Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister




On 3rd September, 1942, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) broadcast on a national network. Mr. Curtin said -

“Men and women of Australia. To-night you have heard the story of three years of war. Through its grim telling has been the theme of retreat, of disasters, of making do in a desperate race against time. For you know, do you not, that the Axis powers came into the war prepared for it down to the last detail, whereas the peoples who now comprise the United Nations were not ready? That is why to-night you have heard of the fall of France, of Dunkirk, of the Battle of the Atlantic, of the "rats of Tobruk ", of Pearl Harbour, of the fall of Singapore and Java, of Sebastopol and Rostov. There was heroism and gallantry, high human courage and untold sacrifices of flesh and blood to provide the backdrop for those, the mightiest scenes in human history. But there was, too, the unalterable fact that the enemy gained all the time. He plunged ahead or crept ahead. The initiative never was, and is not to-day, with the United Nations.

“I have no rousing story to tell you. What I have to tell you is that we enter the fourth year of a war which has been stripped, by the enemy, of all the graces that human conflict might be said to have had. We cannot win by waving flags, generating false emotional thrills, or encouraging the insidiously comforting thought that we may lose battles, but will always win the last one. It is true that the great United Nations have immense potential strength. But it is also true that the United Nations are fighting on the widest fronts of war ever known to mankind. What was once the Battle of the Atlantic is now the limitless Battle of Transportation in a global conflict. Quite recently, President Roosevelt said: `I would like to have 1,000,000 men in Australia in addition to the Australians there - but we cannot get them there'. And that is the problem the United Nations face when it is a question of aid to Russia, or to China, or to Australia, or to the Middle East - or to Britain itself.

"Have you ever contemplated what would be Australia's position if the `lend-lease life-line' with America was snapped? You do know that you can't get many things you used to buy, because there are not the ships to bring those things here. But have you paused to realize what would be our plight if nothing at all could be brought here? When you think about that, think of the men of the merchant navy; and every time you see a man wearing the badge on his civilian coat take off your hat to him. He does not wear a uniform, as we know uniforms, but nevertheless he wears a uniform of service without which we would, indeed, be lost. Australia cannot risk the threat to that life-line becoming an actuality. As a nation we most become increasingly self-reliant for the purposes of war, for the very existence of ourselves, our homes, our children, as living elements in a civilization which, if the Axis triumphs, will be swept away.

"The call to Australia, as we enter the fourth year of war, is a call for this nation to take everything that is our way of life; weigh it; contribute the major part of it for the purposes of war, and leave merely the barest minimum of it as the residue available. We must do this because war has come to our land. I am no believer in the fear psychology, but, if we do not strip ourselves to save our country, then the enemy will do it. with a ruthless efficiency and with a maximum of misery that can have a counterpart only in the imagination. Consider our fate should he be victorious! What will we have then? And the enemy is at our doors. To-day, Port Moresby and Darwin are the Singapores of Australia. If those two places fall, then, inevitably, we are faced with a bloody struggle on our soil when we will be forced to fight grimly, city by city, village by village, until our fair land my become a blackened ruin. We will fight. Our record is proof of that, but what of the cost? Therefore, the Australian Government says that the cost must be paid now - not to an invading enemy - but in equipping our fighting men so that they will hold Port Moresby and Darwin; so that they will hold this Australian bastion for democracy and, finally wrest the initiative from the enemy.

“Our fate is in the balance as I speak to you. The Battle of the Solomons is not only vital in itself but, as part of a continuing action which will go on, it represents a phase of the Japanese drive in which is wrapped up invasion of Australia. At this stage, it would be. mischievous to conjecture as to whether the outcome of the Battle of the Solomons will give us a further breathing-space or whether it will mean disaster, followed swiftly by a direct Japanese threat and thrust at our shores. But I do tell you that we are faced with an enemy of great power, devilish ingenuity and regimented efficiency. We cannot expect to rely on strokes of luck nor to survive mistakes. The Japanese are waging war to the death. We 7,000,000 of Australians in this, the place where are gathered the greatest number of British speaking people south of the equator, must, individually, wage a war to the death, just as though we were, man for man, engaged in bloody combat.

“The Government, therefore, cannot permit anything to stand in the way of placing the nation on a full war footing and it must, by every means in its power, bring those sections of the community who are thoughtless of what is involved, to a salutary realization of the situation. To that end, Cabinet has made decisions which will be the Government's lead in the austerity campaign which is opened as from tonight. Some of those decisions are as follows:-

"The State Governments have been asked to take action under the power given them by the Commonwealth to restrict further the number of racing, greyhound coursing and trotting meetings.

