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Tuesday, 16 December 1941


Mr ROSEVEAR - The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies J said this afternoon that he had made strong representations in Great Britain with the object of causing substantial naval forces to be located at Singapore, but I have a vivid recollection of having asked the right honorable gentleman a question on this subject while he was Prime Minister. I wished to know whether, in fact, Singapore had reached the stage of being capable of dealing with a potential invader of Australia. The facetious reply, given in the inimitable manner of the right honorable gentleman, was to the effect that I should join a college of strategists, or something of the kind, so that I could give advice as to how Singapore could be held. I did not ask my question as an expert, claiming military or naval knowledge; I asked it simply as a person with some common sense. That common sense indicated to me that if Singapore were to be held as a naval bade it must have adequate equipment. About two months after having given me that facetious reply the right honorable gentleman advanced as one of his main reasons for a desire to return to Great Britain the need to impress upon the British Government the urgent necessity to locate substantial naval forces at Singapore. Yet it was only after this Government assumed office that anything adequate was done in that direction.

Mr McEwen - There are some members of the honorable gentleman's own party who would not support that statement.

Ma-. ROSEVEAR. - Unfortunately, when capital ships were sent to Singapore they were not adequately supported by air forces, and 'the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), as the former Minister for Air, must accept responsibility in that connexion. He and his colleagues must also accept responsibility for what is happening in Malaya to-day. Although our capital ships in Malaya signalled for aerial assistance, it did not arrive until two hours after the ships had gone to the bottom of the sea. It, therefore, ill becomes the honorable gentleman to interject. We have been informed in the latest reports that 100 troopships and supply ships are within 300 miles of Singapore, and that it is to be feared that there are insufficient fighter aircraft in the locality to assist our bombers in the task of dealing with these troopships in order to prevent the landing of troops in the area.

In all these circumstances, it must be evident to honorable gentlemen that the time has come for a careful review of the political, diplomatic and defence leadership of the Empire. The assurances that we have received from time to time that our forces are ready in various parts of the world to meet any eventuality have proved to be entirely unreliable, and when disaster has overtaken us we have been issued with statements about our masterful retreat and the like, and have been told that our forces were either underarmed or under-equipped, or were overwhelmed . by superior numbers. It is time we took effective action in respect of persons responsible for such circumstances. The seriousness of the loss of the aerodrome within 150 miles of Singapore can scarcely be over-estimated. According to the so-called authorities, we had sufficient air defences to hold the aerodrome, but, in actual fact, we have lost it. If that loss should lead to the loss of Singapore, Australia will be faced with an additional serious menace.

Some honorable gentlemen opposite have shown a lamentable disposition to underrate the seriousness of the warnings issued by the press, and also a serious incapacity properly to interpret public opinion. If they mixed with the people, as I do, they would know what is being said. They would know also that the great mass of the people are sick to death of the apologies that are being made for our defeats. One thing abundantly clear is that the views expressed by the honorable members of the Opposition in this House to-day do not correctly summarize public opinion. We are told in the press that England is packed with fighters. The following statement is reported to have been made in Melbourne last Saturday by the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) -

Australia's first night fighter squadron, equipped with Beau-fighters, has been established at a British base.

The squadron was fully prepared to meet the threatened renewal of heavy air attacks on the United Kingdom.

This was the latestRoyal Australian Air Force unit to become fully operational.

I have been advised by the Royal Australian Air Force overseas head-quarters that the squadron has already earned a reputation for sound flying and clever tactics.

I am beginning to wonder, as is the press, why some of those young Australians who have been trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme are not forming squadrons in Australia for the protection of their native land. It is not newspaper talk, but the statement of a responsible Minister, that Great Britain is packed with fighters to-day, and that in that respect it has air parity with Germany. Yet we are in the gravest danger in the Pacific because thereis not a sufficient number of fighters to protect our men who are fighting in the military forces! This newspaper went on to say -

The Government must demand fighters and bombers, and demand that the muddlers and fuddlers bo dealt with.

With that opinion, I heartily concur. I do not suppose that honorable members will contend that these newspapers are fifth columnists, or are acting detrimentally to Australia. The following paragraph appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 15th December -

British forces in Malaya urgently need modern, fast fighting planes. So do the British forces in Libya. Yet we are told that Britain has air parity with Germany, can blacken the sky with fighters.

The situation recalls the following story from the American Civil War: - General George B. McClellan, then Commander of the Union Forces, was conducting a waiting campaign; and so careful was he to avoid mistakes that little headway was evident.

President Lincoln thereupon wrote him a letter: - "My dear McClellan. - If you don't want to use the Army I should like to borrow it for a while.. Yours respectfully, Abe Lincoln."

