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Tuesday, 9 May 1939

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Leader of the Opposition) . - The Minister for External Affairs (Sir Henry Gullett), whom I take this first opportunity to compliment on his re-inclusion in the Government after what I shall describe as a periodical absence from it, as a very distinguished journalist sadly missed the advantage of an editor, for his statement contains many phrases which could have been expressed less provocatively.

Sir Henry Gullett - The schoolmaster again !

Mr CURTIN - Further, if the Minister looks at his statement again, he will find that it contains passages which in their implication are contradictory. He said, for instance, that the people of Germany and Italy are enslaved by a dictatorship, and then he proceeded to offer compliments to the leaders of those two countries when, in effect, he said that they deserved to have the united adherence of the people. That mixture of condemnation and admiration would have been avoided had the honorable gentleman confined himself to a statement on the international situation as it does exist, and of the part which the Australian Government has played in connexion with it. It is not necessary for this Parliament to be told that the world is in a perilous era, or that the chief causes of this situation are the policies being pursued by Germany, Italy and Japan. In order to justify to their own people the course that they have taken, the leaders of those countries would probably blame happeningsantecedent to the present situation, for which the democracies will frankly admit that they have a. degree of responsibility. The Minister went on to say that if Italy and Germany would make a genuine gesture of their readiness to discuss their difficulties openly, and in a way that will enable the negotiations to proceed, those totalitarian States would be surprised at the generosity with which the democracies would meet them. I myself believe that that is the case. I say sincerely that there can be no man of good disposition in any part of the world who would not go as far as is possible to ensure success for such negotiations if they were honestly entered upon. To the extent that the Australian Government or the Governments of the Dominions or of the United Kingdom can foster the spirit of goodwill towards negotiations as a means whereby the present difficulties between nations can be overcome, there is, I venture to say, an obligation upon them which the peoples of those countries would insist on them discharging in the highest degree.

The statement which the honorable gentleman has read is of great value, notwithstanding that there are in it passages which I myself would not have used ; I say that without any reflection on the honorable gentleman. He said, further, that there are four sources from which the Commonwealth Government derives its information. We know that, recently, the Government has intimated its intention to establish legations in certain countries where it believes that Australia should have direct diplomatic representation. For my part, I agree with the step that is contemplated. I believe that it will be of advantage to Australia to have, in Tokio and Washington, officers of training and capacity who will have a direct and exclusive responsibility to the Commonwealth Government. I make no reflection upon the other sources of information upon which the Department of External Affairs draws from time to time, but I believe that there would be a greater degree of confidence on the part of the Australian people if they knew that the information upon which important decisions were to be made by the Australian Government was information gathered and verified by men who have no responsibility for colouring it in order to justify policies pursued by governments other than our own. Australia is an autonomous nation within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the final passages in the Minister's statement make it clear that the responsibility for participation in any war. however that war arises-

Sir Henry Gullett - No.

Mr CURTIN - It is a responsibility which this Parliament must take, and for which this Government is responsible. The qualification attached to the quotation from the broadcast speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is a qualification which squares entirely with the conception of Australia's position as held by the Opposition. I could almost repeat the statement of the honorable gentleman and say that whatever be our obligation as a constituent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, that obligation is one for us to measure and for this Government and this Parliament to determine, because our membership of that commonwealth of nations does not automatically commit Australia to participation in war.

Sir Henry Gullett - Hear, hear! I made that perfectly clear.

Mr CURTIN - I, too, make it perfectly clear. Upon this point, which is fundamental to the conception of Australia's position in the event of a war in which Great Britain is engaged, the nations should know that both the Government and the Opposition in this Parliament consider that Australia is not automatically bound in respect of any war in which the Government of the United Kingdom is engaged.

Sir Henry Gullett - Hear, hear !

