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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- When one examines the items embraced in the Prime Minister's Department, one realizes the difficulty under which he labours in endeavouring either to discuss them adequately or to obtain information upon the various matters covered by this department. On page 17 of the Estimates, such items as " Horticulture, including soil survey and irrigation " are mentioned. One would have supposed that horticulture was a matter which would enlist, in a very special manner, the sympathy and attention, of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), "Mining and Metallurgy ", and " Fisheries Investigations " are also mentioned. Those three matters are of considerable importance, affecting the economic welfare of Australia, upon which information might well be supplied to the committee, and upon which honorable members might well wish to express opinions. Horticulture, for instance, is of immense importance to Australia, and particularly to Tasmania. It is amazing, therefore, that the Prime Minister has had nothing to say in the discussion of these Estimates and bills relating particularly to fruit-growing. His mind apparently is always in the clouds of international suspicion, defence, finance and armaments, but we hear nothing from him about the practical questions of moment that affect the life, happiness and economic welfare of this country. The mining industry is of vast importance to the people of Australia, yet were it not for the honorable members for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) and Northern Territory (Mr. Blain), and a few other honorable members, we should never know that such an industry existed in this country. Furthermore, in the discussion of these Estimates not a single suggestion is made, or a single invitation offered, to honorable members to address their minds to this industry. Investigations into our fisheries are also merely mentioned. I recall a very informative address given in this chamber by Mr. Theodore, when he was Treasurer, on Australian fisheries, the potentialities and importance of that industry and the possibilities of supplying fish cheaply and in abundance to the people of this country. But what do we find on this occasion? A sum of £15,720, representing an increase of some £5,000, is allocated for this purpose, but not a word is said about the importance of our great fisheries and the possibilities of developing the fishing industry in order to enable people resident in the metropolises to obtain fish at reasonable prices, although it is one of the most important items of diet and should be readily made available to the poor who need it so badly. Fish plays an important part in public nutrition, but no suggestion is made on this occasion as to the possibilities of developing that industry.

Mr.Collins. - And the famous Murray cod are fast dying out.

Mr BRENNAN - Yes. Honorable members are placed at the disadvantage of having to discuss matters affecting Externa] Affairs in conjunction with those coming within the Prime Minister's Department. "What hope have we of considering such matters as fully as we should in an hour or so? I do not entirely agree with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) when he condemns the fortnightly publication now issued by the Department of , External Affairs. I have said before that that publication gives an interesting resume of what has occurred in external affairs of general interest, and I congratulate the officer who compiles it for what it is. My criticism of it - and I think this is really the point involved in the criticism voiced by the honorable member for East Sydney - is that it never gives an expression of Australian opinion in relation to the matters with which it deals. It gives a mere bald statement of historical facts in a convenient form, but is never allowed to give any indication of what the Commonwealth Government is thinking or doing about international affairs.

Mr Forde - Because it has no opinions of its own.

Mr BRENNAN - Yes, because of the fact, as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) says, that the Commonwealth Ministers have no opinion on international affairs except the opinion of " Yes men ", who always are prepared to deliver an emphatic affirmative to the policy of the British Government, for the time, on any international matter. I have always advocated close co-operation and friendship with Great Britain on matters of mutual interest, but I have also pointed out that the point of view of Australia on external affairs is, and must necessarily be, in many vital particulars essentially different from that of the British Government. That Government exercises responsibilities over a vast area of crown colonies, dependencies and mandated territories, in respect of which the Australian people know nothing and have no responsibility. Moreover, the people of Great Britain have in foreign countries tremendous investments which do not interest Australia, and any government of Australia, with a sense of what is due to the people of Australia, with tt sense of responsibility to them and to them only, and with knowledge of Australian affairs, which it is presumed to have even if it does not possess it, should and would know that the Australian point of view is entirely different in many vital particulars from the British point of view. So it would be well if the Government would issue a bulletin every fortnight which would stress these points of difference between the outlook of Australia and of what is sometimes called the Mother Country, and give us some useful information as to how Australia oan conceivably co-operate with Great Britain in the troubles which are occurring in the' various parts of its farflung Empire. It is just as well to remember, in passing, the simple historic fact that Australia is no longer part of the Empire as such, but is a selfgoverning dominion, having officially and in express terms dropped the imperial- connexion. It is an independent nation in close friendly association, and nothing more, with its fellow-members of what is known as the British Commonwealth of Nations, and, indeed, I do not know what is meant by the phrase, Membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations ", because it seems a somewhat meaningless phrase. Beyond the fact that these nations are associated in a spirit of friendship, and are for the most part English-speaking nations, there is no association of any legal or constitutional character binding them together.. The constitutional position has become such that the King of England is the King of Australia, and that in any matters affecting a dominion the Sovereign acts upon the advice of the Ministers in the particular dominion. Inasmuch as in all matters - the declaration of war or proclamation of peace or any other aspect - the Sovereign acts upon the advice, and only upon the advice, of Australian Ministers, it cannot be said that the fact that the Sovereign exercises similar functions in respect of other dominions makes any bond of a legal and constitutional character between Australia and the other dominions; and there is, therefore, no such thing, strictly speaking, as " Membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations ". I only snatch these few minutes to make these observations because, when the rights of_ the Commonwealth Parliament are invaded in the way that they are and the opportunities of members to express themselves upon important public questions are so extremely limited, one can only have odd moments to say a word or two upon matters which are passing by as upon a cinema screen. At any rate, that is how they are presented to us. We are graciously allowed a minute here and a minute there to say something about questions of tremendous interest. What would be the effect, the disastrous effect from the point of view of the Government, if it were otherwise? If we were allowed to discuss these questions, for instance, I could develop the arguments that I have been advancing in regard to external affairs, or if I were permitted to make an exhaustive analysis of the interesting international situation, it is possible that a bubble would be pricked and the Government would be confounded. Ministers are living on the theory., which they are inculcating everywhere, that there is a great emergency existing, and that we must speak with bated breath and act hastily or move by forced marches in everything we do. If we were given time, that hallucination might be dispelled, and if members soberly could give a mind to serious questions, this committee would be discussing, not only external affairs, but also forest products, mining, horticulture, fisheries, secondary industries, research, training of students, and a great many other matters of- technical detail which are contained in these Estimates. What opportunity does Parliament get to discuss these various matters ? "Who tells us anything about these things from the ministerial table, these matters upon -which we are expending thousands and, indeed, millions of pounds? Where is, the responsible Minister on the treasury bench who has tendered one scrap of evidence or information as to what is intended in all of these matters covered by this departmental vote? There is the AttorneyGeneral, who could have told us something about external affairs in relation, for example, to that pamphlet which is published fortnightly, and could have told us where Australia stands in regard to mandated territories, or protectorates. He could have told us if there is to be complete co-operation, and of the position with regard to the constitutional changes of vital importance which are taking place in other dominions such as South Africa, Ireland and Canada. But we have not a word of information on these points. On the contrary, the time is cut into pieces, and we are asked to vote this money to a scheduled programme. I tell the people of Australia, as far as my single voice will carry, that we are passing through the principle of bureaucracy to the principle of fascism.

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