Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


“Men and women of Australia,

“Force rules the world still. Indeed the grim god of war streaks with bloody fingers the pattern of our lives; all our lives, your life and mine. There is nothing that anybody can do until this struggle has ended, which will emancipate him or her from participation if not in the actual fighting then in the consequences of the actual fighting. There is no place of escape for the people of this country or the people of any country until an absolute decision has been reached in this, the most terrible and, indeed, the most crucial struggle since man's history commenced. And because war's fingers streak for us the pattern of our lives and as there is no escape on our part from the consequences of war, the sensible thing, as well as the patriotic thing, is to adapt ourselves with the maximum of capacity and of service to those purposes which will bring the war to the earliest as well as to the most complete decision.

“Nations, it is true, are joined in battle but nations consist of people just like those of us who are assembled in this building this afternoon, the counterparts of which are to be found in all the places where Australians dwell; in the city, in the town, on the countryside, camped by a river, anywhere. Each and every Australian by the decree of fate is involved in the fate of his or her country; is involved in what happens to the fighting men who go forth, at the call of duty, to meet the aggressor in those places where the resources of the united nations are equal to moving him and the equipment that he needs. The equipment that he needs has to be produced in factories and in workshops and the labour time demanded for its production, the raw materials required for its fabrication are the same kind of raw materials involving, probably the same number of labour-time hours which go to the meeting of the average daily requirements of ourselves who stay at home. Everything we consume is, in fact, competing against the things which the fighting men need on the fighting front. The Army needs bread, the more bread the civil population consumes then the greater the strain upon the resources of flour production, the resources of baking in the various establishments. The Army needs meat; the Army needs clothing. The more clothes the civilian population uses the more the requirements of the raw material upon which the production is founded. Clothes for the population can be produced only by a lessening of the capacity of the nation to supply clothes for the fighting forces.

“The hospitals required to succour the wounded, to treat the sick, whose wounds and whose sickness are the consequence of actual fighting, are the hospitals which have to be built unless we can find room in the hospitals already built. Every sick man of the civilian population is taking a bed which a soldier could use or is making necessary the finding of a bed and the erection of a ward and the provision of doctors and nurses. Therefore, this population ought not to be sick if it is possible for it to avoid being sick.

“I put these things to you in their stark simplicity. Everything you eat and drink, everything you wear, every demand you make upon the service of your fellowmen is a service which your fellowmen could render to the fighting services if you did not make the demand upon them. Therefore, the spending capacity of this country must be organized. It must be directed. It must be subjected to discipline. The people who are being protected owe it to those who protect them that every act shall be so directed as to be a reinforcement to the protectors, not a subtraction from the capacity of the nation to make them strong. Therefore, your money is required to pay for guns, to pay for munitions, to pay for supplies, to pay the charterage upon ships to convey them, to meet all the financial costs of the war; costs so great that never before in history have they been approached, let alone paralleled.

"We not only need the money to pay the men who work and who serve and to meet the weekly outlay involved in succouring and in sustaining their dependants but we also need it so it will not be in competition with war essentials; so it will not be wasted in stupidity and in folly - economically bad in themselves but morally detrimental to the fighting morale of the nation.

"Basically it is man-power that wages war. It is human beings who make up the strength of a nation. Men go forth to battle. Men go to the factory; men work upon wharfs. Women have come in with their industry to make the total result greater than it otherwise would be, to substitute for men in a thousand places so that men may be released for the physical combat itself. And is not it important that the quality of the men and women of this country shall be as high as we can make it, as you can secure it? For the difference between one man and the number of men is a difference of numbers, but when it comes to equality of numbers, the difference then is expressed in the quality of the respective groups. Wastage of economic resources, wastage of physical attributes, the failure to use constantly and unremittingly the best quality that is in you is itself a deprivation to this nation in the hour of its deadly peril.

“So the Government makes no apology for imposing, insofar as imposition is necessary, what is called austerity upon the Australian public. We have to do better in time of war than we ever did in time of peace. We have to behave more co-operatively. We have to evidence in our individual lives that we recognize clearly how grave is the issue. For my part, and from the stand-point of the commanders, it must be clear to the civil population that just as war dictates the pattern of our lives - whether we like it or not - so the very discipline which the Army imposes upon itself, in order that it may be an efficient army, is a lesson for the civil population as well.

“There are cankers in this community. They consist of the abuse of one's personal resources, including physical attributes. Waste your money and that money goes somewhere where it becomes a competitor with the money of the Government. It excites demands, as I have said, which cannot be satisfied now except by depriving essential services for the war of the strength they otherwise would have.