Mr CURTIN - We say that our membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations is a membership which gives to us a fraternity of national associations, that there is between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions a common concern for peace, and a common interest in the safety and security of the English-speaking race; but that the governments of the dominions, responsible as they are to those portions of that British race in their respective geographical situations, must themselves decide, in the light of circumstances, how and to what extent they will be participators in a war. Therefore, the Opposition and the Government have at last clarified in the most decisive way the responsibilities of this Parliament, and, therefore, of the people of this country towards war. We say that in this Parliament, which is representative of the Australian: people, must repose the exclu sive responsibility for the decision as to whether or not Australia shall be engaged in a war.

Mr Archie Cameron - Supposing the other fellow declares war?

Mr CURTIN - In such an event, this Parliament would have to make its decision.

Mr Archie CAMERON - The initiative would not be with us.

Mr CURTIN - In such an event, this Parliament would be called upon to shape ways and means whereby the safety of this country could be secured.

Mr Archie Cameron - -Why not say so?

Mr CURTIN - I have said so repeatedly. I am glad that this afternoon, in the most unequivocal way, a statement on behalf of the Government and a statement on behalf of the Opposition can bo so reconciled as to establish the 'responsibility of the Australian Government, and of no other government, for the people of Australia being engaged in war.

The Opposition welcomes the proposals of the Government to extend the activities of the Department of External Affairs so that Australia will be able to discharge its responsibilities in the light of information which will be supplied by its own officers. I have already said that I have the greatest respect for the other sources of information by which the department is equipped to understand the international situation. In my opinion, the proposal to establish a legation at Washington is a good one. It will put Australia in direct touch with a country in which there are 130,000,000 people who speak the English language and, like ourselves, have their roots back in the history and the traditions of the British race, and, I venture to say, have also a common concern in respect of civilization. To the extent to which the separate parts of the English-speaking race understand one another's problems, there is a oneness which seems to me to be a definite contribution towards the strength of each and, in turn, can be said to be of service ultimately to peace, for I believe that the United States of America is as unwilling to act aggressively as is Australia. I venture also to say that as the problems of the Pacific are problems which, in the nature of things, are closer to us than are those of Europe, it would be desirable for an Australian legation to be established in China. There ought also to be n representative of the Australian Commonwealth located in New Zealand. If, in addition, Australia's representation at Washington were reinforced by a branch office at San Francisco, we should have a more extended representation of Australia than has 'been the case hitherto. I believe that that would be a good thing.

The honorable gentleman said that he believes that, insinuated into all discussions in respect of the recent crises, there has been reflected the ardent and almost pathetic desire and prayer for peace. I firmly believe that the workers of every country will echo that statement with the deepest feeling. There can be no workers anywhere in the world, either in Germany, Italy or Japan, or in any other country, who can have anything at all to gain as the result of the settlement of such disputes as exist by recourse to war. Therefore, the efforts for peace-making which are going on throughout the world can, I venture to say, be furthered by demonstrations on the part of the democracies, that democratic institutions can lift up the level of the mass of the people much more satisfactorily than can totalitarian States. We have to give proof that democracy is in itself a form of government that not only dislikes war, but also ministers to the high hopes and aspirations of mankind. Therefore, the spectacle of large masses of unemployed in Great Britain and in the United States of America, and of a considerable unemployment problem in Australia, and other evidence of this character, weakens the approach of the democracies to the masses of Germany and Italy, and even of Japan. They learn that democratic systems do not -necessarily mean work and food and decent living standards, and, therefore, they are warranted, not in contrasting the speeches of the leaders of other countries with the declarations of their own leaders, but in measuring up how far the form of political system that they have accepted yields to them a more satisfactory internal social standing than does the democratic system. Therefore, the approach that the people of one country makes to those of another in respect of the ideological causes of war, such as the opposition expressed in this statement to the forms of government in Italy, Japan and Germany, cannot in itself be so effective as it otherwise would be while the democracies present the spectacle of an incapacity to resolve their own internal problems. Thus the philosophy of peace abroad, I venture to say, has to be reinforced by determined endeavours on the part of the governments of the democracies to lift up the standards of their own people, to overcome the problem of unemployment, the problem of scarcity of houses and of inequality between the rising cost of living and rates of wages. That is not only a necessary thing to do from the point of view of preserving our own system of government; in a consideration of international problems and in measuring how far the forms of government do, or do not, serve the best interests of the people everywhere we must also inevitably do far better than we have done before we can expect the people of other countries to believe that democracy is the precious system of government we hold it to be. The German dictatorship, according to one part of the honorable gentleman's statement, involves the people of Germany in being veritable slaves, and yet, according to another part of it, they are on the eve of a period of great glory. The same observations apply also to Italy.

