Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister



In Parliament. - On 16th December, 1941, Mr. Curtin said -

“We have to face the problem, gigantic as it may be, for a population of our numbers. We must be prepared to put into the war effort everything that we have, and to act with a determination to leave nothing undone which, if done, would contribute to the earlier overcoming of the enemy. The organization of a non-military people for the purposes of complete war must necessarily effect a revolution in the lives of the people. A transformation so great as that which the Government regards as imperative is inevitably beset with many difficulties, and must create many problems. It may even be marked with some degree of confusion. There may be dislocation and disturbance which normally would be the occasion of considerable criticism and much fretfulness. People do not like their routine to be upset, but the enemy has already upset the routine of the nation. Whatever be the inconveniences or losses which the citizens of Australia have to experience as the result of the complete conversion of the nation from the pursuits of peace to those of war, they are as nothing compared with what is at stake.

"I know that, in calling upon the people of Australia to act concertedly, in inviting them to give whatever they can to the service of the central administration, we may rely upon an effective response, because the people will acknowledge that such order and promptness as are necessary to deal with the emergency can be best achieved by obeying the direction of the authorities, rather than by wasting time in fault-finding, criticizing and opposing.

Australian Defence.

"Japan having decided on aggression, the Government has faced the facts. The broad outline of our dispositions follow. I cannot elaborate them further for reasons of public security.

"I shall deal first with naval defence. With the reverses which the American and British Navies have suffered, the deterrent effect to an attempt at invasion of our shores is not as great as it was. Nevertheless, the sea-power of Britain and the United States of America, vis-a-vis the Axis, is still superior, but we have to keep the trade routes of the world open, and this makes greater demands on our naval resources. However, a seaborne operation against Australia and the maintenance of lines of communication could be made extremely hazardous, notwithstanding that ships may not at present be disposed in the best strategical positions to prevent it. British and American seapower is growing, and the position will constantly improve. Insofar as Australia is concerned, we cannot, except for lesser craft, make any contribution to improving our naval defence.

"In regard to land defence, we have authorized a large-scale mobilization of the Army. It is telling nothing to the enemy to say that our peace organization consists of five infantry and two cavalry divisions. With the number of Australian Imperial Force troops in Australia, the increase of ancillary units and the Volunteer Defence Corps, our potential field army organization has been greatly expanded beyond the peace organization. We have commitments to the Australian Imperial Force overseas, and the present position in regard to reinforcements in the Middle East and Malaya is quite satisfactory.

"The Government recognizes no limit on the expansion of the Air Force except our capacity to train men and provide machines for them to fly. We have certain squadrons on service overseas, and are at present in consultation with the United Kingdom Government on the strategical disposition of the Empire's air forces. We are in touch with the Netherlands East Indies and the United States of America Governments on the same subject. Australia has commitments under the Empire Air Scheme which we hope to be able to continue, but the position will be kept constantly under review. I shall refer later to the subject of aircraft.

"In regard to equipment and munitions, a vast programme aiming at the highest possible degree of self-sufficiency has been in hand for some time. Last week, the War Cabinet directed the services to confer with the Munitions Department with a view to achieving an all-round speeding up. There are some objectives which would take longer to achieve than others, and if these are not likely to be realized within a reasonable period, and make a contribution to the immediate needs of Australian defence, it is better not to disperse our resources on them for the time being.

“A revision of programmes is being prepared by all departments with a view to indicating the items to be accelerated, varied, added to or deferred. Many decisions regarding acceleration and addition have already been taken. The Government has laid down the following general conditions to govern the programmes for material supplies:-

(i) They must be in agreement with the Government's policy; (ii) They must make the greatest immediate contribution to Australian defence; (iii) Co-ordination must exist between the proposals of the services, and they mast. be of a corresponding degree of priority; (iv) The expansion and improvement in organization should be actually realized as early as possible, by delivery from overseas or by local manufacture.

"The Government feels that the situation relating to aircraft production requires bold and ruthless action to strengthen our air Defence to the greatest degree possible. The Air Force is an instrument of vital importance to the defence of Australia and the prevention of aggression by sea or air attack. The Government has decided to rank the production of aircraft as a matter of the first degree of priority. If there be production resources which are being used for lesser needs, or which can be better employed, and they are required for aircraft production, any additional powers necessary to divert them will be taken. We intend to expand aircraft production to the maximum that the nation can attain. The administrative machinery for the direction of the aircraft industry to meet this vital situation is being reviewed by the Government.

