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Wednesday, 13 November 1935

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - On behalf of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) I thank honorable senators for the high plane on which the measure has been discussed. No measure more far-reaching or more important has ever come before the Senate. It affects not only the interests of Australia but, as I shall indicate, the interests of suffering civilization itself. It is proper that a matter of such moment should be discussed on the highest possible plane, and not made the subject of party attack, because the future of civilization depends upon tho attitude that is adopted by the constituent members of the League. Hie measure is fraught with such tremendous responsibilities that we should deal with it earnestly and in no carping partisan spirit. Any shaft that may come from me in the course of my speech, although perhaps aimed at some of the honorable gentlemen opposite, will be directed by a sincere desire to convert them from their present attitude to a realization of their responsibility and their duty to humanity. When debating a measure of this description, we should take stock of where the peoples of the world stand - why are we hero, what are we doing, and what is our duty to posterity? Surely we arc trustees for posterity, and have a responsibility for the future advancement of mankind. Because of this, a suffering civilization has brought into being the League of Nations. The foundation of the League was the first concerted attempt of civilized man to rescue itself from the horrors of war. Whatever failures it may have had in the past, and despite the lack of support from certain powers, the League has been a force for good. I remind honorable senators that though Germany and Russia were not original members, and the United States of America' has never joined, the League has rendered considerable service to the world. It has eliminated the sufferings of many nations, and repeatedly preserved peace between nations that were on the very verge of war. Under these circumstances, a grave responsibility rests upon those in our midst who state that we should not support the League. Members of the Opposition have avoided the issue which briefly is this: Are we to retire from the League of Nations or carry out our obligations to it to the full? There is no middle course. We have either to accept our obligations or -leave the League. 1 am sure that Senator Collings would be the last to declare that we should retire from the League. Does the Labour party stand for the desertion of the League? The only alternative is to support the League to the full. One cannot give part service to the League; we must either accept the Covenant as a whole with its disabilities, disadvantages and dangers, if we are to strive in the interests of suffering civilization and humanity - for that is the League's objective - or withdraw from it. Every law, both human and divine, stands for the observance of covenants, and I think that it is nowhere better expressed than in the Koran : " Oh ye faithful keep your covenants". That is all that the League and the British Empire are asking. This Parliament is asked in its small way to implement one small part of our covenants. Our good faith, honesty of purpose and self-interest go hand in hand on this occasion. A few days ago, I said in this chamber that Australia, by reason of its isolated position in the southern seas, has much to gain from loyal adherence to the League.

As regards the position in Europe, I speak with some degree of feeling, because T was a signatory on behalf of Australia to the Kellogg Pact. France, one of the nations represented at that ceremony, has had personal experience of war, and ir, has suffered more bloodshed on its own fields, than probably any other nation in Europe. Within a period of 50 years, France has endured two invasions, and has had its soil drenched with the blood of its own sons, the invaders, and those who went to its rescue. I never knew an assembly in which fervour reached such a point as on the occasion of Mr. Kellogg's visit to France. The document, variously called the Pact of Paris, and the Briand-Kellogg Pact, evoked in the French people feverish enthusiasm for what they believed to be an implementation of the work of the League of Nations - an accession of strength to the League, fathered and fostered by the American people. As I have mentioned, the French knew the horrors pf war and experienced its disabilities and disadvantages. Their fields had been trampled by the rude foot of the invader for centuries past, and the French impressed upon me at the time their tremendous enthusiasm, almost a religious fervour, for the Kellogg Pact which outlawed war as a weapon among civilized people. The ceremony of signing the pact left an indelible impression on my mind. We in this country know nothing of the horrors of war close to our shores. Our country has been free, thank God, from even a civil disturbance involving any great shedding of blood. It has never felt the foot of the invader. The unfortunate people of Europe who know what war means, its disabilities and its consequences, desire only lasting peace. In these circumstances, regardless of party considerations, we should support this instrument of peace devised by man for his own protection and security, and give it an opportunity to succeed. We have no quarrel with Italy, a country to which modern civilization owes a great deal. Although the League may have some complaints concerning the conditions prevailing in Abyssinia, we have no quarrel with that country. Whatever may be the' merits of the dispute, Italy and Abyssinia as members of the League are bound by the Covenant, and should have adhered to it. Abyssinia was willing to allow the dispute to be settled by the proper tribunal constituted by the League. and Italy having declined, must submit to whatever may be the consequences of the action it has decided to take. Some observations have been made concerning the far-reaching effects of article 16 of the Covenant. Whatever tho Covenant may provide concerning the existence of " a state of war " between certain signatories to the Covenant, the League, in certain resolutions with which honorable senators are familiar, has interpreted those words. These resolutions were passed because the principle of peace is fundamental to the existence of the League. The League which was constituted to ensure the territorial integrity of all nations, and especially the weaker ones, and the existence of a state of war is contrary to the fundamental principles upon which the League is founded. In pursuance of the League's interpretation of article 16, the Member States are now acting together to bring about a stoppage of the carnage at present proceeding in Northern Africa. Some have said that the League has failed. Has the League actually failed? Has it ever previously been really tested? If time permitted, I could draw a clear distinction between the situation which existed in Manchukuo and that which prevails in Abyssinia to-day. I could refer honorable senators to the Lytton report which declared that there was some justification for a general cleaning up of the position in Northern China, but, I feel that Japan was wrong in adopting the methods it did. There may be something to be said in extenuation of Italy's policy towards Abyssinia, but countries which have subscribed to the Covenant of the League, are bound by its principles and procedure. The League failed to settle the Manchukuo dispute, but that does not mean that it will fail to solve the problem now before it. The League which was established in the interests of peace has the support of the French Government, and its representatives at the League Council expressed in no uncertain terms the loyalty of Franc? towards the Covenant. M. Laval said -

