Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


“Ladies and gentlemen, to-night you have heard of the evolution of democracy and the establishment and strengthening of the sovereignty of the parliamentary system. What you have heard has been the story, most shortly put in the words of Lincoln, of `government by the people, of the people, for the people.' It has been an evolution marked by much struggle, much sacrifice and a great deal of personal self-abnegation on the part of a valiant army of very great men and women who, through the centuries strove for the common good of the people. Theirs was no easy task. In the first place, even the masses whose lot they sought to improve regarded them as dreamers, as dangerous agitators and even as seekers after personal power. Many of those who espoused the cause of democracy had to leave their own homes and seek other soils in which to plant the seed of democratic thought and ideals. Australia benefited greatly by those men and we can be grateful in no small measure to many of them who came here to find in this new land the freedom of thought, word and deed denied to them in the places they had left.

"To-day, seven centuries after Magna Charta, we are faced with the necessity to defend all that was won in the struggle for human liberty commenced on that historic day at Runnymede. Part of what we have won is evidenced this evening as I speak to you. The Prime Minister of Australia, whoever he may be, holds that office only by the will of the people's representatives. Only an enemy can abrogate the right you have to elect the Parliament and control the Government. That is the kernel of our cause against the enemy. If that right be lost, then all be lost. If we lose freedom, we are plunged into an abyss of misery and hardship known only to the conquered races. This Australia has never known the conqueror's heel. In 150 years, an enemy has never yet set foot on our soil. I ask you, therefore, to give earnest regard to what would ensue were the enemy to land here. That must be your day-to-day thought. Implicit in life itself is our way of life. You can lose your life to an enemy, but what is life if it be not free? Australia calls to you to devote your way of life to saving the free life of Australia.

“During the current sittings of Parliament I have said, as plainly as I can, what is Australia's position in the global war that has smashed through all geographical limitations and has encompassed mankind. We have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, the protection that membership of the United Nations confers upon us; but equally we must share the perils. That involves not only receiving the allocations made to us from the common pool of the United Nations' resources but also making our contribution as a fighting, productive nation. Our primary concern is the Pacific theatre and the Australian Government has always given the fullest weight to the assertion that it is a theatre which must be given fullest recognition and not regarded merely as a segment of the struggle against the Axis. But, just as the Pacific is a major theatre of war, so also are the Middle East, Russia and China major theatres of war. The common pool from which those four theatres must be served is limited by the ability of the United Nations to bring their full potential productivity into reality and by the tremendous problem of shipping which, every day, becomes more acute as the relentless battle of transportation goes on.

“Australia, therefore, has the task of holding the enemy until the potential becomes the reality and we can strike with all the punching power of the United Nations. Until that day comes, we must hang grimly on. And we are hanging on for, I remind you as a comfort to our friends and as a defiance to our enemy, that it is seven months since Singapore fell and the enemy has not progressed beyond Rabaul. He strikes now at Port Moresby. We are staging there a holding fight, and we must hold there and hold wherever else the enemy strikes at us for a period which I have stated will be at least six months. Holding on will be a grim business. It should be a silent business. Fighting men fight, they don't talk. All the theories of arm-chair strategy will not advance our men in New Guinea, one yard, nor throw the enemy back one yard. I have told the Parliament that plans for the campaign in New Guinea have been in effect for some time and that they are being carried out. But, in the full consciousness of the responsibilities imposed upon me, I am not going to make our fighting men in New Guinea mere “suicide squads" for the sole purpose of satisfying talkative arm-chair strategists. The Australian fighting men in New Guinea will hold on and the Australian Government will, to the very utmost of its capacity, give to them the means of holding on.

“Beyond that, I have only this to say: During its twelve months of office, the Government brought to Australia from the Philippines General Douglas MacArthur and from the Middle East it brought General Sir Thomas Blamey. They were entrusted with the command of our fighting forces in this theatre and the Australian Government has complete trust in them. I tell the Australian people that the commanders are discharging a soldier's duty and keeping the soldier's pledge. In the performance of that duty, they carry a terrible burden. The lightening of that burden can come only by the certain knowledge, that they should have, that the nation is behind them in man-power, in money and in materials. It is the task of the commanders to hold on, a task all the more difficult because no fighting man likes being on the defensive. They are holding on; the men in New Guinea are holding on; the men of the Air Force are holding on with far below the numbers and fighting power of aircraft they would like to have; the men of the Royal Australian Navy are holding on while mourning the Sydney, the Perth and the Canberra.

“Are you holding on, or are you giving way to the cankers of slackness, of luxury spending; of absenteeism, of profit-making? This Government has made decision after decision aimed at those cankers and it will make more decisions until those persons who still think this is a war of smart uniforms and gay banners; of opportunities for making more money, of disputations about whether this or that should be done are brought fully to the realization of what winning victory in total war involves.

“When last I spoke to you it was to inaugurate the austerity campaign. The Government was fully determined to carry through that campaign so that the war way of life would be imposed on all. And if, for any reason, it might have been considered advisable to lessen the rigors of the austerity campaign then the Government was fortified by what has been seen of the fighting in New Guinea. I commend you to a motion picture made by the Department of Information and entitled Kokoda Front Line. There you will see what war in all its starkness means to our fighting men. There you will see your fellow Australians fighting for you - not in smart uniforms, waving flags, not making profits or haggling about time off, but stripped for war, grimly holding with their flesh and blood, their sinews and mind, the enemy from overwhelming you.

“I said they were `stripped for war' and this nation must strip itself for war. It must put aside its peace-time habits and customs and privileges and in the terms of the austerity campaign adopt a way of life that will rigorously and without embellishment enable everything that is life to be conducted on a strict war footing. By so doing, the resources formerly expended can become available for war purposes. The £100,000,000 loan is now open. It is the largest single loan ever placed before the people for subscription. In the name of our fighting men, I ask that the loan be over-subscribed. You can make your application now at any money order post office or bank. Give now for your country, for upon our ability to gather our resources now will depend our strength in the future.

"As I have said, a period of not less than six months has been placed upon the span between our position to-day and a situation in which, should events be favorable to the cause of the United Nations, we can look forward to an accretion of strength that will enable us to start the march that, once started, must go on unhalted to victory. Six months is but a day in the vastness of time. But, I warn you, in a day all that has come to us, in the centuries since Magna Charta, can pass! The test of our title to nationhood is upon us. From the builders of our free nation we hold in trust a solemn heritage, given to its under Divine guidance, for our inheritors - our children and our children's children. Remember, if we go down our children go down with us. Defeat means our sale into bondage, complete and absolute, with all the horrors of physical and mental degradation. As a nation we fight for survival, as individuals we fight for the right to be individuals with unshackled minds and free bodies. Our cause is the cause of human liberty. Men and women of Australia, that cause must and shall triumph so that this, the youngest nation in an old world, can work out its own destiny and the halls of time echo the resounding march of a people towards a greater freedom, a truer liberty, a more splendid way of life."

JCPML.  Records of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches by the Prime Minister. No. 44, 25 September - 5 October 1942.  JCPML00110/49