r Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


It is a very great privilege that you have given me to speak to you here, and frankly I do not quite know how you managed to do it, because I understand that Parliament is still sitting. I can only come to the conviction that the Prime Minister has, in all circumstances, an assured majority, and I think that is as it should be in any country where that country is fighting the desperate struggle for existence.

Governments must be stable. They must be derived from the people. It is the people whom they serve, and in democracies there can be all kinds of controversies as to the kind of government that the country should have, but the people must resolve those controversies. Democracy is not only an arena of controversy; it is a place of decision, and the decision, having been made, must be given effect; and therefore it is the responsibility and the authority of the administration, having derived its authority from the people themselves, to be completely decisive in carrying out the policy for which it has a mandate. I see no alternative to that, other than the Tower of Babel, and a confusion the only consequence of which would be a dictatorship, which naturally would be the dictatorship of whichever force in the country was strong enough to exercise it. That would be the antithesis of. parliamentary government, and we believe, here, in the parliamentary system.

In this place, where for 600 years the people have increased their domain of authority and of responsibility, it would, of course, be extraordinary if one should not pay tribute to the great influence which this Parliament has exercised upon democracy over the whole wide world, and that influence is nowhere greater than in the Dominions of the British Commonwealth. We have not so long an experience of parliamentary government as Britain, but in a year we have a much greater experience of parliamentary government, because we have seven parliaments sitting simultaneously, and the numbers who assemble in those parliaments correspond very much to the numbers that assemble in the House of Commons.

But distance is a consideration in the effective representation of the people, and democracy is not a rigid system in giving effect to its wishes. There is alternate machinery which you can choose, and that machinery will be selected in accordance with its, appropriateness and its practicability for the place that has to be administered. But in either case, so long as the Commonwealth Government or a State Government, or the Commonwealth Parliament or the State Parliament has its roots in the ballot-box and in the rights of the people to elect whoever they choose from among the candidates listed, then the decision as to how the show shall be run must entirely reside in the people concerned.

Self-government is, of course, I should submit, the predicate upon which responsible government is founded, and we in Australia find ourselves completely free to govern ourselves. There is nothing that can be done in this land which will affect any law of the Commonwealth, or any law of the States. The only difficulty, about the laws of the Commonwealth and the States is the difficulties which are here. The choice as to whether a thing should or should not be done, and the way it should be done if it be decided to do it: Those are the problems not only of principle, but of ways and means. If it should happen that the democratic system is regarded by critics as working slowly, and there are conferences, there are consultations, there are first readings, second readings, and third readings of bills, all that arises from the desire that the critics shall have the fullest opportunity for criticism; that the dissenters shall be given the greatest scope for influencing the whole community to have the proposal rejected. This is the consideration which the majority pays to the minority, knowing always that sometimes it can happen that one lone voice may, after all is said and done, notwithstanding great numbers, be the voice that speaks the eternal truth.

So it is that, in case we should by sheer counting of numbers, however great, overlook that which it is imperative we should not overlook, our parliamentary system may have to the outsider the appearance of being a slow-moving machine. But the truth is that it moves steadily forward, and in all our countries, the Dominions and here, we can look back over the evolution of parliamentary institutions in which to-day, notwithstanding all the criticisms that have been levelled against them, there have been demonstrated two great qualities, firstly, responsibility to the people as people, and secondly, an efficiency for action that has not been out-matched by the totalitarians. Circumstances alter cases, and where there is urgency about a decision, then parliaments, our kinds o£ parliaments, can move with astonishing rapidity. I read a small paragraph in the newspaper this morning, in which it said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech which lasted four minutes, and the debate took an hour, but I think the debate took as long as that because I believe there were six or seven points of order raised. The vote was granted - a tremendous vote, a vote astronomical from the standpoint of the figures employed in it. That vote, in time of peace, in regard to matters which would justify careful examination, would have taken probably three weeks in this Parliament, but the urgency and the necessity having been established by previous debates, this Parliament does not waste time about things that have already been fully considered. So I say that efficiency is no less a characteristic and a quality of parliamentary governments than it can be claimed to be one of the characteristics of despotism or any other kind of totalitarianism that you like to conceive.

