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Tuesday, 9 May 1939

Sir HENRY GULLETT (HentyMinister for External Affaire) . - I lay on the table the Annual Report of the Department of External Affairs for the year 1938, and move -

That the report be printed.

In doing so, I ask the indulgence of honorable members while I make a statement upon current foreign affairs, after which the Government invites general debate. In the view of the Government, it is desirable that opportunities for expression of views upon foreign affairs be more frequent than hitherto. The time has come when Australia should show a keener interest, and play a larger part, in discussions and consultations upon foreign affairs, and especially, as my right honorable leader (Mr. Menzies) has already said, in the affairs of the Pacific.

This annual report was of course prepared before my coming into office; the ministerial responsibility for it rests upon my right honorable friend, the present Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes), and it contains a foreword from his gifted pen.

It is, as I think honorable members will agree, a sound production, and presents a vivid and accurate picture of the international affairs of a notoriously interesting and fateful year. As it has already been distributed to honorable members, I shall say no more of it than this: it reflects the high level of zeal and capacity of the staff of the External Affairs Department. This department is the Cinderella, I think, of our permanent departments, but it has already become distinguished by the quality of its work in a field in which standards throughout the world are high.

The House might be interested in one or two personal impressions gathered during a fortnight's intensive reading of what might be termed the inside story of the international moves over the last fortnight and the preceding two or three months. The first impression onereceives in this office to-day would give satisfaction to any serious-minded Australian. The information which comes to the Commonwealth hour by hour over the period of each day in which overseas telegrams are received is remarkable for its range and detail. All that is of the least importance upon current foreign affairs is known in Canberra a few hours after it has been handled by the British Foreign Office. This means that the vital points of every despatch from the United Kingdom Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Lord Halifax, to his Ambassadors and Ministers are also telegraphed forthwith to the Commonwealth Government. On the other side, every pertinent fact, opinion or view which reaches the Foreign Secretary from his Ambassadors and Ministers is immediately re-telegraphed to us. This diplomatic service is not confined to the activities of the British embassies and legations, but includes a multitude of reports from consuls and agents spread not only throughout Europe and parts of Asia but also over many countries even further afield.

The Commonwealth Government has four channels of advice always in operation. Officers of the External Affairs Department in London, who have direct access to all Foreign Office sections, despatch with speed the most important news ; the Dominions Office communicates a somewhat fuller story; the High Commissioner in London (Mr. Bruce) reports at once upon his consultations with British Ministers; and the many representatives abroad of the Commerce Department frequently add information of particular interest and value to Australia. Further, it is now the practice with the concurrence of the British Government for the Commonwealth to address communications direct to the embassies, legations and consulates in every foreign country upon matters of Australian concern.

One's next impression comes from a very vigilant scrutiny in which every new Minister of this department would, under the present conditions in Europe, at once engage. I have, as I am sure any honorable member in my position would do, examined every despatch and other document in quest of the motive behind the minds of the anti-aggression countries of Europe in their present efforts, under the leadership of the Government of the United Kingdom, to come together in a supreme effort to resist further trespass by the two totalitarian states.

Out of such a scrutiny comes not only the impression, but also the entire conviction, that the motive is peace, and peace only. In no phrase or word, or in the spirit of all this inside information, is there a semblance of anything but defensiveness. There is not a breath that suggests that there is in the democratic countries, which are endeavouring to get together, anything but the desire to be left alone, so that they may go their peaceful, happy ways.

Throughout all these recorded conversations and consultations between the defensive nations, there is an ardent, almost a pathetic desire and prayer for peace. This is not, I think, to be attributed to fear of the Fuhrer of Germany or the Duce of Italy, and their vast armed legions and various hideous engines of destruction. It is due to the fear of modern war. All or nearly all of the powers of Europe concerned in the negotiations of the moment have been through, the horrors of modern conflict and the almost equal punishment which attends the so-called victor and the actually vanquished.

Indeed, fear of actual war even by the dictator nations is the strongest factor that is working for peace. All available information indicates that if to-day public opinion had a chance to express itself, peace would run its pleasant, fruitful course in Europe for a long time to come. Even in Germany and Italy a secret and fair ballot would reveal a majority for peace by negotiation not less than such a vote would show in Australia itself.

But, although that is undeniable, all of the inside news points to the fact that, while the German people pray for peace even as we do, they are to-day the slaves of a dictatorship as absolute as any that Asia ever knew in dark and ancient days. Whatever they hope or think, they will respond to the call of Hitler ; and what is in Hitler's mind from day to day few people know.

It would, therefore, be presumptuous and idle to advance an opinion to honorable members and Australia as to whether the near future holds for us peace or war. But it is, perhaps, legitimate for me on behalf of the Government to bring again to light certain- facts which seem to bear upon the endeavour of us all to probe the momentous secret of the days close ahead. When we are disposed to take a gloomy view of the present crisis, we should not overlook that we have been living in a similar and sometimes an even more acute state of crisis for nearly four years, and so far have escaped general European and world war.

