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Tuesday, 9 May 1939


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- I have heard many addresses from the honorable member who has just concluded his speech, but I had never hoped for such longevity as would enable me to hear from him a speech with which I entirely agreed. Yet the totally unexpected has occurred. If I have served no other useful purpose as -a representative of a section of the democracy in this Parliament, at least I can go down to my grave claiming that I have made one convert at least.

I pass from the sublime to the less so, from the speech of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) to that of the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Henry Gullett). I pass from that to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), merely for the purpose of saying that I agree, as I usually do, with everything that my leader has said, with a single exception, namely, that part of his speech in which he said that by his speech the Minister for External Affairs had made a valuable contribution to the records of this Parliament. With that sentiment I take leave totally to disagree. Notwithstanding the fact that the latter portion of the speech was in agreement with my views - being totally opposed to the first portion, which was completely opposed to my views - I desire to say that I regard the speech as being prejudiced, contradictory, and in terms calculated to incite friendly peoples against this country, which is so much in need of friendly neighbours. If I had made this speech immediately following that of the Minister for External Affairs, my observations about his speech, even within the limits imposed by the Standing Orders, would have been much more bitter than anything that I have so far said. But after dinner, when one is enjoying a gentlemanly state of repletion, one is able to approach these matters with a more balanced mind than in the latter part of the afternoon when one is somewhat tired and hungry. That is the only reason why I have not been more condemnatory of the speech made by the honorable gentleman. This Government, this little, marooned, helpless minority-Government, invites, or incites - I hardly know which - a discussion on foreign affairs with the appearance of magnanimity and a desire to give to honorable members an opportunity to discuss what they insist is a most important subject. . The truth is that, having taken their places on the Government bench, Ministers did not prepare a programme because they did not expect to be there the next day. Even now, they are living from day to day in expectation of the axe. Having no programme, and very little hope for the future, they say " Put foreign affairs before members, and then they can go all over the world, from the north pole to the south pole, as on one of Cook's specially conducted tours, and everything that they say will be in order". And so we are spending the greater part of to-day's sitting on matters which really have very little concern at all with Australia, notwithstanding the fact that there are many pressing and urgent matters awaiting attention that do intimately affect the people of this country. Most of us have had experience of some of these things, for when we go home at week-ends we meet people on our doorsteps, or lined up in processions, asking for letters of introduction to the munition works, or for something in the nature of employment somewhere. Most of us have experience similar to that indicated to us by the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr), who cited a responsible educational authority as having asked whether' this Parliament could not do something to solve the grave social problem of the increasing numbers of unemployed youths in this country. These are some of the problems that we might have been facing, and upon which a little money might have been spent. But they are not to be considered as urgent or as important as happenings in the Balkan States, Czechoslovakia, Bohemia, Poland, and other places in Europe. The cry is " Let us get to Europe out of Australia ; let us be anything on God's earth but Australians in an Australian parliament, doing the work that we were sent here to do ". I am, nevertheless, interested in foreign affairs as a study in my leisure time, of which I have very little, because I am interested in the human family, regarded as a band of brothers and sisters. In a secondary sense, I am interested in it because I realize the danger of this meddling and muddling Government lasting long enough to embroil the people of this country in one of those petty' wars in Central Europe to which the honorable member for Barker made such eloquent and wellinformed reference.

I should like occasionally to remind honorable members of this House that Australia is an autonomous nation which has no responsibility, either in law or in fact, to any other country, and, notwithstanding opinions held to the contrary by other persons for whose scholarship I ' have great respect, I maintain that only the Australian Government, that is to say, the representative of the Sovereign on the advice of the Australian Government, can involve Australia in war or proclaim peace for Australia should it be at war. If it be a fact, as has been publicly declared and preached the world over, originating in Great Britain itself, that Australia is a nation and is not in any particular whatsoever subordinate to any other dominion or to Great Britain itself, how can it be suggested, or argued, that we can be at war by the will of some other nation to which, as a matter of law and practice, it is publicly declared that we are not in any way whatever subject or responsible, the more so as this position is ratified by the statute law of Great Britain? It has been said that the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations have a common Sovereign That is perfectly true; but they have a Sovereign who, in each case, according to equally well-established constitutional theory, acts upon the advice of the executive government of the particular dominion or country whose interests are affected. That fact is accepted. as law by each of the dominions, and by Great Britain, and therefore it should be beyond the need for demonstration that nothing but the will of the Australian people, acting through an Australian government, can possibly, either in law or in fact, involve this country in war.


