Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


"I propose to make some general observations about the Labour movement, the country, the war and the state of the world and I propose including in what I have to say an assessment of the present military situation as it affects the world in general and in particular as it affects the state of the war in what is described as the Pacific theatre.

"I feel that we have now reached the stage when a new page of the book of this war can be turned. The development of the struggle involved on the part of all the United Nations not only a great series of improvisations - due to the fact that no preparations had been made - but also made it inevitable that these improvisations should be a race against time under the shadow of enemy domination and the fact that the enemy had the initiative. As a consequence, Britain, Russia, the United States, China and Australia have all been obliged, under conditions of extraordinary urgency, to use inadequate forces and inadequate resources for the operations conducted by the enemy. If these improvisations had failed, the enemy's strategical position would have been increasingly stronger.

"There have been, not only over the years but at certain crucial months, instances when the whole struggle itself veritably hung in the balance. There has been, not once but more than once, a very probable success to the enemy giving it so complete an addition that ultimate victory might well have rested with it. That was true of the European struggle, it was also true of the struggle in the Pacific. But Britain has survived; Russia has survived; China still stands; the whole of Australia is still free for the Australian people.

"It would be idle to say that mistakes have not been made. Nobody knows so well the cause of death as the man who conducts the post-mortem and nobody is in a better position to assess how things could have been better done than after the event - how if you had gone this way instead of that way less inconvenience would have been caused. It is quite easy now to say that if this, that or the other condition had been present, the submarine would not have involved the great toll upon shipping that it has involved. History can record the. improvisations and it will also record the mistakes. But these mistakes have to be judged in the broad perspective of the total result. They have all been of minor character - the major problems of war have been successfully managed in Britain, Russia, China and in Australia. We have had, in order to meet this dreadful time, to do what has never been accomplished in the history of the world - that is for democratic and self-governing countries to forgo as much of their sovereignty as would enable them to have a completely united war effort in all theatres of war without, at the same time, lessening the autonomy to conduct government within its own definite sphere. The United Nations have been able to give a demonstration of the one big union, even more successfully than has the Labour movement in dealing with industrial problems and in mobilizing the common resources for a common effort towards the realization of a common goal. That had to be effected under circumstances in which the major attack on the enemy has been directed, not in all theatres simultaneously but at certain focal points in the world at a given time. There is the physical problem of co-ordinating to that point the resources of the United Nations and, in order that this might be done, necessarily there have to be deprivations to people who believe they are so far away from the centre of the struggle that there was no occasion for these imposts to be levied upon them. It does not work that way. Those who are farthest removed from the threat of danger are those who should be called upon to come to the aid of those who are. It must be clear that, in a war where the enemy has command for the most part of all the areas for land communication and land transport and is also possessed of the chief places from which land-based aircraft could be despatched for either his defensive or offensive operations, it is inevitable that that problem of disposing the United Nations' forces is incredibly difficult. They had to be brought in ships and all the time that had to be achieved despite the enemy's enormous submarine capacity.

"The war has gone on and not until quite recently could it be said that the initiative, which had rested with the enemy, had now decisively parted from him. As shortly as I can I give the military assessment as I see it and I take the responsibility for these measurements of the present state of the military struggle. I leave out politics, I leave for the time being policy for the future, for upon success or failure of the war, as a war, depends things which are even more than policy - the survival of the country and the preservation of the right to frame policy let alone give effect to it.

"The Axis has been driven out of Africa and I state what I believe to. be the military facts of that event -

Loss of large forces and supplies of equipment and material.

Like Stalingrad, it has proved that the German Army is not invincible.

The blow is a defeat to enemy morale and marks the definite opening of offensive action against Europe.

The impact of war is brought nearer to the German and Italian peoples, particularly the latter.

The Mediterranean route is re-opened and the long haul around the Cape to the Middle East avoided. The result is a large saving of tonnage which is so essential to the transfer of the United States forces and supplies from America to the theatres of. operations.

North Africa provides bases for attacks on Southern Europe.

