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Friday, 1 September 1916


Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) (Prime Minister and Attorney-General) . - I desire to proceed to an examination of the proposals which I have the honour . to lay before Parliament, in order to ascertain whether they are adequate to meet the present circumstances. It is well that I should again state what these circumstances are. The British Empire, is involved in the greatest war in the history of mankind. Australia is not only committed, as a part of the Empire, to stand by her side to the end, but is. compelled to fight for her own existence and her liberties to the last man and the last shilling. This is our war, and upon the issue our fortunes and our future absolutely depend. We are fighting our own battle, and must not, dare not, fail. So far, by general consent, we have not failed. We have, so far, at least, done as well as any other portion of the Empire. I say no more than that. We may be legitimately proud that,' in this great hour of trial, we have, at least, not lagged behind the rest of our race throughout the Empire. But the end is not yet. Though through the dark gloom that hems us about we see the bright promise of a new dawn, it will fade and leave us for ever in the shadows unless we press on, and still on.

Hitherto Great Britain has refrained from even suggesting to us how many troops we should send; but present circumstances have compelled her to disregard the traditional reticence which very properly hedges about the relations between Britain and the self-governing Dominions, and she now tells us, in plain words, what'we are expected to do. It remains for us to do it.

That being so, I intend to examine the Government proposals in the light of the position as I have just stated it, in order to see whether they are adequate to meet it. If they are, they ought to receive the unanimous support of the House; if they are not, they ought to be unanimously rejected. I say tha.t without condition or reservation of any sort or kind. What has to be done ? Our duty is plain ; it is set out in plain words. The nation now cannot permit itself to be the sport of mere hysterical emotion on the one band, or of apathy and indifference on the other. There is set before it a definite task which it cannot evade with honour, which it cannot neglect with safety. It has to provide 32,500 men in September, 16,500 men in October, 16,500 men in November, and 16,500 men in December. We may assume, although we are not told, that the demand for reinforcements thereafter will continue on that scale; that is to say at the rate of 16,500 men a month.


Mr Joseph Cook - Have you any figures showing the number now in camp ?


Mr HUGHES --Yes; I shall leave nothing unsaid. I shall lay all the facts before Parliament and the country. I am. standing here, not as the leader of a party, endeavouring to conceal things, but as a man charged with the responsibility of leading the nation at this critical moment, revealing everything, casting on every honorable member and every citizen that responsibility which none can evade.

A definite task is before us. The question is: Do the Government's proposals enable us to perform it? In my opinion, they most certainly do. Let me now set out the position in detail, showing exactly what troops we are called upon to provide, the number already in hand, and how far the Government's- proposals insure .that continuous and ample stream of reinforcements which are necessary. Let me repeat what we are called upon to do.

In September we must supply 32,500 men ; in October, 16,500; in November, 16,500; in December, 16,500 - being a grand total of 82,000 men up to the end of this year. Assuming, as we may fairly do - although the Army Council's request is silent on the point - that the reinforcements for the three following months will be on the same scale, in January, February, and March, 1917, we shall have to provide 16,500 men a month, or a grand total to the end of March, 1917, of 131,500 men. This is what Britain expects Australia to do. The problem before us is how to do it.

Let us turn to the consideration of the troops already available to meet these requirements. Apart from the four divisions now in France, and the Light Horse Division and any details in Egypt, the troops available are as follow: - Tha number in camp in Australia, to within a few days ago, is 43,512; in England, 44,511; and on the water, 15,000- being a grand total of 103,023. From this total must be deducted 20,000 of the troops now in England, forming what is technically the Third Division, but which is really a Fifth Division for France; and the estimated wastage on 103,023 - that is 10,000- a deduction of 30,000 in all, leaving available for reinforcements 73,023 to meet the demands of the British authorities up to the end of this year, and the further reinforcements of 16.500 a month for the first three months of 1917.

Now, let me set out how we stand each month from the end of September of this year to the end of March, 1917. Assuming that no recruits, either volunteers or men who are compelled to serve, are added to the numbers now available, the number of our troops available in England during each of the months from September to January, 1917, will be as follows: - With the 44,500 now in England, and, say. 7,000 arriving this month, we have a total in England for September of 51,500. During that month there are required 32,500, leaving a balance of 19,000 in England. In October, the month's normal reinforcements of 12,500 despatched from Australia from the troops already available will increase the balance of troops in England to 31,500, to meet a. demand of 16,500, leaving a balance of 15,000. In November, there will arrive 12,500 reinforcements from those now in hand in Australia, making a grand total in England of 27,500, upon which there will be a demand of 16,500 - leaving a balance of 11,000. .In December, there will arrive 12,500 normal reinforcements - still from the Forces already in existence in Australia - which increases the total in England to 23,500, to meet the demand of 16,500, leaving only 7,000 troops in England. The January reinforcements of 12,500 - from troops now enlisted - will bring the total up to 19,500, upon which there will be a demand of 16,500, leaving, at the end of January, a balance of only 3,000 men. I invite the attention of honorable members to these figures. They set out the whole position; its strength and its weakness. They show that a balance of 3,000 men will remain from the troops now enlisted, after complete compliance with the demands of the Army Council, without bringing one more soldier into camp. But they show also that we shall have then arrived at the end of our present resources, and that there will be left in England only 3,000 trained men, and none at all in Australia I

