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Thursday, 15 July 1915

Mr FLEMING (Robertson) .- At the close of the very learned and eloquent address delivered last night by the honorable member for Angas, it seemed to me that the debate on the motion for the second reading of this Bill might well have been concluded. Other honorable members, however, saw fit to follow him, and brought down the question more to the level of the ordinary man. The honorable member for Brisbane talked round and round the question. He seemed to fear that there was something very dangerous in connexion with this proposal to take a census of the manhood of the Commonwealth, and he told us that his fears were due to considerations of liberty. I do not know whether honorable members have ever seen an old cattle-dog walking round and round a porcupine, wishing to attack it, rushing at it again .and again, with his lips drawn back, and then, suddenly remembering that he has no teeth with which to catch it, 'drawing away. I do not wish to compare the honorable member for Brisbane to a toothless cattledog, but the way in which he approached this question last night reminded me very much of such an incident as I have described. He approached again and again what he seemed to regard as a proposal most dangerous to the people of Australia, yet he never once closed with the subject. It appears to me that those who really do believe in liberty - those who stand for freedom - must accept this measure. It is strange that I should be found supporting something which the present Attorney-General has proposed.

Mr Fisher - The greatest sinner may relent.

Mr FLEMING - The greatest sinner may relent, and the Attorney-General in this case has certainly relented. Any man having at heart the interests of, not only Australia, but the Empire as a whole, would' feel constrained to support this, measure, no matter by what party it was introduced. We are not fighting for liberty in the ordinary sense of the term, nor are we fighting for individual freedom as it exists under the ordinary processes of government. We are fighting, in reality, against the greatest menace with which modern civilization has been confronted, and even those who raise their cries of liberty ought surely to wake up to the fact that Australia to-day is . being menaced in a way that cannot be overstated. Things at the front may or may not be progressing well for us. It is very difficult for us at this distance from ' the scene of operations to ascertain the truth. But, whether all is well or not, the position is so serious that we must be prepared to put aside the things which under ordinary circumstances would count, and brace ourselves to meet the actual position that confronts us to-day. It seems to me to be positively childish for any honorable members to say, as the honorable member for Maribyrnong and the honorable member for Brisbane did yesterday, that we must beware of this measure and deal with it cautiously. When we have ringing in our ears the shrieks of outraged Belgium and broken France, and when the blood of our own boys is being spilled on the hills of Gallipoli - are we to discuss this measure in -academic terms, as if the position that it is designed to meet were something altogether remote? If we' approach the consideration of this question

Mr Fenton - The honorable member has made a great mistake in his reference to me. I gave the Bill my wholehearted support, saying that I would support it even in time of peace, since I believe in organization.

Mr FLEMING - If I have done the honorable member an injustice by bracketing his name with that of the honorable member for Brisbane in this connexion, I regret it. I can only say that I listened to his speech and failed to detect much enthusiasm in his remarks. Even before the outbreak of war Germany was undoubtedly attempting to conquer Australia by peaceful methods. The process was long continued, showed every sign of pre-arrangement, and appeared to have been perfectly worked out. The Prime Minister, in answer to a question which I put to him yesterday, informed the House that there were over 34,000 Germans and Austrians within the Commonweal th. These figures do not include Australians of German parentage, some of whom are quite as alien in feeling as are their parents. Most people born in this country of German parentage .are loyal to our flag and to our institutions, but some of them are as bitter against us as are their old folk. We may safely say, therefore, that there are within the Commonwealth 40,000 of these people who are alien in spirit, and when we realize that they comprise a great many thoroughly trained men, the position assumes a serious aspect. We all know how Germany was quietly taking possession of our trade before the war. But we do not know what many Germans are doing in Australia to-day. I propose to give the House an incident that occurred a little while ago in Sydney. In that city there is an Australian girl who married a German. When the war broke out, her /husband said to her, " While this war continues let us not discuss it in any way. Let us keep clear of the subject, so that there may be no dissension between us/'