Sir HENRY Gullett - Subject to certain conditions.

Mr CURTIN - And so are we on the eve of a period of great glory if honorable gentlemen opposite would carry out even a portion of the undertakings which they entered into with the people prior to the last general election. During the last four years the atmosphere in the world has been prejudiced by the partisanship and, to some extent, the uncontrolled propaganda which vested interests have let loose. The efforts of the British Government in its negotiations for peace were to some extent made, difficult by the partisan activities of those who are more concerned, as it were, with fighting Hitler than with establishing peace. There is unquestionably in the world a class that has a vested interest in war and in war-making, and the propagandist activities which are employed in the interests of this exploiting and ruthless class, which is international in character, have made difficulties for all governments, including, I believe, the governments of the dictators. As the result we have had the spectacle of what Australia thinks about the international situation repeatedly stated in this country both by newspapers and over wireless stations in a way which has not contributed anything towards the settlement of the problem, but has contributed to the inflammation of hysteria among the Australian body politic. I have no proposals to make for the suppression of public opinion, nor do I desire to silence those who disagree with me; however, in this era in which the world has stupendous problems to resolve and in which, particularly in the democracies, the leaders of nations cannot do the right thing merely because it is the right thing, but can only do it when they have the support and concurrence of their own people, it is not a service to democracy if ill-founded accusations are made and scares engendered by those who have no responsibility to the people as a people, but who for the mo3t part parade such stunts in order to satisfy either their own or some related interests. To the extent that anything can be said in this Parliament which will put a, curb upon utterances which have been prejudical to the understanding of Australia's attitude towards the problems of either Europe or Asia, it may be that more frequent discussions of foreign policy in this House may have some effect. I prefer the positive remedy of honest and straight declarations as to where Australia stands, or proposes to stand, being made on behalf of the Australian people, to newspaper editorials or wireless commentaries. This observation is also true in respect of other countries. It is important that Australia's position should be made known to the world, and I can see no reason why Australians should listen to German broadcasts in English without Australia itself taking the initiative so that there can be heard in Germany, Austria, Italy or Japan, in the languages of those countries, declarations as to what Australia thinks ought to be done in the interests of world peace. I repeat that if there should be any remedy at all for the one-sided attitude which marks many pronouncements in all countries to-day it should be positive rather than negative. By that, I mean that rather than suppress opinion we ought to take the responsibility of sponsoring those opinions which responsible authorities in Australia regard as fair statements as to what Australia will do. These could be delivered from short-wave stations in Australia in the languages of the countries to which we desire to address such statements. The fact is that the people of Australia, the workers of Australia, desire peace, and it is not sufficient for that view to be communicated merely to the leaders of other nations, such as Germany or Japan; we must reach the people of those countries if we wish to get from ' them that degree of influence which they can exert upon their own governments, because it is notorious that the chief institution which has to be created once war is unloosed is the lie factory which can whip up the patriotism of one's own people and create unrest and disquietude in the ranks of the enemy. The last four years of crisis have, from the point of view of the world at large, been much worse than they need have been had the people of the various countries any true conception of what the people of other countries were really thinking. We in Australia have long been accustomed to the influencewhich public opinion can exert over governments and dictators of policies of political parties, and it is right and proper that such an influence should be exerted in order that Australian public opinion should be heard. In this, the most vital of all considerations - whether the world shall remain at peace or be dragged into war - I, and I believe thousands of Australians, prefer to trust an enlightened public opinion rather than the ambitions of a few political leaders. To the extent that we can encourage the development of an informed and educated understanding in other countries regarding the peaceful intentions of the Australian people and the course they will take in the event of war breaking out, we can determine whether the aggressors are justified in their actions or not.