Our country is like unto your own in its adherence to the rights of the people to govern themselves. Our machinery of parliamentary government is modelled upon yours; in fact, we are so-firmly convinced that it is the right way to have responsibility and authority vested in the people - so that their representatives can speak and decide for them - that when in Australia we learned that this place had been ‘blitzed’ and that the Speaker's Chair had been destroyed, we at once made our minds up to say to the Prime Minister here that the Australian Parliament would be honoured if it would be allowed to restore the Speaker's Chair, the Speaker being the officer of Parliament, the spokesman for it, and the symbol against which even the King cannot lay down any fiat.

That act in itself is more than a symbolical act of unity. It testifies that the Australian nation is, numerically at any rate, and in every other aspect, a microcosm of this country and its way of life. We regard your history as part of the legacy that we ourselves claim. It is incorporated in our own story; that is to say, the forebears of the present generation of Australians are your forebears. We carry on out there a British community in the South Seas, and we regard ourselves as the trustees for the British way of life in a part of the world where it is of the utmost significance to the British Commonwealth and to the British nation and to the British Empire - call it by any name that you will - that this land should have in the Antipodes a people and a territory corresponding in purpose and in outlook and in race to the Motherland itself.

Now, I do not desire to speak to you very much about Australia, but I can reply to one question by saying this: Have we any coal? The answer is that we produced 12,000,000 tons last year, which was a very high production. This year we hope to produce about 1,500,000 tons more than that, for the purposes of the war. Then I am asked: Have we any iron? The answer is that not only have we great iron deposits, but we have one of the most efficient iron and steel industries in the whole world, and we can, as the result of the development that has taken place, produce munitions of war, and all the structural steel requirements and implements of all kinds and descriptions for peace, and if you are not careful, we will sell them in the world markets more cheaply than some of our competitors.

As to the resources of the country, I have only this to say to you, that with 60 per cent. of the normal employment in rural industries, the people of Australia are now producing food for 12,000,000 people. Apart from the fact that during the war we have had to make provision for the supply of the United States forces in the South-West Pacific, and to some extent in the South Pacific Area, and we have sent food to India in a variety of circumstances, we have exported food alone - not including raw materials, but food alone - up to December, 1943, aggregating £240,000,000, of which 53 per cent. came to Britain. As you are short of meat, and as there are great demands for meat, the meat production of Australia this year will exceed 1,000,000 tons and that will enable us to supply to this country somewhere about 130,000 tons. We might increase it, provided that there can be a readjustment of the man-power disposition very early, so that certain bottle-necks in meat production can be overcome.

Now, let me say a word about this balanced war effort. We have had over 800,000 men enlisted in the armed forces of the Commonwealth. We have lost, of course, that magnificent division in Malaya. We have had some very heavy casualties, and there has been the wastage from malaria and from sickness because of the fighting in the equatorial and sub-tropical areas; and as a result our Army is not as strong as it was, numerically, but we have deliberately reduced it by 20,000 at least, to stimulate the economic side of our activities. We have effected that adjustment by closing down fixed defences in parts of Australia which strategically are regarded as no longer vulnerable to attack, and we have not in any way lessened the numbers of the combat and operational forces of the Australian Army.

We have, in the Air Force of Australia, recruited voluntarily for the air about 130,000 of our young men, and I have to say to you that we had to develop the industries requisite to the servicing of that great arm. We have had to embark upon aircraft construction to have the capacity for aircraft repairs, and that we might not be left without any capacity to fight in the air if that theatre of war should have gone badly, and the supplies which we had had allocated to us should not have arrived. Furthermore, we are not unconcerned with the future of aviation in the world. We do not propose that the internal transport services of Australia shall be dependent upon the goodwill or the superior bargaining power of a competitor.

But let me answer one or two points. While we have been doing this we have been very conscious that the war in Europe was the war crucial, and that it had to be carried on with unabated vigour, and so, before the war, plans for an Empire air training scheme were formulated. The greater part of the training is done in Canada. The Australian Government, apart altogether from its expenditure on the Royal Australian Air Force, has during the past five years expended £86,000,000 in connexion with the Empire air training scheme. The greater part of that money has been spent outside Australia. It costs the Australian Government £2,000, which it pays externally, for every airman that it sends who fights in Europe, and we are at present providing sufficient men in this part of the world, now, for seventeen fighting squadrons.

