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Tuesday, 9 May 1939


Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I do not agree with some honorable members who have made contributions to this debate, that we can be entirely unmindful of major happenings on the other side of the world. Nor do I agree with the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that he has respect for the forms of government which operate in certain countries of Europe to-day, and against which the Labour party has levelled a great deal of criticism; because I think that no member of the Labour party at least should say that he can view with respect a government which had been responsible for the suppression of trade union organizations and the imprisonment and internment of, many fighters on the side of the workers of those countries. My suspicions are aroused when I see so many persons connected with the antiLabour forces in this country suddenly become champions of democracy. I agree with the Prime Minister that whenever nations take part in an intense armaments race there is danger to established democratic institutions. But since when has the Commonwealth Government been the champion of democracy? On many occasions, not only in this Parliament, but also in the Parliament of Victoria, the Prime Minister himself has shown clearly that he is not a believer in democratic forms of government, for he has supported legislation aimed at destroying the effective organization of workers on the waterfront, and suppressing meetings of workers to discuss their problems. Probably the Prime Minister spoke a little more plainly to-night than he intended. Unless the Labour party be fully alive to the situation, the democratic institutions of this country will be in danger, for I have no doubt that should the Government consider it necessary to assist Great Britain in the event of that country becoming involved in war, many of our alleged liberties would be lightly set aside, because the Government would hold the - opinion that the existence of democratic institutions might retard the Government's programme and prevent it from giving Unlimited assistance to Great Britain. When I was informed that a discussion on foreign affairs would take place to-day, I thought not only that the Prime Minister would indicate to the Parliament that Australia would declare itself free to determine its own course in international affairs, but also that the Government would announce its own foreign policy. The statements that have come from the Government bench, however, indicate that there is to be no radical change in the existing practice. In matters affecting foreign policy, it appears that the Government of Great Britain is still to speak for the whole Empire. Because of that, we must review the situation, and ask ourselves whether it is wise that 'Australia should continue to follow Great Britain on every occasion. I am not prepared to agree that the British Government has been generous in its attitude to the solution of European problems of recent times. Much has been said of the fact that Mr. Chamberlain flew to Germany in September last in order to interview Herr Hitler. As the result of that interview, the Munich Agreement was signed; but what sacrifice did it entail on the part of the British Government or the British nation? At Munich the dismemberment of another nation was agreed to. If Great Britain was not prepared to take a more definite stand in the interests of Czechoslovakia, its representatives should have kept out of the negotiations entirely. What happened was that the representatives of Czechoslovakia were closed out of the conference at which the dismemberment of their country was agreed to by the representatives of four great powers, after they had discussed their own material interests. Yet we are told that Great Britain made a generous sacrifice on that occasion. It is true that that country is now taking a more definite stand against the totalitarian states, but the reason is that those states, not satisfied with their conquests to date, are making demands in other quarters in which British imperialists have interests. Only when their interests arc endangered will the imperialists of the nation resort to war. They are not actuated by any desire to preserve existing democratic institutions; if they were, they would find ample scope for their activities inside their own country. The La'bour party 'believes in a policy of co-operation with all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations; it does not believe in the domination of the- other members by the Mother Country, as does the Government. The Labour party believes in the holding of conferences to discuss various problems which are common to all parts of the Empire; it is not prepared to be told by British imperial interests that. irrespective of the interests of Australia, this country is to he dragged at the heels of Great Britain into any war in which that country cares to engage. Many members of this Parliament say that we in Australia cannot do anything to prevent wars, but I do not accept that view. Honorable members may recollect that in 1922, only four years after the termination of the Great War, Great Britain was considering the possibility of another conflict with Turkey. Mr. Lloyd George, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time, communicated with the Prime Minister of each of the dominions, asking what measure of assistance the dominions would render to Great Britain in the event of war with Turkey. Mr. Hughes was Prime Minister of Australia at the time, and he informed Mr. Lloyd George that the Australian Government was prepared to send forces abroad only if it were absolutely necessary. The then Prime Minister of Canada was even more definite in his utterance, for he said that in no circumstances would Canada engage in another conflict. Those replies caused the British Government to change its policy and eventually a compromise was effected with Turkey. Further conferences with the Turkish representatives were held, with the result that a peaceful settlement was arrived at without resort to arms. On that occasion the governments of the dominions made a definite contribution to the preservation of world peace. I am confident that if Australia indicated to Great Britain that it would make its own decision in respect of any conflict with other nations, the other dominions would follow Australia's lead, and a different attitude would be adopted by the British imperialist authorities. Some years ago this Parliament was asked to support a policy of applying economic sanctions to Italy because of that country's treatment of Abyssinia. On that occasion, members of the Labour party opposed the application of economic sanctions against Italy because we were satisfied that Australia could do nothing that would be likely to save the Abyssinians from domination by one form of imperialism or another. We recognized that it was only a war between conflicting classes of imperialisms for the control of that country. The only time when imperialistic nations evince interest in any country is not when, as the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr) indicated this evening, they want to educate, or give the alleged benefits of civilization to its people, but when they find that a particular territory possesses valuable raw materials which they require. Consequently, Britain's interest in Abyssinia was not so much that it wanted to save poor Abyssinia from Italian domination, but simply because it knew that the nation which controlled Abyssinia controlled Lake Tsana, the source of the River Nile, which was of vital importance to Egypt. . For these reasons we found that Britain was prepared to do everything possible to prevent Italy from subjugating Abyssinia.