During Italy's conquest of Abyssinia, there were days of danger of a general international clash quite as acute as those of the moment. The same comment can be fairly made of many phases of the Civil War in Spain, of the absorption of Austria by Germany, of the destruction of Czechoslovakia, and the invasion of China. During each of these affairs there were numerous incidents which, prior to 1914, must almost inevitably have led to general warfare in Europe, but which, because of the dread of modern war between great powers that has haunted all responsible minds since 1918, have been more or less ignored by the affronted and injured third parties. This disposition not to accept incidents as justification for a declaration of war marks, perhaps, the most noteworthy, advance towards the maintenance of peace among the nations.

Certainly the mind of Signor Mussolini, appears, at the moment, susceptible to the fear of the terrible consequences of real war between great European equals. Of the mind of Herr Hitler, nothing is certain. But this is undeniable. Both these dictators, but especially Hitler, will take all they can by bloodless mobilization and demonstration against any weak neighbouring country which .they have previously fomented by insidious influences into a state of unrest and demonstrations against Germany or Italy, or German or Italian nationals.

Further, in Hitler's mind international morality is not of a kind familiar in other countries. His undertaking at Munich to be content with the gain of Sudetenland was broken only a few months later. His avowal that he coveted no country peopled by non-Germans has proved of equal worth.

Mr Gregory - That statement does not seem to be very helpful.

Sir HENRY GULLETT - Germany is now frankly mobilized on the grand scale for the overrunning and acquisition of any near country which excites its cupidity.

Mr.Curtin. - I imagine that Mr. Chamberlain will not thank the Minister for this speech.

Sir HENRY GULLETT - The Leader of the Opposition will have an opportunity to make his comments in due course. I invite the honorable gentleman to study the speech made by Mr. Chamberlain at Birmingham quite recently. The objective of Germany is no longer a professed and almost religious impulse to attach to the Reich Germans, who, as Hitler has so often declared, were dwelling in an agony of mind, and suffering discriminating treatment under an alien government. The objective has become purely material, and conquest is openly planned for the glorification of Germany and the gain of currency reserves, productive soil, oil wells, or anything else which in Hitler's mind is necessary or desirable to the Fatherland. So Austria was overrun without the firing of a shot.

Mr Brennan - Is the Minister disappointed that there was no bloodshed?

Sir HENRY GULLETT - So Czechoslovakia was dismembered. Soin recent weeks Roumania, Poland and certain Balkan countries have been threatened.

Beyond reasonable doubt, without unity among themselves and support from outside, all of these peoples made up of distinctive races and possessed of national independence would, with their vast aggregate manpower and resources, have been gathered under the dominion of Germany, or in some degree of Italy.

Standing alone they would one by one have gone the way of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Albania. Eastward and south-eastward there would, as all evidence and information go clearly to show, have been no halt by land to the triumphant march of the totalitarian hosts.

And what next? With each unprincipled acquisition so far made, the tension between Germany and Italy on the one side, and the only two powers for whom they have military respect, Britain and France, on the other, has increased. With each future stage - I would emphasize the word " future " - in the overthrow of the lesser democracies by Germany and Italy, the feeling between the two major groups must have intensified. Present in every thinking mind in Western Europe was the enlarging thought that the time would come in the not distant future when Germany and Italy, enriched and strengthened beyond measure by their eastern and southeastern gains, would have turned their minds and forces westward.

It is disclosing no secret to say that in very recent months, even weeks, there has been profound concern for Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and even Denmark. A Germany supported by Italy, and astride the manpower and war-making material of Europe from the frontiers of Russia, the Black Sea and the Dardanelles to the North Sea coastline, was not a picture painted by British and French and even American minds in any moment of panic. It was a very potential reality, and I need not dwell upon its significance to Australia and the other dominions.

The acts of Germany and Italy during the last eight months, their open plans of to-day, and the speeches of their leaders, made their dream and intention clear to all the world. The realization of the position has moved the governments of the United Kingdom and of France into action. Britain, with a spirit of leadership consistent with its place in the world, has initiated and led in an attempt to bring about a temporary unity among those countries which, standing singly in isolation, appeared to be doomed to the loss of their nationhood and independent soul by the ruthless sweep of Germany and

Italy. Alone in some cases, in collaboration with France in others, the British Government has promised instant and the fullest possible aid to the threatened lands, and at the same time British diplomacy has worked as it has never worked before to bring those countries together as a united force to resist the dictators. Some may say that this attempt is belated, but that would be to disclose lack of appreciation of the deep-rooted difficulties to be overcome if defensive unity is to be even substantially achieved.