I do not hesitate to say - because nobody ever suffers because he is candid -that there were times in the war against Japan when the enemy had actual Aerial superiority in his onslaught southwards, and it took considerable time and much effort, and perhaps a little clamour, to evoke the requisite strength to meet him at some points at which we felt it was imperative that we should match strength with strength. That situation was faced and overcome. The aerial arm alone was not sufficient. The islands had to be supplied, both by the enemy and by ourselves. After he had conquered Malaya, after Singapore had fallen, and after the Netherlands East Indies had been practically walked through, the enemy proceeded then with his drive on New Guinea and to the Solomons, and hoped to go further. Without sea power it would have been impossible to have averted or checked the momentum of his attack. Sea power was to have been based upon Singapore, The defence of Australia in the event of a war in the Pacific had been regarded as a problem calling for the basing of a fleet on Singapore, which would be interposed as a combat force against the naval strength of the Japanese. Well, I need not tell you that Singapore fell, and instead of being a bastion for defence, it became a springboard for the enemy to launch his attack. The whole problem of military, naval and air operations for the defence of Australia was transformed overnight. The strategy which had been prepared by the Chiefs-of Staff in our own country and here was a strategy that belonged to a dead age.

Improvisation to meet the new situation was demanded. It may be that improvisation is not as satisfactory as carefully prepared plans, which can be the work of much time and great detailed examination, but if you do not fight when the enemy is at you with what you have to fight with, and if you do not adapt yourself before you are dead to the new style of warfare that he employs, well, then, you have lost the battle. And so the change had to be made. It is perfectly true that in those circumstances the Australian Government asked for the return of the men who were fighting overseas. Those men were the only trained men that the Australian Army possessed. Their numbers represented the recruitment which, having regard to the then economic labour problem of Australia, was the force that it was felt could be organized for the purposes of the expeditionary force. All the fighting equipment that the Australian nation possessed was with them. When the Japanese struck, there was not one tank in Australia, there wag not one fighter aircraft of any sort or description, and we did not have any manufacturing capacity developed which could produce them rapidly.

We had to lay even the foundations for such an organization and get ahead with it, and if there may have been in the past some declarations, either in speeches of my own or by anybody else, which were not quite understood in any part of the world, I regret the misunderstanding, but I withdraw not one syllable or statement which was made under the necessity of preserving, not the land of Australia, but the area which 7,000,000 Britishers have developed, and which it was requisite should be preserved as a base if the war against Japan was to be brought to a successful conclusion.

“The problem of global war itself is a problem for which there has been no previous military experience. The question of supply represents one of the considerations which is on so colossal a scale for this war - which had never previously had to be examined on such a scale of magnitude. You cannot have a supply line without a terminus. You have to have some depot into which the stuff can pour, and if Australia had gone, I say quite frankly, to the President, I say it to the British Prime Minister, and I say it to the world at large, that the Japanese would have by now consolidated a great part of their co-prosperity sphere, in accordance with their plans, and that the great skill and weight which the United States could bring to bear, and will bring to bear in an increasing scale, with your help, or separately from it if you are otherwise preoccupied, would have taken years and years to achieve. If Australia were not there as a land base, with industries developed and organized, and services available, not on the scale of England, but none the less on a reasonably good scale; if all those things were not there, and the source of supplies was not open, or if the supply line had been cut or the organization had fallen to the enemy, the war against Japan would last another ten years, in my judgment.

We were not fighting only to hold and to save Australia, but we were fighting for a vital strategic area in a global war which civilization is waging against barbarism, and that does not in any way diminish our understanding and our appreciation of the stupendous efforts which have had to be made in this country, this country which, for a good while practically alone except for the support of the Dominions, stood between the Nazis and their purpose of world domination. We knew how grievous the struggle was. We knew how much the evacuation of France, and all that happened at Dunkirk and subsequently, had meant in increasing the deadliness of the German machine, in weakening the resources available to resist it, and in increasing the problem of mounting the strength which ultimately, when mounted, would overcome the Nazis. We knew all that, and I have to say that never once did the Australian people, in reviewing their own circumstances, forget or overlook the duty and the responsibility that they had for the war as a global war, for the struggle in Europe.

