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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - The Minister has endeavoured to make out a solid case in support of his request to the committee to accept this proposal of the House of Representatives. In my opinion, he has failed. He has endeavoured to be sarcastic at my expense ; I do not object to that, because I have frequently been sarcastic at his expense. Certainly I would be justified now in heaping ridicule on his almost puerile efforts to justify the action of the Government. Why does not the Minister be frank, and state that political exigencies have compelled the Government to accept what it contends is a breach of the Ottawa agreement? The Minister has really made no bones about it; the proposed modification is a breach of the agreement. In order to justify the decision of the Government, the Minister quoted article 16 - . . In the event of circumstances arising which, in the judgment of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom or of His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia, as the case may be, necessitate a variation in the terms of the agreement, the proposal to vary those terms shall form the subject of consultation between the two governments.

What a weak case for the Minister to advance. What a climb-down on the part of the Government !

Senator Arkins - It is the result of a deadlock.

Senator BROWN - 'Has the Government consulted the British Government, and has Britain agreed that the Ottawa agreement shall be broken for a period of six months ?

Senator Millen - No, of course not !

Senator BROWN - I believe that thu Government has done nothing of the kind. I fail to understand why the Minister introduced article 16 into the discussion. The Minister may refer to termites and be sarcastic, but he cannot successfully cite article 16 of the agreement to justify the climb-down of the Government. The article deals with the terms of the agreement, and the Commonwealth Government is at perfect liberty to consult the British Government. Will the Minister inform the committee whether the Government consulted Great Britain in order to allow the terms of the agreement to be broken for a period of six months? Has the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom (Sir Geoffrey Whiskard) been consulted in this matter? What cables have passed between the two governments concerned? The Senate should be acquainted with these matters. In my opinion, the Senate was grossly misled by the high falutin' references of the Minister to the spirit of Ottawa. Senator Sampson in his speech made the position quite plain. He referred to the huckstering at the Ottawa Conference, and stated that the agreement was really a trade arrangement between Great Britain and Australia. From my interpretation of the agreement, the cement duties did not constitute a violation of it. In consultation with several honorable senators who supported the Government following the explanation that the action- of the House of Representative constituted a breach of the agreement, I learned that they did not so regard it. Although I have had no legal training. I studied the document as a whole, anc I still contend that no breach was committed. But Senator Pearce and Senator McLachlan, with crocodile tears running down their cheeks, maintained that the relations between the two countries would be endangered if honorable senators did not support the Government; thereby they persuaded Senator Foll, who had agreed with my interpretation of the Ottawa agreement, to alter his opinion. The Government, I consider, has climbed down, because of political expediency, and the quotation of article 16 can be ignored as being irrelevant. Why does not the Government frankly admit that it has been politically beaten, and that it hesitates to go to the extreme course of seeking the verdict of the electors? Instead of adopting this course, it prefers to ask us to break the Ottawa agreement for six months !

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