I suggest that we should like to borrow some of those fighters which are waiting for trouble to arise when they ought to be looking after the trouble that is right at our doors. The question is, how much longer can we continue to send men out of this country to Malaya or to any place in the Pacific or elsewhere if we are to be abandoned in future to the degree that we have been up to date? If we are to be forced to rely on our own resources in order to defend our native land, it might be judicious on our part not to send any more of our forces to Malaya, but to keep all of them here to defend this country, and place on our enemy the obligation of transporting its troops something like 2,000 miles. We should have a much better chance of defending Australia on Australian soil, than on soil to which it could take the whole of its forces overland through Indo-China.

Mr Archie Cameron - What is to prevent it from bringing them here? It has 5,000,000 tons of shipping.

Mr ROSEVEAR - The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) laid great stress on the fact that Japan has 6,500,000 soldiers. At the most, we could raise not more than 300,000.

Mr Archie Cameron - Rubbish!

Mr ROSEVEAR - I do not know where more could be obtained. Mention has been made of a gigantic scheme of munitions production, in addition to the maintenance of the other services of the country. Where are the extra men to be obtained ? I do not know. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) may have information concerning an un revealed source from which more than 300,000 men could be drawn. I am preparedto accept his estimate. What number does he suggest could be raised ?

Mr Archie Cameron - I am not debating the matter at present.

Mr ROSEVEAR - I know that. The honorable member is merely " chipping in", with as much intelligence as a cockatoo. When challenged to say what number he thinks could be raised, he declines to accept the challenge. I am prepared to double the number I have mentioned, if that will satisfy him, and make it 600,000. If we are to be left to our own resources, aswe have been largely up to date, it might be better for us to defend Australia in Australia, than to fight overseas; because, after all, the enemy has the facilities to take 6,500,000 men overland right into Malaya,whilst on the other hand the men whom Ave send are perhaps ill-equipped and certainly arewithout proper protection.

The right honorable member for Kooyong took strong exception to the statement of the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) that this Government had inherited a situation inwhich, for some reason or another, the defence of our country had been treated as a subordinate and subsidiary part of a distant Avar. I do not know whether the Ministerwishes to qualify that statement or not, but I regard it as a plain statement of fact. I do not think that anybody. reviewing the strength and disposition of our naval forces, our Air

Force, and our Army,when honorable members opposite were in power, and the manner inwhich arms and ammunition were sent out of Australia as fast as it was manufactured,would say that there is need to withdraw any portion of the statement that the defence of our country had been treated by the previous Government, for one reason or another, as a subordinate or subsidiary part of a distant


Mr Rankin - How long does the honorable member think that wewould have lasted had Great Britain been taken?

Mr ROSEVEAR - I am not discussing the taking of Britain or any other place, but merely referring to the exception taken by the right honorable member for Kooyong to the statement of the Minister for External Affairs. The right honorable gentleman reviewed some of the legacies he had left to us, one legacy being the Empire Air Training Scheme. That is avery fine legacy, no doubt, but not very effective for the defence of Australia. Although we provided the men, and gave them their initial training, I do not think that any of them have returned to Australia to give it the benefit of their thorough training in Air Force technique. Consequently, the right honorable gentleman merely denuded Australia of some of its best and most capable defenders, in order that they might defend some other part of the British Empire. That was not much of a legacy to leave to Australia. The right honorable gentleman also left the legacy of munitions production. He appointed experts, representing big businesses,who have prevented that expansion of munitions productionwhich could have taken place but for their operations. The right honorable gentleman went on to say that he gave to Australia a militia army. He did - a militia army without arms, without a gun. Some of the camps had one gun to ten men. Some of the men did not see a machine-gun during the whole of the time that they were in camp. Of course, he gave us an army - an army in khaki! So far as training men in the arts of warfare, or the use of offensive implements, the results were negligible. The right honorable gentleman further said that he gave us an air force. Where was this microscopic air force when his Government left office ? He gave us a navy ; where was it? We had mine-layers, laying mines within ten miles of the principal ports of Australia. Ships were being sunk off our coast. Where was the Navy at that particular time, when honorable members opposite were in control of the destinies of this country? The right honorable gentleman assured us that, although treachery was involved in Japan's attack, he and his Government knew for two years that eventually we should have to fight Japan. Yet he threatened to jail men because they refused to load pig-iron for shipment to Japan, for the making of munitions with which to shoot our troops, and the Chinese with whom Japan was then engaged in war! That is the sort of legacy which honorable members opposite left to this Government. They are shedding crocodile tears to-day because of what might happen in Australia. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) this afternoon took great offence because there was a smirk on my face. Little did he realize how difficult it was for me to avoid laughing aloud when I heard him describing the great record of the Government to which he had the honour to belong. He was one of the gentlemen who, day after day, rose in his place in this very corner from which I am now addressing the House, and demanded that the Government should deregister the waterside workers union and jail the men who were responsible for holding up the shipment of pig-iron to Japan - a Government which for two years knew that eventually we should have to fight Japan. It fed Japan with munitions, with wool with which to clothe its soldiers, and as late as last year with wheat in order that it might sustain its civil population as well as its army. Yet the right honorable member for Kooyong takes exception to the statement that this legacy was left to the present Government by its predecessors! The people of this country had shown that they were sick and tired of the previous Government, and desired a change, yet no sooner was the change effected than honorable members opposite had the effrontery to suggest that their services might be utilized in a national govern ment. If I interpret aright the wish of our people, their instruction is that this Labour Government shall stand or fall by its policy. They want a complete change from the policy of the previous Government, which for two years knew that Japan was going to attack us and yet left our defences in such a deplorable state as was admitted by one of the exMinisters of the Menzies Cabinet. Honorable members opposite had the effrontery to offer to this Government the hand of friendship in a coalition, in order that they might bring their muddling influence into its decisions. It is strong enough to stand on its own feet, and has in it enough men of ability to guide the destinies of this country. The people wanted a change, and were given it. Honorable members opposite have let the cat out of the bag. They merely want to interfere in the government of this country. Probably they would make it a condition of their acceptance of a coalition that Labour should set aside its timehonoured policy of anti-conscription. The Labour movement has not the least intention of doing so. Not a man on this side would dare to face the wrath of the organized Labour movement if he betrayed his trust by acceding to the suggestion of honorable members opposite to introduce conscription by either political deed or any other kind of deed.