"The Australian press and radio stations have been requested to restrict the treatment of sporting news to the bare essentials required before a fixture is held, and only essential details of results after the event. The Government considers that relaxation is required because of the strain of war, but that the glamorizing of persons taking part in sport and the importance attached to sporting events are not in keeping with a country at war.

“The Government, during the present session of Parliament, will introduce a tax on all classes of entertainments, which will commence with a tax of 3d. on 1s. tickets and rise proportionately. For example, a 2s. 6d. ticket to the pictures will now cost 3s. 3d.

“The Government will review the application by the States of the decisions on liquor by the recent Premiers Conference and, if these do not succeed in reducing the disproportionate expenditure on drink, then the Government will institute other measures considered desirable in carrying out its declared policy.

“From to-day the excise paid on beer and spirits, cigarettes, cigars and tobacco, and playing cards have been substantially increased.

“Meals served in hotels, cafes, restaurants and public eating-places will be limited to three courses. The Government is determined that the useless spending on luxury meals shall stop.

“Parliament will be asked to pass a bill to deal with black markets.

"Penalties for breaches of the prices regulations will be made stiffer, and the minimum penalty, which will be severe, will be laid down, instead of the present maximum penalty.

“A request has also been made to the press and radio, the effect of which will be the elimination, from what is called social news, of descriptions, illustrations or photographs of any person or organization not engaged in a war-time activity. It is strongly held by the Government that the artificial life led by a number of people shall receive no encouragement by press and radio publicity.

"In the Austerity Campaign the Government has three main objectives.

"The first is to bring the people to the realization that only by an austere way of life can we master our national strength to the pitch required for victory. Webster's dictionary says that austerity means rigorous; stern, severe and strict in modes of judgment and living; unadorned, unembellished; severely simple; hard and rigid. Austerity means a new way of life; a new spirit of action to do the things the nation needs and not to do the things that weaken the nation. I an, convinced that the aspect of our national life which gives the greatest scope for the further development of our war effort is the human element. Improvement in the personal quality of our man-power automatically reacts on the whole war organization. The great challenge to-day is to each individual - not to the other fellow - to forget self and order his or her life for the welfare of the nation. Every citizen of this great Commonwealth must bring into subjection self-interest; ill-will between employer and employee; suspicion and the baser things which are destructive of national life and then give full scope to the development of good will; selflessness honesty; sacrifice; courage. This means clean and honest thinking and acting and will be reflected in sound homes, teamwork in industry, and co-operation throughout the nation. The strength of a nation is determined by the character of its people and so, in this hour of peril, I call on each individual to examine themselves honestly and, having done so, to go to their tasks guided by a new conscience and a new realization of their responsibilities to their nation and to each individual member of it. By so doing, we will be a nation which is morally and spiritually re-armed and be adequate not only to meet the tasks of war but also the tasks of peace.

“Austerity calls for a pledge by the Australian people to strip every selfish, comfortable habit, every luxurious impulse, every act, word or deed that retards the victory march. Here is the pledge which I ask that every Australian shall take:-

"'We will make this austerity campaign the most important days of the war; the greatest and most stirring days of the war. We shall make this our finest hour.

"'We pledge ourselves individually to throw everything we have into a stupendous effort against the enemy.

“`We shall cut from our lives every luxury, every relaxation, every temptation to slack.

“`We shall make of our nation two complete fighting armies - the fighting forces to smash their way back through New Guinea and Java, Malaya, the Philippines and on to Japan; and the working forces that will stand behind them and back them to the limit in mine, factory and workshop.

“`We who fight shall fight as Australians never fought before. We who work shall labour as men and women have never laboured before.

“`In this campaign we will forget privileges, comforts and, rest. Nothing shall block the way to the attainment of victory.'