I do not propose to discuss in any way the operations that have yet to be carried out, other than to say that the war in Europe must continue until the army of Germany has been defeated, that the war in the Pacific must be continued until the Japanese navy has been defeated, and when the Japanese navy has been defeated there will still be, perhaps, large armies of the Japanese left in occupied territories, and those armies must be defeated, and those territories must be restored to their rightful possessors. I have to say that we cannot destroy the Japanese navy and leave. the Japanese army still free to march, as. it will, over the terrain of China; and so the destruction of the Japanese power to wage war involves the destruction of a great army, it involves the destruction of a great fleet, and of a formidable air force.

In this part of the world it involves the destruction of the German army. There is no great fleet now to overcome and to destroy, and the German air power, while very, very strong, is, I venture to say, in process of being overcome by superior strength, greater efficiency and skill, and by the gallantry on the part of the men who are serving in the Royal Air Force and in the American Air Force.

Now that strategy is the strategy, in broad principle, which Australia has accepted. It is that the great weight of the United Nations shall not be brought against Japan in fullest strength until Germany has been defeated. We accept that, but meanwhile, if we see a Japanese running about we do not forget to have a shot at him, and that war, concurrently, is going on.

You will not mind my paying a tribute to the great skill of the Commander-in-Chief (General Douglas MacArthur), and of the Australian Chiefs of Staff as well. I have had the closest association, as all Prime Ministers inevitably must have, with the Commanders-in-Chief. I know that General MacArthur, the officer of the United States who was assigned as Commander-in-Chief in the South-West Pacific Area, was assigned, not by the American Army by itself, but was assigned jointly by the Governments of Britain and the United States, and the Government of Australia, and the Dutch Government. He is an Allied commander. He happens to be an American officer, but he is responsible to the Allies for the use that he makes of all the forces that have been allocated to him, and up to the present time, if you count up the forces allocated to General MacArthur, you will find that the greatest majority of them are still Australians. He has more Australians under his command than he has people of any other country. I do not submit that as a criticism, but I only state it as a fact.

I know that the Americans are in force over here. You cannot put one man in two places. There are only so many men that you have, and it does not matter how large your army is in numbers, it is only the trained portion of your army which you can put into operation, and when all is said and done, the limiting factor is not only training, but it is the place where they are to fight, and the transport and supply and maintenance services available to deploy at the point of attack of the enemy.

I know that, since the war commenced, many men who sit in armchairs have written articles in which they have said that at this particular place or that particular place the enemy was stronger than we were. Why is that the case? Well, it is the case because it is not only men that you have to send to a particular place, but you have to have a ship to send them in, and you have to have an aeroplane to protect the ship, and you have to have destroyers and naval vessels to escort the ship, and when the ship gets there you have to see that you have another ship to follow it up to maintain the supplies to the man when you have landed him. My final answer, when all is said and done, to the criticism of the way in which the war has been managed is this: Our enemy started off with years of preparation behind him. We started off unready. They had command of all the internal lines of communication. We had to come in from the circumference towards the centre, but they could radiate from the centre towards the circumference. The initiative was with them; they selected the areas and the places which should be the places at which the first onslaught would be made. They had all the advantages, militarily and economically, and they had the advantage, too, in respect to many of the tactical problems of waging war.

I say all that, and then I say this: That at this stage of the war the answer to all the critics of the Allied commanders or the Allied leaders is that the enemy, with all those advantages, cannot win the war, but is now within almost a datum point of decisively losing it. Now it may be, of course, that here and there things have not been done wisely. That will always be the case, and even Parliaments pass laws which in a month or three months everybody seeks to amend, and properly so, and, if we could always look back on everything that has been done, we should say that if we had the chance of looking at it again we might do it a little differently. But that is not what man is allowed to do. He has to face the situation, not from the point of view of the retrospective, but from the point of view of how it looks in prospect. He can look back upon it and he can write interestingly about it, but he cannot change the course events have taken. He can only look forward and make the best of what he has, and do the best with what he has, and, fallible as he is, apply his devotion and whatever other qualities he may have, making the best, perhaps, out of very little.

