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Thursday, 24 September 1942
Page: 921

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Minister for the Army) (2:11 AM) . - There have been so many speakers on this proposed vote, and the hour is so late, that it would be impossible for me to deal in detail with all of the subjects that have been discussed. However, these matters will receive the fullest and most sympathetic consideration of myself and other Ministers. Probably the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully; will have something to say in regard to matters that have been brought to his notice. I was greatly impressed with the speech made by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles), who was courageous enough to express his appreciation of the wonderful improvement in the Australian Army and the general defences of this country. 1 was disappointed at the general tendency to "knock" the Army and break down confidence in our military leaders, who have under their charge the mightiest fighting force ever assembled in the southern hemisphere. Honorable members should not endeavour to undermine confidence in these men ; such actions arc subversive of discipline.

Mr Holloway - It is sabotaging morale.

Mr FORDE - Yes, not only the morale of the fighting men, but also the morale of the civil population.

Mr Calwell - I am not indulging in that criticism, but honorable members have a perfect right to offer criticism without being charged with being subversive or indulging in sabotage.

Mr FORDE - The honorable member spoke for an hour, but I did not have him in mind when I made the statement. I have not spoken previously, but I have listened for almost twelve hours to various criticisms of tb, Army. I do not say that the Australian Army is perfect. No organization that had grown from a membership of 30,000 four or five years ago to a membership of hundreds of thousands to-day could he perfect. This rapid expansion has necessitated the speedy training of officers, many of whom were engaged in civil occupations not long ago. We had a nucleus consisting of a couple of hundred men trained at Duntroon, and a number of very fine militia officers, but we did not have anything like the number of officers required for a vast military organization such as we have- to-day.

Considering all the circumstances, I con tend that we in Australia have a very efficient army, of which any government, and any country, could feel proud. Since I". have been Minister for the Army, I have travelled all over Australia, visiting military camps from North Queensland, to .Hobart in Tasmania, and Adelaide in South Australia. Had Parliament not met early this month I should have visited all other centres in which Australian Military Forces are stationed. When Parliament adjourns I shall continue my visits in order to make personal contact with the men who are on service at our various battle stations, in order that I may see the conditions under which they are living, the state of their equipment, and the standard of their morale and discipline. As one who has visited not only Australian Imperial Force and Australian Military Forces camps, but also camps of the American forces, I say that a very fine spirit prevails throughout. Most of thi.5 carping criticism about alleged lack of discipline, morale and efficiency emanates largely from armchair critics, who read what some correspondent, writes in a newspaper, or perhaps see a soldier under the influence of liquor on a street corner in Sydney or Melbourne during a holiday period. One gets an entirely different picture after visiting subtropical and tropical parts of Queensland in which these men undergo tough training, stripped to the waist. There is nothing to beat them, and one can be filled only with admiration when one sees the wonderful spirit of loyalty that exists among the men and their officers, who also are living under battle conditions and sharing hardships. I have seen majors-general in command of divisions, living in tents under mango trees in Queensland, miles from the amenities of big cities. There has been a. revolutionary change in the Australian Army since I have been Minister for the Army.

Mr Ryan - Is the Minister entirely satisfied with the discipline of the Australian Army?