“Furthermore, you are unable to store up anything for the day when it is possible to give you useful return for the money that you now have given to you. There is not an idle man in Australia to-day. I have lived for years in this country and been stricken do the heart by the thousands of men and women who had no money because they had no work and because poverty, gaunt and terrible, was ravaging the strength of our nation. But to-day there is no idleness on the part of those who are physically fitted to be usefully engaged and every person who is capable of doing anything will be paid something for doing it. But it is asked that, as that payment is measured by terms that are considered fair and reasonable - on the whole, anyway, that is the dictum that we put forward - then if it is not fair well, it can be re-assessed. As there is a payment going out from the nation to the citizens as individuals then the individuals, as citizens, have to see to it that they regard themselves as trustees of the resources of this nation at a time when the nation is being called on to defend itself against the most terrible enemy that has ever confronted us or confronted our allies. “We are part of one great nation, but our nation is part of a great group of nations all struggling for the same cause, all obliged to make the same sacrifice, all compelled to subject themselves to the same deprivation, all compelled by the sheer ferocity of the struggle to leave nothing undone that would make that struggle shorter. Therefore, they must marshal all their resources, mobilize everything they have and they cannot afford to be distracted by those things, which are weakening to the body politic and distracting to the administration, which reach forth to the front line and have an inevitable effect upon the strength of the front line. What is the front line? It is a place where fighting men must have there - very long distances from where they are produced -aeroplanes, guns and tanks, veritable mobile arsenals, servicing and repair depots, fitters and engineers, as well as the men with bombs in their hands, rifles at their shoulders and tommy guns at their hips.

“We have to transfer so much of the industrial capacity of the great cities to the frontline. The problems of transport are colossal. The enemy knows that and he is constantly at war with our capacity to ship things and to convoy them. Everything you require - if you spend your money on it as indulgently as you think you are entitled to spend - may involve bringing something from some other country. Every gallon of petrol that you waste is an example in point. And every hour that you run your tyres when you don't have to is another example in point. The Army needs tyres, so does the Air Force need tyres and gasoline. My friends, I put it to you in all its naked urgency. You can't have men strong 2,000 miles away if you are consuming the substance which they require. And who are these men? They are your brothers. They are your kith and kin. They are your fellow citizens. They are engaging in an adventure in which the answer all too often is that they give the `last measure of devotion' to their country and do not return. And the country lives on and endures as the result of the sacrifice they have made. You cannot let men down of that calibre! And you do let them down every minute and every hour that you are engaged negligently and thoughtlessly consuming things that are vital to their success.

“Therefore this £100,000,000 austerity loan, which I now officially open in the name of the Australian nation, is a campaign to raise £100,000,000 of money which the Government needs, and which it will get, it believes, as the result of the candid recognition of the Australian public that the money ought to be paid by the public. It will get it, not only for that reason, but it will also get it because the people of Australia, like the people of Britain, like the people of the United States, like the people of China, like the people of Russia, know -and I am positive you know - that only by the very utmost of our exertions will we develop the strength requisite to overcome the enemy.

“We are getting stronger. Even the most uninformed person can feel a sense of confidence as the result of the rebuffs and the repulses that the enemy has suffered in the last three months in all the theatres of war. Nowhere, within the last three months, has the initial momentum of his offensive been maintained. The democracies, the Governments and the peoples of the united nations, as I have said, knowing they must mobilize their maximum strength, are mobilizing it. They have been slower than we had hoped. There have been difficulties which we did not foresee. Problems have arisen, they are being met. But gradually and certainly, strength, the very maximum strength of all the nations constituting the united nations, is now being invoked.

“Australia has the challenge to meet. Nothing short of our very utmost will be a satisfactory answer. This is a country whose shores to-day, in certain parts, are places of actual assault by the enemy, who would land there if he could and, having landed, establish for himself his air bases and then proceed, step by step, to conquer the whole territory of this Commonwealth. He cannot come any further south than he has reached. He is gradually being forced to a reconsideration of the use of his fighting forces - his army, his navy and his air power. But that has taken time. It has required many sacrifices. We have not yet commenced to take the offensive. That is to say, we have not yet been able to drive him back so far that he will be running back home. That stage has to be reached. The men who marched through here to-day, they have comrades of theirs who are locked up in Malaya. The United States forces have comrades locked up in the Philippines. Those men, they have to be restored to freedom. It is going to be a long struggle, it is going to be a hard struggle. But as Byron said -

‘We are triumphant while we still defy, We defy the enemy, we are about to conquer him'.

“The programme is one in which there is not a man or a woman who has not a task to do, who has not a service that can be rendered. Give up waste, give up futile consumption, do not destroy your health by excessive drinking, by gambling unnecessarily! Devote yourself to the task of war! You who call yourself a civilian, you are at war! The test on the civil life most certainly is how it comports itself under the shadow of the sword. War will come to you unless you see to it that the forces far away meeting it are strong enough to overcome it. You may make them stronger than they are to-day. It ought to be a crime to make them weaker than they are! And every demoralizing practice that you have, you have got to put an end to it. You have to do better as a people for your nation than you have ever done before, and it is my conviction that no man can do better for his nation without doing better for himself. And better for yourself, better for your country, better for the soldiers, that you give every shilling that you can spare for the Government to spend on guns, torpedoes and ships than waste it on buying unnecessary food, clothes or other things that you could quite reasonably go without.

"Be frugal, for in the front lines there are times when it is impossible to provide for the troops even a full ration of food. They put up with that as being an inevitable exigency of war. They do not moan about it. Neither must you moan about it. You have to glorify the nation, glorify the service that you render to make this £100,000,000 loan programme a complete success.

“Let it be proclaimed to the world that of their free and unfettered consent the people of this nation gave to the Government the largest sum the people have ever been asked to give before, but that you gave it because of the large issues that are at stake and also because of the large contribution that this country is making and will continue to make towards the cause of civilization and freedom itself."

JCPML.  Records of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches by the Prime Minister. No. 45, 6 October - 13 November 1942.  JCPML00110/50