Mr Rankin - What about an enemy fleet?


Mr BRENNAN - The attitude of other countries is a separate matter. They may insist upon regarding Australia as an enemy because some other dominion, or Britain itself, is involved in war. I am not saying what other nations may do in any particular set of circumstances, but I do say that the view that we ought to promulgate is that Australia, as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, is mistress of its own destiny. I value the friendly association between the dominions and Britain, including Ireland, the land of my forefathers, but however proud of that association I may be, it is only a sentimental association. There is no theory of law; there are no written dicta; there is no honorable understanding; there is nothing at all which binds together the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations other than the goodwill and common interests which they agree should hold them together as friendly associated powers. Therefore, when we regard the affairs of Europe, we should not overlook the fact that, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, our first consideration must be the interests of Australia. Surely the preservation and the defence of Australia is a man-size job for 7,000,000 people! If we can attend to that job, we shall make not only a just contribution but also a generous contribution to the peace of the world. The Minister for External Affairs said that, having carefully studied the democracies of the world, he had come to the conclusion that they were wholly inspired by a desire for peace. In his opinion there was not even the breath of an aggressive tendency in any part of their policies. Can any honorable member imagine presumption going beyond that ?


Sir Henry Gullett - I said nothing of the kind.


Mr BRENNAN - The Minister for External Affairs, who has recently stepped into this "baby" Government, presumes to read the mind of every statesman of the so-called democracies of Europe and America.


Sir Henry Gullett -try speaking the truth.


Mr BRENNAN - If I have misrepresented the honorable gentleman-


Sir Henry Gullett - The honorable member has done so.


Mr BRENNAN - The honorable gentleman has certainly misrepresented me. If I have misrepresented him, I shall be prepared to be more generous to him than he has been to me. I have put upon his words the only reasonable construction. The honorable gentleman also said that the democracies desired peace because of their fear of war under modern conditions. He went on to say that the people of the dictatorship countries wanted peace for the same reason, but that there was a. difference between them, because the people of the democracies want peace because they are free men whereas the people of Germany and other dictatorship countries are slaves. I sometimes wonder how much a single individual can do to preserve world peace. One would suppose very little, and, yet, I think that a single individual can do a good deal to bring about world war. I know nothing more 'that an individual can do in that way than to select some great power stronger than ourselves with which we are at peace and publicly use his own parliament for the purpose of insulting both the masses and the government of that friendly power. I know nothing more in that way that an honorable member can do than that, and I think it may be potent. It is quite possible that the honorable gentleman's words may be read in a foreign country; it may be represented to the government of that country that he is a responsible Minister of the Crown, and with the aid of a provocative press it may be properly inferred by that government that he is speaking for his own country as a whole when he denounces, for example, the great German race with its history of art, culture and music, and even religious zeal extending back into the mists of antiquity, and refers to these hundred-odd millions of people as slaves of the tyrant Hitler. Such a gratuitous insult serves no useful purpose except to illustrate the ignorance of the people who utter it. It serves no other purpose whatever. Such utterances are a contribution to world war. What else can an honorable gentleman do to incitethan to insult friendly nations who are supposed to be opposed to us in their theory of government ? Who are we that we should dictate to the German people what their form' of government should be ? Have we made such a wonderful success of democracy in this country that we should wish to peddle our wares in Europe? We are urged to establish a union of democracies against the dictatorship states. We are to have a union of the great American democracy with the European democracies, including Great Britain; we are to have a union between Wall-street, on the one hand, and the London Daily Mail, on the other, as samples of democracy in our time; we are to have a union between Stalin and the Pilgrim Fathers in order to show that we are a number of hearts beating as one. All this we are to do in the interests of democracy. Let us put our own house in order. Let us go into the big cities of these great democracies and relieve the shameful want and suffering of the millions there. Let us attend to problems in our own country where half our people are seeking employment, where the substance of our industries is wasted in policies of fear and terror abroad, and where a few million pounds cannot be found to employ those born in this country, great, free, as we claim, and rich as it is. Therefore, I say, we should abstain from troubling - our heads to insult dictators who are not offending us. We should abstain from threatening the workingclass people in Germany, or Italy, with whom we have no quarrel. The honorable gentleman said that I would give three cheers for Germany. May I ask, why should I not give three cheers for Germany? I should sooner give three cheers for Germany as a friendly nation which at any rate is not offending against me or mine, than for this remnant United Australia party Government which is doing much harm and little good. I know that there is a theory that when you are at war with a country you must not, on any account, be just to that nation; because that dees not accord with the rules of military necessity. When you are at war you must play the part which you do not ordinarily play in private life of being a humbug, a liar and a cad. You must do that because of military necessity ; that is the rule, and if you do not obey it you will be haled before the appropriate tribunal and dealt with under the War Precautions Act. ' But surely the rule does not apply as between us and nations with which we are not at war. Surely we are not so dead sure of putting on a war that we need start in advance to apply the order of being a humbug, a liar and a cad before the war breaks out, even though we grant it that we must do all those things after the war starts.