The compact was 'kept. After a time, the woman found that her husband was giving, as she thought, card parties in his office, and she was delighted to believe .that he had in this way found a means of taking his mind off the war. But one evening, chancing to visit the office rather early, with the object of consulting him,, .she found there over thirty Germans. -Her husband's office was simply a gathering place for his fellow countrymen, who were plotting against this community. She promptly informed on the party, including her husband, and all of them were interned. That sort of thing can take place to-day, for the precautions taken to prevent such occurrences have been far too few. There is, I know, a feeling on the part of certain honorable members that the proposed registration of the manhood of Australia is a step towards conscription, and those who, like the honorable member for Brisbane, are blind in one eye where liberty is concerned, are afraid that this Bill will mean an improper interference with individual liberty. It is highly essential, in my opinion, however, that this registration should be made. I also cordially indorse the proposed census of the wealth of the community. There are in Australia many conservative minds who will view it with disfavour. There are a few who will be afraid of it, and not without reason, because a few of the wealthy people of Australia - not many, thank God - are not giving to the Empire in this time of crisis as they should do. The Government are justified in coming forward, and telling them that they must do their part. Every person in the community must be prepared to make sacrifices of some sort. No sacrifice is involved in giving that which we can afford to give. But at this time, we have to make sacrifices. No great deed was ever accomplished without sacrifice, and the time has come when we must be put to the test, along with the rest of the Empire, and, indeed, of the civilized world. If a man has money to give, let him give it. If he is well and fit, and free to go, let him give himself for the service of his country. If he has any special ability let him place it at the service of the community. If he has nothing but his life's blood to give, then, if he be a true Australian, he will be prepared to give even that. I think this census of the wealth of Australia will be attended in many respects with good results. It will serve, for instance, to show what a lot of money is lying idle in Australia. In a young country like this, with all its potentialities, 'and offering, as it does, so much scope for development, it is shocking to find that there is no less than £177,000,000 lying in .the banks at fixed deposit. In addition to that vast sum there are large sums in the banks at current account. The money lying to credit of current account will naturally be put to productive uses, since it is kept to meet the operations of men in business ; but, on the other hand, we have £177,000,000 simply on fixed deposit at 3 per cent, and 3i per cent. Surely, it is time that the people recognised to what little use we are putting our money in this country, and when this is brought plainly before us it will be realized by the people that there is something that needs to be remedied. It is to be hoped that members of this Parliament and of all the State Parliaments will set themselves to the task of solving the problem as to how this money shall be turned into productive sources. Despite what has been said during this debate, it seems to me that a great deal of "time and labour can be saved in taking this census by the utilization of State figures. I know of no reason why the State figures in connexion with the income tax, and particularly the land tax, should not .be adopted. The States have the most full and complete returns on all matters relating to land, and I fail to see why the Commonwealth should not avail itself of this information, and so save much time, and avoid a great deal of clerical work. If there is any definite reason why this cannot be done we should be told of it. The AttorneyGeneral, when introducing this Bill, said that it had been put forward that schoolboys and others might help to gather the harvest which, we hope, will be a very heavy one. There is no doubt that present prospects are for an excellent harvest. It is, however, very early yet to make an estimate. Seasons equally promising at this time of the year have ended disastrously. But the prospects at present are undoubtedly that we shall have a really heavy harvest, and it has been suggested by some of the leading schools in Melbourne that many of their scholars might be prepared to help during harvest time. There is no doubt that the boys would enjoy the work, but some consideration would require to be given to those scholars who are preparing for the usual examinations. The Attorney-General has said, however, that this service cannot be availed of. In this connexion also we should have some definite reason supplied by the AttorneyGeneral. Why cannot those boys go out into the country and lend a hand ?

Mr Riley - Lack of mechanical knowledge.

Mr FLEMING - Anybody with or without mechanical knowledge could sew up wheat bags or take horses to an' from water; and scores of the boys at these schools are capable of harnessing horses, and many of them of driving strippers.

Mr Fenton - A schoolboy could not put in order a stripper if it went wrong.

Mr FLEMING - How many persons can fix up a stripper if it goes seriously wron?? If the machine went only Slightly out of order there would be somebody ai hand to put it right. In every wheatfield there is more than one person employed. What is the reason that these boys, and all persons who are offering their services freely at the present time, are not to have their services availed of as seriously and eagerly as they are offered? If there is any reason behind the Attorney-General's attitude let him state it, because the time has come when all the cards should be laid on the table. If we know the reason we may be able to find some other way of utilizing the available talent, energy, and patriotism of Australia.

Mr HANNAN (FAWKNER, VICTORIA) - If there is a shortage of labour you may be compelled to utilize the services of the voluntary workers, but if there is a surplus of labour those services will not be required.

Mr FLEMING - I suppose the honorable member refers to the unemployed, but amongst the unemployed there are many who would not be worth a position in a wheatfield. On the other hand, there are plenty of schoolboys and persons in clerical and other positions who would do valuable work. Because there is unemployment, surely we are not to be debarred from utilizing the services of those who wish to be of some assistance during this crisis.

Mr Hannan - The boy who gives his services free to the farmer is giving free service to the nation?

Mr FLEMING - I do not suggest that they should give their services free, except in the case of farmers who have gone or who wish to go to the war. The honorable member must know that there are many farmers who are anxious to go to the front, but are afraid that their crops will be neglected.

Mr Lynch - Do you seriously suggest that boy labour would be of much use on the farms ?

