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Thursday, 13 April 1961

Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Minister for Trade) . - The statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was completely comprehensive. It was lucid and it was documented. It recounted the story of his personal handling of Government policy. Cabinet, of course, was completely privy to the policy line he was following. There were discussions before he left and daily cable consultations whilst he was engaged on his mission.

Let me recall some of the incidents of his mission. Let me recall to the House, for instance, the usefulness, to use a modest word, of his visit to President Kennedy. This surely must be recognized. The issues of the Prime Ministers' Conference were really epoch-making, and I shall give a short account of them. They covered disarmament, the ban on nuclear tests and, of course, the South African situation. The Prime Minister discussed at the very top level in London Australia's trading interests, and finally he made his contribution to the quite vital meeting of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization in Bangkok. This meeting was held in an atmosphere ominous with dangers for the peace of the world.

Here I enumerate a number of the issues, most comprehensive in themselves and of top-level importance for the Parliament, for the Government and, may I say, for the Opposition. The Prime Minister's statement affords an opportunity to the Opposition to debate these issues which are critical to Australia's security, and discuss the issues raised in the Prime Ministers' Conference. These issues, if pursued on certain lines, could result in a subtraction from our own sovereignty. Here is the occasion for the Parliament to deal with issues affecting our treaty relations with both foreign countries and Commonwealth countries. It is an occasion for the Parliament to debate the internal relations of the Commonwealth of Nations and, of course, the Prime Minister was himself engaged on his mission at a most explosive moment. The situation in Laos bore a real relationship to the continuance of world peace.

The Prime Minister in his statement discussed at length and in detail the issues that I have mentioned. When he had done that, parliamentary procedure enabled the matter to pass to the responsibility of the Opposition and enabled the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) to give shape and character to the subsequent debate. Here was the Opposition's opportunity to reveal its character - solid, realistic, facing the problems of Australia, recognizing the problems of the Commonwealth and discussing our own great alliances in Anzus and Seato. Here was the Opposition's opportunity to be critical, if need be, of the Government's policies and certainly to be constructive. Here was an opportunity for Parliament to operate at its very best in the interests of the Australian people; to make a contribution to the stability and solidarity of the Commonwealth; to make a contribution in respect of our responsibilities to Seato and to express the voice of Australian democracy on the sovereignty and security of small South-East Asian countries. Here was an opportunity for the Opposition to make clear the weight that it attached to the danger of Communist encroachment into South-East Asia - an area so vital to Australia. Here was an opportunity for the Opposition to exhibit the solidarity of the Australian people in the face of this threat to peace in South-East Asia. Here was an opportunity for the Opposition to exhibit a non-partisan Australian policy on peace, a non-partisan policy on disarmament and a non-partisan policy for the integrity of the Commonwealth of Nations under the Queen. Here was an opportunity to exhibit impenetrable Australian solidarity at a time when an attempt was made in an international - although Commonwealth - meeting to apply compulsive measures to one country to change its internal policies as the price of remaining in the Commonwealth. Here was an opportunity to contribute constructively to the problem of whether there shall be war or peace in South-East Asia. Here was an opportunity in this Parliament to widen the whole basis of Australia's influence on the attitude of the Seato nations.

What an opportunity for statesmanship to be exhibited! That is the shape that the debate may have been expected to take had the Opposition pursued an analysis of these issues, had it criticized when there was scope for criticism and had it exhibited real Australian solidarity. The Parliament would have gained respect. The Opposition could have made a contribution, critical though it may have been. It could have dealt with issues on which the Australian people are indivisible. The Opposition could have enhanced its reputation and certainly that of its leading members. That was its responsibility and it had the opportunity. But what has happened? The Opposition has exercised its right to choose the point to which it will give emphasis.

What of our relations with the great United States of America - our most powerful ally - our natural and very necessary friend? What of the connexion established with the great new President of the United States by the visit of our Prime Minister? On this aspect Opposition members have remained silent. We have not heard a sound from them about it. What of the meeting of Prime Ministers in London, where a completely new phase of history was to be shaped? Here was a situation with the highly emotional and human issues of apartheid in South Africa inevitably in the minds of all. The actual issue for decision, involving cohesion of the Commonwealth, was the continued membership of South Africa.

There are two highly important aspects of that issue. The first aspect was the examination of the problems of human rights. The second aspect was the problem of sustaining the unity of membership of this great Commonwealth. Each aspect was tremendously important, but each was capable of being considered separately. That was the Prime Minister's line in London - to have each aspect considered separately, to be prepared to discuss, persuade and talk frankly on apartheid. He was prepared to state his Government's, his country's and his own abhorrence of apartheid. He was prepared to join with other Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth in reasoning with the South African Prime Minister on this difficult and most serious matter.