"The air attack against Germany. is being intensified. The effects are evident from the protests, but the Nazi is a `squealer'. He started this on Warsaw and Rotterdam and gloated over it. He extended it to Britain. Now he cannot take it, he invokes humanitarian arguments. The aims of the air attack on Western Europe and occupied countries are –

The disruption of production in the vital industrial centres in Western Germany and in occupied countries. These cannot be shifted.

The destruction of enemy communications in Northern France and Flanders.

The destruction of enemy U-boat bases on the French coast as a complementary part of the Battle of the Atlantic.

"Germany has been driven on to the defensive in the air. Her air production is now more towards fighters for defence. It remains to be demonstrated during the European summer whether air attacks on Germany can reduce production and lower civilian morale to produce decisive results. It will at least be contributory to operations on other fronts in Europe.

"A notable improvement in the Battle of the Atlantic in April and May has been indicated by lower sinkings of shipping, greater sinkings of submarines and a large surplus of new construction over sinkings. The United Nations have great resources, but the vital factor is to bring them to the fighting fronts. It is all a problem of shipping and its protection. It is also a governing factor in the capacity to render great assistance to the Pacific theatre while attempting to defeat Hitler first.

"To open a new front in Europe, the United Nations will require to occupy certain islands in the Mediterranean for the full security of movement of shipping in the Mediterranean. These islands are also essential as stepping stones to an entry into southern Europe.

"Should it be possible to knock Italy out of the war, this would establish the Allied bomber line nearer Germany and enable attacks from the south as well as the west. A re-entry into the Balkans would seriously endanger Germany's source of her oil supplies from Roumania. It might also bring in Turkey when she is convinced that she is free from danger of German attack.

"It is essential to give the fullest possible relief to Russia by exercising the maximum pressure on Germany. Russia, is holding down the bulk of the German land forces, but large German air forces are in western and southern Europe.

"The heavy scale of air attack from Britain also entails the provision of a large number of German ground forces for anti-aircraft services and personnel for air raid precaution measures.

"The position in the Pacific in that the Japanese are consolidating their positions and building air bases in the arc to the north of Australia extending from Timor to the Solomons. Their strength is growing. The system of bases and landing strips developed by the Japanese gives them great mobility and power to concentrate anywhere along the arc.

"As a result of representations by the Government and General MacArthur, which were supported by a mission to Washington headed by General MacArthur's Chief-of-Staff, considerably increased assistance has been promised to the South-West Pacific Area. The defeat of Hitler first precludes a full-scale offensive action for the defeat of the Japanese. The aim must be to pierce the arc of bases held by the Japanese to force their withdrawal or to isolate them in sections for later destruction. I recall General MacArthur's statement that the outstanding military lesson of the New Guinea campaign was the continuous calculated application of air-power employed in conjunction with ground troops. Air-power must be employed in conjunction with land forces and naval support to drive the Japanese from their bases near Australia. When the Japanese are thrust away to arm's length, Australia will be quite secure for use as a base for the ultimate offensive for the defeat of Japan in accordance with the final terms of General MacArthur's directive.

"What part is Australia to play in thrusting the enemy away from the Commonwealth and in joining in the ultimate offensive for the defeat of Japan? There. have been two major concepts as to the best way to defend Australia.

"One was held by the Menzies and Fadden Governments, in which. the primary military consideration was co-operation in overseas theatres.

"The other, for long advocated by the Labour party, was that which, while fully endorsing co-operation in the scheme of Empire defence, placed the main emphasis on the Government's responsibility for the local defence of the Commonwealth by all the resources in its power.

"Before the war with Japan, the primary consideration of the other Governments had been co-operation overseas, with the result that the home defence plan had been defeatist in outlook and preparation. Neither the Menzies Government nor its military advisers provided for the contingency that Singapore might fall or that the British fleet might not come. Both these things happened and Australia lay almost impotent at the feet of the enemy. The perilous situation with which Australia was confronted has been greatly altered by the battle of the Coral Sea and the campaign in New Guinea.