"In order to achieve defence requirements, the Government will act ruthlessly. Regarding man-power, there are certain absolute requirements for the home defence forces including the defence of adjacent islands - the maximum number of men varying according to the degree or the threat of invasion, which is mainly dependent on the deterrent effect of American and British naval strength in the Pacific Ocean and our own capacity to resist it. There are certain requirements for the maintenance of the Australian Imperial Force overseas; for the continuation of Australia's part in the Empire Air Training Scheme; and for the provision of ground personnel for infiltrated Royal Australian Air Force squadrons under the latter scheme. The governing considerations are the demands of the Army and Air Force for home defence, and the capacity to convoy forces safely overseas. In addition to the absolute numbers required for the foregoing, there are also the classes in which these numbers are needed, insofar as they have relation to the list of reserved occupations, and the requirements of munitions production, and other essential industries and services. The man-power position can be supplemented to the extent to which it is possible to employ women in the services for the relief of men, and to make good the shortage of men in industry, as well as meeting the need in industry, for those classes of labour which can best be performed by women.

"The logical steps to an exact understanding of the man-power position are the determination by the Department of War Organization of Industry of the man-power requirements for war production and essential civil requirements, having regard to the classified man-power demands of the services and the steps necessary for the diversion of man-power from non-essential to essential purposes. The latter will be achieved by restriction of production and consumption, and by administrative measures through the agency of the Man-power Priorities Board in regard to the maintenance of a register of protected establishments; the classification of non-protected establishments into essential and non-essential industries; and the review of the list of reserved occupations.

"Regarding the development of productive capacity, the Department of Munitions and Aircraft Production have been directed to indicate -

(1) The objectives of productive capacity at which they are aiming in their programmes; (2) the stage of the programme now reached; and (3) the measures recommended in respect of the following in order to complete the productive capacity in (1) as soon as possible:- Man-power, material, machinery and equipment.

"Similar directions have been given in respect of production output to meet the target figures laid down by the services.

"Except in cases where the remedial action is within the capacity of the Department of Munitions or Aircraft Production, the Production Executive will submit its recommendations for giving effect to the measures which it considers should be undertaken. Simultaneously with the report of the Production Executive, the Financial and Economic Committee is to submit a report on the economic effects of the Production Executive's recommendations, particularly in respect of the national income and the proportion that would be diverted to the war effort by the recommendations made.

"The Government acknowledges the loyal and devoted service that it has received from officers engaged on the war effort; but should any changes be indicated to be necessary, Cabinet will not hesitate to make them. As all members will agree, the public good must override individual interests.

Concert with Allies.

"Three things, I think, transcend all others. First, the most effective way in which to overcome the enemy is by joint action with our Allies using the resources of each in such a manner as to achieve the greatest and strongest possible effort. Therefore, representatives abroad are being constantly informed of the views of the Australian Government. The Government intends that staff consultations now proceeding at Singapore should, if the requisite mutual arrangements can be made, be developed to a higher plane so that there can be on the part of the countries engaged in the Pacific, a maximum degree of collaboration and of concert. In this respect, the recent visit of Mr. Duff Cooper has enabled the Commonwealth Government and, I think I may say, the leaders of the Opposition parties, to know the extent to which it is practicable to have direct contact with the conduct of the war in the Pacific.

Commonwealth and States.

"The second thing I have to say is that, while there are some things which Australia will need to get from our Allies, it is none the less true that the greatest measure of contribution to the strength of Australia to resist and to give the best that we can give to these who are with us in this struggle must come from our own efforts and by the maximum degree of self-reliance. Apart from the interest we have in the common struggle, we have also at stake the integrity of our own soil and the safety of our own people. The aspect of the safety of the civil population has been under review. Cabinet has directed the Minister for Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini) to delegate to each premier, as his representative, a wide measure of responsibility and function. The requisite financial provision has been made so that a great part of the necessary work can be immediately set going.

"There is the political difficulty of a number of Governments. I am confident that constitutional limitations will be set aside. The Governments of the States and the Commonwealth together share the task of transforming this nation from peace activity to war organization. I know not what the fortunes of Australia will be in the weeks months and years that lie ahead, but I am confident that the political machinery and administrative services, the fighting forces and the labouring classes of this country to-day stand united.

"Never Shall an Enemy…”

"The third thing is that more than 150 years this country has stood. Never shall an enemy set foot upon the soil of this country without having at once arrayed against it the whole of the manhood of this nation with such strength and quality that this nation will remain for ever the home of sons of Britishers who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race. Our law have proclaimed the standard of a White Australia. We did not intend that to be and it never was an affront to other races. It was devised for economic and sound humane reasons. It was not challenged for 40 years. We intend to keep it, because we know it to be desirable. If we were to depart from it we should do so only as the result of free consent, not because it was sought to be taken from us by armed aggression."

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, p15-19.   JCPML00110/16