Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Leader of the Opposition



Willingness to meet the Prime Minister (Mr R.G. Menzies) was expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr J. Curtin) in an address at the annual meeting of the W.A.N. Chamber of Manufactures on Monday, 30th September. "I shall go away, probably this week," said Mr Curtin, "because Mr Menzies has asked me to meet him. I shall with the utmost expedition place myself at his disposal. (Loud applause) That state of affairs has existed ever since the war broke out. I do not know what Mr Menzies wants to say to me. I am not concerned with political parties in this struggle. All I am concerned with is that, when the war is over, our sons and daughters can decide their own political alignments."

Referring to the need for national unity, Mr Curtin said that the demands of the times made it essential that everything possible should be done to ensure the safety of the Empire and its dependencies. There never had been anything but unity in Parliament and the political life of this country, with respect to the conduct of the war and the purposes for which we were engaged, in the war. Whomever he presumed to speak for that night, he could say authoritatively that they would give their utmost and their very all to ensure that the struggle was fought to a successful end. (Applause). There had never been any quibble about that, though there had been misunderstanding.

"I know of nothing that the Government of Australia has asked Parliament to do that Parliament has not done," Mr Curtin proceeded. "I know of nothing that the executive of this nation has asked of responsible bodies in Australia which the employers and the employees have not been ready to do. If there is in this country some failure to realise what has been accomplished, it is simply because those who have had the largest responsibility have been, because of the very nature of their responsibilities, unable to state fully all that has been done. The Government has done its utmost. There has been no discordant criticism of the Government. It has been helped, and it has been given the value of useful suggestion. It would be bad for Australia if there were not in Parliament, as representatives of the people those who were in a position to ask questions, to get statements within the limits of public safety, and to ensure that the Government was adequately and competently dealing with the problems to be tackled as part of the mechanics of our war struggle.

"The election came as a result of the march of the calendar. It may be true that Mr Menzies was considering proposals that, if it became impossible to have an election, the requisite reserve power would exist to enable Parliament to continue to function. I happen to belong to the only party in Parliament that never gave a decision on that matter. The Prime Minister never announced any such decision, but the Deputy-Prime Minister made it impossible for the proposal of that reserve power to be considered, even by the Government itself.

"Must Behave as Brethren."

"Nobody in Australia can have any illusions as to the deadlines of the struggle in which we are engaged. We are faced with an alignment of forces so formidable that every point of the Empire becomes a target of potential attack. We must behave as brethren engaged in a common cause. That national unity has never been in doubt, and it is imperative that it be maintained; but for that it is necessary that the sections who feel that the share of burden laid upon them is unfair shall not be deprived of the right to state their grievances. The essence of national unity is an assurance that injustice will not be practised.

"This chamber feels that there has not been the fairest distribution of the requirements of Australia in servicing the various fighting forces. Is it not well that the Government should not be in a position to thrust aside a feeling that better arrangements could be made? Don't sink your free system of government, with the rights of the people to be represented as they think proper. The Government must be all the time answerable to the people. To get national unity it is not necessary to suppress opposition. If there is to be a sinking of political principles, they must be sunk by every party. The questions of what is to be done with contracts, how the war shall be financed, what is to be done for the primary producers and employees, the treatment for the men in the fighting forces, and the provision for their families – all these problems are part of the mechanism of our effort. Those things have to be answered.