Mr FLEMING - Of course I do; and the honorable member must know, if he has had any experience of boy labour, that such services are valuable if there are people to direct the effort. There are young men at the universities, and at the public schools, who would render valuable service if there was some direction of their energies. A certain amount of fear has been expressed in regard to this measure. It has been said, in more than one quarter, that the Bill is a direct menace to the people. I see no danger whatever in the proposal. The Bill, having fulfilled the functions for which is is to be passed, can be repealed after the war as easily as it has been brought into existence. I hesitate to believe that the Government would, under cover of war necessities, introduce a measure which they proposed to use for other purposes. Although Ministers have not told the House why some of the suggestions which have been put forward are not practicable, I do not believe they would ask us to give our support to this measure in ignorance of the use to which it was to be put. They have told us that the Bill is merely a war measure, and that it will operate only during the currency of the war. We accept that assurance, and, if it be desirable to continue the wealth census after the war, it will be a very simple matter to bring a Bill .before the House again. Just now we have to look at everything through glasses which, unfortunately, are clouded by the war. It is of no use at this juncture attempting to decide what we shall do for future generations. We are here to do service for the present generation, to meet present needs in the existing crisis. We are told that we should depend on the moral impulses which men may feel to offer their services at the front, and that, if we even approach conscription, we shall be damaging the liberties of the people. No man has more respect than I have for the liberties we enjoy under our Constitution. Any person who has studied the affairs of this country, and the growth of the Empire, and has glanced back along the paths by which civilization has come,' must realize what the winning of our liberties has cost in broken lives and wrecked hopes, and the trouble and pain that have been endured by the people of succeeding generations to bring us to where we now stand. Realizing those facts, we should shrink from doing anything that would endanger our liberty. But by adopting conscription in this crisis we should not be interfering with the liberties we enjoy.

Mr Sharpe - Do you favour conscription?

Mr FLEMING - Not at present; but unless we face this matter fairly, the day may come when we shall have to resort to conscription. According to Mr. Knibbs there are in Australia to-day 500,000 unmarried men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five years, and over 100,000 unmarried men between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five. If the majority of that first 500,000 do not feel themselves called upon to go to the war, the time will come when the Commonwealth will require to face the question of compulsory service squarely and bravely. If the single unattached men do not offer for service the married men must go, and we know what that means. I could state cases that would tear the heartstrings of honorable members in regard to married men who have gone to the war. We all know how many widows and orphans have been created throughout Australia already. But this is not the place for us to deal with the sentimental side of the question. We must look at the system of enlistment in its business aspect. If we continue to allow to go to the war great numbers of married men with dependants, what will be the result? The Commonwealth has instituted a liberal system of pensions, and we hope that the country will be able to honour its obligations in that respect to the full without the financial burden becoming too great for the people to bear. I know of a man from near my electorate who has been killed in action, and has left a widow and eleven children without support. In the last letter which his wife received, this soldier said, " I think if the single men had enlisted, there would have beet no need for the married men to come. You must pray night and day for my safe return, but I- do not think I shall come home again." And he will not come home. His death means that his widow and eleven children will draw pensions from the Commonwealth, and it is quite right that they should. But are we prepared to continue to allow married men to go to the front, and involve the Commonwealth in the great responsibilities and heavy charges which the pensions mean, when there are single men who are fit to fight, and who, for the sake of the financial stability and prosperity of the country, should go to the war? According to the Pensions Act, if a lieutenant is killed at the front his widow will receive a pension of ?91, the widow of a sergeant will receive ?70, a corporal ?68, and a private ?52, and every child ?13 per annum. Honorable members can very easily calculate the difference in cost to the Commonwealth between the loss of single men and the loss of married men. From a sentimental point of view, there can be no question as to which man should go first, but for business reasons also the single men who are available and fit should be induced to volunteer, and if the necessity arises they should be forced to go to the front. We cannot afford to thoughtlessly and unnecessarily pledge the future of this Commonwealth to such an alarming extent. If it be necessary for all men to go to the front, all who are fit will be prepared to go. But let the Commonwealth decide that men shall go in the order which sentimental and business considerations alike show to be proper. If necessary, every man in Australia will be prepared to shoulder a rifle, because we all recognise what we are fighting for. None of us believes that any of the single men will be afraid to go when they realize that they are wanted, and that they are to fight, not only for civilization, the Empire, and Australia, but for the sanctity of our homes and the purity of our wives and daughters. In bringing forward this measure, the Government nave taken a step which will help largely to influence the young men to realize their duty, and to place plainly before them the fact that unless they fulfil their duty they will be recreant to the trust reposed* in them. If they can be made to realize the situation, there will be no necessity for conscription. Australians are of the right stuff, and when they know they are wanted they will answer readily enough. The Government wilT be well advised to pass this measure at the earliest possible moment, in order to consolidate all our forces of wealth, ability, and physical strength for application to the attainment of the one great end - our success in this, the greatest crisis the Empire has known.

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