“The second objective is that, by entering upon a season of austerity, all the Australian people can, by the sacrifice of unaustere things, subscribe to the £100,000,000 loan. That loan is part of our programme which calls for raising at least £240,000,000 this year by loans from the Australian people. Here is our financial position. We have to find £440,000,000 for war this year. But, as the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) announced in the budget yesterday, `I warn the Parliament that the experience of last year may be repeated and the figure of £440,000,000 exceeded as a result of the dire necessities of the grim struggle that lies ahead'. That £100,000,000 is, therefore, the first instalment of a loan programme which may go beyond the tentative figure of £240,000,000. There are some people who think the war should be financed entirely by central bank credit. The Government is convinced that in that way lies grave dangers. We have drawn on practically all reserves of labour and equipment. The recent expansion of the war effort has been achieved by the subtraction from peace-time production. Further expansion of war activity means further reductions in the things that will remain for civil use. Expansion of bank credit, without a corresponding capacity to expand total production, would increase purchasing power without increasing a supply of goods and services. Increasing the volume of money, without increasing the supply of goods for civil consumption creates not only the danger of inflation but sets up serious competition between demands for civil goods and demands for war requirements. Clearly, then, as more physical resources are provided by the nation for war, so must further financial resources be similarly provided from the savings of the people. This can be done only if every individual saves and contributes to the utmost of his capacity.

“The Government this year will devote not less than half Australia's total resources to war production. That does not mean that living standards will have to be cut correspondingly, but there must be sacrifices of civilian standards. We have absorbed unemployed and idle resources to the extent of 600,000 persons. Many engaged in constructional work and export industries have transferred to war production. But we have not suffered, as a people, very much reduction in civilian consumption. At most there has been a fall of from 5 to 10 per cent. But, from now on, we must accustom and adjust ourselves to a much more drastic cut in normal standards. The cut will have to attain at least 33 1/3 per cent. That is the cut which must be expected immediately, and it may have to go still further. The cut has been applied, is being applied and will be applied by government decisions. It can be made quicker, and it can be made more easily adjustable if you voluntarily cease buying non-essentials.

“The £100,000,000 loan will be officially opened early in November and the terms and conditions will be announced about the middle of October. In the meantime, you can make your subscription now and the interest will commence from the day you buy your bonds. You can assume that the terms and conditions of the loan will be substantially the same as the last Liberty Loan.

“The third objective of the austerity campaign is to place the greatest possible emphasis on supply and production. Absenteeism, slackness, carelessness and inefficiency are the cankers that eat into the efforts of the working forces. Where there is smoke there is fire. Keep the factories smoking and you make the fire of our fighting forces incessant! The stains on your overalls are the medals in the Battle of Production ! Keep the volume of our production at a peak never before known in this country and assuredly your sweat and toil will weigh heavily against the enemy in the year ahead! The war runs through the factory. It is the second front where every ounce of strength, every degree of skill and every piece of ingenuity will strike a decisive blow.

"The Government has given a lead not only in actual decisions affecting the country as a whole, but also Ministers have been instructed to take the necessary steps throughout their departments. Naturally it is not possible to deal with all undesirable phases of a way of living that has gone on in this country for so many years. There will be flaws and the Government, therefore, asks that where wrongful things are apparent that citizens should make it their duty to inform the appropriate Minister so that prompt action may be taken. “The cold, blunt fact is that we are a people living in daily contact with war. Raids on Darwin alone have now passed the 30 mark. Townsville, Broome, Wyndham, Sydney, Newcastle, Derby, Katherine and Port Hedland have felt the impact of enemy fire. Ships in Australian waters have been assailed; vital naval and air battles have been waged and are being waged in Australian seas and territories. No single part of this vast continent is immune from the enemy. Bombs on Australian homes to-night are just as capable of falling as they have on Coventry and London. Strike out from your mind the futile thought “It can't happen here ". There is no connexion these days between geography and happiness. You cannot find escape from war in any study of an Australian atlas.

“I have given you a picture of what is demanded of this nation for the fourth year of the war. It is no pretty picture and it is of no use to yourself and of no service to the nation for you to try and make it look pretty. That would be illusion; it would be utterly false to fact and a denial of reality.

“Let us put aside everything that clutters up what must be the single-minded purpose of conducting war to the very uttermost.

`Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side; Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight, Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right, And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light.'

“Our cause is the greatest cause in our history. The choice we make now decides the fate of our country. Shall the future be darkened by conquest or lit bright by the lamp of liberty, assured to us by victory? That is the choice now offered to us. In the name of this fair land, your land, my land, our land, that we can hold only if we give our all for it, I enjoin you to live now in austerity for your own sake and for the sake of your children and for the sake of generations of Australian children in all time to come."

JCPML.  Records of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches by the Prime Minister. No. 39, 30 August - 3 September 1942.  JCPML00110/44