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Wednesday, 7 December 1938


Mr SPEAKER (Hon G J Bell (DARWIN, TASMANIA)

The honorable member is not now discussing the measure before the Chair.


Mr BRENNAN - So far from the Opposition and the Government being as one on this subject of defence, they are widely separated. To use the words which the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes) employed in this Parliament not long ago, " They are separated by a chasm as wide and deep as hell". For once I agree with the right honorable gentleman. The differences between myself, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), and one or two other Labour members on the one hand, and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and some of his other colleagues on the other hand, are differences of detail rather than of substance as I understand them : but the differences between the Opposition and the Government are differences of substance of the most important kind. The Government stands for what might be described as an ambitious imperialist policy. The Labour party stands for defence against aggression. That is a. very vital and easily-understood distinction. In the case of Australia, there can be no diffi culty in understanding what we mean by defence from aggression. It is possible that with some of the smaller principalities and nations of Europe and elsewhere, with small populations in close contiguity, difficulty might arise in such a matter. Difficulties of the kind occurred at the time of the Boer War. It will be remembered that, at that time, when the British Government initiated its policy of despoiling the Boers, its technique was to set up its military machine and to employ its threatening military devices oil the borders of British and Boer territory, so as to persuade the Boers to cross the border and drive off their aggressors. That was a case of contiguity. But we are many thousands of miles away from any potential enemy. We have an island continent. We are remote, at the moment, from any possible theatre of war. We are, within our own shores, selfcontained and self-maintained. We could even live as a beleaguered country for an almost indefinite length of time supported by our own tremendously great and varied resources. We are, moreover, a self-governing nation. It is true that, with that craven fear of being great which distinguishes certain individuals, this Government has declined, up to the present, to put the hallmark on our nationhood by adopting the relevant sections of the 'Statute of Westminster. Nevertheless, although this Government has failed, pursuant to policy and pursuant to its political character, we have to thank the British Government for the fact that the British Parliament, as the source of law governing Australia, has itself passed the relevant statute which confers upon us the toga of nationhood. As every lawyer would now be prepared to admit, however reluctantly, the control of our own affairs, not only local but also international, rests entirely in ou'r own hands. It is, however, a very different thing when we come to consider the nebulous but still ambitious imperialist policy of the Government to which for the moment, most unhappily, the people of Australia are harnessed.

My honorable leader, in the course of his eloquent speech, said that we could take it as probable, if not certain, that a war involving. Britain must necessarily affect other members of the

Commonwealth of Nations. I agree, but I interjected at the moment that there was an Empire outside the Commonwealth of Nations. I was either unheard or, if heard, very properly disregarded, but I take the opportunity now to point out that there is a British Empire, and a very extensive one, outside the Commonwealth of Nations. So, when this* Government mouths its familiar phrase, unexplained and unelaborated, but meaning that we are to act in cooperation with Great Britain in connexion with any international trouble, I invite it to look at the map and see for itself what the British Empire really consists of, what we are expected to cooperate in, and where the limitation of our co-operation lies, if there is indeed any limit to this friendly co-operation to which we are committed by the Government. Britain consists in the first place of the Island of Britain, the home of our friends and of the fathers and mothers of many of us, but the British Empire consists also of its colonies, protectorates, mandated territories, spheres of influence, and alliances, almost, one might say, al! over the world, which are not members of the Commonwealth of Nations at all. These others are dominions. If honorable members look at a map they will see a footnote which was put there for the information of the young hopeful of other days, to the effect that British possessions are coloured red. The colour has no reference whatever to the political affinities attributed to some honorable members on this side of the House. They will see also that the red colour is widely diffused all over the world. So I ask myself, Where does our co-operation with Britain in the matter of war begin, and where does it end? Psychologically, of course, it is of an indefinite character. Psychologically, we have friendship for the people of Great Britain. Historically, we have great admiration for her best, and stern condemnation for her worst, both in people and ir, institutions. That is my answer to those absurd and thoughtless critics who seek to gain a passing advantage based on prejudice and passion when they would, accuse me of hating Britain. It might just as well be said that because T so roundly and soundly condemn this

Government and its policy and all that it stands for, I therefore hate Australia, whereas the truth is that the contrary is the fact. But in any case my particular preoccupation is not all with geographical boundaries, but with the people who inhabit those areas, wherever they may be, and I confess that I am not greatly inspired by that class of patriotism whose limitation is defined by those who, waving a Union Jack, shout " My country, right or wrong ". I have long since done with allegiance to that sentiment. That, however, is the kind of co-operation we are invited to exercise. Let me ask one question. There is a little red spot on the western coast of Africa. True, we acquired it dishonestly, let me be candid and fair to all parties, at the close of the last war, but there it is, coloured in red. It is one of many, and I ask: Supposing a sudden attack is made upon the Cameroons, this insignificant spot on the west coast of Africa, of which the Government knows nothing at all, with the possible exception, of course, of my honorable friend, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street), doe3 the Minister promise complete co-operation on the part of Australian fathers and mothers in giving up their sons to fight for the Union Jack, so that the little red spot which we took from Germany after the war may be maintained as a British mandated territory in 1938?