We are bound to a solidarity which will determineour duty. Our obligations are inscribed in the Covenant. France will not fail to discharge them.

We are now asking that Australia, which is a member of the League and a signatory to the Kellogg Pact, shall discharge its obligations to the League. The United States of America has declared that it is not averse from the present proceedings, and Germany, which is not adopting an attitude of indifference, is opposed to Italian aggression. Soviet Russia, which is now a member of the League, is loyally discharging the international obligations it has assumed. Surely, in our loyalty to the Covenant, we shall not lag behind Britain, France, or the Soviet Republic! M. Laval, in stating the position which he considers the members of the League should occupy, says -

This partnership in responsibilities of all kinds in all circumstances of time and place, a responsibility which is implied for the future by such a declaration, marks a date in the history of the League of Nations. I rejoice thereat with my country, for my country fully understands the need for close collaboration with the United Kingdom in the defence of peace and for the protection of Europe.

The attitude adopted by the members of the League has been well expressed in various sections of the Australian press. One paragraph reads -

It will now remain to be seen whether Britain and France will call Mussolini's bluff.

It is unthinkable to me that the great Australian Labour party has lost its soul,, and will fail in its duty by declining to honour Australia's obligations.

Senator Collings - It is a "great party " when the honorable senator wants to put something over it.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am surprised that, in discussing such an important subject, the Leader of the Opposition should suggest that an attempt is being made to "put something over " the party to which he belongs.I am sorry that that party does not possess the spirit it once possessed, and that, for party reasons, it is unable to honour the obligations to which it previously committed itself. Is that the spirit and the atmosphere in which this subject should be discussed? It is not in a spirit of anger or bitterness towards Italy that sanctions are being imposed, but in a desire to serve the best interests of civilization.

Some misapprehension appears to exist in the minds of many persons concerning the meaning and use of the word " sanctions ". Ordinarily, " sanction " means approval, but in League circles the word has a different meaning. It is doubtful whether British law owes much to the Roman law, but the French, Italian, Dutch. and some other systems of jurisprudence are closely associated with it. Those who have been in South Africa recall that, in the Dutch legal system, there is a fair sprinkling of Roman law.

Senator Sampson - They call it the Roman-Dutch law.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is so. Roman law, which has exerted a wide influence on France and other Continental countries, has also influenced the language inwhich the terms of the Covenant have been expressed. This is not surprising if regard be had to the fact that French is one of the official languages in use at the League. At the Council meetings of the League, French and English are the principal languages spoken. The existing legal system has therefore found expression in various articles of the Covenant, and the term " sanctions " is commonly used to express punishments or deterrents. Sir John Salmond, who was a judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, explains the term " sanctions " in his book on Jurisprudence in. this way -

The instrument of coercion by which any system of imperative law is enforced is called a " sanction," and any rule so enforced is said to be sanctioned.

He goes on to say that the term " sanction " is derived from Roman law. The Sanctis was originally that part of a statute which established a penalty or made other provisions for its enforcement. By an easy transition the term " sanction " has come to denote the penalty itself and has been used in international law for many years.

Honorable senators generally have given the bill their blessing. Australia must either honour its obligations under the League Covenant or resign its membership of the League of Nations. I cannot follow the logic of honorable senators opposite. They say - "We do not believe in the participation by Australia in the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia. We decline to carry out our obligations under the Covenant. We shall not vote to impose sanctions on the Italian people. We want to keep out". I put it to them that such a position would be absolutely inconsistent with our continued membership of the League. Senator Collings has told us that Labour's policy is the adequate defence of Australia. What would be the attitude of the Labour party if Australia were menaced by a foreign nation? If we cannot be trusted to support the League in a dispute between other member States, would Labour expect the League to take adequate measures to defend Australia if this country were threatened ? On behalf of my leader, who unfortunately is absent this evening, I thank honorable members for their assurances of support for the bill.

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