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Wednesday, 13 November 1935

Senator FOLL (Queensland) .- I support this bill for the simple reason that, for good or evil, Australia has been a member of the League of Nations from its inception. If there has been one section of the community that has been almost fanatical in its support of the League, it has been the Labour party. When the League has been dealing with matters of world importance, no organization has been more ready to send delegates overseas to participate in the discussions. When any criticism of the League has been offered by members of Parliament or by public men, the foremost to champion it have been members of the Labour party. Yet on the first occasion that the League finds if necessary to give effect to the Covenant the members of the Australian Labour party are shirking their obligations by declining to support the undertaking which Australia, in common with the other members of the League, has given. On Friday last, when Senator Brown said that he was opposed to the imposition of sanctions, I asked, by interjection, if the honorable senator believed that Australia should withdraw from the League. He declined to answer. I now ask the honorable senator if he believes that Australia should d'odge its obligations by withdrawing from the League?

Senator Brown - The honorable senator is now speaking of dodging obligations.

Senator FOLL - If honorable senator.? opposite have studied the Covenant and followed the work undertaken at numerous conferences of the League, they must know that provision is made for the imposition of sanctions against any member of the League which does not comply with the Covenant. Senator Brown, as a former champion of the League, knows that if a member nation commits a breach of the Covenant, it can be declared an aggressor and punished as such. Yet while alleging to support the principles of the League, Senator Brown and those with whom he is associated suggest that on the first occasion the League finds it necessary to act Australia should not honour its obligations. From one end of Australia to the other, sections of the Labour party have advocated that Australia should not support the imposition of sanctions. There may be some justification for opposition from those who have opposed the League ot who have been only lukewarm supporters; but every member of this chamber, including honorable senators opposite, who has championed this organization, should, now that it is compelled to act, support it. Honorable senators opposite know what membership of the League implies, and must have realized long ago that a time would come when the League would find it necessary to act against an aggressor. Are we to believe that during the period in which honorable senators opposite have supported the League they have been giving only lip service to it and that they intended all along that when support was expected Australia should shirk its responsibilities? Has their support been given merely to allow delegates to partake in joy-rides to Geneva ? When trouble arises, are we, as Senator Sampson would say, to retire te our "funk-holes"?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And at a time when the League needs the support of all its members.

Senator FOLL - Exactly. No party in Australia derives greater strength from uniform action on the part of its members than does the Labour party. Woe betide the member of that party who acts contrary to a decision of a majority reached in the caucus room. Any nation which for sixteen years has supported the League of Nations and now refuses to honour its obligations has committed an act of international " scabbing ". Honorable senators opposite who speak so freely of "scabbing" in connexion with political and industrial matters should support th" action which Australia as a signatory of the Covenant is taking. I have never been an enthusiastic supporter of the

League, but I believe that Australia, having supported the principle of the League for the last sixteen years, should not be so cowardly as to attempt to evade its obligations. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) who accused the Government and its supporters of warmongering said that we desire to plunge this country into war. Several members of the Government and many of its supporters have been on active service, and knowing the horrors of war are not likely to assist in involving Australia in another war if it can be honorably avoided. The Council of the League of Nations having declared that one of its members had committed an act of unprovoked aggression against a fellow member steps must be taken to impose penalties upon the aggressor. If Senator Brown really believes that the probable effect of the application of sanctions against Italy will be an extension of the war he should carry his argument to its logical conclusion, and advocate that Australia should immediately withdraw from the League of Nations. But he does not go so far as that. Apparently he considers that we should retain -our membership while things arc going smoothly, but immediately difficulty is encountered, other nations may deal with it; Australia should evade its responsibility.

Senator Brown - The honorable senator is not stating my view correctly.

Senator FOLL - That is the only conclusion possible from the remarks of the honorable senator.

We all deeply regret the present unsettled state of world affairs. It is deplorable that two member States should be at war despite all the efforts of the League to avert hostilities. I am one of those who believe that the League will never be in a position to discharge its obligations to the full until all the major nations are members.

Senator Arkins - What the League has done in the present dispute is an important step in the right direction.

