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Thursday, 13 April 1961

Mr CHRESBY (Griffith) .- Mr. Speaker,in this debate we have wandered all over the universe, and the principal point of the debate has been the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I think we should get back to sanity and clarity in analysing that statement. It involves, in my considered opinion, three distinct issues: First, his leadership; secondly, matters of a constitutional nature: and thirdly, matters of a political nature. On the question of leadership the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) pre-supposes that the Prime Minister is completely incompetent to lead Australia in world affairs in any set of circumstances. Indeed, the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) said that the

Prime Minister was all at sea in the big atmosphere of the United Nations. He blamed the Prime Minister for not following the United Kingdom. He said that in less than 48 hours in the United Nations, in New York, the Prime Minister had formed an opinion and had taken action. In contrast, we have to look at the alternative leadership which is indicated by the nature of the amendment, because the Opposition claims that it can offer alternative leaders who can fulfil all the great ideals of leadership.

The plain fact of the matter is that on several occasions in this House - and most noticeably in yesterday's debate - the Leader of the Opposition proved for all time his complete incompetence to lead this nation, because he could not stand up even to opposition from the back benchers on the Government side without completely and utterly losing his temper. The first principle of leadership is that one must never lose one's temper, and on that score alone the alternative Prime Minister proved his incapacity to lead this country in the United Nations. The exhibition we had from both the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) yesterday clearly indicated that neither of them would be capable of standing among the giants who gather at the United Nations or the giants who gather at Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences. They proved themselves to be completely unable to do so, because they could not stand up to opposition from the back benchers on the Government side of the House without losing their tempers; and on that basis we can wipe them off.

I sum up the alternative leadership offered to us in this debate - if I may be pardoned for doing so - in the following bit of Cockney doggerel: -

They're the ash bin of the 'opeless and the dustbin of the damned -

They've exhibited every temper 'neath the sun, T'aint their glamour nor their glitter nor their kisses sweet or bitter -

They're the God knows what it is; but still they am.

That is the type of leadership that the Australian Labour Party is offering to the Australian people. If we put those two leaders alongside our Prime: Minister on the platforms of Australia, there would be no doubt whom the people of Australia would pre fer; they would vote with the Prime Minister. On the question of leadership alone the Opposition must fail deplorably, because since- Dr. Evattleft that side of the House and went out of politics, the Opposition has had no one comparable with him. It has no one with his constitutional knowledge. Who are their prospects? Would the people have the poet from Parkes as their Prime Minister? Do they visualize Australia being led at the United Nations by the lord from East Sydney or the red ambassador from Yarra?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What about me?

Mr CHRESBY - You do not even come within the scope of this. There is no leadership offering on the Labour benches capable of measuring up even to Dr. Evatt's standard. Until honorable members opposite find a real leader all their talk that they can do this, that or the other in the United Nations is just so much political eye-wash; and it clearly indicates a desperate attempt to gain the Government benches by saying anything they can think of in order to create a division between the Leader of the Government and his supporters and the people of Australia - an objective which honorable members opposite can never achieve.

I turn now to the constitutional aspect. In all these attacks nearly every speaker on the Opposition side has followed the line that the Prime Minister of Australia stood on his own and refused to budge, that he did not follow the United Kingdom and fell out with Mr. Macmillan, and all that sort of thing. If the Prime Minister stands fast to what he believes to be a principle, he is following in the wake of a great Labour leader, who said -

If I think a thing is worth fighting for, no matter what the penalty is, I will fight for the right, and truth and justice will always prevail. You cannot afford to be in the middle of the road. You have to be quite clear about what you believe in, whether popular or unpopular, and you have to fight for it.

That was said by the late Ben Chifley, my authority for the quotation being the official Australian Labour Party booklet. The Prime Minister is being lambasted by the A.L.P. because he believes that on the constitutional issues involved he is right. I have not seen any evidence yet submitted by any member of the Opposition to show that before South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth there was any cleavage of opinion between the Prime Minister of Australia and the Prime Minister of Great Britain on these issues. Before the withdrawal of South Africa there was, in that respect, complete unanimity between these leaders. No one can deny that fact. What was the position after the withdrawal of South Africa? The Prime Minister of Great Britain and our Prime Minister each expressed constitutional opinions which differed only slightly as to the possible consequences, constitutionally, of South Africa's decision. Yet the A.L.P. is representing that position as something dreadful - that our Prime Minister has let Australia down. Not one of his critics on the other side of the. House - certainly neither of the two alternative leaders - has any possible hope of achieving the Prime Minister's eminence as a constitutional authority or his standing in international affairs.