The countries of Eastern Europe and (he Balkans are not easily merged for a common purpose. Even six weeks ago an attempt to bring them together in a common resistance to the dictators would probably have totally failed. For many years they have been among themselves scarcely close friends. At least this is true of some of them. Territorial argument has been strong among them. Not until the shadow of the mobilized and marching legions of Germany began to deepen over them one by one, did it become opportune for Britain to attempt their combination for their common Salvation.

According to the Government's latest advices, the progress made in this great Anglo-French attempt is this: Honorable members will understand that the basis . of all these negotiations is the AngloFrench unity. The United Kingdom and France have guaranteed the integrity and independence of Belgium. France and Britain have entered into an obligation with Poland whereby, in the event of aggression to which Poland offers resistance, they will at once intervene. Poland has entered into reciprocal obligations to Britain and France. Great Britain end France have given the same undertaking to Greece and Roumania. Turkey and Britain are engaged in negotiations marked by promise of success.

The position with respect to Russia is at this moment complicated and obscure. From the outset of the swift negotiations, the urgent need for fitting the Soviet into the defensive scheme has been strong in the minds of the British and French Governments. But the obstacles to be overcome before this could be accomplished have been great indeed.

For example, Germany has been quick to declare to -the world, and especially to her own people, that the Anglo-French attempt to form a purely defence bloc is, in reality, a move to bring about a potentially offensive encirclement of Germany. If Russia were to become engaged in an .actual temporary defensive alliance with the United Kingdom and France, colour would be given to Germany'3 assertion. Then, neither Roumania, Poland nor lesser Baltic countries would look with easy minds upon an unlimited transit of their countries by Russian armies in the event of war.

Mr Curtin - The Minister is referring to the Balkan countries?

Sir HENRY GULLETT - Yes, but Esthonia is mentioned in to-day's cables. There is, too, the Japanese consideration, and the danger that a positive military alliance, however defensive and temporary, between Russia, the United Kingdom and France might possibly drive Japan into a similar opposing alliance with Germany and Italy. M. Litvinoff, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, has gone suddenly into retirement, and down to this morning there was no specific news of the negotiations proceeding with the Soviet.

Over the week-end the newspapers have published messages which indicate hopeful developments with respect to both Italy and Japan. In some degree this news is supported by advice received by the 'Government, but as yet it is not actually confirmed.

Nevertheless, the available information taken on balance does suggest that neither Japan nor Italy would be eager participants in a world war against the non-aggression countries. To them an arresting point must be that at the moment the democracies are a force of unknown dimensions, and that this is true not only of Europe, including Russia, but - what is of high significance - also of the Pacific.

A thought which is ever present in the minds of the parties to the AntiComintern Pact is that American sympathy is strongly with the democratic nations; that America was eventually moved to enter the last world war, with all its vast man power and resources; that America is arming upon an unprecedented scale, and has an unparalleled purse upon which to draw; that President Roosevelt has advanced his famous proposals for settlement by negotiation; and that relations are strained between the President and the Fuhrer, their respective Ambassadors being still absent from their posts. A further consideration common to both Japan and Italy is that neither is in a robust economic or financial position. Both might well be in favour of peace by conference rather than by war.

I wish shortly to dwell upon the situation of Japan in relation to the British Empire. I venture to submit two questions to this honorable House and to Japan. They are: Why, in the event of wai1, or even in these days in which wc live under the shadow of war, should J apan prefer its new friends in the AntiComintern Pact, to its far older friends throughout the British Empire? Why should there bo at this moment in Japan a powerful school of thought - though fortunately a minority school - urging that the Anti-Comintern Pact to which Japan is a signatory should be hardened into a military alliance? These are very important questions not only to Japan and to the people of Australia and the whole of the British Empire, but also to the 130,000,000 people who make up the United States of America. Why should Japan enter upon a war - I do not suggest that it will, and the latest news from Japan declares that it will not - which would be of incalculable proportions and dangers to it in the Pacific; a war in which only two things would be certain : First, that Japan could never emerge from it with victory; and secondly, that all the combatants would suffer incalculable loss of young manhood and every kind of prolonged economic and social punishment. I venture strongly to suggest that these questions are to-day in the minds of the statesmen of Japan, and of a great majority of its people. I venture also to believe that strong in the Japanese mind is the reflection that its closest and most trusted and trusty friends from the date of its famous revolution and all through its marvellous rise to world greatness until very recent years, were the peoples and the governments of the British Empire. I venture further to affirm that Japan has to-day a vivid consciousness that it was happier and more at rest, and indeed safer, with its old friend and ally than with its new ones. On our side we greatly valued that old friendship; and whatever the future may hold for us, we and our children after us will never cease to honour Japan for the wholehearted way in which it honoured its partnership in the AngloJapanese Treaty during the dark days of the world war.

