believe that the people of this country look at the matter in this way: The traditional common law of England has been that although men might be required to take up arms for the defence of their own country they could not be compelled to take up arms for service abroad. That traditional attitude runs right through British history. The Long Parliament, and subsequent Parliaments, over and over again confirmed the principle that while every Englishman was bound to bear arms for his own county, he could not be required to go outside of his own county unless the realm itself were invaded ; and in no circumstances could he be required to go outside Britain. That has been a traditional distinction between a just and defensible compulsion and an unjust and indefensible compulsion. It rests 1101 merely on logic but also on the instinct of man, which calls upon him to take up arms for the defence of his own countryside, for the defence of himself, his wife and children. When the foreign soldier enters a country, he can come only as a declared enemy, with the object of attack upon that country, its homes and its men, and ultimately their wives and kindred. But when a man voluntarily goes overseas as a soldier, he knows perfectly well that he may be required to make war against people who bear him no illwill and against whom he has none. He knows that he has to obey orders; that he may have to serve against men with whom he has no quarrel, and carry death and destruction to people with whom he has no quarrel. When a man enlists, he takes that risk, and is aware of it; but it is wrong to compel anybody to accept the unnatural obligation of invading and destroying in Iraq, Persia, or some other country of which perhaps he has never heard, and with whose people he has no quarrel. That is the position. We have heard a great deal about " total war ". I suppose that total war means a war in which every one does everything in his power to win. I do not believe in total war. There are certain things that we would not do even in order to win a Avar. I cannot conceive of anyone here torturing prisoners in order to make them disclose the secrets of their own army. I cannot conceive of anyone here spreading pestilence in order to win a Avar; and I cannot conceive of anybody compelling unwilling men to take up arms and to carry war into a country with whose people they have no quarrel. That is the fundamental and moral basis of the objection which Australians have to conscription for overseas service. Edmund Burke has told us that though we may use liberty as an abstract name we cannot think of liberty without calling to mind some definite immunity which is for us and our people the core and centre of liberty. That will differ as nations differ. Which immunity a man, a class, a nation shall hold most dear is determined by the experience of that man, that class, that nation. To the masses of the people of Australia the most glowing experience in the struggle for freedom is the defeat of overseas conscription in 1916 and 1917. And it is that immunity from compulsion which, as I believe, the masses of our people hold most dear and will never willingly forgo.

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