Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 16 December 1941


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- I do not propose to speak at length, not even at such great length as did the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who introduced his observations, however, with the statement that he had hut little to say. I suppose, from one point of view at least, that this is a great occasion, and those of us who have been commissioned to represent and speak for the people should not be silent through diffidence, or even from a. feeling of personal frustration. We should, I think, make our little contribution to the discussion in this Parliament, which is the expression in this country of democracy - and for democracy, it is stated, we entered upon the war with great deliberation to re-order Europe, and are now threatened with the vital necessity of defending our own families and our own skins in our own country.

I do not intend to say on this occasion what I have said sometimes privately, sometimes to members of my own party, and sometimes to a selected few what I think about the origin of this war, the inspiration of this war, and the relative light-heartedness with which we iu Australia, with our meagre population and our -vast territory, accepted the responsibilities of warfare. When, if ever, I say in this House the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as I see it, you .may take it for granted that it will be my last speech in this House. Indeed, this may be my last speech. It is commonplace to remark that that might be true of any of us, not merely because of the war, but because of that and other things. What I should like leave to say on the personal side is this: I have said some unpopular things in time of war - this war, the war of 1914-18, and even, as a student in the Melbourne University, during the South African War. I said unpopular things, and I take some small personal satisfaction in the fact that the views I have expressed from time to time have been strengthened by events. Consequences have flowed from causes in a logical and natural way, and the inevitable, as might be expected, has not been avoided. There are one or two things which might well be said now, and it is a curious fact that in 1941, in the course of this war, and at a critical stage of this war. I should find myself at one period inclined openly to applaud the utterance of the right, honorable member for North Sydney. There were many seasons during the last, war when I did not think that that, time would ever come; and yet I was delighted to hear him, a man like myself in the sere and yellow, bidding stronger and more virile men, some of them in uniform, not to get their tails down, but to have brighter confidence in the future we are facing and in the destiny of our nation, and to manifest by their conduct and by their speech that they are in fact, as well as in theory, upholders of a great Christian tradition - or, if not a Christian tradition, at least of a high standard of ethics as understood by men and gentlemen. I have noted with regret that everywhere Ave are being oppressed by lugubrious forebodings of what may happen. I regret exceedingly that action has been taken in some instances still further to depress the people by dimming the lights, and creating darkness in our souls and in our cities, and by wearing, metaphorically at least, crepe trailing down our backs. A little more, and we should be keening, wailing in the manner which I have heard attributed to my ancestors in another country. I deprecate that sort of thing.


Mr Rankin - I suppose they did the same at Pearl Harbour the day before the raid.


Mr BRENNAN - I have an uneasy suspicion that at Pearl Harbour the people with the greatest responsibility were enjoying themselves with the Hawaiian ladies instead of attending to their duties, which were of a kind similar to those to which the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) should be attending instead of sitting here interrupting me. I do not pretend that the present position in regard to the Avar is anything to laugh at, that it is anything to excite our humour, or that we should be enjoying ourselves particularly, but I do say that there arc some things which are not done, and one of them is that one does not go into a room where a man is writhing on a sick bed and tell him that what he is suffering is nothing to what is coming to him. That is not good form, and it is not good form to drop our lower lip, and to tell the people to turn out the lights and not go for their holidays, but to sit a t home, or kneel at home, and pray. Though I believe in prayer, one can pray at his work of which there is much to be done. I join with the right honorable member for North Sydney in his splendid appeal to our more virile qualities, to our greater optimism, to our belief - if it be pur belief - that not worse will befall us than we deserve. I know that that would be a pretty sad fate for some people, but they do not admit it. I listened to the honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) this afternoon. He had a bloodcurdling story to tell us about the dreadful things that the Japanese might inflict upon us. It is a great pity that so many of our patriots have exhausted their capacity for vituperation on Hitler. In the first place, they have no new epithets left for Berlin, and they have no master epithets left for Tokyo, now that they have discovered that Tokyo is so much worse than Berlin. It was certainly brilliant on the part of the honorable member for Boothby to suggest that, in the practice of sadism, Tokyo could make Berlin blush. That may be so, but mere vituperation, however satisfying for the moment, however it. may whet the appetite of some for revenge and cultivate the lust for doing worse things, does not, after all, lead us very far along the road towards a successful ending of this disastrous war. I sometimes suspect that gentlemen like the honorable member for Boothby, and others in the press and out of it, who enjoy themselves by cultivating their considerable faculty for abuse and for prophesying evil, are merely trying to impress in that easy way ordinary observers with the belief that they - the speakers or writers, as the case may be - are the only persons who realize the dreadful things confronting us in the immediate future. I have heard the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), who is in uniform but still here, give his views on total war.


Mr Rankin - At least I was in the fight overseas during the last war.


