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Wednesday, 12 October 1949

Mr THOMPSON (Hindmarsh) . - If the speeches that have been made by honorable gentlemen opposite upon the proposed votes for the defence services mean anything at all, they mean that it is the intention of the Opposition, if it is successful at the forthcoming general election, to reintroduce compulsory military training in Australia. However, honorable gentlemen opposite have not. stated specifically that that is their intention. I ask them whether they are prepared to make that statement and let the; people know where they stand.

Mr Gullett - Of course they are.

Mr THOMPSON - I want the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) to make that statement officially.

Mr Rankin - Give us a chance.

Mr THOMPSON - There has been ample opportunity for honorable gentlemen opposite to state plainly their intentions in connexion with compulsory military training, but they have not done so.

Before the sitting was suspended the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) made a good speech. The right honorable gentleman was forced into the position of having to do his utmost to justify the actions before the war of the Government of which he was a member and to attempt to explain its failure in the early years of the war. The right honorable gentleman tried to blame the Labour party for the condition of the defence forces of this country at the outbreak of war in 1939. He quoted the words that were used by some members of the Labour party when they were opposing proposals of the Government that was in office at that time. Neither the right honorable gentleman nor his predecessor as Prime Minister was game enough then to do what he thought should be done. The Australian people will surely be puzzled by the attempt of the right honorable gentleman to blame a party that was in a minority in both houses of the Parliament for the failure of the Government prior to the outbreak of war to establish adequate and efficient defence forces in this country. The right honorable gentleman referred to the late John Curtin and his opposition to certain proposed defence measures. In 1936 I served with Mr. Curtin on a committee that drew up the defence policy of the Labour party for presentation to the people at the 1937 general election. What Mr. Curtin desired was an efficient air force. I ask honorable gentlemen opposite how efficient our air force was in 1939.

Mr Conelan - We had five Wirraways.

Mr THOMPSON - At outbreak of war in 1939 the air defences of this country were practically non-existent. I remember the night when it was announced that Prince of Wales and Repulse had. been sunk. Those ships were lost because we had no aircraft available to protect them from the attacks of Japanese aircraft.

Honorable gentleman opposite are now claiming that there are not enough men in the defence forces. On other occasions, as we know, they have said that there are not sufficient men employed in industry and that we are not constructing enough houses and ships. They blame the Government because thereare not sufficient men to do the work that' is needed for the development of this country. I believe in an efficient defence force-

Mr Gullett - Of course the honorable member does not.

Mr THOMPSON - The honorable gentleman may make statements of that kind if he desires to do so. I repeat that I believe in an efficient defence force--

Mr Gullett - That is utter humbug.

Mr THOMPSON - It was humbug for the honorable member for Henty to attack the Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) in the way in which he did, and for the Leader of the Opposition .to claim that the government of which he was a member was not responsible for the condition qf our defence forces in 1939,- and to attempt to lay the blame for it on the Labour party, which was then in Opposition. In the debate on these Esti mates honorable gentlemen opposite have been indulging in the tactics in which they have indulged for the last three years. On every occasion when a member of the Opposition makes a speech in this chamber he endeavours to sow in the minds of the people the seeds of distrust and suspicion of the Government. He suggests that the Government will not protect the country by doing what is necessary for our defence and that it will ruin us. Honorable gentlemen opposite must have a very poor opinion of the intelligence of the people if they think that they will be misled by statements of that kind.

Why was there a change of minis \ry in 1941? Honorable gentlemen opposite talk of unity, but when the present Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister, the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. . Fedden) also wanted to occupy the post and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said that he was the man for it. The people of Australia were wondering who would be the man who would lead them in the war. Eventually two of the supporters of that Government said, in effect, " If you are going to make such a poor showing by arguing amongst yourselves, and if you are going to jeopardize the defence of Australia, we shall turn you out of office ". They did so, and a minority party, the Labour party, formed the Government. That minority party did such a wonderful job that it was returned to office with a record majority at the 1943 general election. At that time [ remember talking to men in trains and in the streets. They said to me, "We want John Curtin ". They gave the party that was led by John Curtin a majority in this House that it had never had before. There were no fights in the ranks of the Labour party. Our fight was with the enemy. The members of the Menzies Government did not have the guts to say to the people of Australia, " We are going to make this an all-in war. Every man in the country must play his part ". We did that in spite of the opposition of some members of our own party. We were prepared to do what was necessary for the defence of Australia, and to take risks. Honorable gentlemen opposite often talk about taking risks, but when the parties to which they belong were in power they were not prepared to take the risk of saying to everybody in Australia, whether they were serving in the forces or engaged in industry or business, that they would have to play their part in the war. On the contrary they adopted the attitude, " Business as usual for the business man and let the volunteers carry on with the fight ". The people of Australia are quite satisfied that the Labour Government has shown, by deeds and not by words, that it is prepared to do the job.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - Order! The time allotted for the consideration of the proposed votes for the Department of Defence, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Army, the Department of Air and the Department of Supply and Development has expired.

Proposed votes agreed to.

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