With my next point the honorable member for Barker has dealt so effectively that I need hardly do more than associate myself with hi3 arguments. That point is that the real danger which confronts the world arises from one* of the embarrassments which are our common heritage, namely, that the small nations are a menace to peace. The small nations of Europe create great difficulties among themselves. I may say that they have my sympathy, but the matter is not one which concerns us at all, and in that regard we can congratulate ourselves upon our good fortune. I quite recognize that the existence of small. nations crowded together, of mixed races, religions and histories, are a menace to world peace. It is because of this fact that we are informed in this country through the press that we have had a succession of at least four acute crises, and a continuing crisis which is going on at the present time. A crisis must always be on the pot ready for use by propagandists. We are told that we have had four separate and distinct crises of a serious character. In that regard, although there has been no war, there has been absolutely successful scaremongering and absolutely successful efforts to depress, intimidate and terrorize the Australian people. There has been no war, but it has to be remembered that a scare is as profitable as a war. In fact, a war scare is better than a war because it keeps the war factories going double time every day, and makes multimillionaires out of a few select thousands of people all over the world. It is better than a war, also, because you can keep it going longer. Furthermore, a war scare will sell more newspapers' than a war, because a war scare supplies so many interesting and dramatic changes and lends itself to such variety and originality in newspaper headings that actually it sells far more newspapers than a war itself as a lot of people go away and get killed and cannot buy newspapers and cannot be fooled by what appears in newspapers under editorial efforts. Do not let it be thought when. I speak of this editorial war-mongering, when I say, as I do, that our daily press in that regard is one of the grave social evils affecting this country, and, as such, is a more immediate and deadly threat to world peace than anything which the German Fuhrer, or Mussolini, or anybody else that I know of, is doing, and when I speak of the policies of newspapers, that I am speaking of those great organizations of technicians, workers and working class journalists and others whose business it is to carry out the policy of their masters, and who for the most part are quite well aware - in fact better' aware than I am - of the truth of what I am saying. Far be it from me to say anything derogatory of the bright minds who do this work. Everybody knows that for many years I have been associated with the uplift and betterment of the conditions' of men whose lives are devoted to the selling of newspapers and the supply of news, arid of that splendid band of technicians who are engaged in the production of morning and evening newspapers. But none of this prevents me from saying in this House what I have just said, because I am satisfied that if we lack the courage to deal with this menace, this public evil, this scourge of mendacity, incitement, misrepresentation .and deliberate creation of hate and fear which goes on in the local press whose editors and proprietors are themselves the instruments of a higher monied power than they, then we are encouraging the greatest evil threatening the safety of this, and every other democracy in the world.