If we could be sure that the war would end on the 31st December, tlie position is one which we might leave to voluntary recruiting - although this has fallen, as I have stated, to some 6,000 a month - to adjust. But no man is to put a period to this war, and it would be criminal folly to assume any such thing. We should rather prepare for another complete year of war than anticipate any premature peace. And no proposals, which do not only provide for the demands of the Army Council by using all soldiers now available, but also insure a sufficient supply of recruits necessary to maintain adequate reserves of trained soldiers, can be regarded as satisfactory. What we want, and must have, are trained men. Nothing else will serve. Untrained men are of no avail. To send untrained men into the trenches is murder; to reinforce men who are fighting our battles, and for their lives, with untrained men will not help them or hasten the hour of victory. The one question, therefore, the House and the country has to consider is: Do the Government proposals insure a sufficiency of trained men, ready when they are wanted ? I say they do, and that no other practicable proposals can do so.

Let me prove this. On the 1st of October, if during this present month 32,500 men - equivalent to the number taken out under the Army Council's demands, namely, 32,500 - do not join, the compulsory provisions of the Defence Act will be enforced immediately, so that, on that date, there will be not less than 32,500 men in camp, or getting into camp, who were not in camp on the 1st September. And thereafter there will come into camp each month, either in response to the appeal made to the patriotism of the people, or under the provisions of the Defence Act, 16,500 men. It follows, therefore, that the number of new men in training in Australia will exactly coincide with the number of trained men taken during that month to meet the re quirements of the Army Council. And this applies to every subsequent month. As the trained men are taken out, equal numbers of new men are put into training. And this is the essential point. We are not to consider any pet scheme that we may cherish; but to insure a sufficiency of trained men. Any scheme that does not insure them is to be condemned. Any scheme that does is to be applauded and supported.


Mr Brennan - I do not accept that.


Mr HUGHES - It has been urged that the proposals of the Government involve delay. They involve no delay. On the contrary, I say, deliberately, that they are the only proposals that are at once adequate to the circumstances, and will not involve delay. What is the alternative to them ? Some newspapers which profess to represent public opinion, but in reality grossly misrepresent it, contend that we should show so little faith in Australia as to bludgeon her into a course that she will take gladly. The proposals of the Government are condemned because we do not attempt to force through this Parliament a measure compelling our citizens to serve overseas, without consulting the people, or having regard to the opinions of many honorable members of this Parliament. If any man can show me that such a measure would have received the sanction of Parliament within a period less than that necessary for the taking of the proposed referendum, and without violating the principles of representative government, I shall gladly abandon my proposals, and let him take the speedier way. But there is no middle pa.th. To all, save those who shut their eyes to plain facts, it is obvious that the alternative to a referendum is an election - a path that I am quite prepared to tread, but one no better, and not nearly so speedy, as that put forward by the Government. We have to deal with the Parliament as it is, not as some honorable members desire it to be. Every honorable member in this House knows that there is great divergency of opinion on this matter in Parliament, as well as outside. Will any honorable member deny that the introduction of a Bill providing for compulsory service would nave involved acrimonious debate and excited strong feeling in, as well as outside, the Parliament? Will any honorable member say that, although there may be a majority in this House in favour of compulsion, there is such a majority in the Senate? Sir,

I have, we all have, to look at the position as it is. I do not regard this question from a party stand-point. As every one knows, I am an advocate of what is termed conscription. Throughout my public life I have been in favour of compelling citizens to serve in defence of their country, and that at a time when it was most unpopular, when hardly one honorable member opposite, or indeed on this side of the House, was prepared to stand by me. But, while I have favoured compulsion for home defence, I have hitherto been against compulsion for oversea service. But now iron circumstance compels me, as it has compelled others, to disregard this distinction. We are faced with facts, and we must not turn aside, and so attempt to evade that which cannot be evaded . What does it matter wht we thought yesterday ? We have to consider now what is the best and quickest way of doing the thing that has to be done. This is the position the Government has had to face. These proposals do face it, and effectively. They are the best way of getting the men required, because they are at once the surest and the speediest. They insure adequate training of a sufficient number of men, and they involve no delay.