Mr Archie Cameron - The flow of water from Lake Tsana cannot be stopped, so the Nile is secure so far as any action that Italy can take is concerned.


Mr WARD - Evidently both the British and Italian authorities hold a different view, because Ave find that Italy gave the United Kingdom certain specific undertakings regarding Lake Tsana. If there Avas no way in which Italian control of Abyssinia could have affected the water supply from Lake Tsana. I ask the honorable gentleman to indicate the necessity for such a guarantee on the part of Italy. The facts are that the League of Nations declared Italy to be the aggressor in that dispute; both Great Britain and Australia were parties to that declaration, and, under article 16 of the covenant, decided to apply economic sanctions against Italy. Later, however, Great Britain changed its attitude entirely and urged the League to pass a resolution recognizing the King of Italy as Emperor of Ethiopia. That resolution was proposed by Lord Halifax, who told the League Council that he did not want it to retract one word it had said previously against Italy, but argued that it must recognize the fact that Italy had control of almost the whole of Abyssinia and it would be foolish to go on living in an unreal world unless the members of the League were prepared to resort to arms to remedy the position. Thus, within a few months. Great Britain took steps to reverse its entire policy in connexion with the Italo-Abyssinia dispute after steps had been taken to preserve the interests of the British capitalists. It Avas only with these interests- that the Imperial Government was at any time concerned, and they are the only interests Avith which any form of imperialism is concerned in the various storm centres of the world to-day. Australia has every reason to remain on pacific terms with Japan and the other nations in the Far East. Some years ago we sent a goodwill mission to Japan, headed by the then Attorney-General, Sir John Latham, now Chief Justice of the High Court; but, following the return of that mission, our attitude towards Japan changed. It is rather remarkable that in opening this debate the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Henry Gullett) said that he could not imagine why Japan was deserting its old friends and turning towards the totalitarian states. The obvious reason is that Japan's old friends have turned on it. This country, for instance, had no need to do so, and probably would not have done so, but for the fact that the Commonwealth Government during recent years has been dominated by Imperial interests. I recall that our trade diversion policy, which severely hit Japan, was only devised after we had had a visit from a very influential deputation representing British manufacturing interests who were being challenged in the markets of the world, including Australia, by the improved technique of the Japanese manufacturers. It never promised to confer any material benefit upon this country. Its adoption, however, waa provocative to Japan, and, naturally, the Japanese were forced to retaliate. Every one must regret and view Avith abhorrence the present SinoJapanese* conflict. Japan has resorted to bombing out of existence towns peopled largely by defenceless women and children. The British authorities have protested on many occasions against such action, evidently because they think that it is a good thing to try to delude the people of British countries into believing that all the 'Government is concerned about is the protection of human life and the maintenance of the liberties of the people. What are the facts? Let us examine the attitude of this Government, and of the Imperial Government, towards this conflict. As far back as 1937 the League of Nations, of which Australia is still a member, decided that Japan had broken the Nine-Power Agreement and the Pact of Paris by violating Chinese territory, and by that decision virtually declared Japan to be the aggressor in the conflict. In such circumstances one would haw expected the members of the league immediately to apply economic sanctions against Japan, because this was the logical step to take in view of the league's policy of collective security. . I do not believe that association with the League of Nations has ever given security to small nations; in the light of recent events it can be better described as collective insecurity. But if the League of Nations were worth anything at all one would have expected the members of the league, if they failed to apply sanctions, at least to refrain from doing anything which would help Japan as the aggressor. Under article 17 of the covenant, China appealed to the league to call a conference to consider its position. As it had already withdrawn from the league, Japan refused to recognize the league's authority and declined to attend the conference. The league then decided to apply article 16 of the covenant which, in effect, meant the application of economic sanctions against Japan. It was not prepared to make that decision binding upon members, but left individual nations to decide in their discretion, what action they might take to aid China in this way. Australia was a party to that agreement, but has this Government done anything to honour it? Instead of honouring that undertaking by doing something which might have helped to weaken Japan's attack on defenceless China, it actually took steps against workers in this country when they attempted to apply sanctions against Japan. That is an indication of the interests which supporters of this Government, and also of the Imperial Government, believe should be defended. They are prepared to go so far as to make verbal protests against, and to express horror at, the bombing of defenceless Chinese cities, but they are not prepared to endanger the profits of their supporters.