The first of these crises was when Germany moved into Austria, and that was the first outrage to which the honorable gentleman has referred. What of it if a people vote by a 99 per cent, majority, as the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) pointed out, to unite with Germany, their close neighbours and ally in the Great Wai", and with whom they are of one race, and speak the same language?


Sir Henry Gullett - After they were taken.


Mr BRENNAN - " After they were taken ", says the Minister, true to form, for fear something fair or accurate might be stated in favour of a people against whom he evinces an insane and harmful prejudice. If they were such worms as to submit, and if they had no fight in them, it might be just as well for them to be taken under the tutelage of a nation capable of making up their minds for them. But I do not believe that this is the fact. On the contrary^ I believe that they were assimilated by virtue of their common race, origin and history.


Sir Henry Gullett - And affection !


Mr BRENNAN - When I hear it said that a nation like Austria was .assimilated simply because it was not capable of any resistance I think of some cases of attempted assimilation in British history, such, for example, as Palestine, where an attempt is being made, with very little success and much resistance, to assimilate Jews and Arabs. I think also of the historic case, running back into the centuries, of the attempt to assimilate Ireland with England without any success. There was no assimilation there. But when, as in the case of the final assimilation of Czechoslovakia with Germany, I hear the Prime Minister of

Czechoslovakia say that the people of Czechoslovakia handed their interests over to the German Chancellor "with every confidence in the Reich ", I feel myself compelled to believe' that it was done primarily, because of mutual interest, history and traditions. We should not expect a great nation like Austria to be readily gobbled up at a moment's notice unless there was some internal willingness; nor should we expect small nations which were thrown together as the result of the greed and dishonesty of those who manipulated the Treaty of Versailles to live in peace and harmony. Chickens come home to roost! It was hardly to be anticipated, I suppose, that the great principle of self-determination, which was mouthed so freely by the so-called democracies at the end of the war, would be applied in such an unexpected way and under such unexpected conditions twenty years later.

The absorption of Sudetenland was the first move that affected Czechoslovakia, and 90 per cent, of the people concerned were Germans. What was wrong, about that? According to Lord Runciman, who made a report on the subject to Great Britain, and also according to Mr. Chamberlain, and the French Premier. M. Daladier, what was done at that time was right, proper and reasonable. In fact everything up to the last action of Germany was all right. . Memel, of course, which is 90 per cent. German, was part of the Reich. All these assimilations were made without bloodshed. I ask when, in any historic time, such advances and such alterations of boundaries have been made so bloodlessly, and with so little imperial ferocity, as in the recent settlement in Central Europe? Possibly the peace of Europe is better guaranteed by the combination of these peoples under a central government than by smaller competing nationalities. Possibly, also, the peace of the world is being better assured by these new arrangements than by the old ones. [Leave to continue given. ]

The last stage of this movement on the part of the Reich was made when the final section of Czechoslovakia was assimilated. It was in that connexion that the Premier of the area concerned allowed it to be' declared that his government. had every confidence in the Reich. These were people of mixed nationalities, mixed races, mixed relationships, and mixed religions. They "were held together by no logical system of brotherhood at all. I think that even in relation to these people the best interests of Europe were probably served by their assimilation. The pledge to Britain was that nothing would be done further affecting Britain's interests without notice to the latter. This did not affect Britain's interests.

Of course, no attempt to examine these questions is ever made without the person making it having to face the charge that he is more interested in some foreign country than in his own. The people who make such charges cannot possibly believe them. They must make them for purely political purposes and with a jaundiced mind. They bring upon themselves the retort that they are bitterly prejudiced in the interests, not so much of their own country, as of the Commonwealth of Nations of which, as I said earlier in my speech, we are, in some way or other, a part. I find myself in this Parliament to-day as I found myself in the Parliament when it was sitting in Melbourne, during the war, constantly in the position of trying to apply those principles of conduct to nations which ordinary individuals, such as members of this Parliament, try to apply to one another. If a man has a quarrel with his neighbour he regrets it, and would rather smooth over than exacerbate his neighbour. Persons with even the elements of decency do not go about constantly defaming and belittling their neighbours and alleging against them charges in which there is no truth ; nor do they aggrandize themselves and boast that they possess all the virtues without exception, whereas their neighbours have none. Yet that is exactly what takes place in connexion with international affairs. It is against that perverted standard of decency that I make my protest.