"The Labour party's opposition to compulsory service outside Australia had all along been based on the Menzies Government's conception that expeditionary forces to other parts of the world came first. With Labour in power and able to implement its defence policy of priority for local defence, there was a new basis for an entire transformation of Labour's attitude towards compulsory service in those regions essential for ensuring effective defence of the Commonwealth. It was from this angle that the Government decided that the Defence Act should be amended to enable the Militia forces to serve outside Australia in the South-Western Pacific Zone. When General MacArthur unfolded his plan of operation in the South-West Pacific Area to ensure the security of Australia as a base and to push the Japanese back, it was evident that the Australian land forces must be able to be disposed in any of the islands adjacent to Australia in accordance with the Commander-in-Chief's plan. General MacArthur said, when he arrived in Australia, that the continent should be defended against the Japanese advance in the Owen Stanley Range in New Guinea and not from the suburbs of the cities on our eastern shores. It is still a long and arduous way to the enemy's main base at Rabaul and further still to make deep inroads into the area behind his outlying arc of defences.

"The number of American air combat squadrons in the South-West Pacific Area slightly exceeds the number of Royal Australian Air Force combat squadrons. As the result of representations by General MacArthur and myself and the mission to Washington led by his Chief-of-Staff, the strength of American air forces in the South-West Pacific Area will be greatly increased in the near future. There is also a large strength of United States air forces in the South-Pacific Area. The Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Evatt, is negotiating for increased aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force to enable it to double its strength as speedily as personnel can be trained.

"Let it be quite clear that there is no future for Australia with its white population, and no prospect of an increasingly higher standard of living, if the Japanese are to remain in possession of south-eastern Asia and the islands surrounding Australia. Australia would live under a perpetual threat of invasion and the burden of armaments would be so heavy that the Australian standard of living would be little above that of coolies. No one should be under any misapprehension that, at the Peace Conference, when the terms are dictated which will determine the future destiny of nations, the most influential voices will be those of the countries which have played their full part in defeating the enemy. The destiny of Australia and its future security may well be determined by the distance we are prepared to go in using our forces to defeat the Japanese. If the experience of this war has shown that the future security of Australia requires greater guarantees in regard to the security of islands adjacent to Australia, Australia cannot demand such guarantees if it is unwilling in war to use its forces in the ejectment of the enemy from these threatened points of attack.

"I say a final word on Australia's war effort. The Government considers that the stage has been reached for a review of the extent and balance of the Australian war effort in the light of the present strategical situation in the South-West Pacific Area and the plans for future operations. It is essential that what is being done should provide for the maximum contribution by Australia to the needs of the South-West Pacific Area and that General MacArthur, in view of his operational responsibilities, should be given the opportunity of expressing his views to the Government. I have had preliminary discussions with him along these lines and have found that he has a full and sympathetic understanding of our difficulties. The proportion of males in Australia in the forces, munitions and war factories, and other essential industries is approximately the same as that for the United Kingdom. The position in regard to women is slightly less favorable. It is evident from the man-power situation that the Australian war effort has reached saturation point. There is urgent need for the review of its nature, extent and balance, in the light of the present strategical situation and plans for future operations in the South-West Pacific Area. Additional commitments can be undertaken only at the expense of some other obligation. They must be carefully reviewed before approval as to the practicability of fulfilling there. The requirements of the United States forces requires close co-ordination with those of the Australian forces so that the total position may be seen and plans prepared to ensure that the requirements of the Commander-in-Chief will be met in accordance with his operational needs. The Commander-in-Chief is to furnish me with an appreciation of the local defence position in Australia and I am not without hope that it will offer some improvement in the general stringency of the man-power position so that all aspects of the Australian war effort may be carried on in a balanced manner with man-power resources so spread that there will be relief from the incessant strain of endeavouring to cope with commitments which appear capable of solution only by withdrawal of men from equally important commitments in other directions.

"I say with gratitude, and I think I can say it with some pride, that the British Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, and President Roosevelt have promised that the war in the Pacific will be prosecuted with the same vigour as the war in Europe. This is the policy which the Australian Government has been advocating ever since the occurrence of the war with Japan. It is a great satisfaction to know that our view is now accepted. Nevertheless, the note I would strike is one of restrained optimism. There is still a long and difficult road to travel before victory over Japan is won and the journey will have its dark passages. Australia's effort must not be relaxed, but intensified, where possible, to an even higher degree. Australia must be satisfied with nothing less than the utmost of which it is capable. Anything less may make all the difference in the results for which we are fighting and working.