Mr Gregory - What would the honorable member do with regard to the causes of antagonism?

Mr CURTIN - That is part of the situation, is it not, out of which war will come? One cannot divorce the cause from the consequences. The cause we know now; briefly, it is this: there has grown up in three countries at least the realization that they have been able as the result of the development of armed strength to get rectification of injustices under which they have long laboured. That is how the people of those countries see the position. It has been acknowledged that n great part of the Treaty of Versailles was, if not unjust, at least unwise; that, in great part, it imposed intolerable burdens upon a defeated and a vanquished people. It is also recognized that the failure to revise the Treaty in a substantial measure in the first decade after it was made has, to some extent, been a factor in the causes which led to the emergence of Hitler as a Fuhrer of Germany. I do not need to traverse that ground, except to say that the democracies do acknowledge that a great part of the support for Hitler and Mussolini arose more or less inevitably out of the internal conditions of Germany and Italy, and that in respect, of Germany those conditions were in a great measure due to external pressure. Certainly, whilst we do not agree with the methods that have been employed, nor with the courses which they have been invoked to sustain, we, none the less, acknowledge that in many respects the people of Germany, as distinct from the rulers of Germany, can at least be understood when they feel they have long had grievances to overcome and that the support which they have given to their government has from their point of view been justified.

I now come to the consideration of what the Minister said regarding Japan. His statement is very largely in line with what I would expect the representative of an Australian Government to say. We desire to live in peace with our neighbours in the Pacific, who are north of the equator. Insofar as the problems of the Pacific are concerned, we have no quarrel with the people of Japan. We have sent goodwill missions to Japan and have welcomed the trade which Japan has developed with us. We have suffered very much in recent years as the result of the cessation of a large part of that trade.. While I shall not enter into the fiscal aspect of the subject at this juncture, I say that over a long period of years the people of Australia and the people of Japan have learned to have regard for the rights of each other. On no occasion has there been any attempt on the part of the Government of Japan to interfere with or influence in any improper way the making of Australian national policy. We have elaborated principles of nationhood which could easily have been misunderstood; but in the years in which we were moulding our conception of a White Australia we went on fearlessly and quite confidently towards the consummation of our ideas, believing that we were not exposing Australia to danger. Whatever difficulty is in our situation to-day is not due to anything that has happened in Australia. Our real fear of Japan arises out of the world situation. Our difficulties have no direct relationship to any direct failure on the part of Japan or of Australia to understand and respect each other's rights. I sincerely hope that the establishment of a legation at Tokio will be the prelude to a revival of the spirit of goodwill between the Government and people of J apan and the Government and the people of Australia. I take the responsibility to say, as a contribution towards the consummation of these hopes, that, just as I might expect and hope that the Government and people of Japan will allow the Government and people of Australia to elaborate their own social and political system in the way they think proper and best, I, for my part, do not. consider it right and proper that I should attempt to influence or determine the character of the political and social institutions df Japan. We lay it down that what they do is their business, and we feel that Japan will fully reciprocate in this connexion.

No war, even in Europe, should be a war fought either to defend or to create political systems against other political systems. The people of every country have their conception of what is good for freedom and liberty, and they should have the right to determine their political structure without interference or molestation by us. I will not be a party to any activities which have for their purpose the dragooning of a people into the acceptance of a certain political system. There should not be on the part of democrats, at any rate, any ambition to do for other people what we have not yet fully done for ourselves, and there are, unquestionably, problems incidental to democracy that we have yet to overcome.

I feel that the interpretation which the Minister for External Affairs has placed upon the recent pronouncement of the Prime Minister makes it unnecessary for me to say much more. I say this though : The Australian Labour party, over the whole course of the years, has regarded the welfare of the Australian people as the primary responsibility of Australian governments in the making of policies incidental to foreign relationships. That is our primary obligation. The safety and security of our own people is our first and our major responsibility. We accept the position that we are, and we declare ourselves to be, an integral part of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

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