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Wednesday, 17 December 1941

Senator McLEAY (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) . - I appreciate the attitude of the Government in agreeing yesterday to the adjournment of the debate on this motion in order to give to the Opposition an opportunity to study the statement dealing with international affairs, which is a brief historical record of the events leading up to the declaration of war by Japan. I am sure that all honorable senators appreciate both the importance of the statement and the great difficulties that confront the Empire. It is the duty of the Opposition to speak fearlessly, and to give to the Government all the support it needs in these difficult times, not hesitating to make suggestions which it considers essential to the safety of Australia and of the British Empire generally, and of the democracies throughout the world. An interesting feature of the statement read to us yesterday by the Minister for Information (Senator Ashley) was that it disclosed that, despite all we had hoped from countries that have made progress, international agreements and other solemn documents are still treated lightly by some nations. I propose to quote the following paragraph that appeared in the statement read by the Minister in connexion with the Hague Convention No. 3, of 1907: -

The Hague Convention No. 3 of 1907, which was ratified by both Japan and the United States, provided that hostilities between the Contracting Powers " must not commence without a previous and explicit warning, in the form of cither a declaration of war, giving reasons, or an intimation with a conditional declaration of war ". Even those who contend that war may legitimately be commenced without prior declaration or notice oppose the opinion that one country may be justified in taking another unawares. According to Westlake, " an attack which nothing had foreshadowed would be infamous ". In the present case, diplomatic negotiations were still in progress; therefore the action of Japan was indeed both " infamous " and " treacherous ".

Despite that solemn agreement," it has been treated as a scrap of paper, and that fact should be a guide to us for the future as to the faith we should have in international agreements. Having examined the ministerial statement carefully, and having heard what was said on this subject in the House of Representatives, I should like the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) to advise us as to what was meant by the paragraph which I propose to quote. It contains a comment which is serious and farreaching, and discloses that great difference of opinion between the Labour party and the party to which I have the honour to belong. The paragraph reads -

But what of the defence of these shores? The Government has been stocktaking. It has inherited a situation in which, for one reason or another, the defence of our country has been treated as a subordinate and subsidiary part of a distant war. From now onwards we shall be thrown back more and more upon our own resources. " Tis well! I from this day forward we shall know

That in ourselves our safety must be sought ;

That by our own right hands it must be wrought;

That we must stand unpropped, or be laid low."

I do not raise this subject with any desire to embarrass the Government; I bring it forward in the most friendly and sincere spirit. I do say, however, that I have frequently been embarrassed by statements made by prominent Labour leaders since the outbreak of war as to the wisdom of sending expeditionary forces overseas. The statement which I have read seems to express an attitude of cynical isolation. I appeal to the Government to face the fact that the safety of Australia still depends largely upon the British navy and the success of allied arms in other parts of the world. I have noticed a tendency on the part of some Labour leaders to disagree with the policy of previous governments in sending troops to Malaya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Russia and Great Britain.

Senator Courtice - We approved of troops being sent there.

Senator McLEAY - If the honorable senator will read Hansard he will find that prominent Labour leaders have said that they were not in favour of sending expeditionary forces overseas. We on this side of the chamber believe that we can never repay Great Britain for what was accomplished at Dunkirk. We agree with Mr. Churchill that "never did so many owe so much to so few ". I remind the Senate of the gallant fight that has been put up by naval men in the battle of the Atlantic, and of the heroic struggle of the people of London and other parts of Great Britain. Knowing something of what they have suffered we agree that it was a privilege to give to them whatever help we have been able to give. Had we been able to do more for them, we could not have done too much. I disagree with the statement that Australia has not paid proper regard to the defence of this country. In the sacrifice of others we have sheltered ; their success has been our protection. I sincerely trust that at the conclusion of this sitting we can return to our homes with an assurance from the Labour Government that it will do all in its power to ensure that adequate reinforcements will be sent to Malaya, Syria, Iran and Egypt in order that those who have gone there to fight our 'battles will not 'be left stranded. This is a matter of the utmost importance.

Senator Courtice - We must have some regard to the defence of Australia itself.

Senator McLEAY - I agree with the honorable senator, but I do not approve of the ostrich-like attitude of some supporters of the Government who appear to think that we should not send men or ships beyond Australian territorial waters in order to fight an enemy as far as possible from our shores. Before the Senate rises for the Christmas recess I hope to receive an assurance from the Government that, if necessary reinforcements will be sent overseas.

I appreciate the prompt action of the Government following the declaration of war with Japan, and I realize the difficulties confronting it in regard to the best utilization of our man-power. The Government has been in office for a little over ten weeks, and I assure it that the Opposition has followed its proposals closely during that period. I urge the Government to hasten the fulfilment of the promise made ten weeks ago to divert labour from non-essential industries to war activities.

I also urge an amendment of the National Security Act in order to vest in the Government complete powers for the mobilization of man-power, womanpower, wealth and industry, in order that it may be unfettered in its attempts to do all that it considers necessary for the safety of Australia. I draw attention to paragraph a of sub-section (7) of section 5 of the National Security Act which reads -

Nothing in this section shall authorize -

(a)   the imposition of any form of compulsory naval, military or air-force service, or any form) of industrial conscription, or the extension of any existing obligation to render compulsory naval, military or air force service.