"Now how is it that the Government can, at this stage, make an assessment which, as I have indicated, permits of restrained optimism in respect to the outlook? The people - the masses of this country - have rallied wholeheartedly, notwithstanding bad patches here and there. As a nation, the Australian people, for the first time in history attacked by an invader, has risen to the occasion and has supported any projects which the Government has found necessary to provide for the conduct of the war. I do not propose to traverse the past. I merely say that the expenditure of the Allied Works Council in roads, in aerodromes, dispersal strips, in harbours, in railroad improvements has been an indicator of what had to be done after the enemy attacked so as to equip our fighting forces to function efficiently. All these works and services could well have been done when hungry men were seeking work. They had to be done by this Government simultaneously with the withdrawal of thousands of men from the economic order in order to serve in the fighting services. Instead of having the harbours, roads and railroads constructed, the roads at least planned and many of them completed when there was available without demand the labour in this country, this Government had to find the labour essential for these works concurrently with the huge demand it had to make on the manpower to make the military forces sufficiently strong to resist the enemy.

"He must be a very stupid man who would venture to say that this country was prepared to meet the invader when Japan came into this war. It was not. To do its task, this Government has had to impose on the Australian people a regimentation which has hot been equalled in any part of the world. The Government makes no apologies for doing that. This Labour Government - as if it were by Fate - was called upon to execute the major responsibility that any Australian government has had imposed upon it in the history of this country. Many, of course, may dislike the way this, that or the other has been done. I said that that is relatively unimportant. The problem was to keep the country free for a free people. Over long years, the Labour movement has been constantly engaged in reviewing the situation so that there might be a better social order; so that there might be a freer community; so that there might be opportunities for treating the common man fairer and squarer and more hopefully than was the case. It was engaged in the evolution of a nation. That has been the compass of the Labour movement. As a result the Labour party of this country has been incorporated into the very soul of the Australian nation. It is integral with what is accepted as the true welfare of the people of Australia. Over the years men have worked in the Labour movement, officers have been elected; men have come in and men have, gone out, and some have been pushed out. But no man has ever been pushed out because he had an idea to advance on which the governing body of Labour could give its opinion and who sought authority for it.

"When Japan struck against the security of Australia, there happened to be in the Commonwealth Parliament a Labour party in office which did not have a majority in the House of Representatives of its own party, nor a majority in the Senate of its own party. Any one of the regulations which this Government has formulated for the conduct of the war had to be formulated in the sure and certain knowledge that it had not only to be good in itself but had to withstand the possibility of being disallowed before it could be applied. Not a piece of legislation could be framed by the Cabinet with the certainty that it would be passed in the form in which the Government framed it. This Government not only had a war to fight but it also had to manage a Parliament which no previous Prime Minister - and there had been two in this Parliament - was capable of managing. This Government not only had to do a thing but had to spend time framing reasons why it was done; engaging in controversy. This Government has never made any complaint because that has been the situation and I do not propose, from now on, to do more than go on in that way. I shall not seek any earlier termination of the Parliament. Parliament itself will decide, by the manner, in which it comports itself, whether it seeks an appeal to its masters or not. But before this year is out, the people of Australia must judge as to which party they will entrust the conduct of Australia for the remainder of the war, for the discussions which must terminate the war and for that period which is so important - the first few years of the post-war era.

"Around Australia there will be political problems. New Caledonia is a French possession; the Solomons is British; New Guinea is only partly under Australian sovereignty - one-half of it is Dutch; Timor and the Netherlands East Indies are not Australian. Then there is the United States, which has the Philippines in some degree of sovereignty. Give this Australian nation any kind of government. Can it be disregardful of the type of government which New Guinea or Timor or Netherlands East Indies is going to have? Can it be indifferent as to what power establishes itself in the islands to the north of Australia? Recently an aeroplane arrived here piloted by a young man born in this country. This man left London and in 72 hours' flying time landed in Australia. When one thinks it took only 72 hours' flying time from London just look at the island of Timor only two hours away from this country, at New Caledonia only three hours away!