I think I should say in the presence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that at least I acquit him of being by any means the worst offender. I go further and say that after his return from Europe his reported speeches evidenced a considerable amount of balance and common sense. If he oan only cultivate the strength of purpose and courage to openly condemn such outrageous perversions of fair standards of conduct as those to which I have referred, he will make a real contribution to world peace.

Our neighbour, Japan, and Germany" and Italy, are known as the totalitarian states. They have their systems of government, which are different from ours. I need hardly say that I am totally opposed to the totalitarian system of government and to any idea of a dictatorship. No person in any other country, particularly in any of the totalitarian states, can possibly entertain any resentment because I declare my wholehearted detestation of the system of dictatorships. 1 am also opposed to the materialistic doctrines of the Reich, as I understand them. But I must add that I really have very little opportunity to understand what is proceeding in those countries, or what is moving in the minds of the peoples of those countries.

As to the facts to which reference has been made, our sources of information are, in the first place, either tainted or absolutely foul, or, in the second place, when they become available to us on better authority are open to the criticism that we cannot be sure how far authorities are right, since they do not always agree. Usually several months elapse between the events which these observers describe and the time when the journals actually come into our hands. History moves quickly. The falsehoods of last week are forgotten this week, and so the exposure is not news. The falsehood is news, but the exposure is not news, and therefore is of no interest. And so it goes on !

My final words on the subject I put in the form of "a series of questions. "What have these disputes really to do with us? Why should we interrupt our natural progress because of them? Why should we neglect the interests of suffering people on their account? Why should we create an atmosphere of terror and depression in a country where every one should be going about expressing the joy of life in glad eyes and faces? I do not know. I protest against it. If this Government would spend on the cultivating of the sentiment of world peace, a quarter of the amount of money which it is proposing to spend on equipment to meet an imaginary enemy, or to combat people whom we may exacerbate into enemies, it would do well. We do not know what the Prime Minister proposes to do. I ask him whether he intends to do anything in a positive way to create a better feeling among the nations of the world? Will he also do something to counteract the effect of the inflammable rubbish that is constantly published in the press? Will he deal with this situation ? If he cannot suppress the press - and I do not believe in suppressing the press - will he see whether something cannot he done to control it and to put an end to the wild licence and irresponsible conduct of those who control it? I. do not ask for suppression.


Mr Archie Cameron - Will the honorable member explain how there can be control without suppression?


Mr BRENNAN - I suggest that he should do something to correct these mis-statements; that some sort of a government organ should be published which would set out and refute the obvious falsehoods; that it should state publicly what is an obvious falsehood, what is a patent incitement, and what is a wild, unsupported allegation. I am sorry that the Minister for External Affairs so annoyed me that I had to attack him. I am not sorry for what I said, and I am not apologizing for it. The Minister has access to Current Notes, that excellent publication issued by the External Affairs Department. It is a very useful publication, so far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. I suggest to the Government that it might well arrange for the publication of a journal that would set the truth before the people as an intelligent observer sees it. It would, of course, earn the condemnation of the daily press, but it can achieve nothing if it is not prepared to do that; unless it takes steps to reach the people themselves, to avail itself of radio stations and of the public platform to get its message to the people. I tell the Government that if it is not prepared to do something of the kind it cannot hope to achieve anything effective. If it is prepared to use the machinery at its command in the interests of truth and justice andgoodwill, it can do something for the peace of the world of which the Minister for External Affairs claims to be achampion. We want the standard which we apply among ourselves to be applied among the nations. If we are able to do that we shall have done a little in our time and generation to allay world disturbances, and, in the remote event of this country being threatened, it will then, at least, be threatened by a nation unprovoked, and clearly an aggressor against a free power which will have done nothing to invite attack.







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