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Thursday, 16 March 1961

Mr McEWEN (MURRAY, VICTORIA) (Minister for Trade) - May I comment and say that, on the contrary, the Prime Minister has kept us fully informed of all that has transpired in both the formal and the informal! discussions since the Prime Ministers arrived in London. My colleague, the Acting Minister for External Affairs, has of course been privy to all that the Prime Minister has told us and to the advice that we 'have received and the comment that we have made. I, as Acting Prime Minister, have had the very great benefit of the Acting Minister's wise and experienced advice on this matter.

It is true that the Prime Minister of South Africa has felt obliged to announce that, in view of what has transpired at the conference of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London, South Africa will not persevere with its proposal for approval of the continuing membership of that country in the Commonwealth of Nations after republic status is achieved on 31st May next. At the conclusion of yesterday's discussions in the conference, our Prime Minister made in London a public statement which he immediately cabled to me, and I think it proper to read it now to the House.

Mr Calwell - That was what we wanted yesterday.

Mr McEWEN - He had not made it when you asked your question, because the discussions had not concluded. I think it will be recognized that this is a very delicate matter. The Prime Minister said publicly in London -

This is a very unhappy day for those who attach value to the Commonwealth as an association of independent nations each managing its own affairs in its own way, but all cooperating for common purposes. The criticisms which we all had to make of South African policies were plainly expressed in the conference in a debate which took place with the complete concurrence of Dr. Verwoerd. The debate was of a frankness and intimacy which, in my experience, is possible only in a meeting of Prime Ministers. It is, I think, deplorable that it can never be conducted in such a forum and atmosphere again. What the implications for the future nature of the Commonwealth may be we do not as yet know. For myself, I am deeply troubled.

Commenting on 'the question put by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Speaker, I say that my advice from the Prime Minister is, as I have indicated, that after days of very frank discussion by the Prime Ministers about South Africa's internal policy the Prime Minister of South Africa, Dr. Verwoerd, has finally felt obliged to announce that South Africa will not proceed with her proposal that she remain a member of the Commonwealth after the republic is established on 31st May. Mr. Menzies has kept us informed of the discussions, formal and informal, that have taken place on this issue since the arrival of the Prime Ministers in London. A great divergence of views has been apparent to the world. I can only say that the Prime Minister of South Africa has been most forthcoming in his 'Willingness to participate in a completely unrestricted debate on this issue among his fellow Prime Ministers. It is not to be forgotten that he could have taken the point that the internal policies of a member government have not been regarded hitherto as matters for debate by other Commonwealth Prime Ministers. The final point was reached at which the Prime Minister of South Africa found himself unable to accept a declaration along such lines as might have left South Africa a member state of the Commonwealth virtually under direction in respect of its internal policy, or a member state openly defiant. He has chosen a course which, I hope, tolerant people in Australia will recognize as completely straight-forward, and we can reecognize and respect his decision without in any sense subtracting from our serious disquiet at the policy of apartheid as practised. That disquiet has been made perfectly clear on behalf of the Australian Government and people at all times. This is not an occasion for recrimination. This is an occasion for the quality of tolerance to be exhibited, and for the hope to be with us, and to be expressed by Australians-

Mr Ward - Whose side was Menzies on?

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