Mr Street - The honorable member is familiar with the theory of reductioad absurdum?


Mr BRENNAN - Yes, and it is by that process that I propose to impress my arguments upon the Government. Are we supposed to co-operate in respect of the maintenance of all those various territories of which we know nothing? We have no part in their government, we have no participation in their revenues, we have nothing whatever to do with them from beginning to end. I venture to say that there are very few people, amongst whom I do not include myself, that could at a moment's notice, reel off the complete list of British dependencies of various kinds in respect of which we are expected as a self-governing dominion to lend our complete co-operation.


Mr Street - Would the honorable member substitute New Zealand for the Cameroons, and then continue his disquisition?


Mr BRENNAN - No, New Zealand is a dominion, as the Minister knows.


Mr Rankin - Or New Guinea?


Mr BRENNAN - New Guinea was one responsibility " wished " onto us by the Hughes Government, as one of its many mischiefs during the war. I am not at the moment expressing any opinion about it, nor has my party considered it in detail. I am not pretending to decide what we are going to do regarding New Guinea when the matter of the realignment of colonial possessions comes up for final decision.


Mr Rankin - The honorable member depends on Great Britain to defend it for him.


Mr BRENNAN - I have already said something about the honorable member's suggestion, and shall deal with it again later. So much then for co-operation. Mr. Chamberlain a few months ago made a speech which was marked by a considerable degree of candour. I have referred to it in this chamber before. He pointed out to the British people that, if the worst came to the worst, the order of preference in Britain's defensive measures would be as follows: First, Britain itself; secondly, its allies; thirdly, its dependencies, which, of course, are not the dominions ; and fourthly, the dominions. The dominions, therefore, came in last. So far from taking any exception to Mr. Chamberlain's declaration of policy - and it is not my practice in any case to discuss the statements of foreign policy by leaders of countries other than my own - I agree with him that, according to his alignment of Brtiain's defences, the dominions, as self-governing nations, come last, and quite rightly too. He recognized that, mainly through the inspiration of British statesmen, rather than our own failure of statesmanship, we did enjoy the standing of a dominion with complete selfgovernment, and that it would be presumption on his part to suggest that Britain had any obligation to defend a sister self-governing nation, any more than we have an obligation to defend Britain." That statement by the British

Premier should give the gentlemen on the ministerial bench pause. They should be led to consider, however reluctantly, that the defence of Australia is a matter., for Australians, and that we are a selfgoverning dominion, which involves our acceptance of complete responsibility for our own defence. That is my answer to the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) who suggests that I look' to Britain for my defence, for Australia's defence, or the defence of New Guinea. Nothing of the sort is the case. That is his policy, not mine. But the fact that we are responsible for the defence of Australia is the best possible reason why our strength should not be dissipated and diffused in defending the imperial connexion of Britain with her various dependencies the world over. The Minister for Defence says that thedefence of Australia is insoluble except as part of a policy of co-operation, but he gives us no satisfactory assurance that the co-operation of Great Britain in a world war could possibly be available for the defence of Australia in the present world conditions.


Mr Street - I gave that assurance as strongly as I could put iti


Mr BRENNAN - No doubt, but I point out, too, that the interests of our friends in Great Britain in these various dependencies the world over, in respect of which Ave are expected to co-operate for their maintenance and integrity, are interests quite distinct from our interests. They are certainly not working-class interests. Australia has no investments such as high finance in Great Britain undoubtedly has in those dependencies or the various mandated territories. Although some financiers in this Commonwealth may have interests in these, they may be regarded as negligible and are not willingly disclosed. Therefore, to talk about co-operation for the defence of this far-flung Empire, mainly of. capitalistic interests, is, for an Australian democracy, an absolute absurdity, and I do not propose to entertain it as a practical political proposition for a single moment.

The1 Government invites the workers to join with it; it invites the honorable members of my party, as the representatives of the workers, to join with it, first of all to raise recruits and, secondly, t? assist in this Empire war of co-operation. The answer of the worker, naturally, is " While you have taxed us, you have left us without employment; you have put us on the dole; at best, you have employed us at most arduous labour on the lowest wages you can possibly pay to us, giving us the bare cost of living, neither more nor less; you cannot expect the same enthusiasm from us in defending a country which maintains these conditions as you will undoubtedly receive from the rich monopolists and the capitalists of this country who have almost unlimited resources to defend, which are rightly, from their point of view, well worth defending."


Mr Lane - The honorable member said that in 1913.


Mr BRENNAN - That is very possible. It is merely proof of my consistency. It may be said that Australia is the best country and pays the best wages in the world ; but my answer to that is that all capitalist countries are militarist and all extremely class-conscious; and in Great Britain, the maximum of labour is exacted from the worker for the minimum of reward. It is said that the Government, which i3 loading the people with this colossus of debt for the purpose of defence, must know something. I should like to know who has so informed it. Has the enemy kept in contact with it all the time? Has the Japanese Government informed it that it is fortifying the Carolines as a convenient jumping-off place to make the entirely unexpected attack, about which it has informed the Government, on Australia?