Mr BRENNAN - I have lived through three wars and I have not got a scratch. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), too, is most emphatic on the subject of total war. Each honorable gentleman speaks to a section of the press; not to the press as a whole - for that is impossible - but to that particular section of the press which applauds his remarks. Each knows that he will get good publicity in certain quarters. The honorable member for Barker, sure of applause in a certain section of the press, denounces all the rest of the press with enthusiasm. The suggestion obviously is that the war was made and called a total war by the totalitarian German Chancellor, Hitler, who is conducting the war, so they tell us, without scruple, qualification or reservation. If it suits Hitler's purpose to lie, he lies ; if it suits his purpose to be unjust, he is unjust; if falsity suits his purpose, he is false. They say that Hitler uses whatever suits his purpose as a meansto an end, and, undoubtedly, our Japanese adversaries will follow his lead. That is total war. Total is whole. What is the implication ? The implication is that what has been done by Hitler and his allies to win a totalitarian war we also must do in order to counter their efforts. If necessary, we must be greater liars than they; if necessary, we must inflict a greater wrong on some neighbour who has nothing to do with the fight than the Axis powers have inflicted on unoffending neighbours. In all of these things we must be greater totalitarian then they. I am not a purist; I am a poor miserable sinner, but I decline the invitation.I said repeatedly when I was sitting on the opposite side of this chamber - God knows I gained nothing by coming here - that there were some things against the doing of which I have an inveterate prejudice. For example,to my mind, it Is an elementary principle of moral conduct that if A and B are engaged in a fight, totalitarian or otherwise, then neither A nor B is justified in doing a wrong to C in order that he may win. I still adhere to that principle. I have been told, and in a certain oldfashioned way it has been ingrained in my system, that lying is in itself immoral, and that the good we seem to gain from it is but ephemeral. In fact, it was distinctly stated at the very top of my copy-book when I was in the second class at school that honesty is the best policy. Being what I am, a weak sinner, some of these principles remain still ingrained in my system, and I simply decline to follow the methods of the totalitarians so far as they are stated to be, and if they are a deliberate refraction of the moral order. At all events, however weak one may be personally, one may decline openly to subscribe publicly to such a doctrine. The worst that could happen to us is not defeat, but defeat with dishonour. That will never happen to our soldiery but it may very well happen to some of our politicians, for I have been reading some of the statements of men in authority on the other side of the water, one of whom was quite a recent welcome visitor to this capital city, wherein they recommended the bombardment and starvation of the innocent in order that the guilty may be made to suffer. I have always ventured to decline to be a party to such things, which seem inconsistent with our avowed objects, and many have well said that death, which comes to all men, soon or late as the poet says, is, at any stage, far preferable to cultivating ignoble means for the attainment of an end. There are some things which, at all events, I am not prepared to do - though, in the final analysis, [ am prepared to go as far as most men in protecting those near and dear to me. Let me add that most men and women of my country, and, indeed, men and women generally, are dear to me. Each is a tabernacle, a world in himself or herself; each is a component being of body, soul and mind, hope and memory; each a wonderful creation. I love them all. I feel that more intimately, and perhaps more naturally and in a more animal way, I would wage a sterner fight for the protection of those of my own blood than of others; but there are some things which in no circumstances will I do merely for the sake of saving my own life or the life of any other person. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and I do not believe that this country is doomed to wear the shackles of slavery. Unlike some honorable members opposite, I do not believe that the people of this country, whose forbears by almost incredible effort, hardship, suffering, and industry have colonized this country, will, for the lack of courage, organization and unselfish sacrifice, pass under the oppressor's heel. I strike a more optimistic note; I see a brighter prospect, and I ask that the lights be turned on in our cities at least until there is a better reason to dim them, so that people may not grope in the dark as though ashamed of what they are doing, but walk in the light because they are unashamed and unafraid. Another reason which has brought me to my feet is that this present crisis is giving new heart to the conscriptionists. It has even shaken the well-laid foundations of the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), who, up to the present, has been an anti-conscriptionist, but who is now prepared to hand over that great fundamental and spiritual issue for decision by a mixed executive. The attitude of the right honorable gentleman has given new heart to those who, in the past, like the honorable member for Barker, have not been afraid to openly advocate this cause. I have made my views clear upon this subject. I have said that when you propose to lay violent hands upon a man in his own country, who lives under his own form of constitutional government, to drive him to a foreign country, of which he naturally and necessarily becomes a part, and to whose laws he necessarily becomes at least partly obedient - when you propose to impress upon him that he must yield obedience to military advisers who ha ve. been elected and created through no law to the making of which he is a party - you are making an invasion of his elementary persona] rights just as much as if you commanded him to commit sin or cease to worship God. If personal rights are invaded in that way the people affected are justified in resisting to the utmost of their power. That is the view I have always taken, and which I have expressed in similar words on many occasions. There is, of course, the irony of the fact that we are supposed to be fighting a war for democracy, but by conscription, so far from upholding the theory of democracy, we will violate democracy by expatriating the citizen and putting him under the law of a foreign country. Now it seems to be suggested that the matter of conscription is one of degree; that we may send troops to Malaya but not to Crete, to the East Indies, but not to Greece. This evening, a speaker suggested that the Government should not in future send too many troops abroad. Of course, there is the utilitarian and practical issue. Australia is a vast territory which has been colonized, not so much by our efforts, as by those of our ancestors. This vast portion of the earth's surface is sparsely inhabited. It is tragically absurd that with our limited population, we should be compelled, at the sweet will of some government, to serve in most remote countries, far from our hearth and home, womenfolk, children, blood relations and the society which we have successfully endeavoured to develop, under the authority of persons whose orders we despise, in a battle against those with whom we have no personal quarrel. But if it be logically and spiritually right in the name of democracy and justice to send our troops to Malaya, it is equally right to send them to Greece and to Libya in large, or small, numbers.

The enemy is now at our door, so they say. I am not so sure whether that is correct. I take a more hopeful view. During the last 40 years declarations of policy have been made on behalf of the Japanese Empire, and it may be that the extent of Japan's ambitions is the extent to which the Japanese themselves have publicly declared in the press, on the platform and through their representatives in various countries, namely that they are determined to have a place in the Eastern sun, and space in the world of their own neighbourhood in which to accommodate their vast population. That may be so.. I do not know. Not for a moment do I excuse the. Japanese. I set no limit on their ambitions. I do not excuse' predatory militaristic enterprises of any description with which the history of the world is' so fully charged..







Suggest corrections