In order that the Government shall have the fullest powers, I urge that that paragraph be repealed. In doing so, I realize that the legislation of which it forms a part was introduced by a Government of which I was a member. However, the situation has changed entirely since that measure was introduced. I also draw attention to section 13a which reads -

Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the Governor-General may make such regulations making provision for requiring persons to place themselves, their services and their property at the disposal of the Commonwealth, as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of the Commonwealth and the Territories of the Commonwealth, or theefficient prosecution ofany war in which His Majesty is or maybe engaged:

Provided that nothing in this section shall authorize the imposition of any form of compulsory service beyond the limits of Australia.

When the National Security Bill was before the Senate we had an opportunity to discuss the effects of the proviso which I have just read, but since then the position has entirely changed. With war in the Pacific we know that at any time it may become necessary to send men from Australia to Portuguese Timor, the Malay States, Singapore, New Guinea, the Netherlands East Indies, the Pacific Islands or even to our sister dominion, New Zealand. An undesirable position exists to-day under the law as it stands. We are compelling men to serve in the MilitiaForces, but the Government has no power to send them to the Pacific Islands in case or emergency. The position is urgent; the time factor must be considered. Some of our opponents will undoubtedly contend that in saying this I am advocating conscription. Suggestions have been made in the press that an Australian war zone, including certain Pacific islands, should be defined. I urge the Government to give very earnest consideration to the desirability of repealing the sections of the National Security Act to which I have referred. If these sections are repealed it will not mean that we shall have conscription, but that the Government will have full power in case of an emergency to provide for the adequate defence of this country. The Government could then declare by regulation that our Militia Forces shall be sent to islands near Australia or to any part of the world at a moment's notice if their presence is required elsewhere to stem a likely attack upon this country. I regard this matter as of extreme urgency and I trust that it will he so considered by the Government.

Senator Collings - Consideration is being given to it.

Senator McLEAY - My third suggestion is that the Leader of the Senate should approach the Prime Minister and ask him again, in view of the grave emergency that confronts us, to consent to the formation of a national government. Whatever criticisms maybe levelled against this Parliament it is the highest authority in the land. The people of Australia are looking to responsible leaders of all parties for a lead in this great crisis. I say with all sincerity that if I were asked by the people to-day to name the greatest service this Parliament could render to the war effort I would say unhesitatingly that it would be the formation of a national government. If the Government is not prepared to agree to such a proposal I suggest that it give consideration to the establishment of a Supreme War Council clothed with full executive authority to enable it to make quick decisions in regard to the war policy of Australia. 1 suggest that a Supreme War Council be composed of a small number of representatives of each party in this Parliament, that it be clothed with full power to deal with matters relating to the war, and that the administration of other departments be left to their present Ministers. If that were done we would set a splendid example of solidarity to the people of Australia; but if we continue as we have been going in the past we cannot hope to inspire the people toa 100 per cent. war effort.

Senator Collings - That is only an assertion.

Senator McLEAY - The Leader of the Senate has not been very long in office, but he must appreciate the difficulties that confront Ministers in these troublous times. I suggest that it is impossible for Ministers looking after big departments such as the Department of Munitions and the Department of Supply and Development to attend meetings of the Advisory War Council, the War Cabinet, the full Cabinet and, finally, the Labour caucus to see if the decisions which they have made are supported by their party. That cumbersome procedure occupies four out of five days every week. Is it possible to get quick decisions when all of these formalities have first to be overcome? Let us consider fora moment what happened last week. Executive officers from the service departments in Melbourne were summoned to be in constant attendance at meetings of the Advisory War Council and the

War Cabinet and to advise Ministers generally on all aspects of the developments in the Pacific. Yet when we came here on Monday morning we found that these men who had been called upon to work long hours after Cabinet meetings had ended were in Canberra attending to the requirements of Ministers. While they are here their important work in Melbourne is being neglected.

Senator Collings - That is not correct. The honorable senator knows that their work goes on in their absence.

Senator McLEAY - It is not conducted as efficiently and as expeditiously in their absence as is desirable. I take this opportunity to pay the highest tribute to the executive officers of Commonwealth departments. I have had the privilege of seeing them at work, and I know of no body of men more steadfast in applying themselves to their duties. We are testing them to the utmost physically and mentally. If the Government accepts my suggestion and appoints a Supreme War Council, not only shall we get quick decisions, not only will honorable senators be given an opportunity to play a more important part in the war effort, hut also the executive heads of service departments will be relieved of the necessity of attending these many council and Cabinet meetings, and our war effort will progress more smoothly than it has in the past. Former Ministers of the Crown will gladly accept any task allotted to them. At the last general elections held about fifteen months ago more than onehalf of the electors of Australia voted for representatives of the United Australia party and the United Country party in this Senate and elected sixteen out of the nineteen candidates elected to this chamber. The party which I represent said to the people at that time, " If we are returned to office we shall do everything in our power to form a national government". It would give the greatest satisfaction to those who supported the parties now sitting in opposition if we could achieve our objective of a national government, but failing that they would be satisfied with the appointment of a Supreme War Council, because such a body would protect all interests, make quick decisions and attack in a resolute manner every important problem that came before it. I sincerely trust that the Government will give urgent consideration to the three suggestions that I have just made. In conclusion, I assure the Government that I shall be only too pleased to assist it in whatever way it may think that I can do so. At the same time, however, the Opposition in this chamber owes a duty to the people of tin's country. I shall certainly take every opportunity in this chamber to express my convictions regardless of their popularity or otherwise.

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