Let me deal now with the stand taken by the Prime Minister of Australia and that taken by Mr. Macmillan on this constitutional question. The Prime Minister of Australia said, in effect, that this thing which we call the Commonwealth of Nations is a magnificent thing, something that has been built up on certain understandings and agreements between the Prime Ministers of the nations that go to make up the British Commonwealth. He also said, in effect, that we have never at any time visualized that we should sit one in judgment of the other. Up to the time of the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth: nowhere in any statement by the Prime Minister of Great Britain can be found anything which disagrees with what the Australian Prime Minister had said on that point. Up to that time, there was complete unanimity between the two Prime Ministers on that constitutional point.

On 22nd March of this year, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) made a very interesting statement, and I ask those of the Opposition who oppose the stand taken by our Prime Minister to note carefully what their own leader said on tha* occasion. On page 453 of " Hansard ", the Leader of the Opposition is reported as having said -

The question of apartheid would never have arisen at the conference if South Africa had not decided last year to become an independent i¬ępublic. Had it decided to remain a dominion inside the Commonwealth, the discussion that took place at the recent Prime Ministers' Conference would never have arisen and could never have arisen.

I emphasize to honorable members opposite that this is their own leader's statement, and that during this debate he has attempted to deny it. The Leader of the Opposition went on to say -

South Africa had been practising this policy -of apartheid for a number of years and the issue had never previously been raised at these annual conferences of Prime Ministers. I want to make that point at the beginning.

I shall come back to that when dealing with the political issue. Here I emphasize that from the lips of the Leader of the Opposition we have an admission on the 22nd March that the question of South Africa"s racial policy would never have arisen if South Africa had not decided to become a republic. Yet, in face of that admission, honorable members opposite would have us believe that all this discussion has arise" out of the Sharpeville incident. I shall come back to Sharpeville in a moment.

Let me come back to the communique issued by the Prime Ministers in Great Britain last year. In that communique they said -

The Commonwealth is an association of independent sovereign States, each responsible for its own policies. Whilst reaffirming the traditional practice that Commonwealth Conferences do not discuss the internal affairs of member countries- and that was the unanimous decision of all the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth -

Ministers availed themselves of Mr. Louw's presence in London to have informal discussions with him about the racial situation in South Africa.

And the Leader of the Opposition agrees with that!

Let me now sum up the constitutional position. And the Opposition must answer what I have to say because its members are confusing politics and constitutional matters in this debate. Both these matters must be kept in separate compartments if we are to have a true appreciation of the events that have taken place over the last two or three years. I reiterate that on the constitutional issue there was not one instance of disagreement or difference of opinion between the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Prime Minister of Australia prior to the withdrawal of South Africa. Since the withdrawal of South Africa, the two leading Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth, namely, Mr. Menzies and Mr. Macmillan, have issued statements setting out what they believe to be the consequences of certain constitutional actions, and there was a slight difference - a very slight difference - in the opinions they expressed as to what they believed could happen. But that does not constitute the great tragedy that honorable members opposite would have us believe it is.

Now let me come back to the political side. Prior to the withdraw of South Africa, there was no difference of opinion between the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Prime Minister of Australia politically. Both maintained a discreet political silence with relation to the internal policy of South Africa, although it was obvious that neither approved of it. After the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth, both Prime Ministers were unanimous in their beliefs about the particular policy being pursued by South Africa. It would seem, therefore, that the Labour Party is labouring to bring forth the proverbial mouse. It has no case. It is trying to hang everything on the one point - the right of a good man, a big man, a strong man in the field of Commonwealth affairs, to express an opinion about the possible results of certain constitutional actions. I repeat that the Labour Party has no case; it has no leadership, and it has nothing to offer the people of Australia as an alternative. Despite all these screams, groans and moans that we hear from the Opposition, I am satisfied that if the Labour Party placed its two leaders alongside ours on the platform and asked the people to choose between them, both Mr. Menzies and Mr. McEwen would be returned with overwhelming majorities.

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