Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister



On 11th December, 1941, at a luncheon given by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, at which a cheque for £5,000 was presented to the Government, Mr. Curtin said -

"This is a magnificent contribution. It is typical of Australia that so large and useful a measure of assistance should be given. The men


of the fighting forces need and deserve that each of us should make some contribution ourselves towards their physical fitness - and it should be made as a result of some personal sacrifice on our part. This has become a sheer national necessity. What the men overseas have done and are doing, every man and woman in Australia is now called upon to do.

"It is the determination of this nation that the Royal Australian Navy shall not only be maintained and strengthened, but also that its high and honorable traditions shall remain for ever imperishable in the annals of the war. Therefore, the Government is seeking to replace H.M.A.S. Sydney as early as possible, not only as a valuable ship, but also to keep in holy memory the men who, on the Australian station, put themselves between this country and those who were assailing it.

"The Army and the Air Force have been engaged in various theatres for a considerable time. These three forces are fed by the manhood of this country. This war depends on the use of weapons, as measured by the actual strength of the fighting forces. This nation, from this hours onwards, in view of what has happened since the war began, and particularly in view of what has occurred this week, has more than at any time in its life to link fighting power and equipment in so complete a unity that our very life stands as a result.

"I put it to Australia that every citizen has to so relate his or her activity as to enable maximum concentration by the country upon the production of things for the purposes of the war and on their use by the fighting men of this country.

"There has been appeal after appeal to the people of Australia to do their utmost, but no longer can the responsible Government of Australia rest the safety of this country upon appeals to the multitude. The Government must make the decisions, and when they are made I put it to you, with all the solemnity of my high office in a time of great trial, there must be no argument about the wisdom of those decisions. There must be a ready and immediate acceptance of them.

"These decisions will be made by the Government after consultation with, and in association with, the representative leaders of the Opposition parties in the Parliament. Ever since the war began, in the Parliament of this country, on the major questions associated with the conduct of the war we have had not only a united Parliament but also a united country. I propose to act on that foundation. This morning the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) in a way that was most generous - and which has been characteristic of the way the Opposition has behaved and the Government has behaved, no matter which party, since the hour that war struck, provided the Opposition and the Government -offered his support as a determination on the part of representative leaders in the Parliament to correlate their work so that, by joint endeavour, they can get the maximum of result.


"Having regard to the present necessity I say that, as the very integrity of this nation is at stake; as the security of its people is involved; as the whole future sovereignty of its territory for Australian people is an issue; there can be no subordinating of these paramount, these over-riding, considerations to the satisfying of individual or sectional grievances.

"I am not without opinions in respect to the relations of labour and capital. I have asked that differences should be composed by discussion and negotiation. I say to the people of Australia I cannot wait upon debate. There will be governmental decisions where these decisions are called for. Whether it be employers or employees, this group or that group of citizens, the choice must be made of loyal acceptance of the authority of a freely-elected Parliament. The Government formed in that Parliament accepts responsibility in total of what is meant by governing the country in time of war.

"I have no doubt that, in saying these things, I shall be accused of trespassing on the rights and privileges of the people of Australia. On the contrary, the people of this country believe that, by conduct of this nature, their rights and liberties can best be secured to them.

"Many and complicated organizations will have to be invoked to get the most effective economic plan going so that we can release, not a few men, but the utmost number of men for service in the fighting forces; in the munitions factories; in the transport system ; in those activities which, in their total, mean war activity.

"No man should drive a car for the purpose of pleasure. Not one gallon of petrol must be wasted, or one ton of coal misused. If to-night, or to-morrow night, I see a repetition of what I saw last night a vast glow in the sky of this capital - or if I hear of it in other capital cities it will stop thereafter as a result of decisions the Government will make. We have still time left to organize these things. Common sense has to take the place of theories and elaborate formulae.

"The enemy does not send you a document; he does not spend hours and days and weeks deducting how it would apply; what measures should be applied; and the special adjustments to meet each ease. The enemy has taken a long pre-view - not how to maintain in war the practices of peace, but how in peace-time to prepare their nations for the purposes of war. We start late, probably behind scratch. Whatever be the effort demanded of us; whatever the discipline we must accept; whatever the degree of loyalty we must generously give; the British race and its sons and daughters have never been inferior in those practices which are the essence of patriotism to any other race in the world.

"This Government, this Parliament and this country accept the realities of the situation. We shall not dwell one single hour in wishful thinking or leave ourselves with illusions. We know how ruthless the enemy is; how powerful his preparations have made him; how formidable is the conflict into which we have been thrust. We shall so


shape ourselves as to match the enemy gun for gun, bomb for bomb, tank for tank, ship for ship, plane for plane - and having them then, man for man, will most assuredly give us victory.

"To-day the war rages in Australian waters; the enemy is seeking the earliest possible hour in which he can set foot on our soil. What our men have done for us and fellow-Britons thousands of miles away, they will do equally well, possible for a longer period and with greater tenacity, in defence of their own soil, our institutions, their wives and daughters and sisters.

"To-day I call this nation not only to high and honorable endeavour, but also to heroic deeds. For endeavour and deeds, faith and work, will keep this nation free!"

JCPML.  Records of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches by the Prime Minister. No. 11, 8 - 16 December 1941, p4.   JCPML00110/16