What our Prime Minister sought to prevent was having this most serious matter, affecting as it did the emotions of all present, from being confused with the completely separate issue of South Africa's membership of the Commonwealth. He documented his record. There is no need for me to repeat it. Time and again the Prime Minister has stated where he stood on apartheid - where his Government and his country stood. At the same time he has argued, as a matter of his and his Government's judgment, the right of South Africa to be a member of the Commonwealth, clearly perceiving at all times that that was the type of argument upon the decision of which laws are made just as judicial decisions create precedents which courts will follow in applying the law. Could a country be expelled from the Commonwealth because other members of the Commonwealth disapproved of that country's policies or, if you like, felt their consciences irreconcilable with the policies pursued by that country?

We who sit in this Parliament, particularly we who are members of the Government, carry great moral responsibilities. Within our country and whenever we are able to exercise influence throughout the world our opportunities and our responsibilities for good or ill are tremendous. But without subtracting from that declaration, what is our prime purpose in being here? Surely it is to preserve the security of Australia from external aggression and to see that her sovereignty is unimpaired by non-Asian influences and pressures. That is our first responsibility. We maintain a constant consciousness of it. We will at all times act accordingly.

To serve and safeguard Australia's interests is our first duty. It was with that duty in mind that our Prime Minister took his stand in London. He did not want - and he tried to avoid it - the question of South Africa remaining in the Commonwealth as a republic to be debated in an atmosphere of a concurrent discussion of South Africa's apartheid practices. If he had allowed his emotions to sway him, if he had been conscious only of the shortterm reaction to his attitude, it would have been easy for him to join the " Boot Her Out " group. But his mind was clear and his Government's policy in this regard was equally clear. He condemned apartheid. But, having an acute consciousness of the precedent that might be created and of the eventual implications for any country, but particularly his own country, of criticisms of its policies, he stated that it was wrong and particularly dangerous to establish the principle that in the Queen's Commonwealth membership for each separate country depended on that country's willingness - that is, its parliament's willingness - to conform to the views, prejudices or pressures of the Prime Ministers of the other member countries as a group. Our Prime Minister saw clearly, as we in Australia saw clearly, that here was an issue really vital to the unimpaired sovereignty of each country and to the independence of the Parliaments of each country. Our

Prime Minister sought to protect that sovereignty. That is what he acted to protect in London.

Now the scene switches to the Australian Parliament in Canberra. Where does the Opposition - the alternative government - stand on these great issues? Stripped of glib, cheap, rude and propaganda comments, the Opposition identifies this debate as no more than an occasion to criticize the Prime Minister and to parade the empty proposal that he should, in the words of the amendment, "be . . . removed from the office of Minister of State for External Affairs ". In short, on one of the greatest occasions offered to the Opposition in this Parliament, the Labour Party has shown its incapacity to measure up to its responsibilities or to take advantage of its opportunities. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is merely a device. It exhibits politics at its cheapest when there was an opportunity to display statesmanship at its very best.

This Parliament represents the Australian people, Mr. Speaker. This Parliament is the voice of the Australian people. In this place is concentrated the authority of the Australian sovereign nation. Australian men have died in Europe, in North Africa and in South-East Asia to preserve the unqualified freedom of this country. Is it to be tolerated that, having retained our freedom by their sacrifice, that freedom shall be surrendered - surrendered by politicians accepting a new order? Is it to be tolerated that the policies which this Parliament may approve are to be contingent upon being ratified by a London meeting of Prime Ministers? Are we to accept that as the price of our continuing membership of the Commonwealth of Nations? This is what our Prime Minister was fighting against, and it is an unhappy day when we find that those who constitute the alternative government of Australia not only have failed to perceive these things but have actually been willing to proclaim the application of this new rule to one member of the Commonwealth. The Opposition has blindly refused to see that a rule so established may, with respect to some issues on some occasion, be applied to our own country or to other countries.

I have not the slightest doubt that the Parliament, perceiving the reality of this, will reject the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that the Opposition itself will be sorry that it ever proposed it and that it took so mean and cheap a political line on an occasion when issues vital to the security of Australia - issues of peace or war - were available for debate. Look at the matters that were introduced in the Prime Minister's statement: The banning of tests of nuclear weapons, disarmament, the internal relationships within the Commonwealth of Nations, the attitude of the powers which comprise the South-East Asia Treaty Organization, our great alliances and our first contact through the Prime Minister with the new President of the United States of America. All of them have been passed over by those who constitute the alternative government of Australia. They have passed over these issues merely in order to attempt to gain a cheap advantage by having a crack at the Prime Minister. All I can say is that the Opposition has itself established in the minds of the Australian people where it stands. I conclude, Mr. Speaker, by observing that the Australian people will not be inspired with any confidence by the Opposition's performance on this occasion. That performance will not inspire them to feel that this Opposition could provide for Australia a government that could be trusted in dangerous days.

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