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Friday, 17 July 1931


Mr MORGAN (Darling Downs) - I enter this debate with some trepidation, after the excellent speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and, in some respects, the no less admirable address of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). I shall consider the subject from some of the broader aspects which appeal to a layman who has endeavoured to take an intelligent interest in imperial matters. The profound importance of the proposal before the House has been admirably stressed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but I have no intention of following him in. his contentions. The motion before the House has arisen almost wholly from the proceedings of the Imperial conferences of 1926 and 1930. When the Prime Minister was addressing the House eight or ten days ago, he took the stand that these proposals would increase community of interests in the Empire; that the selfgovernment now enjoyed by the dominions would be strengthened. To my mind, that rather savours of taking our history from a collection of Border Ballads, or our theology from a hymnary. These conclusions he based upon what has come to be known as the Balfour report. Robert Stokes, in New Imperial Ideals, makes the following reference to the Balfour report: -

The report is almost frankly disruptive, and in two cardinal matters, it goes, or appears to go, far beyond' the 192G report -

1.   In the first pla.ca it goes beyond its own terms of reference from the 1920 conference in recommending that dominion parliaments should have full power to make laws having extra-territorial operation, whereas the terms of reference had limited this to " all cases where such operation is ancillary to provision for the peace, order, and good government of the dominion ".

2.   In the second place, the 192G report did not devise any legal means whereby dominions might be at liberty to secede, and by a wellestablished rule of law, a dominion parliament could not legally pass a secession law having validity, because that would bc to transgress the purpose for which it had received its powers from the Imperial Parliament and for which it existed. Such a law must be reserved and disallowed. Accordingly, the only means of peaceable secession open to it was to try and persuade the Imperial Government to pass legislation dissolving the tie with it. Such legislation would naturally not be passed unless the Imperial Parliament were convinced that the change was desired by an overwhelming majority of the citizens of the dominion. But the present report provides for the abolition of reservation and disallowance, except in respect of the Governor's constitutional powers as the personal representative of the King, and these can be overcome by the refusal of supplies. The report, therefore, would leave it possible for, say, the Irish Free State, even with an opposing Governor-General, to secede legally from the Empire by processes which could not be legally checked at any point by the rest of the Empire. A French writer "of weight contends that this is the effect of the position already described in the 1920 report itself. However that may be, it certainly appears to be the position likely to be ensured by the 1929 report.

The general design of this report is to carry the principles of the 1926 report to their logical conclusion by placing the dominions in a position of absolute equality with the United Kingdom. This involves divesting the Imperial Parliament of the last shadowy remnants of its capacity to legislate of its own motion for the dominions, and it leaves the Empire without a legislature entitled to make laws for it as a whole. It can only attain legislative unity in any matter by means of agreed concurrent legislation by the various parliaments. Of the difficulty of securing such unity let a very eminent Australian lawyer speak - " Any one who has had experience of the difficulties involved in passing identical legislation through six State Parliaments in Australia, will not be over optimistic as to the chances of obtaining identical or reciprocal legislation with a reasonable approach to simultaneity in five parliaments sitting in every quarter of the globe ".

That opinion is the opinion of the Honorable J. G. Latham, M.P., Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this House to-day. Continuing, Mr. Stokes reaches these conclusions -

In practice the result must inevitably be to leave the Empire without any effective constitutional means of maintaining any kind of legislative unity. It would be reduced, in fact, to a mere league or community of nations united by a moral tic and by allegiance to the person of the King. It would be an empire almost without common institutions of any kind, and in its constitutional structure going far to justify the suggestion that it may be steadily dissolving into a precarious alliance.

That illustrates the point that I have taken, and it disagrees entirely with the view of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) that the passage of this statute will increase, and not weaken, the community of interests among the different parts of the Empire.

We know very well that the decisions of the 1926 Imperial Conference were the outcome of a set of circumstances which, if I may use the phrase, have "left the world wondering ". That conference met under most peculiar circumstances. We had the spectacle of an enraged and politically-minded Prime Minister rushing from Canada to elicit the sympathies of the disgruntled representatives of the Irish Free State, and the equally disgruntled representatives of the South African Union. He obtained their aid to secure approval of a policy which, in my opinion, was formulated in a spirit of revenge that was awakened because of the political conditions which had arisen in his own dominion.


Mr Brennan - That is pure nonsense; the committee was presided over by Lord Balfour.


Mr MORGAN - Whether the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) regards it as nonsense or not, it is my considered opinion. I sincerely regret that the Australian representatives at that conference gave their approval to that policy, which was subsequently brought before the 1929 and 1930 Imperial Conferences. It is true' that the committee was presided over by Lord Balfour. In that connexion, I wish to say that it was entirely due to a system of political metaphysics, applied by a master political metaphysician, that the conference adopted the course that it did, and paved the way for the formulation of the Statute of Westminster.


Mr Brennan - Mr. Baldwin, a Conservative Prime Minister, was at the head of the conference.


Mr MORGAN - That does not alter my opinion one iota. This opinion is also held very widely throughout the British Empire.


Mr Keane - How can the honorable member know that?


Mr MORGAN - I know it because of my reading and my intelligent interpretation of what I read. I believe that at the 1926 Imperial Conference we saw the first definite evidence of the crumbling of the British Empire. At that conference, the bridge heads were surrendered, the boats were burned, and the key to the door of the citadel delivered up. Honorable members may remove from their minds any idea that the British Empire can continue along the old lines. It was transmuted at that conference into the kind of thing that it is shown to be by this statute that is now proposed.

I hate the raising of the legalistic position in this connexion, and agree with the attitude that has been adopted by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). I attribute the raising of the legalistic issue wholly to the proceedings of the 1926 conference.


Mr Brennan - The object of this statute is to remove the legalistic position.


Mr MORGAN - In my opinion, it emphasizes it.

The most important single factor in the maintenance of the peace of the world is the unity of the British Empire. It is therefore eminently desirable that we should do our utmost to preserve this unity, for once it is disintegrated the door will be open for all sorts of national and international embroilments. I cannot see thai the Statute of Westminster will is a country with a small population, and no adequate scheme of defence. Those factors, coupled with the wide legislative powers which Australia is to be given in relation to extraterritorality multiply the possible causes of war. It is contended that the forthcoming disarmament conference is a matter of prime concern to Australia. The Prime Minister said that it was essential that Australia should be represented at that conference. As in the case of his remarks regarding the Statute of Westminster, which, he said, would strengthen, rather thun weaken, Australia's position in the future, I submit that the Prime Minister ip again wrong; for surely there is no need for Australia to be represented at the disarmament conference, seeing that for all practical purposes we have already disarmed. On the question .of disarmament Australia does not count. I submit that any system which will require this counU'Y to subscribe to any written document in the matter of inter Empire relations is not calculated ;to .serve its best interests. By adopting that system we should be abandoning political conventions which have stood the test for many years in favour of something nebulous. We must ask ourselves whether it is wise to depart from a practice which we have tried and proved to be satisfactory. The history and the traditions of the British Empire teach us that it would be unwise to adopt the proposals contained in this resolution. I agree generally with the views so admirably stated by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and I intend to vote for the amendments he has tabled. I conclude by repeating that I agree with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that it is infinitely better to leave things as they are, than to walk into this legal straight-jacket that has been prepared, for us in a resolution unwisely adopted at the 1926 conference.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Lazzarini) adjourned.







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