The waterside workers at Port Kembla objected to loading war equipment and material for Japan in contravention of decisions of the League of Nations which were supported by a representative of this Government; but the Government was not prepared to support the workers. "We hear a great deal from time to time about the danger of engaging in an armaments race, but not one honorable member on the Government side of the House has made any protest in the course of this discussion against the exorbitant profits which certain wealthy financial interests in this country are making, , and will make, through the manufacture of munitions. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which is really one of the masters of this Government, dictated the policy that the Government should adopt in respect of the waterside workers at Port Kembla.

Let us try to ascertain how sincere Imperialists are in their, expressed desire that the democracies should defend their liberties. It is true that much has been said on this subject, but I remind the British Imperialists, and particularly the Imperialists in this country, and also its workers, that although a great deal is said about defending democratic institutions against the encroachment of fascism in Europe, these same institutions are in grave danger from the operations of Fascists in this country. I view with abhorrence the activities of Fascists against working-class organizations in other parts of the world, and I am not blind to the fact that the Fascists are marching forward in Australia. We should be careful to ensure that their activities do not become more dangerous than they now are to our institutions. We have sufficient repressive legislation upon our statute-book to enable the Government to suppress every form of workingclass Activity in this country if it cared to do so; but the Government allows these statutes to remain inoperative until some occasion arises to apply them against the workers in circumstances which in its opinion require action. If the Government were true to the democratic principles which certain of its members and supporters enunciate, it would take immediate steps to repeal those sections of the Crimes Act which deal with political offences. It would also repeal the Transport Workers Act, which, in its present form, applies to the workers of Australia the objectionable licensing system which is to-day in common use in Fascist countries. So while we talk about the need to combat fascism abroad we should keep in mind the need to combat it in this country.

Reverting for a moment to the Chinese situation, I remind honorable members that although Dr. Wellington Koo, the Chinese representative at the League of Nations, pleaded with member nations of the League to place an embargo on the supply of arms, oil and finance to Japan, the League, although it had already de.clared Japan to be an aggressor nation, declined to take any definite action. This was after it had been decided that economic sanctions should be enforced against Japan. China has not had a fair deal from the member nations of the League of Nations which, apparently, are prepared to act only in such a way as will preserve their own interests. I do not say that this attitude is restricted to Great Britain. It is common of all imperialistic nations.

On this subject I direct attention to the following official statement of the case which sets out the matters in respect of which Great Britain was concerned: -

It was arranged that a frank discussion should take place between the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador on the causes of friction between the two countries. The chief of these were the following: - The ban on navigation up the River Yangtse; interference with the Whangpoo Conservancy Boaro an organization vital to the port of Shanghai; interference with the British shipping at Tsingtao; restriction of access to portions of the International Settlement in Shanghai; restriction on the return of British residents to Nanking; -restrictions on the re-opening of foreign-owned factories in occupied areas; and the seizure by the Japanese army of certain British-financed railways.

