Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


“I regret to say that for the last eight weeks at least, owing to the operations of our valorous soldiers in New Guinea, there has developed a false sense of complacency in this land. We stand to-day in as grave a danger as we ever did stand in the war against Japan.

"The fact is, as the House knows, that the amount of strength which can be allocated to this theatre from other places has serious limitations imposed upon it. Those limitations are not due to a lack of goodwill towards this theatre. They are limitations arising from the very nature of the struggle. There are other theatres which have very great importance in the global conflict. They all have their problems of supply. It is true that there is a great pool of resources available to the United Nations, but there are almost overwhelming problems to be solved in order that that great capacity can be drawn from where it is produced to where it can be disposed against the enemy. Therefore, there are definite limits upon the amount of aid that can come to this theatre, just as the struggle in this theatre must impose definite limitations upon the aid which this country can render in other theatres. As a consequence, the primary responsibility for the defence of this country devolves upon the people of Australia. We have no title to ask for aid here at the expense of other allies or which may involve a lessening of the strength available in other theatres, unless we have a clear title and that clear title is the demonstration that we have at least used all we are capable of using. There must be no impairment of our efforts. There must be no minus factor of the contribution that we make, because, basically, that contribution is entirely directed, at the present stage of the war at any rate, to the preservation of our own country.

"Therefore, it would appear to me that it is necessary for the Parliament to realize that there can be no relaxation of the pressure which the Government must impose upon the whole community in order that we may maintain and, if possible, even increase the strength that we have developed. I am not able to say to anybody that there can be any lessening of the obligations that the Government considers are the minimum that it ought to impose upon the people having regard to all that is at stake.

“There are four phases of last year's struggle, any one of which can recur. There was the Battle of the Coral Sea, there were the two battles of the Solomons, there was the Battle of Midway, and there has been the battle for New Guinea. The enemy was not successful in carrying out his projects in those struggles. The efforts that prevented him from succeeding in all these theatres called for the utmost that it was practicable for the United Nations to do in those places at that time; and, at that time, the enemy had recently taken possession of a great part of south-east Asia, Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies. He has forces there, and he will be obliged to use shipping in order to maintain those forces. The Japanese navy is still tremendously strong, and has not yet been defeated in any major engagement. The extent of Japan's air power is not a matter that I can measure in this Parliament. We hold the belief that in the recent contests over New Guinea between the respective air forces, the allies were superior; but to what extent, and how soon, the enemy may be able greatly to increase his air strength, or to marshal naval forces in order to engage us more heavily than in any previous engagement that he has undertaken in the southwest Pacific theatre, is a subject upon which there can be no vantage in speculation.

“At least it is clear that as the result of all its conquests Japan has obtained possession of vast resources for war; it has a vast population to coerce in production for the purpose of preparing for war; and it has enormous man-power with which to wage war. Also it has steadily, though secretly, prepared over a long span of years for a struggle of this gigantic nature. Therefore we should live in a fool's paradise if we were to assume that because the forces which we used in order to hold the enemy back in the Coral Sea, the Solomons, or New Guinea were sufficient, and because the enemy did not push forward greater forces at that time he may not be able somehow and at some time, perhaps this year, to invoke greater strength and, perhaps, to succeed, in one or other of those enterprises in which previously he did not succeed. It must be clear to the enemy, as it must be clear to us, that the forces of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Russia and China, are tremendously occupied in the theatres in which they are conducting large-scale operations at present, and that the great potential pool of production which the democracies possess cannot be transferred quickly in the early stages of this year to a given theatre of war.

"Consequently time which, eventually, will be on the side of the great industrial democracies is, as a matter of fact, in relation to the south-west Pacific theatre, on the side of Japan. The obstacles to immediately raising forces to wage war against Japan on the Pacific front are being felt more acutely by the United Nations than they are being felt by Japan, because Japan is able to move from a common centre, and has a series of land bases from which its aircraft can operate. Moreover, Japan has control of the greater part of the waters immediately adjacent to the islands which are important in any strategical conception of this struggle.

“While I express gratitude for the fact that the people of this Commonwealth have been spared direct physical impact with the war, and have known surcease such as peoples of other countries have not known, I ask myself whether they really realize what they have been spared. Do they realize, for example, that in one night of bombing in London, in an area far smaller than that of the city of Sydney, over £1,000,000 worth of damage was done to property? Some of our people complain about the war damage insurance that they are called upon to contribute in Australia, but where would their contributions go if a city like Sydney suffered a few hours intensive bombing such as London experienced night after night? In addition, in that one night in London, 1,000 citizens were killed. These facts, with the other fact that London experienced a long series of such raids, only need to be appreciated in order to enable us to understand how valorously the people there withstood the attack. The people of Australia have been saved from anything like that. I therefore put it to them, as I put it to the members of this Parliament, that while gratitude may be expected from them, they should also realize how much they have gained as the result of having been spared so far any such visitation.

"Although all that belongs to the past, I have indicated that there is no portent at present which suggests that the enemy has had a sufficiently decisive rebuff to deter him from the course which he has set himself. It is true that he has suffered losses, but it is also true that he has a replacement capacity in man-power out of all proportion to that of Australia, that our allies can send to this theatre of war, having regard to the pressure that is being exerted on them in other theatres.

“Then there is the physical difficulty that the man-power of this country is spread over a vast continent, and that the whole of this continent must be held. While we have relatively large forces, having regard to our population, we have relatively small forces, having regard to the length of coast-line which we have to defend, and to the territory inside that coast-line which we have to seek to keep inviolate. Our problems of transportation, in order to effect the maximum recruitment of our population in places of industrial production for war purposes, and in places where it is sought to engage the enemy, are probably more acute than anywhere else in the world except on the fighting fronts. The distances in this country, and its unsatisfactory railway system and acute shipping problems, which I do not need to do more than indicate, make it essential that we must exert ourselves to our utmost capacity. If we are to survive it is essential that we shall make a sound and sober assessment of our resources and use them to the very utmost. We must pay regard to every aspect of our general problem of strength in civil, industrial, economic and active service operations."