There has been much talk concerning a maximum war effort. As I said . in my speech on the budget the time has arrived when the Government must make a true assessment of what this country is capable of doing; just how many men it can afford to send overseas ; whether, indeed, it should send any more men overseas, in view of the position which has arisen in the Pacific ; how many men it can afford to take from its munitions and civil industries for the purpose of defending this country against invasion. The Government must decide to what degree our civil industries can be converted into establishments for the manufacture of munitions without facing the possibility of an economic collapse. There must be a proper balance; and I believe that the present Government is capable of striking that balance without the muddling interference of honorable gentlemen opposite. In view of the danger now confronting us, will those who have advocated conscription now say that we should send more men out of Australia ?

Mr Archie Cameron - Some of us said so this afternoon.

Mr ROSEVEAR - Every man is now conscripted for service in Australia.

Mr Archie Cameron - I should prefer to fight for this country outside Australia, titan within its boundaries.

Mr Bernard Corser - So far, the honorable gentleman has not left Australia to fight.

Mr ROSEVEAR - I have no time for those " croakers " who, both inside and outside the Parliament, continually condemn Australia's war effort. No part of the British Empire has made a greater per capita contribution towards expeditionary forces overseas, the Empire Air Training Scheme, the naval defence of the Empire, or the manufacture and supply of munitions, than Australia has done. I regret that in this House there are men who, instead of standing up for Australia, are so unmindful of the praise due to their fellow men that they continually seek to belittle the Australian worker by attributing to him " go-slow " methods and an unwillingness to put forward his best effort. They continually cry that Australia's need is for production to be speeded up. It is all very well for honorable members, who sit here for a few hours a month, to talk about speeding up the manufacture of munitions. I have been through a number of munitions factories, where I have seen men with bloodshot eyes due to strain in the performance of work requiring the closest attention. I have seen men who, although engaged on tedious repetition work for twelve hours a day, are prepared to give up their holidays in order that the fight may be carried on in the workshop. There are various ways of losing the munitions which we produce. They may be lost by misfortune at sea, or by the actions of generals who have mastered the strategy of retreat. If we had the munitions that were lost in France, Libya, Egypt, Greece, Crete, Somaliland, and elsewhere, by retreating generals, we should have sufficient supplies on hand to enable every worker in a munitions factory to take a three months' holiday. If honorable- gentlemen opposite want- to improve Australia's, war effort they should not decry the men who are winning the wai- by fighting in the trenches, or fighting in the Navy, the Air Force, o:the workshop. Rather should they go to the so-called experts who have told us that everything is right,, but. have so often retreated when the clash came, leaving behind large supplies of munitions in various dumps. If our war effort is to be improved, we must start with the " tall poppies ". if the Government does that, as I believe it will, Australia's war effort will be improved 100 per cent.

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