It appears, therefore, that so long as the Japanese Government was prepared to respect British interests in relation to the matters mentioned, the friction between Great Britain and Japan would not be serious. Britain, apparently, was quite prepared to overlook the serious plight of the unfortunate Chinese people. The agreement finally reached on the subjects to which I have referred is set out in the same official publication in the following words : -

On the 2nd May, following lengthy negotiations, an agreement was reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Japanese Government for regulation of customs matters in areas occupied by the Japanese forces in China. The communique stated that all revenues collected by the customs at each port within the areas under Japanese occupation were to be deposited with the Yokohama Specie Bank. From revenues thus deposited foreign loan quotas would be remitted to the Inspector-General of Customs in order to meet in full the servicing of the foreign loans and indemnities secured on the Customs revenue. Foreign loan quotas for each port would be determined monthly in proportion to the share of that port in the total gross collections for all ports during the preceding month. Arrangements were made for the payment to the Japanese Government of the Japanese portion of the Boxer indemnity, and for the transfer to the Yokohama Specie Bank of the balance of the Customs account with the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank iti ports under Japanese occupation.

The Chinese Government sent a Note to the United Kingdom' Government declaring that China was in no way bound by the arrangement and reserved full freedom of action.

This shows conclusively that the Chinese greatly resented the attitude of at least one member nation of the League of Nations which, though prepared to join in a declaration that Japan was an aggressor nation, was also prepared to make an agreement with Japan to the detriment of China. So much for the reliance that can be placed upon verbal expressions of concern for the democracies, and for democratic institutions. I hope that the workers of Australia will not be misled by the speeches of the recently-found champions of democracy who support this Government. I recognize, of course, that democratic liberties must be protected, but they are in just as great danger from Fascists inside this country, and from some of the so-called champions of democracy opposite, as they are from those who openly declare themselves to be the enemies of democracy.

It has been often charged against the Labour party that we subscribe to an isolationist policy, that we do not believe in co-operating with any other government in any other part of the world. That is notstating the position quite accurately. Labour's attitude is this: History has proved that the world of capitalist governments cannot be depended on. Anti-Labour governments enter into agreements, and honour them when it suits them, but break them when it does not. No agreement with a government of that kind would contribute towards the security of this or any other country. We believe that wherever there are Labour governments working for a common goal, with a common ideology, it is possible to make agreements among them that will be honoured. Only those governments that are composed of workers' representatives not tied to vested interests outside Parliament can be depended upon to honour agreements. Labour, therefore, believes in holding conferences with governments having the same political aims as itself, and in making agreements with such governments. As evidence of that, the British Labour party has put forward a suggestion, which is supported by the Australian Labour party, that there shall be held in New Zealand next year a conference of representatives of Labour organizations from all parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations to discuss, not only defence matters, but also any other subjects in which they may be mutually interested. Labour has stated openly that it will not co-operate with any government not imbued with high motives in international affairs. We say to this Commonwealth Government that we view it with suspicion. We say that it is not concerned with the preservation of democratic government, or the liberties of the people. We know that it has committed Australia to a great deal. The late Prime Minister, during the course of his election speech in Sydney, said that it was all "moonshine" for Mr. Cur tin and other Labour leaders to say that Australia was committed to participate in an overseas war . The fact remains, however, that the Leader of the Government tonight declared that if Britain were at war Australia also would be at war. The Labour party says that it is prepared to co-operate with other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but that it will not submit to Imperial domination. Otherwise it would be possible for Australian troops to be sent to India, to Palestine or to Egypt for the suppression of popular uprisings in any of those countries, and for the preservation of Imperial interests. Everybody knows that British policy in Palestine is not directed towards a settlement of the native problem for the good of the residents of that country, but merely towards preserving law and order so as to protect the oil line from Mosul to Haifa.


Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's time has expired.

Debate (on motion by Mr. White) adjourned.







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