We have now troops sufficient to supply all requirements until the end of January. Under the Government's proposals 32,500 fresh men will be in camp on the 1st October. As we give recruits about three months' training here and then send them to England, where their training can, if necessary, be continued, it follows that as part of these 16,500 men will have been in training during the greater part of September and the whole of October and November, that early in December they will begin to be available for despatch overseas. The remainder of the 16,500 recruited during the latter part of September will be ready for despatch during the latter part of December and up to the 1st January. On the 1st November another 16,500 men will join, who will be ready to be sent away on the 1st February, and 16,500 thenceforward on the first day of each month. Our proposals therefore insure a sufficiency of trained men to replace those drawn from our present Forces to supply all the demands of the Army Council.

We come now to another point. As we are 12,000 miles from. Great Britain, and troops have to be sent overseas to effectively assist in this great war, sufficient transport accommodation is essential. The present transport capacity is about 13,000 men a month. If additional further transports are required the Admiralty will supply them. But these cannot be made available for at least ten weeks, so that, during this period, we cannot send oversea more than 12,500 troops a month. As the figures quoted by me show that the requirements of the British Government can be met by sending 12,500 a month overseas until the end of January, the balance being supplied from the troops now in England, it is clear that under our proposals all the troops necessary will be available as required. The need for additional transports, therefore, does not arise until January.

I come now to the referendum. This will be taken on 28th October, whether it takes two or five weeks to pass the Referendum Bill.


Mr Joseph Cook - Suppose the Bill had not been passed by that date?


Mr HUGHES - Then I should be inclined to find a remedy under the War Precautions Act. As well ask a man what he would do if the sky were to fall. The Referendum Bill will pass. That is assured. There can be none of that acrimonious discussion on a proposal to refer conscription to the people that would arise on a ' measure dealing with conscription itself.

It has been said that there is no need for a referendum. I say that there must be a referendum or an election; one or other is inevitable under the circumstances.


Mr Watt - Supposing honorable gentlemen opposite had been in favour of compulsion, would the right honorable gentleman then have thought a referendum or an election inevitable?


Mr HUGHES - I think so.


Mr Watt - Would it have been inevitable with a unanimous Parliament?


Mr HUGHES - If the Parliament is unanimous on any subject, it may fairly be assumed to reflect the opinion of the whole people. But those who are against compulsion reflect the opinion of a large number of persons outside, and, therefore, the people should be consulted. Taking Parliament as we find it, and remembering that it is our duty to achieve our purpose in the most expeditious manner, I conceive that we have taken the right course, because that must be the right course which insures the enrolment of the number of men required, and procures them as soon as possible.


Mr Watt - A referendum cannot bind the Senate.


Mr HUGHES - I do not say that it can. But I will say quite frankly that the Government will consider the verdict of the people as sufficient authority. What is more, I venture to say that every member of Parliament will do so.


Mr Joseph Cook - May I ask a question 1


Mr HUGHES - I have answered for myself and for the Government - that is sufficient. It would be an intolerable condition of things if Parliament deliberately flouted the expressed will of the people. What would be the use of going to the people?


Mr Joseph Cook - Will the Government, as a Government, be behind the referendum ?


Mr HUGHES - For myself, I say that I am going into this referendum campaign as if it were the only thing for which I lived.


Mr Joseph Cook - And the Government?


Mr HUGHES - I speak for the Government. It may be asserted that there is no necessity for either parliamentary sanction or a reference to the people - that is to say, that the Government might have imposed compulsion on the people without consulting Parliament or referring the matter to the electors. I do not know whether that view finds favour in the mind of any honorable member, but I venture to say that it is quite incompatible, not only with the principles of Democracy, but with parliamentary government, that it would not be tolerated, even by those who are very stalwart supporters of compulsion, and that, had it been resorted to, it would not have prevented the manifestation of strong feeling inside as well as outside Parliament. Indeed, it would have precipitated political chaos, because the Government that dared to take such a course would be immediately confronted with a Parliament indignant at being ignored. Members on both sides would set themselves against such a thing. A Government must have substantial support behind it, either the support of the people directly expressed, or of a Parliament representing the people and respon. sible to them; and no Ministry could live in a democratic country without such support. The Government, therefore, having to obtain the sanction of the people, or that of Parliament, has put forward proposals which insure the sanction of both. There may be a majority of honorable members in Parliament who are opposed to compulsion, but they are not opposed to a reference of the matter to the people, and once that decision is given, they must abide by it. As we are Democrats on both sides of the House, when the people have spoken there is an end of the matter.


Mr Joseph Cook - But already you have the support of the majority in this House.


