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Wednesday, 17 December 1941

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - Senator Brown concluded his speech by appealing to honorable senators on this side of the chamber to recognize that his colleagues are quite as sincere as we are in dealing with the defence of this country. I can only ask honorable senators opposite to reciprocate by giving us credit for the same degree of sincerity in that respect, particularly in relation to the remarks made by my colleagues in this debate. Our criticism has been offered solely with a view to assisting the Government.

Senator Collings - We accept it in that spirit.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Judging by interjections made by honorable senators opposite when Senator Spicer was speaking one would not think that that was the case. When we adjourned only three weeks ago, we anticipated that Parliament would remain in recess until the New Year, but in the meantime the trend of the war has altered entirely. It is now at our back door. Circumstances alter cases ; and what might have been quite all right two or three weeks ago is not quite all right to-day. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has been criticized very severely by supporters of the Government. He urged the formation of a national government, certain amendments of the National Security Act, and the appointment of a supreme war council. All of those proposals are made solely with the object of assisting the Government in the present crisis. We know that the Government does not favour the first two proposals. Ministers have assured us that if necessary reinforcements can be sent to our troops who are now fighting abroad. I submit that the Government does not possess power to do that; and our object in urging the Government to amend the National Security . Act is to give it that power. We do not suggest that the Government should order men to serve outside Australia. We feel that the Government should have that power simply because our present situation is so serious. Honorable senators opposite say that the Government can obtain that power at any time. That is nonsense. The Government cannot obtain that power unless Parliament gives it to it. Is it thought that we can hold up the war while Parliament is called together for that purpose?

Senator Aylett - Does the honorable senator think that Australians will fail us?

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No; the Government is failing itself because it does not now possess power to send soldiers abroad. It could not send one man out of Australia unless he consented to go.

Senator Collings - Has not the honorable senator heard of the recruiting figures for last week?


Senator Foll - Those men must be trained.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) would lead us to believe that it is simply a matter of collecting men and putting them on a boat and sending them abroad. All of our soldiers must be properly trained. It is sheer murder to send men away untrained.

Senator Collings - Have any men yet been sent away without training?

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am afraid so.

Senator Collings - Not since this Government came into office.

Senator Armstrong - Men have been sent to the Middle East after being only two days in the Army.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -I doubt that statement very much ; but even in that case the men would be trained overseas. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the Government should have the power to send troops abroad whenever and wherever it thinks fit, and that it should be given that power before Parliament adjourns. All of us are aware of Japan's treacherous attack. At the very moment when Japanese emissaries were in the United States of America discussing terms with the representatives of that country Japan launched its attack in the Pacific. Let us learn our lesson from those events. I should imagine that even though the Government is not prepared to agree to the Opposition's proposals with respect to the formation of a national government and amendments of the National Security Act in the directions we have indicated, it should at least agree to appoint a supreme war council, and for that purpose to utilize the best brains available in this Parliament. Senator A. J. McLachlan mentioned the Japanese base in Portuguese Timor. We should be well advised to adopt some of the tactics of our enemies. We should immediately take possession of the island of Timor, because if we allow the Japanese to establish a base on that island, not 300 miles from our shores, the future will be very uncomfortable indeed for us. A vital feature of the proposed supreme war council would he that it would possess executive authority to direct our war operations. Consequently it cannot be argued that the Advisory War Council is just as effective. The discussions of the Advisory War Council may or may not influence the Government. At any rate that body does not actually exercise control over our war operations. We confidently expect assistance from the United States of America. If such assistance is offered to us we shall certainly accept it. That being so, surely we cannot hesitate at this juncture to stretch out a helping hand to that country.

Senator Collings - What does the honorable senator think that we are doing? For goodness sake give us credit for something. Has not the honorable senator heard of the War Cabinet? Does he want another War Cabinet?

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.No; I want a war Cabinet composed of the best brains in this Parliament and possessing authority to act, not merely to sit around a table and talk.

Senator Collings - Does the honorable senator suggest that that is what is being done?

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - To a great degree, yes.

Senator Collings - That is because the honorable senator does not know all of the facts.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am anxious to help the Government in every possible way. I appeal to it to adopt the three proposals submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. At present in an extreme emergency it will be obliged to call Parliament together in order to obtain authority to send troops abroad. This Parliament is now prepared to give it that power.

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