Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


Prime Minister's Broadcast.

On 24th January, 1942, Mr. Curtin made a national broadcast. He said -

" Men and women of Australia,

"To-day is the anniversary day of the foundation of this nation. For more than a century and a half now, our forebears and ourselves have occupied this continent. They and we have advanced Australia. Our country is now the place of a great people; nurtured in liberty; proud of self-government; resolute and capable in the arts and in industry. Our history is our title to self-respect, to self-confidence. That history is glorified by high physical courage and infinite moral fortitude. It is graced by faith in ourselves and in our work. We, who live here now, owe vastly to those who have gone before. They builded the structure of a united nation. A nation for a continent and a continent for a nation! It was, as they visioned, to be a free nation; it was to be a white nation.

"To-day, we Australians are faced with a war for survival. The enemy thunders at our very gates. We are now inside the fighting lines. Hitherto, our men have fought in distant theatres. On sea and land and in the air our forces have engaged the enemy in Africa, in Greece, in Syria, in Malaya. Our sailors and airmen have shared in the Battles of the Atlantic and in the Battle for Britain. Now war's red course obliges us to fight not only on the battle zones of the total war and at the outer defences of the Commonwealth, but in defence of our own soil and in defence of our women and children living in what hitherto was the peaceful security of their own homes.

"The war has come to Australia. It is the enemy that has done this. Powerful, ruthless, well-prepared as the result of years of planning, he now sends his legions to our doorstep. We, who consistently sprang to assist others in resisting wanton aggression, are now called upon to resist it ourselves. This gauntlet we accept. All we have, all that we are, all we ever hope to be, is being mobilized in total organization to meet war with war, and, by our strength and quality in war, ensure the integrity of our country and the survival of Australian authority in Australia for Australians.

"That means that all of us are now inhabitants of a war station. The old ways of peace are gone. No longer is our way of life attuned to the pursuits of individuals, the practices of business, the getting of a livelihood for one's self. That era has passed. We are now a nation compelled by fate to organize every resource we have as an indispensable contribution to the total war effort of a united people. Inconveniences and dislocations are inevitable. They are less irksome than the enemy's bombing planes or his marauding troops. The choice for all of us is to make some sacrifice for Australia or become a complete sacrifice to the enemy.

"To-day our forces are at their battle stations. The fighting men of Australia are at their posts. Every other Australian has a task to do and the cold fact is that that task simply must be done. Let me state the matter as clearly as I can. Employers' representatives walking out of a conference are in the same category as workmen walking off a job. Of what avail for gallant men to fight if they cannot have all the equipment Australia is capable of giving to them? I said ‘all the equipment', not that part of it which is produced under conditions certain employers like or certain workers may like. What we have done and are doing is not as good as what we can do, should do and must do. Our war potential is vastly greater than our achievement. Therefore, I say to you to-night, that an end has come to the era when any sectional interest in this nation may any longer prejudice the country's capacity to produce the requirements of war. Disputation must give way to decision. It is therefore proper that the Government has formulated the machinery for the control of man-power. Mobility on the home front is just as vital as mobility in the battle lines. We must not only throw all our resources into the battle of production, but we must so direct their use that efficiency, speed and maximum results are assured. I cannot emphasize too strongly the importance the Government attaches to its man-power decisions. They are vital to our very lives. In four tragic words the epitaph is written of most of the peaceful and freedom-loving countries of Europe. Because there was `too little too late', there is neither peace nor freedom in Belgium, in Holland, in Greece, in Norway to-day. Because of ‘too little too late ', the French have neither liberty nor equality; the Serbs are hunted in their own mountains; the Poles, Czechs and Slovenes now know that the only alternatives when freedom is lost is slavery.

"From such bitter lessons the remaining democracies have learned not to do too little; not to be too late. And the first chill fact we face is that neither can be avoided if there is a lax, self-indulgent and complacent spirit in our people. The one sure way to produce enough, and to produce it in time, is to establish the rigid rule: `Defence First'. The only sure way is that both time and materials used in manufacturing peace-time wares be adjusted to defence, and that time and materials at present used for defence be expanded according to the Government's plan. The Government is taking that way, inflexibly and determinedly. And nothing will be permitted to stand against that way - whether it be persons or groups of persons, private-owner or companies, worker or property-owner. That way must be accepted without argument. There must be no qualifications or conditions. If you stop to argue with the Government then you will not be able to argue with the Japanese. It's fight or work. No other course is open to any Australia. The battle for production has to be won as the foundation upon which our fighting forces may win their most terrible of all battles ".

"The civilian is also a combatant. There is no immunity for him or her. I have no doubt that we shall suffer the scars of war and the casualties of the conflict. Let there be order in the community then; keep the factories guarded and going; put responsibility in the first place; observe the black-outs; read carefully what to do in an alert; what to do in a raid; what to do when fires start. Every human being unhurt can help those not so fortunate. Let us be brethren in the face of the common foe. For the people of the democracies are brethren. They have a common purpose and share a common fate.

"Since last I spoke to you, the Government was able to announce the achievement of the unity of command agreement for the south-west Pacific. It is now possible to tell you that negotiations are proceeding whereby Australia, which has its gallant sons in the Australian Imperial Force and the Royal Australian Air Force fighting in Malaya, will have its proper place on the staff which will work with General Sir Archibald Wavell. Occupying as it does a vitally important strategic place in the Pacific war, and having its very existence wrapped up in the outcome of the conflict, from the very outset, Australia has put its views plainly before the British Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill) and President Roosevelt. We have said that Australia's voice shall not only be an effective one but that it shall be heard in a proper place. We have made it clear - not since Rabaul fell - but in the past momentous weeks, that the Australian Government considered the very first duty it owed to the people of the Commonwealth was that Australian affairs should be conducted, and that events should take their course, only after Australia had had its full say in what is, after all, the shaping of our destiny. Those representations have been made to the leaders of the other democracies. They have been completely devoid of ambiguity. They have meant what they said. We have outlined what it is the Australian Government conceives should be the machinery for the shaping of the democracies' strategy.

"The whole philosophy of the way of life for which we are fighting means that in war-time it is more important, even than in peace-time, that consultation as equals should mark the activities, firstly of those charged with the government of a democracy, and, secondly, those jointly represented the several democracies. No single nation can afford to risk its future on the infallibility of one man, and no nation can afford to submerge its right of speaking for itself because of the assumed omniscience of another.

On this Australia Day, with a full realization of what this day means to us, we give regard to the meaning of our nationhood. Our men have shown the stuff of which we are made on many a death-charged battlefield; in many a spine-chilling air battle; on the stormtossed seven seas. Those deeds are our salute to nationhood. We, therefore, claim the right to bring to the collaborating council table the same fighting calibre; the same passionate determination which is our heritage from the past and our possession in the present. The flame of freedom lit in this land by our first settlers, and kept aglow by the generations which followed, is not extinguishable by any enemy. We are the youngest civilization in the oldest continent. On this, our anniversary natal day, I pay tribute to intrepid explorers, hardy pioneers, great citizens, statesmen, industrialists, men and women of the land, heroic warriors, and all those nation building spirits whose works have come down to us. We dedicate ourselves to their noble aspirations. We shall fulfil their hopes, complete their enterprises.

"That is the call I sound to you to-night. We carry on the purpose of Captain James Cook; we maintain the tradition of Captain Arthur Philip. This Australia is for Australians; it is a White Australia, with God's blessing we shall keep it so."

JCPML.  Records of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches by the Prime Minister. No. 16, 19 - 28 January 1942.  JCPML00110/21