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Friday, 25 November 1938


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- When the Government is giving attention to the remarks of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), I hope that it will not overlook the form of the mandate under which Australia holds New Guinea. There is a danger that, in the hectic activities now on foot, allegedly for the defence of Australia, the fact may escape notice that fortifica tions in mandated territories are absolutely forbidden by law.


Mr White - I realize that we may not fortify the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. My remarks in that connexion had particular reference to Papua.


Mr BRENNAN - I have no desire to misrepresent the remarks of the honorable member for Balaclava. I simply observe that, in the last resort, the Mandated Territory is under the control of the Mandates Commission. Under the Treaty of Versailles, mandates over certain territories were granted, as a polite subterfuge, to certain of the allied powers in order that the declaration that the Great War was not intended in any way to permit of territorial expansion might not be openly violated. If any fortifications or any demonstrations of military force are permitted in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, considerable international provocation would be caused.

I now direct the attention of the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), who is the senior Minister present, to the fact that on the 15th June last, I moved the adjournment of the House to discuss a matter of urgent, public importance which I had previously raised in this chamber, namely, an assault upon an Italian subject on board an Italian warship in Australian waters. The discussion was cut short by a decision of the House while the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes) was replying to my remarks. I remind the Government that, although that right honorable gentleman treated my observations with every external mark of contempt and disregard, he nevertheless said that at the proper time the incident would be the subject of representations by this Government to the proper authorities. The Minister added - and this is substantial evidence of my complaint that my motion was treated with contempt -

I venture to suggest that the honorable member for Batman moved the motion merely to obstruct the Government in the conduct of its business.

I do not think that the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) would subscribe to that statement, because he very courteously received a deputation on this matter, supported by a number of honorable members from Victoria, and promised that a full inquiry would be made and the result of the Government's determination communicated, if not to the House, to the honorable members concerned. It is obvious, from press reports, that the Minister for External Affairs was impressed by the representations made by the deputation, because he actually made some preliminary inquiries into the matter. _ I think he went entirely the wrong way about it; he went knocking at the door of the Italian consul. Of course, it is a derogation of the sovereign rights of this country that the Government should waste its time in such a matter in consultation with a mere trade agent. The Italian consul has no diplomatic standing in this country. On more than one occasion I have protested against the notion that a person representing the consulate of a friendly power in Australia is to be regarded as a diplomatic representative of his country. I repudiate that theory absolutely, and, so far as I Know, there is nothing in history to justify his being so regarded. This was a matter as between governments; the Attorney-General himself promised that it would be so regarded, and, I think, he takes a serious view of it. Even the meanest of our citizens - and I do not use the term in the sense that the injured man was not naturalized - can depend on it that his person, and his rights, will be protected under British law. Par from being an unfriendly act towards the Italian Government, what we did was really a demonstration of goodwill on the part of this country towards that nation. It showed that this Government is prepared to protect any citizen who is entitled to our hospitality and protection. I am fortunate that the Attorney-General is now at the table. I am not aware that either I, or my colleagues, have said anything to alienate the good feeling which he manifests in regard to this matter. I am bringing it up" at this juncture because I have received a letter from the person injured asking me in pursuance of a promise I made, to take action in favour of his being compensated. My view is that, a proper protest having been made to the Italian Government as such, it must rest with this Government to decide whether it will do the right thing or not. The incident is not of sufficient importance to cause a breach of diplomatic relations, or even continued unfriendliness between nations. But if no compensation is offered by the Italian Government to the person injured, the Commonwealth Government, which was responsible for the admission of the visiting warship to our waters - and I am sure the officers and crew of that vessel were welcomed as visitors - should itself accept the responsibility of compensating the person who was injured by the ratings, or officers, of that ship. This Government should do what it promised repeatedly to do, that is, come to a decision on the matter, and tell us what it has done or whether it proposes to do nothing further. Why does it keep postponing this little matter, and so make it a source of irritation? Why not get rid of it one way or the other by coming to some decision ? And, when that decision is made, if it is wrong, I shall not hesitate to say so; if I think it is right, I shall be all. the better pleased. At all events, it is up to the Government to come to a decision and let us know what that decision is.







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