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Wednesday, 14 October 1914

Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) (AttorneyGeneral) . - The emotion of the honorable member for Bourke has led him entirely astray, but his criticism ought not to be allowed to pass without reply. He conceives the issue to be quite other than it is. No sane man could intend this gift of £100,000 as something to put the Belgian people again in the position in which they were on the 4th August last. It is not to be regarded as a sponge to sop up the ocean of blood that has been poured out since that date, nor can it in any way compensate for the violation of women, the killing of children, and the burning of cities that has taken place. It is intended chiefly as an expression of the esteem and regard which we in Australia have for the Belgian people. What have we to do with the King of Belgium or with any king? The honorable member for Bourke spoke of what the late King of Belgium did in the Congo, and I believe that his criticism of that monarch was amply justified*; but what have we to do with that matter? Are we to trace back the genealogy of the reigning house before relieving the people over which a king rules? If so, the springs of human charity must dry up. If the honorable gentleman looked at home and studied the history of our Kings or the history of the rulers of any nation, he might find there, adopting his own argument, ample justification for keeping every penny we have in our own pockets. But we are dealing now with an event that has happened before our own eyes. I differ entirely from the honorable gentleman when he says that Belgium had not an easy way open to her. She had the easy way of the craven and the coward. She could have turned her back. There was a safe and, temporarily, profitable way which she could have taken. The honorable member says that had Belgium allowed the German troops to cross her frontier, or to use her territory, Prance and Great Britain would have brushed aside their treaty obligations, and the country would have been as badly off as it is now. The chronology of the war proves that statement to be wrong. Had it not been for the stand of the Belgians at Liege, the Germans would have been in France before the French were ready, and long before the British could get there. The British did not get to Mons, or wherever they started, until days after the Germans had entered France. Belgium, with its handful of men, women, and children, is not to be judged by the sins of those who have ruled the country. I would remind my honorable friend also that the present war is not a conflict of kings; it is a racial war, and has its well-springs in the fundamentals of human interests and human nature. I would remind him that Vanderveld, the leader of the Socialist party in Belgium, is now a member of the Belgian Government, and joined that Government at the special request of the Socialist party of Belgium, to show that in this war there is no class division, no division of political opinions, and that to the last man Belgium is determined to repel the arrogance of that nation which threatens her very existence. For my own part the only fault I have to find with the motion is that the proposed grant is too small. I would that we were able to give £100,000,000 to the Belgians. But we have done what we are able in other ways to repay our debt, and this is but a small recognition of our obligation.

As to how the money is to be distributed, I ask how are all gifts of this kind dealt with? When the Commonwealth sent £10,000 to relieve the misery caused by the earthquake at Messina it was left to the local authorities to distribute the money, and we assume that it was distributed in the way in which it was thought would do most good. Are we to believe that this £100,000 will be used for the purposes of the King of Belgium? There is such an ocean of misery in Belgium to-day that this will do little to relieve it; but it is being given in a proper spirit, and I believe that it will be received as we intend it. I cannot for a moment entertain the suggestion that the giving of this money will deprive any man in Australia of employment. Have we come to such a pass that, notwithstanding her wealth, Australia cannot make a grant of £100,000 without disorganizing her industries, and throwing thousands out of employment? The employing of our people is another matter altogether. If £100,000 will do little for the Belgians, what would it do for the thousands who, according to my honorable friend, are out of employment in this country? This Labour Government came into power to promote and preserve the interests of the working man of Australia. It lives for that, and if unable to do what is required it should give way to some other Government. This grant would have been proposed by any Government that might have been in power. It has no party origin, and will find the amplest justification in the heart and mind of every man and woman in Australia. I have nothing more to say, except to pay my small tribute to those people to whom civilization will owe its existence, if civilization is yet permitted to endure. Those Belgian people have kept the bridge for us at a time when, unarmed and unready, France and England were not prepared for the onslaught of these German vandals, and by that action, as my friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Belgian people have covered themselves with imperishable glory. They have reared for themselves a monument more enduring than the Pyramids, and their fame will last as long as human memory lasts, and as long as the love of bravery and honour is implanted in the spirit of man.

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