Senator FOLL - It is, and it is deplorable that Italy, after warlike preparations extending over several months should, bv an act of aggression, so profoundly disturb the foreign policies of other members of the League as to make possible another world war. WhenI visited Italy about 25 years ago, the people of that country were facing extraordinary difficulties due to dislocation of industries and political unrest. It was my privilege to revisit that great country in 1930, and again early in the present year when, as a member of the Empire Party Delegation, I touched at Italian ports on my way to Great Britain. I was greatly impressed by the remarkable changes for the better in 1930, and I realized the extraordinary work of re-construction that had been carried out under the direction of Signor Mussolini. There had been a notable improvement of the living conditions of the people, a better type of public buildings had been erected inthe more important cities and towns, and the harbour facilities at Naples and other ports had been brought up to date. One cannot spend any time in Italy to-day without acknowledging that Mussolini has been a tremendous driving force and power for good to the Italian nation. It is, therefore, regrettable that, during the last few months, he should have marred his splendid record by action which has plunged his country into a war, the consequences of which to the world, as well as to Italy, cannot be foreseen. 1 am, however, hopeful that the imposition, at the instance of the League of Nations, of economic and financial sanctions will force the Italian people to realize that their ruler is out of step with the rest of the world. ' It is hoped that the action taken by the League will eventually lead to a cessation of hostilities.

Senator Brownhad something to say in criticism of the League for not having prevented Germany and Italy from rearming. It is easy to criticize. I should like Senator Brown to indicate what action the League could have taken to prevent Germany from re-arming, because Germany, it must be remembered had left the League. What power could the League, or individual nations like Great Britain have exerted to prevent Mussolini from converting Italy into what is virtually an armed camp, or to prevent France from increasing its military strength by an alteration of its conscription law ? The only way in which any individual nation could prevent another nation from doing any of these things would be to declare war and apply military force. Senator Brown has told us that he is against war, and is opposed to the application of economic or financial sanctions against Italy because of the risk of war, which such action entails. Yet, almost in the next breath, the honorable senator criticizes the League of Nations and Great Britain for not having prevented Germany or Italy from rearming.

Senator Brown - The view I expressed is also held strongly by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) who, until a few days ago, was a prominent memberofthe Government. He declared that if the League of Nations had done the right thing when Germany re-armed there would not now be war between Italy and Abyssinia.

Senator FOLL - I am not responsible for any statement that may have been made by the right honorable member for North Sydney. I ask what power other than armed force could have been brought to bear by the League of Nations, or by any individual nation, to prevent any other Member State from increasing its expenditure on defence. Let me remind Senator Brown that the newspapers this morning report that the Commonwealth defence vote is to be increased this year by £2,000,000. Does the honorable senator approve of that increase?

Senator Brown - I certainly shall not vote against it.

Senator FOLL - If the honorable senator thinks that the League of Nations should have prevented Germany from re-arming, does he also consider that it should take some action to prevent Australia from increasing its defence vote by £2,000,000? Does he think that a Member State should protest to the Council of the League" against this proposal by Australia?

Senator Brown - They would be fools if they did. My party believes in the adequate defence of Australia.

Senator FOLL - Does not the honorable senator concede that the governments of other countries also believe in adequate defence measures?

Senator Brown - That is their business. I am concerned only with the defence of Australia.

Senator FOLL - Does not the honorable senator realize that as Australia is a signatory to the League Covenant, what Australia does in the way of defence might well be the business of the League, just as Australia- . accepts its share of responsibility for what other Member States might do? There was no protest from Senator Brown's party when Australia became a signatory to the League Covenant.

Senator Brown - Cannot the honorable senator comprehend that the situation may have changed*

Senator FOLL - Then apparently the honorable senator's argument is this: "While things are going along smoothly and while there is no prospect of trouble we shall continue our membership of the League of Nations, pay our. subscription regularly, send our delegates to the Assembly and to conferences of the International Labour Office, but whenever there is the slightest risk of danger, Australia must take no part in League affairs.

I agree with the statement made by the Assistant Minister (Senator Brennan) on Friday to which exception was taken by honorable senators opposite, that for Australia to shirk its responsibility in connexion with the application of sanctions against Italy would savour of cowardice, in view of the fact that for sixteen years we have sent our delegates to Geneva to discuss with the. representatives of other Member Skates measures to promote world peace.

In his speech on Friday the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) spoke of a land-hungry world seeking for expansion, and of Australia as an empty continent. I invite the honorable senator to consider what those landhungry nations would think of us if we shirked our responsibility on the very first occasion when honouring of it may expose us to risk. I agree with the honorable senator that this empty continent is one of the richest prizes that tempts a land-hungry world. Therefore, we should be steadfast in our resolve to stand by our partners in the League at a time when some show of firmness may have the desired result, namely, the maintenance of world peace. I emphasize, also, that if we are to do what is expected of us, we must remain part and parcel of the British Empire and stand solidly behind the Mother Country in this crisis.