Mr HUGHES - I dare say that I might be able to get a majority without some of my friends on this side; but, as the right honorable gentleman knows perfectly well, there is an august body - to which we are not permitted to refer other than as "another place" - which would make short work of measures to which it is opposed. For ten months the right honorable gentleman endeavoured to bend that other place to his will. He could not do it; and he and it had to go to the country. No doubt, the honorable gentlemen in that other place are now a little subdued, but their teeth are not all drawn. In any case, to have forced a measure for conscription through both Houses and given effect to it would have involved much delay, bitter debate, and strong public feeling; and if it had led to a double dissolution - as it probably would have done - this would have taken, at the very least, four months, and the appeal to the country another three months. After which we should have had to begin to do the thing that we are now doing. For the proposals of the Government are now in operation. That is the position on which I want to lay great stress.

When honorable members say that the proposals of the Government are insufficient, I ask them to show me where they are insufficient. Do they say that they are insufficient because the people may not carry the Referendum ? But the Government have absolute faith in the people. The electors know their duty as well as we do, and will surely do it. What an amazing argument this is, " Supposing the people turn it down " ! Have honorable members so little faith in the people of Australia that they believe the people, even though they realize the gravity of the circumstances, are not prepared to do their duty? If the people of Australia are of that mind, and would turn down this appeal to them, then I say that they destroy their whole case. They declare, in effect, that the Parliament would have been justified in resisting, at all hazards, the passing of a measure to impose conscription, and that an appeal to the people by way of an election would result in a Parliament returned against compulsion !

I believe that the people of Australia will carry this referendum by an overwhelming majority. No effort of mine shall be spared to bring that about, and, with the assistance of honorable members on both sides of the House, we shall do it. The submission of the question to the people by way of referendum will not excite that turmoil that surrounds an election, and we shall avoid that outburst of public feeling that would be engendered by an attempt to dragoon the country or the Parliament into compulsion against its will.

What Democrat can oppose our proposal ? What patriot can declare the course to be advocated unnecessary ? The gravity of the position being set out, the duty of Australians being clearly defined, the people are asked to approve of the Government taking the only course by which our duty can be done.

The people are to decide. The proposals of the Government, which I have shown to be adequate to the circumstances, are thus compatible with Democracy. It may happen there will be manifestations of popular disapproval by a section of the community. Last night we had a popular manifestation of disapproval of the proposals of the Government ; but Ministers know their duty, and will have no more regard for the attempt of a section of the people to overawe them by force than they will have for those articles of scurrilous abuse which are now heaped upon them by journals which, twenty-four or forty-eight hours ago, declared they had sunk all party considerations, and were behind the Government. The Government will go on, and it will do its duty; and I charge every man and every woman in this country to do their duty, and assist us in this grave crisis. They may think that what has to be done might have been done in a different way. No doubt; but not in a better way, not in a way that involved no loss of time, and so little friction. Let those who desire the welfare of their country cease from denunciation, from abuse, from factious criticism. Let them support the Government which is charged with the great responsibility of guiding the nation in this hour of trial. Let no one charge the Government with having neglected its duty unless it fails to get the men, and it can only fail to do so if the people fail it; and if the people fail it, God help Australia.

But I am as assured of Australia as I am of myself. Australia "will not fail. The people will have an opportunity of hearing the facts and of expressing their opinion on them clearly.

One word only, and I have done. It is said that the proposals do not reach the right men. If they do not, whom do they reach? There are now available, other than those in camp up to the 9th June, 152,910 fit single men, without dependants, whose ages run from eighteen to forty-four. But the Government, wisely, I think, do not propose to take men under twenty-one years of age.

Honorable MEMBERS.-Hear, hear!


Mr HUGHES - Many of us have sent our own sons who are under twenty-one; but it would have been better if the boys under twenty-one had not been sent. They cannot endure the fatigue, and they do not recover from their wounds as readily as older men. Let us, in this battle, fight, as far as we are able, with grown men. Making a deduction, of which we can only have an estimate, for those between eighteen and twenty-on years of age, we have an ample field to whom we can direct our appeal, and those are the men to whom the appeal is now made, and to whom the provisions of the Defence Act will apply. They are the men we seek to reach, and the men who will be reached. Thus our proposal will reach the right men, and will get them within the right time and with the least possible friction, and at the same time in a way compatible with Democracy. When we have the sanction of the people, we shall have the trained men ready to give effect to it without delay, and to comply with the demands of the Army Council. Australia will have done her duty. It is a duty that presses heavily on all sorts and conditions of men; but it is one that has to be faced. Confronted with difficulties of all kinds, the Government have taken a course that I am satisfied time and consideration will convince the overwhelming majority of the people of the country is the right one ; and I ask every honorable member of the House and every citizen of the Commonwealth to stand behind the Government, encouraging it with their support, and helping it to do its duty. I move -

That the Statement made to the House on Wednesday, 30th August last, showing the Government proposals for obtaining recruits for war service, be printed.

Debate (on motion of Mr. Joseph Cook) adjourned.







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