Mr FORDE - Generally speaking, the discipline of the Australian Army to-day is as good as it has ever been, and judging by reports that I have received from commanding officers, it is improving month by month. In the course of my discussions with military leaders, and with men of the rank and file of the Australian Army, I have found that there is a deep feeling of resentment against the - continued carping criticism about alleged lack of discipline among our military forces. The men claim that in view of the sacrifices that they are making, it is most discouraging to read that they are a disgrace to Australia and so on. They feel that such statements are poor recognition of the services that they are rendering to their country. In round figures, the Australian Army to-day is three times as large as it was when I assumed office about a year ago, and 1 am sure that all honorable members, irrespective of party affiliations, will agree that I have worked day and night, so long as it was physically possible to keep awake, dealing with the multitudinous problems that have come before me. The only recreation that I have had during that time has been the enjoyment of meeting, face to face, our men in camps and at battle stations, and talking their problems over with them. I claim that during this period I have seen more of the Australian forces than any other man in Australia. It is not necessary for the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) to tell me that 1 must be ruthless and that any one who is not ruthless cannot dismiss officers who fail in their duty. We are doing that every week, but we do not advertise it. He knows that there has been a greater re-organization of the Australian Army during the time that I have been Minister that at any time since it was formed. When it was necessary to bring back from the Middle East a number of brilliant young officers to place in charge of divisions in Australia, that action was taken fearlessly in the interests of this country. Old and less experienced officers were retired to make way for them. Not only were brigadiers brought back to this country, but colonels, lieutenants-colonel, majors, captains and other Australian Imperial Force officers were recalled and given responsible positions in the Army organization in this country. I remind honorable members also that this Government was responsible, in the face of considerable criticism, for bringing back to Australia a large proportion of the Australian Imperial Force.

Mr Abbott - On no occasion have I criticized the Government on that score.

Mr FORDE - If the honorable member did not do so himself, members of his party did. When this Government assumed office Australia was in a comparatively defenceless position. Ample evidence of that is to be found in speeches made by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) who was my predecessor. He said a couple of months before I took office that Australia did not have a force sufficiently well equipped to repel an enemy. The position is very different to-day. As a Government we soon realized the necessity to bring Australian Imperial Force troops back from the Middle East. Probably one of the most masterly strokes achieved by this Government was its successful negotiations with the American Government for the appointment of General Douglas MacArthur - one of the greatest military leaders - -as Commander-in-Chief of the South-west Pacific Area. General Douglas MacArthur inspired not only the people of Australia, but also those of the other democracies, and great satisfaction was expressed when it was known that the hero of Bataan would assume command in this area.

The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) made certain statements which might cause people in this country to lose some regard for General Douglas MacArthur, and for General Sir Thomas Blamey, the Commander of the Allied Land Forces in the South-west Pacific Area, .but any one who knows the position will realize that both these men are doing a wonderful job for Australia. The honorable member has had no military experience whatever.

Mr Hutchinson - I am sure that General Douglas MacArthur will bear out my words about the " wharfies ".

Mr FORDE - No. I was amazed at the honorable member's speech. He made unwarranted jibes at honorable members on this side of the chamber, and cast re flections 'on those commanding the Allied Forces in the South-west Pacific Area. It ill-becomes the honorable member to say anything which reflects upon the men who are bearing so heavy a responsibility in the reorganization of our Army, which is being welded into the mightiest fighting force ever raised in the southern hemisphere.

Mr Hutchinson - I shall be interested to know just what I did say.

Mr Coles - The honorable member said American troops had been responsible for destruction in his electorate and that water had caused erosion.