"The world can never be the same in the years to come - politically, governmentally, in transportation, in problems of defence and security as it was in the years before this war started. I say that the world is constantly changing. I say that the platform of twenty years ago will not meet the problems of to-day. I should hate to see the man who would say that the Labour platform, because it stood in 1902, or 1905 or 1908, must be the Labour platform to-day. What I said in 1914 I said again in 1934 - that this country with its limited resources and man-power could not afford to be policeman in Europe, and I now say in 1943 that, for all the years to come, so long as this land remains free, it can be free only by Australians being willing to be a policeman in the Pacific. We must be a Pacific power for our own security.

"I say quite frankly that, operationally, politically and nationally I believe the integrity of the Labour movement is vital to the good government of the Australian people. I believe the inspiration for change, for progress, for all that demonstrates the best in the Australian people lies in the Labour movement because it is the people's movement - it has no concern with big business and it stands for humanity as against material gain - and has more resilience, more decency and dignity and the. best of the human qualities than any other political movement. I believe that the Labour movement is vital to the good government and progress of Australia. But I also believe that for that very, reason the Labour movement has a greater responsibility for the maintenance of Australia as a free people, for the defence of Australia as a land worth defending, than any other political party. This is our country. It will be the country of our sons and daughters. It was the country where our forefathers came to broaden the constitution, to make the laws more amenable to the common man than the authority of the ruling classes. They came here because the old world was too despotic and unjust. They hoped to evolve a country where they would be free. We have to live, up to it. We have to maintain this country as free people, but freedom has to be fought for not only internally against those who would destroy it for wealth but to restrain the aggressor from without.

"Aviation has completely altered the relationships of one country to another. To hold a conference in London it now takes a man only three weeks instead of three or four months. Cable communications, wireless communications, intercepts which the enemy picks up of our movements - and which we pick up of theirs - show that it is not easy, even in war, to spring the element of surprise. I say to this Labour movement, as one who has been a member for 36 years and who has been raised to the highest place in this Commonwealth - that it cannot stand still. It has to march with the advancing forces of the world. It has to meet the problems of government - the problems of government externally involving the government of this country in consultation with other governments. That will involve the pooling of resources for certain projects and it will be the responsibility of the government to say it will or will not participate in the project. The responsibility to say what it will do must always be there. The government must not merely say it will not answer - it must say yes or no. It must say yes or no to what is to happen to New Guinea, Timor, the Netherlands East Indies and New Caledonia. I said you were not going to fight the enemy from the suburbs of this city. If New Caledonia had fallen that is how we would have been placed. You owe a great deal to the valour and the courage of the forces that have been sacrificed all too often but I do not believe they have been sacrificed in vain.

"I ask the Labour movement for maximum co-operation with the Government of Australia. I have asked the States for it and I have to say that the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McKell, has been not only a loyal friend but his Government has been most anxious to help. There is nothing the Commonwealth Government could ask Mr. McKell to do. that he would not do to the utmost of his capacity. The Commonwealth Government can get co-operation from Labour governments and it has also had co-operation from the constituent elements of the Labour movement and I express my thanks. It would have been a double strain without the support of my colleagues and this gives mean opportunity to pass on the debt of gratitude in my heart for the counsel and support of my friends who are in the Labour movement and some men who are not in the Labour movement. I have found this period not only a strain but a trusteeship which has remained in me. Many may not agree with all that has been done but all my actions have been induced by circumstances which no man can push aside. I have not faced a problem with a prejudice nor with a bias. I have endeavoured to find the correct answer. For any government that does not make mistakes will be a government of inertia and inaction and therefore, as there will be nothing for which to condemn it, there. will be nothing for which to praise it.

"I say that the use of Australian forces, resources, capacities, wealth and man-power in those areas and places where the struggle for Australia's security has to be faced, was as valid a use by this Government as it will be in the years to come. I ask support for what the Government has been called upon to do militarily and economically.

I ask for at least a kindly thought for the difficulties, politically. I ask the Labour movement, with all the possibilities inherent in the situation in the years to come, to stand together because the true interests of the men and women of this country; their immediate problems, their future hopes are all bound up in the re-election of this Government."