That was the problem which confronted the governments of the free nations when this war commenced. It would have been impossible for Australia, or Britain, or the United States, or any of the countries, to have survived, if it had not been for the extraordinary devotion and readiness of the people to accept the decisions of Parliament and the acts of their respective Governments. We have had a law-abiding community. We have had communities which have, quite stoically at times, accepted the leadership that they sought, and they have, without cavil, done the things that were asked of them. You have only to look at the immense pool of men who are in the armed forces, and to see the gallantry with which they wage the war, the sacrifices they make, and then to look around at the civil population, and you can ask yourself: Has there ever been in our own history anything approaching their industry, their willingness to put up with all kinds of hardships and discomforts, in many instances to go without adequate food, as they knew it under the old order, and so on? No; it is the complete devotion of a people determined to be free, and to pay the price of the struggle in whatever tribulation is imposes upon them, which have constituted the raw material out of which leaders and governments have been able to withstand the onslaught of the barbarian.

Now, what does that signify to men and women like you and me, who have the duty of making appeals to people, and of directing them, in those senses only in which the word ‘direction’ can be used in a democratic community? Have we not a trusteeship to them, to ensure that in the future the requisite steps shall be taken to guard against any repetition of calamities of this description? Have we not also a duty to them to ensure that, by the maximum of the capacity that any statesmanship can achieve, the worst evils that they knew before the war or during the war shall be tackled rationally and sensibly, with the sole purpose of seeing that they do not happen again?

We have had in Australia to build a kind of miserable hut, and camps in which soldiers have had to dwell, in drought, in torrential rain, and with the sun blistering the roof almost daily, and we have not only had to do that, but we have had to provide for the men working in munition plants and a hundred-and-one other establishments. Precious metals were required by this and other countries, and we have had to send men into the northern territories, and the north-west of Australia, places like Marble Bar, which is said to be the hottest place on earth, and there they have gone and worked, the food perhaps not arriving as regularly as it should, because transportation has been interrupted. For those people, for whom we could not in time of war give a decent house we must provide decent houses when the war is over.

And so, relating that to all the principles which have underlain everything that we have done, there is this duty on the part of successive Governments in the years to come, to make real the purposes for which we have gone to war, and also to give vitality and reality to the declarations that our leaders have made. The Atlantic Charter has been accepted by the Australian Parliament. It is no mere form of words. It is a compass whereby we shall navigate the ship of State in the years to come. It will not be sufficient when the time comes, as it will come, when this struggle is finished, for us to say: ‘Now let things go on as they were’. That will not do. We had too many idle men in my country when the war commenced for me to ever look forward to any re-establishment of that kind of condition in the years to come. Democracies cannot afford to have idle men and idle women. We have immense debts to pay, and it is only by the maximum production of wealth that is possible for us to produce that we can liquidate all our responsibilities.

I have faith and confidence in parliamentary government, and in the representatives of the people, freely chosen, but I believe that laws which cannot be kept permanently on the Statute Book without the consent of the Parliament are by that very fact itself assured of not being oppressive laws. They cannot have about them those qualities of despotism or injustice or undue authority which in other countries would be possible.

Then I believe, too, that the, very fact that every now and, again you can, by the rights which are inherent in this country and Australia, bring out into the light of day whatever points of criticism that a government deserves or should expect to get, means that once that criticism is stated, the opposition may take notice of criticism, but governments always take notice of criticism when they discover that that criticism is well-founded. They are the very first to retrace their steps, and they are the very first to suggest a change; and so it does not matter what party is in power in the years to come, from that standpoint. All parties, having derived their existence from the people as people, must always feel that there are limits beyond which they cannot go in audacity, and there are also standards below which they cannot go in the public service and in the performance of their duty.

Thus, these safeguards, the parliamentary institutions which we know to be real safeguards, are an insurance for all those who have given their devotion and their gallant services, that the undertakings that have been given to other countries in respect of the purpose for which we went to war, are undertakings that we shall honour.

We will restore the occupied countries, so that they can become free countries, and the people of those countries can be entitled to govern themselves in their own way, and we shall also, as part of that dignity which has marked everything that the Allies have done in this war, not only deal justly with the peoples of other countries, but our own parliaments can be relied upon to deal justly with the people of their own country."