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Wednesday, 30 August 1916

Mr HUGHES (Prime Minister and Attorney) (General - West Sydney) . - (By leave)- In view of certain urgent and grave communications from the War Council of Great Britain, and of the present state of the war, and the duty of Australia in regard thereto, and as a result of long and earnest deliberation, the Government have arrived at the conclusion that the voluntary system of recruiting cannot be relied upon to supply that steady stream of reinforcements necessary to maintain the Australian Expeditionary Forces at their full strength.

As the Government are very strongly of the opinion that it is the plain duty of Australia to do this, and as they believe that their opinion is one which is held by the country generally, thev have formulated a policy which they believe to be at once adequate to meet the gravity of our circumstances, and compatible with the principles of democratic government, under which it is our privilege to live.

I intend to-morrow to lay before honorable members of both Houses the position as I know it to be, and as set out in the recent secret communications from the Army Council of Great Britain; but it is due to the public that they should be told how imperative and urgent the demand for men is. The number of reinforcements required for next month is 32,500, and subsequently 16,500 a month. The number of recruits for June was 6,375; July, 6,170; and up to 23rd August, 4,144; or a total of16,689. The most recent list for eleven days shows the number of casualties to be 6,743. These figures speak for themselves.

They show that the position which confronts the Government, the Parliament, and the people, is that while it is our clear duty to keep the number of our Forces up to their full strength, the stream of recruits under the voluntary system has fallen to less than one-third of what is necessary.

The great offensive, in which our troops have covered themselves with glory, has cost a fearful price; yet it is, and must be, pressed forward with implacable resolution. To falter now is to make the great sacrifice of lives of no avail; to enable the enemy to recover himself, and, if not to defeat us, to prolong the struggle indefinitely, and thus rob the world of all hope of a lasting peace. The sure road, the speedy road, the only road, to victory is to press on. Now is the psychological moment when every ounce of effort is called for.

To the principle of compulsion for military training and service the country has long been committed. But a clear line has been drawn between compulsory service within the Commonwealth and service overseas. For the first we relied entirely upon compulsion; for the latter upon voluntaryism. Until recently, voluntary recruiting proved sufficient to meet the demands made upon us; but latterly it has quite failed to do so. This failure, however, does not release us from our obligations to the Empire, to its Allies, and to the Commonwealth, whose fortunes rise or fall with the ebb and flow of this dreadful war. For it is literally true that defeat in this war sounds the deathknell of all our hopes and aspirations, and robs us at one stroke of all the privileges and liberties that make our lives worth living. Though voluntaryism fails, the country must not fail. It dare not; its honour and its safety are alike at stake.

But this is a country where the people rule; and in this crisis - in which their future is concerned - their voice must be heard. The will of the nation must be ascertained. Autocracy forces its decrees upon the people; Democracy ascertains, and then carries out the wishes of the people. In these circumstances, the Government consider there is but one course to pursue, namely, to ask the electors for their authority to make up the deficiency by compulsion.

Set out briefly, the policy of the Government is to take a referendum of the people at the earliest possible moment upon the question whether they approve of compulsory oversea service to the extent necessary to keep our Expeditionary Forces at their full strength. If the majority of the people approve, compulsion will be applied to the extent that voluntaryism fails. Otherwise, it will not.

I now make an' earnest appeal to every recruiting agency and centre to use their, every effort to encourage voluntary recruiting, and to the men of fighting age to enlist in the defence of their country. If volunteers respond in sufficient numbers there will be no need for compulsion. But to the extent that voluntary recruiting fails to supply the numbers necessary the Government will use the authority of the people, if given, to call to the colours, until the supply is exhausted, single men without dependants. It is not intended, until the supply of single men without dependants is exhausted, to apply compulsion to married men, youths under twenty-one, to single men with defendants, or to the remaining sons of families in which one or more of tha members have already volunteered.

As the necessity for more men is not only imperative, but urgent, and in order that the approval of the people, if given, should not be abortive, and, coming too late, leave our soldiers at the front without support of an adequate supply of trained reinforcements, the Government have decided that, if within one month the appeal for volunteers does not bring in a sufficient number of recruits, they will issue a proclamation under the Defence Act, and call up for purposes of training the number of single men without dependants necessary to make good the deficiency.

I hope that- the appeal which I now make to the patriotism of Australian manhood will make such proclamation unnecessary.

Unless and until the people of Australia approve of extending the compulsory provision of the Defence Act to service overseas, no man will be sent away against bis will.

Sir, weare passing through the greatest crisis in our history. Our national existence, our liberties, are at stake. There rests upon every man an obligation to do his duty in the spirit that befits free men. The Government asks men to make a great sacrifice; it asks them to risk their lives in order to save their country. Sir, I believe that they are prepared to make this sacrifice; but the country must, in its turn, prove itself worthy of such men. There must be, as far as humanly possible, equality of sacrifice. Wealth has its duties; it owes all it has to the State, and must be prepared, if necessary, to sacrifice that all to the State. Many wealthy men have responded nobly to the call of duty; others have not. But they cannot be allowed thus to evade their responsibilities. '

All other considerations must be swept aside. One great principle must now govern our every action. Whatever is necessary for the salvation of the country must be done; and, since we are calling upon men to sacrifice their lives, we ought not to, and shall not, hesitate to compel men to sacrifice their wealth.

X shall ask leave to continue, on Friday morning next, my remarks in support of the policy that I now have the honour to put forward'. I have already said that 1 propose to invite honorable members of both Houses to meet in secret session to-morrow in order that I may have the opportunity to lay before them pertinent facts of great moment, which it is imperative they should know. Armed with the facts of the position as it exists, honorable members will come Back to this Chamber, and be able to discuss the policy which the Government have the honour to put forward, in the full light of all the knowledge that is in tho possession of the Government, and charged with a responsibility which I am very sure not one member of the Chamber will attempt to evade. I propose to ask honorable members, in all the circumstances, to agree to adjourn forthwith until 10.30 o'clock on Friday morning, -and to meet in the Senate Club Boom to-morrow at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Mr. JOSEPTCOOK (Parramatta) T4.ll. - We have listened to a statement of far-reaching importance - a statement which I venture to, say -will profoundly move this country when it is read. I should' like, first of all - and my words will be few - to offer a word of hearty welcome to the Prime Minister on his return to his place and position here. ' I congratulate him ' on his great personal triumph. abroad - a personal triumph won, as I believe, by the ability and patriotic fervour with which he interpreted in. the Motherland the mind and heart and attitude of the Commonwealth in relation to this war. As to the statement which has just been delivered, I confess to a feeling of much surprise. To me, sir, this statement has been a profound disappointment More I do not' care to say at this moment.

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