Not without some confidence does the Commonwealth Government, of. which at the moment I am the mouthpiece, look forward to a nearer and more auspicious relationship with 'the great Japanese people than that which prevails to-day.

Turning to Italy, one finds it uncommonly hard to believe that Signor Mussolini will, apart from other considerations, gamble his wonderful services to his people by leading them into a war, or by having them dragged into one by Germany. Mussolini found Italy after the war dejected, exhausted, divided against itself and in danger of collapse and partition. Within less than twenty years, by his genius, his patriotism, and his irresistible stimulus and almost superhuman capacity, he has lifted his country to a proud place among the first-class powers. Will he fling this superb achievement into the flames of war?

And of Herr Hitler. Those who believe war to be inevitable will turn to the Fuhrer's broken bonds, his descent upon Austria, his smashing up of Czechoslovakia, his treatment of the Jews, and his apparent intention to dominate Ronmania and Poland, if he could carry it through without general warfare. But against the dark deeds of this phenomenal man, there is to his credit, as there is to the credit of Mussolini, a great and shining record of service to his people. He found the mighty German race broken, helpless, leaderless, and in despair. Within seven years he has restored to them their pride and their power, and disclosed to them, provided they are not again shattered and impoverished by war, a near future of great glory. Will Hitler, now that it is made plain to him that bloodless mobilization, demonstration and intrigue, will no longer win him enlarged dominion, pause and consolidate his Germany, and give to it early prosperity and riches by relieving it of the crushing burden of armaments? Or will he lead the German hosts of youth into the shambles of a gigantic general war from which there can be victory or profit for none, but out of which must come infinite sacrifice and a long, long train of grief and suffering for at least half the peoples of the world?

Is the decision to be war, or the conference table? To that question I venture no reply. But I go so far as to express the view that, from the information in the hands of the Government, every day's peace from this moment onward is a better day in its prospect.

Honorable members will have read of the further formal consolidation of the military alliance between Germany and Italy. In the opinion of the Commonwealth Government, this step is of little significance, except perhaps in that it may be interpreted as an expression of concern by the dictators at the progress of the development of the defensive bloc. The two signatories to the renewed bond declare it to be an instrument with a peaceful purpose. One ventures to voice the view that it lies within the hands of Germany and Italy to restore peace to Europe and to the world at any moment. Let them but make a sincere gesture for the settlement of their grievances by negotiation, and the response from all countries would be immediate. They are not asked to surrender prestige or to enter into conference as supplicants. Let them but suggest a solution by means other than by arms, and the attitude of the leading democracies would perhaps surprise them by its reasonableness, and even by its generosity.

In conclusion, I turn to the most vital consideration of all to the Australian people, and that is the decision which must at once be made by the Commonwealth in the event of the Government of the United Kingdom becoming engaged in a war arising out of the present situation. In the course of his broadcast speech to the nation on the 26th April, the Prime Minister used words which were of such profound importance that they should be repeated again and again. He then said -

The peace of Great Britain is precious to us, because her peace is ours; if she is at war, we are at war, even though that war finds us not in European battlefields, but defending our own shores. Letme be clear on this:I cannot have a defence of Australia which depends upon British sea power as its first element; I cannot envisage a vital foreign trade on sea routes kept free by British sea power, and at the same time refuse to Britain Australian co-operation at a time of common danger. The British countries of the world must stand or fall together.

With the concurrence of my right honorable leader, I point out that these words are not to be interpreted to mean that in any and every set of circumstances the foreign policy of a government of the United Kingdom, if it led to war, should or would automatically commit Australia to participation in that war. Nor do they mean that action taken by a government of the Commonwealth in any and every set of circumstances, and leading to war, should or would automatically commit the United Kingdom to participation in that war. It is conceivable that upon either side a policy might be adopted which met with strong disapproval or condemnation by the other government. But in the circumstances in which the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Commonwealth find themselves to-day there is no sort of disagreement. On the contrary, there is the most complete unanimitybetween the two governments as to the policy which is being followed, and as to any action which may arise out of that policy. The Commonwealth Government is fully satisfied that recent actions and the prevailing dispositions and certain preliminary moves of the totalitarian nations of Europe constitute a near and grave menace not only to the United Kingdom, but also to Australia and to the democracies of the world as a whole and to all institutions and traditions that stand for freedom. This Government has been fully advised of everystep taken by the Government of the United Kingdom, and fully consulted throughout the long and perilous ordeal of the last few years, including the last few weeks. The Commonwealth Government is satisfied beyond any doubt that the United Kingdom and the democracies associated with it have no intention other than one that is purely defensive against aggression. If, therefore, in pursuance of this policy, the Government of Britain is at any moment plunged into war, this Government will, on behalf of the Australian people, make common cause with the Mother Country in that war.

Motion (by Mr. Menzies) - by leave - agreed to.

That Standing Order No. 119 be suspended to enable the debate to proceed without interruption.

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