The honorable member for Bendigo interjecting,


Mr BRENNAN - I do not blame the honorable member for Bendigo; he simply does not understand my argument. Are we to understand that the enemy has informed these honorable gentlemen of the Government of its intentions? I merely say in regard to this whispering campaign in which it is said, "If you only knew what we knew 'and what' we dare not tell you, you would enlist ", that for me it falls upon deaf ears, and as far as my influence goes it will fall upon the deaf ears of my constituents; because I hare lived long enough to have the benefit of ripe experience, and ripe experience has taught me, in matters of war, not to take too much notice either of militarist governments or of militarist advisers for, in the last 25 years, on all major issues, they have been proved uniformly wrong.


Mr Street - The honorable member does not believe that.


Mr BRENNAN - I certainly do. We are asked to recruit 70,000 men, and I ask - and it does not seem too much to ask - "What are they wanted for, and where are they to be used?" The Minister for Defence will admit that this request for such a colossal amount of money is unprecedented. The amount demanded is going up by leaps and bounds and every jump proves that the Government was wrong when it took the last jump. It has been wrong every time, but it is still confident that if it keeps on with mounting millions it will reach the sum which represents the limit of its resources. In fact, the Minister for Defence said that we have already gone to the limit, and that to go any further would mean tho dislocation of the economic resources of the country ; but on the very next day following that statement by the honorable gentleman I find that at least one newspaper propagandist's leading article said that, although the Minister had said we have reached the limit, there was no certainty that we should not have to go beyond it. I agree that there is no certainty that we shall not have to go beyond it, because there is no limit, no end, to war mongering, war scaring and war propaganda. From experience the Government learns nothing; it is impervious to knowledge on this matter. If it were not, it would look back over the pages of history for the last twenty years; look at the promises made during the last war, and broken; look at the objects declared to be those for which we fought the war, and which have been exposed as not the true objects. The true objects, the inevitable consequences of war, were found to be, in the light of history now supported by historians who cannot be gainsaid, those objects which, they had been declared to be by the Labour party, and those results which the Labour party had declared would be inevitable by the Labour party. Where, then, are these recruits to be employed? Is that too much to put to the Minister for Defence? He should tell us, if he wants troops, whom they are to fight. Where is the enemy? I have asked the question over and over again. I repeat: Is it Japan? Is Japan about to attack us? It seems to me not an impossible line of argument that Japan is the only country that it could be suggested is liable to attack us in any circumstances. I do not admit the danger of attack from that quarter. I know enough about recent history to know that Jap.¬Ľn is fully occupied in its territorial expansion in a country peculiarly suited to be occupied by it, a disintegrated nation lying right at its doors, and that with the complete colonization of that territory and the final victory over the unfortunate Chinese, which I foresee, it is unthinkable that Japan, within the next 50 years at all events, would entertain the notion of .an aggressive war against a highly organized nation like ours, prepared by the expenditure of 'adequate sums of money to defend its own territory.


Mr Holt - The honorable member's leader seems convinced of the necessity for the .expenditure.


Mr BRENNAN - The only difference between my leader and myself in this matter is a difference of detail as to the proper outlay for the defence of Australia against foreign aggression. I do not agree to the expending of this money, nor do I think it is justified to the degree that the Government demands, even for the purpose of local defence. I do not believe that any government is justified in neglecting its social services, in holding up its social legislation in a condition of paralysis, in neglecting the interests of the people, in writing down the standards of living, in allowing the long line of the unemployed to increase, and in continuing to disinherit the rising tide of youth. I do not think that this Government is justified in pursuing this craven policy. What I invite it to do is to get lime into its spine, and have the courage to carry on business as usual in this country, and not to go about creating a psychology of fear and panic in the breasts of the people against an unnamed and unknown foe- If there is a foe, that foe has been there since we ever had settlement in Australia. It, has been there all the time, and our motto has been the very excellent one which Great Britain prescribed for its people during the war, namely, "Business as usual". So I suggest to this Government, if it is not game to come out and tell us against whom it is arming, who is the foe, where it wants these soldiers to serve, and what it wants them to do - if it is not prepared to tell us for what reason these colossal sacrifices are being exacted from a suffering people, I am not prepared to suggest that even one soldier should enlist in Australia, even under a system of voluntary enlistment. Let the Minister unlock the sources of its secret horrors as he disclosed last night to the world the secrets of our defence policy. Labour's policy is, "Adequate defence of Australia ". It may be possible, as the Leader of the Opposition says, that the amount we are asked for now is not too much for the adequate defence of Australia, if we knew the facts, or if we knew the imminent danger; but as we do not, and as our policy is defence against aggression, and there is no proof of contemplated aggression, I am not favorable to this imposition upon a suffering people, and I put the Government to the proof that there is no justification for the condition of terror and disorganization which it is creating.







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