Mr FORDE - Obviously, the honorable member has little gratitude for those gallant men who have come from the United States of America to fight in this country. It is appalling to think that a member of this Parliament is prepared to descend to party political tactics, and to make a parish pump speech in tho hope of pleasing some individuals in his electorate whose fences may have been damaged in the course of military manoeuvres. We are proud of these men who have come from the United States of America; we are proud of the fact that we have an able and gallant American as Commander-in-Chief, and I am proud to be a member of the Government which was responsible for General Douglas MacArthur's appointment, and for the appointment of General Sir Thomas Blamey, who was the General Officer Commanding the Australian Imperial Force in the Middle East, as Commander of the Allied Land Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area. General Sir Thomas Blamey is working in the fullest cooperation with General Douglas MacArthur. I am not prepared to say where they are at present, but I assure honorable members that they have been working in active co-operation and consultation in regard to the dangers in the north of Australia. After listening to some of the speeches made in this debate, one would think that there are thousands of Australians in the South Pacific islands who are under the control of inefficient officers and who are led by a band of nitwits and "blimps". These armchair field-marshals seek to tell us, in effect, that General Douglas MacArthur. General Sir Thomas Blarney, and Those other brilliant officers who are now in the New Guinea area cannot be relied upon to do their duty. The Government has implicit confidence in its military leaders, and it is not going to be stampeded into making scapegoats of them. If there be shortcomings in the defences of Australia, the blame should rest upon previous governments rather than upon our military leaders, most of whom have given meritorious service in the Mediterranean area and elsewhere, and are thoroughly conversant with modern warfare. Surely they can be trusted to do the right thing in the leadership of our men. For security reasons I cannot so into details of the struggle that is going on in New Guinea to-day. That would be quite wrong. We shall have opportunities to discuss these matters later. At least six members of the Opposition are members of the Advisory War Council, and will be able to participate in such discussions. Nothing is hidden from them. The Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Land Forces who recently visited New Guinea, has since attended a meeting" of the Advisory War Council and has answered all questions put to him, so I consider that I am justified in saying that all the cards have been put on the table. It is somewhat nauseating therefore to find that, a party political campaign i3 being waged by certain honorable gentlemen opposite against the men who are entrusted with the responsibility of leading our armies.

The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott), who is usually fair in his criticism, amazed me when he criticized me for attending, during the recess, the Hobart centenary celebrations. The Prime Minister was invited to attend, but was not able to do so, and he asked me to represent him. I had promised previously to inspect the defences of Tasmania and to visit various military establishments there in order to ascertain urgent requirements. During my visit. T. met the military leaders and inspected all the defences. As the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) knows, while I was in Launceston I inspected military camps and, at the invitation of the commanding officer in Tasmania, 1 addressed the troops. The next day, while travelling from the north to the south of the State, I visited troops in hospital. Many of those men have returned from the Middle East and other theatres of war and they discussed war problems with me. On the morning of the Hobart celebrations, I inspected defence establishments in the vicinity of the city, and from 2 o'clock till 4 o'clock I was present at the celebrations in the Hobart Town Hall, and made a speech on behalf of the Commonwealth Government.

Mr Abbott - The Minister realizes, surely, that I made my statement in order to illustrate my contention that he would have had time to visit Port Moresby.

Mr FORDE - The honorable gentleman sought to create the impression that I went to Hobart, on a kind of jaunt. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and other Tasmanian members were present in Hobart at the celebrations, and I have every reason to believe that my visit was approved by the Tasmanian people. I really thought that the honorable member for New England would have risen above party political considerations, and that at this grave time in our history he would not be seeking newspaper head-lines and a little cheap publicity. This is not the time to play the petty party political game.

Numerous subjects have been dealt with by honorable members in the course of this discussion, and I cannot now reply to them all. I wish, however, to refer to the request of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) that certain men in the Army - principally skilled butter-makers - be released for work in butter factories in Victoria. The honorable gentleman said that it was necessary that something be done. I cannot give a guarantee that we shall be able to go through this war without serious inconvenience to primary producers, manufacturers, employers and, in fact, every section of the community. I have the greatest respect for the honorable member for Gippsland and I assure him that I realize the difficulties to which he has referred ; but I cannot promise him that large numbers of men will be released from our armed forces in order that the work of butter factories may be maintained as in peace-time. As the result of representations made to me by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) and other honorable gentlemen, I have convened a conference of representatives of farming organizations and other rural interests to meet me at Victoria Barracks on Saturday afternoon at 3 o'clock. The Adjutant-General and other representatives of the Army will be present. We shall discuss the problems confronting the primary producers, but we shall also place before the conference the great importance, in view of the grave international situation, of keeping sufficient nien in the Army to ensure the security of this country.

Mr GUY (WILMOT, TASMANIA) - Will the conference consist of Victorian representatives only?

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