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Friday, 27 August 1937

Senator DEIN (New South Wales) . - I rose particularly to endorse the policy of holding Imperial Conferences, and to congratulate the Australian delegates at the recent con'ference held in London upon the capable way in which they represented Australia! If membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations is worth anything at all, it surely should be worth the expense incurred in sending delegates to such conferences. The remarks of honorable senators in opposition suggest that in holding such gatherings a new principle is introduced; but conferences arc held by political, religious and sporting bodies in order to formulate policies, on. the understanding that each section co-operating will give effect to the policy determined by the conference. A few months ago a conference of members of tho representatives of the Labour party from five States was held in New South Wales, and that conference even Went so far as to tell tho New South Wales delegates what they had to do. That action had the support of the Leader of the' Opposition. The Commonwealth Government is expected to give effect to the decisions reached at the Imperial Conference in the same way as the political delegates are expected to abide by the decisions of the conferences which they attended.

The most important subject considered at the recent Conference was defence. In the last war the military arm played the greatest part, and in the next conflict it is reasonable to assume that the naval and air services working in co-operation will be of major importance. The aerial arm is not only the most recent addition to our defence forces, but promises to become the most destructive. In concentrating upon the development of our naval and air forces,- the Government is acting on the best advice obtainable. When the construction of the Singapore naval base was commenced some years ago, I realized that it would be of special significance in the defence of Australia. The impregnability of the Singapore Naval Base, and the invincibility of the navies of the British Empire alone can save Australia from invasion and consequent disaster. In view of the fact that we cannot accurately predict the location of the next theatre of war, it is rather premature to determine in detail the means that we shall adopt for the part, that We may be called upon to play in it. The Labour party has announced its intention to " wait and see ". The Federal Government, however, is not prepared to delay ; it is going ahead with a programme which will enable Australia, in collaboration .with other members of the British Empire, to offer the utmost resistance to an aggressor. It is of opinion that the aerial and naval arms will play the greatest part in the next war. Those two branches of the fighting' machine can and must work in perfect co-operation.

Senator Collings - Surely the honorable senator does not object to the Labour party propounding its views on the matter.

Senator DEIN - I shall presently refer to the policy of the Labour party as enunciated by Senator Collings. At present we have not the faintest idea of where the destiny of Australia in the next conflict will be determined. In the Great War the destiny of Great Britain and this Commonwealth was determined on the battlefields of Flanders. Where the centre of the next great upheaval will be we do not know. We sincerely hope that the last great war has been fought ; nevertheless wo must be prepared for an emergency. During this debate the Labour party has enunciated its policy for the defence of Australia. A little while ago, honorable senators were obliged to extract what satisfaction they could in regard to that policy from the two mysterious words " adequate defence ". As the result "of this debate, we have advanced our knowledge slightly.

The Labour party proclaims that it is a practical party, in defence and in other matters; I propose to examine the practicability of the defence policy of the Opposition. The Labour party, if not in favour of the complete scrapping of the navy, proposes sadly to neglect it in future. I am able to understand that. According to the policy of the Labour party, there is no need for a navy. Obviously, as our battleships cannot fight on our own soil, the naval arm of defence is to be practically abandoned. The sole function of the navy will be to report the approach of the enemy to the Prime Minister who, I presume, will thereupon summon Parliament. After an interval of three weeks, the Parliament will have assembled in Canberra. During this period the hostile navy with aeroplane carriers, each carrying, perhaps, 40 or 50 machines will be lying within fifteen miles of our shores ; and Parliament will be assembling to debate what steps shall be taken to meet the emergency.

Senator ARKINS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator is mistaken. Before Parliament could be assembled the Federal Executive of the Labour party would have to be summoned.

Senator DEIN - Perhaps that step will be dispensed with in view of the emergency.

Senator Arkins - I do not think so.

Senator DEIN - When Parliament has met, a prolonged debate on the emergency will take place. All this time, I remind honorable senators, the enemy is within fifteen miles of our shores. If the Goverinment believes that a state of emergency exists, it will introduce a bill to provide for the taking of a referendum to determine whether or not the enemy shall be resisted. The debate would occupy two or three weeks and if Parliament decided that the enemy must be fought where he is, provided he stayed there awaiting the result, a referendum would be taken. This would occupy approximately four weeks, and in order to restrain the enemy from dropping a few shells upon Sydney, a notice would appear in the Labor Daily requesting the aggressor not to fire until the campaign was concluded. In case the enemy should' not read the' Labor Daily placards would be posted along our coast bearing the inscription " Trespassers before the referendum will be prosecuted ".

That is the logical conclusion to be drawn from the defence policy of the Labour party. The referendum must be held if the Government feels that the enemy should be fought outside our borders. I wonder what attitude will be adopted in the crisis by Senator Ceilings? Will he say to the people, " The enemy is off our shore; the Government believes that we will have to fight him where he is, and accordingly asks your permission, through this referendum, to attack him with our navy"? After these periods of delay extending over some months the aggressor, provided that he has not grown weary of waiting in deference to the wishes of the Labour party, and provided that the referendum is passed, will be subjected to an onslaught by our navy. That the attitude of the Labour party on this matter is impracticable is obvious to school children. It is an impossible policy. Why does that party endeavour to fool the people with something that is impracticable? The reason lies in the fact that members of the Opposition recall a certain vote a few years ago, and they have not the courage to lead the people. The Government would be in possession of information which it could not disclose; yet if Labour were in power they would be prevented, under their policy, from saying to the people: " An enemy is off our shores and we must engage him at sea where we have the best prospect of beating him ". Instead of having this freedom of choice they prefer to wait until the aggressor lands, and then endeavour to pit Australia's strength against him. The Labour party is fully aware that, in such circumstances, the people will not be in a position to decide the issue. They will not be in possession of the inside information; that will be known only to the government, which has not the courage to provide for the proper defence of Australia.

Senator Brownstated that when the Labour party was returned to power it would co-operate closely with New Zealand. I hope to hear the honorable senator explain in what respect itwould co-operate. Inregard to defence, no such co-operation would be possible, because the policy and rules of the Labour party forbid it. Consequently it is humbug for the honorable senator to say that when the Labour party is in office it will co-operate with New Zealand. Its defence policy would preclude the despatch of assistance to New Zealand, should it be assailed by an aggressor, until a referendum on the matter had been taken. I was disgusted to listen to the humbug, rubbish and clap-trap spoken in. this chamber by members of the Opposition on this vital subject. Having paid close attention to their statements I now understand why they have never been able to explain to us what they mean by " adequate defence ". I sympathize with the Labour party.

Debate (on motion by Senator

Brennan) adjourned.

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