Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Leader of the Opposition



Mr. Curtin on A.L.P. Decisions.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) made a National broadcast on June 30. A summary of his address is given:

"........ It had been our hope that, in this period of civilisation, every country could concentrate on the improvement of social conditions in order to uplift the standard of life of the masses. Germany has wantonly called a halt to that possibility. Germany has invaded the right of civilised people to govern themselves. Germany menaces everything that any Australian political party, whatever its platform, has ever stood for. Germany menaces the whole tradition of our country; every ideal, every hope and every aspiration the Australian Labour Party entertains in respect to the wellbeing of our country.

"You will have noted the recent declaration of the Commonwealth Labour Conference - the vitally important decisions of that Conference ....... Here, then, is what the specially-summoned Conference of the Australian Labour Party laid down as the policy for Labour in regard to the war:-

"'Having regard to the gravity of the world situation and the imminent danger to the Commonwealth of Australia, the Empire and the Allies, this Conference of the Australian Labour Party definitely declares as its policy:

1. Complete and indissoluble unity with the Allies in the war.

2. The entire resources of Australia (which include all productive and financial organizations) to be under the control of the Commonwealth Government for national service in the urgent and adequate defence of Australia and the prosecution of the war.

3. That to ensure maximum productive efforts, all idle employable labour shall be absorbed in industry.

4. Speeding up our war and other services on a planned scale, aiming at the highest efficiency and the most economic use of the resources at our command.

5. National training for defence in terms of the existing Defence Act to be maintained on the highest basis of efficiency, and provision for an adequate system of physical training throughout Australia. Complete participation in the Empire Air Scheme. Necessary provisions for reinforcement of the A.I.F. divisions, the extent of European participation by volunteer army to be determined by circumstances as they arise; having regard to the paramount necessity of Australia's defence.

6. Full recognition of trades unions, safeguarding industrial standards and the participation by labour organisations in the successful organisation of the nation.

7. An excess war profits tax of 100 per cent.

This Conference is firmly convinced that Australia can be united on these principles and calls to Australia to stand together in resisting aggression from any source; to bear willingly any burden that may be imposed in the interests of Australia's security and to demonstrate to the Empire and its Allies that we shall not be found wanting in the struggle for human liberty.

Unity in Effort.

"Let me repeat here two phases from that declaration. One is: 'That Australia can be united on these principles.' The other is: That we of the Labour Party 'shall not be found wanting in the struggle for human liberty.'

"A united Australia is imperative. The collaboration of Labour in that unity is also imperative. For it is the very essence of Labour's contribution to that policy that this nation could carry on without great vested interests. It could carry on without a profit-making society. It could carry on without those whose sole purpose is the exploitation of the people. But it could not carry on without the strength and purpose of Labour being integrated in the structure of Australia's war effort as a nation.

"Labour has a right in any Governmental plan to insist on being treated fairly. Draconian decrees can easily defeat themselves, but consultation and agreement and co-operation would achieve the maximum of success. I say to the Government that the power it possesses is so absolute that its wise exercise can be best accomplished by ensuring that the maximum of civil liberty will be preserved, commensurate with our safety, a matter of principle, be respected. It is for this reason that I have urged the trades unions to constitute Conciliation Committees to adjust differences. It is very desirable that the Prime Minister's declaration to the Parliament in this connection should be backed by a procedure that will assure to the great mass of trades unionists that the assurances given by him are supported by realities.

"Our very existence in the balance."

"It is clear to all that, in the last few weeks, the dangers to Australia, have increased in an extraordinary way. Whatever were our fears last September; whatever were our conjectures of future happenings after Germany had overrun Belgium and France, the stark fact faces us to-day that our very existence is in the balance.

"We have reached a stage in our history when only one consideration must be taken into account, a consideration which rises paramountly over every other aspect of the life of the country as we have known it - the consideration of assuring the safety of the country against an imminent danger.

"It would be folly amounting to madness for Australia to assume that it is immune from any course the war may yet take. Every part of the British Commonwealth of Nations is a target for the enemy. That there exists potentialities of increased support to the enemy must be obvious even to the most obtuse. There has not been, and is not yet, any final alignment of the warring forces. I speak here with caution, but also with knowledge and conviction. When I say that our country faces an imminent danger I mean it.

National War Council.

"Another decision reached by the Commonwealth Labour Conference reads as follows:

"In order to implement effectively the policy agreed upon by Conference and to achieve and maintain the maximum of national unity and to ensure the preservation of the utmost degree of civil liberty consistent with the conduct of the war, this Conference declares

(1) That Parliament should be regularly consulted.

(2) That the Labour Party should maintain its integral identity in the people's interests.

(3) That a National War Council, including representatives of Labour, should be established to advise the Government in respect to the conduct of the war and in preparing for the post-war reconstruction.

"The idea behind such a National War Council is not that that it shall be a super-government; not that it shall duplicate the work of the War Cabinet and, thereby, prolong the making of decisions but that it should, in effect, lubricate the machinery of our national effort ,,,..

The Workers' Task.

"The lessons of this war are undeniable. Factories and workers have to ensure equipment for troops. Partly-armed or inefficiently-armed forces are given an unequal chance. In the time left to us, a maximum acceleration of production in aircraft, munitions and equipment in general is demanded as the very foundation of fighting strength. The employment Australia failed to give to all in the piping times of peace is now a stern and imperative necessity of our expanded programme of defence for the nation.

"In this task, Labour offers its undoubted competence as an aid to the Government. Hence our proposal for a National War Council.

"Labour gives a lead to Australians to stand together. That lead is the way to life itself as we have known it and, by preserving that, to a progress involving all that we have ever hoped for or can hope for.

"Australia and Labour; Labour and Australia. The words are synonymous. Let us, the workers of this country, set our hands now to the task of preserving both."