Senator Collingsdeplored the fact that Italy was attacking Abyssinia, but. admitted that it was in pursuance of Mussolini's desire for territorial expansion. Senator Collings pointed out that this attack by Italy had arisen from the fact that Italy's increase of population demanded expansion of its territory, and, in the next breath, he claimed that Australia should take no action to prevent Italy from invading and conquering another country with the object of establishing there a colonial empire. Because of Australia's peculiar position, we should be the first to stand beside Great, Britain and its supporters in this dispute to prevent Italy from walking into Abyssinia and taking what territory it needs for colonization purposes. I reiterate that, because of the temptation this country presents to a nation bent on acquiring colonies, Australia should be the first to protest against predatory action on the part of any nation. I believe that there has been much provocation in the present dispute. A number of frontierincidents occurred between Ethiopians and Italians, and Italy apparently had certain grounds for complaint against Abyssinia. The report laid on the table of the Library a fortnight ago by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce), in which the Italian delegate's case for Italy and Abyssinia's reply to it are set out, contains convincing proof that international trouble has been smouldering on those frontiers for many months past. However, no one for a moment would agree with the methods adopted by Italy to settle the dispute. If I had any criticism to level against the League of Nations, it would be that for six or seven months it allowed ItalY. in full view of the nations of the world, to make preparations for this attack. When I passed through the Suez Canal early in March last, I saw troopship after troopship conveying from Italy to Abyssinia, troops, ammunition, fodder, and implements of war. Thus, month after month, under the very eyes of the League, Italy prepared for this attack. I believe that, when this trouble is settled - and I hope peace will be established soon - -the League will have so to organize itself as to enable it to take even stronger action in. international disputes than it is taking in the present instance; it will require to be able to prevent such disputes from developing to the extent that the ItaloAbyssinian trouble has developed. Because of tho advanced stage which has been reached in the present conflict, tremendous difficulties will have to be surmounted before peace call be arranged. Already Italy lias captured thousands of square miles of Ethiopian territory, and when the time comes to consider peace terms, Abyssinia, no doubt, will demand compensation for the losses it has suffered, at the hands of Italy. On the other hand, it will be difficult to persuade Italy to relinquish any of the territory it has already captured. If the League is to be truly effective in promoting the peace of the world, it must be enabled to deal effectively with disputants before hostilities actually commence. I repeat that, because of the preparations made by Italy for this conflict, every one was aware that an attack on Abyssinia, was impending. It was obvious that Italy was not transporting hundreds of thousands of troops to the borders of Abyssinia simply for the purpose of protecting neighbouring Italian colonies. Unless the League is enabled to enforce its will immediately upon a nation that commits a breach of the Covenant, it will rapidly disintegrate. I remind honorable senators that many of the smaller members of the League joined the League expressly for their own protection.. They realized that, if they remained outside such a body as the League, there would be nothing to prevent stronger neighbours, if the latter so desired, from overwhelming them. They joined the League much from the same motives as actuate a person in taking out an insurance policy; they wanted to ensure that they would be protected in the event of any attack being made upon them by a more powerful nation. It must be a sad thought for the weaker members of the League that one of their number, Abyssinia, is being invaded by one of the stronger members of the League. Under these circumstances one' can readily understand why tho smaller members of the League are unanimously standing behind Britain, France and Russia in the imposition of these sanctions.

Members of the Opposition have been inclined to question the diplomacy of Great Britain in this dispute. Whether we think that British diplomacy has been wise or not, we must recognize that the Mother Country, throughout the history of the League, has placed all its cards on the table, and all its efforts have been for the promotion of world peace. It has been prepared to take risks itself in order to achieve that object; it has remained disarmed in the face of an armed world, thus giving an example to other nations of what they should do in the interests of world peace. In its endeavours to defend the smaller nations of the world it has never paused to consider what nation its efforts in that direction might offend. Because of its record as a member of the League, I would be one of the last to question any action that Great Britain has taken in the present negotiations. I .hope .it will not be long before the efforts of the League bring about a cessation of hostilities. "Whatever mistakes the League has made, and whatever may be our individual opinions of the effectiveness of the methods it has adopted to restore peace, let us remember that those nations which are members of the League at the present time are sincerely striving for world peace. Britain, Russia, France, and the smaller members of the League have only one purpose, and that is to stop the present hostilities as soon as possible, and prevent them from extending. My earnest hope is that this measure will play at least a small part in restoring peace.

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