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Thursday, 16 November 1939


Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Leader of the Opposition) . - A little more than seven weeks has elapsed since this Parliament dispersed after having had before it for about three weeks the consideration of the problems of Australia resulting from the declaration of a state of Avar between Great Britain and Germany. It will be recalled that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) outlined the position of the Government and that I outlined the position of the Opposition on behalf of the Australian Labour party. To-day, Ave are to discuss the exposition which the Prime Minister gave yesterday of what the Government has done in the meantime, and how the Avar and all circumstances related to it have developed since the Parliament dispersed. I have to say that there has been no variation in any shape or form of the declaration which I made on behalf of the Labour party immediately after the declaration of the state of Avar. We stand to that! There Avas no ambiguity about it and it calls for no revision. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the Avar had been a somewhat unusual one, in that there had been an absence of marked military offensive operations on the part of the belligerents, that there had been some examination of the possibility of peace. He stated in effect that, after two and a half months, the Government, and the world, are apparently waiting for the war to commence, and that, both in belligerent and neutral countries, discussion is occurring on the possibilities of peace and the terms on which peace could be obtained. Then he made the significant and most important observation that he had little doubt that those two remarkable circumstances were closely associated. It must be apparent that, in any examination of war aims, peace terms are inevitably invoked. Whatever countries proclaim as their objectives in this struggle, those objectives must be consistent Avith what the enemy would expect to be the attitude of the victors in an examination as to how peace should be implemented.

With the right honorable gentleman's statement of Avar aims, as he gave it to the Parliament yesterday, I find very little room for cavil. He said that, first, the Government stood for victory. Obviously it would be ridiculous to be fighting for defeat, and the Labour party takes no exception to, and inevitably endorses, the statement that, while the Avar continues, it is expected that the whole of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations Wi 11 do their utmost to achieve victory. Most certainly nothing will be done on this side of the House which would contribute to the defeat of the British Commonwealth, for our undertaking is to maintain its integrity. Om1 duty in construing that obligation is to have paramount consideration for the safety of this portion of the British Com.monwealth. That, Ave venture to say, is not only the duty Ave OWe to our own people, but also the responsibility Ave incur as the trustees in this part of the British Commonwealth for what shall be done here. The right honorable gentleman said, that the Government sought victory, not merely for the glory of victory, or the humiliation of the German people, or any spoils resulting therefrom, but also a victory in which would be involved the future peace and happiness of simple men and women the world over.

The Prime Minister went on to say that no mere formula of compromise or patched-up peace could give to the world any assurance of a peace that would endure. I agree with the right honorable gentleman that we either have peace, freedom and justice, or we do not hav them; but I remind him that these are abstract terms, and should have some application to the factual situation. Freedom in respect of what? Freedom as against tyranny? In what form might the tyranny be? Whilst giving a general subscription to the declaration of the right honorable gentleman, I think that an amplification of what is meant by peace, freedom and justice is called for. We want a peace founded upon just dealings in the social and economic life of all peoples, and " all peoples " include ourselves. I make this statement to-day, not only in order that there may be a clear understanding on the part of the Australian people regarding the point of view of the Opposition in this Parliament, but also in the hope, and with a certain amount of confidence, that the more clearly we state these rational objectives to the world the earlier we may expect that peace will at least be made possible. If we are not aiming at the humiliation of the German people, then obviously we owe it to ourselves, and to ihe people of Germany, to make clear to them precisely what the British Commonwealth is aiming at. To lay the foundation of peace, I declare to-day to the world, requires not only world action abroad, but the firm establishment of this principle in our own country.

I need not emphasize the fact that great numbers of human beings in Australia, and in all countries, cannot share freely in the benefits that science and invention may evolve in the near future. Lasting peace cannot come while totalitarian governments apply policies that menace other nations. I say that clearly and decisively, but I also insist that it is impossible to expect peace while a few persons or nations impose economic fear and want on their own people for their own gain. The principles implicit in the Prime -Minister's statements cast upon us the obligation to give a lead in our own internal economy before we can expect other countries to entertain any realization of the genuineness of our war aims.

The Labour party has declared its horror of war and has affirmed that international disputes should be settled by arbitration. It has deplored the fact that force, instead of negotiation and discussion, has plunged the people into this catastrophe. Wo have said in the clearest and most unequivocal terms that we, stand for the maintenance of Australia, and will do ail possible to safeguard this country, and, in accordance with our platform, to maintain the integrity of the British Commonwealth. We, the free people of Australia, are in a war which is not of our making any more than it could be said to be the making of the people of any other country. As far as I can construe the speeches of the right honorable the Prime Minister, he has drawn a clear distinction between the Government of Germany and the people of Germany in declaring where the culpability for this war should be placed. Because the peoples of the world have not had the making of this war, it is right that the issues should be kept clearly in the forefront of every important national statement. I should like the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett), by means of the organization which he- is developing, to make available to other countries; particularly those contiguous to Australia, frequent transmissions of what are the purposes for which the British Commonwealth is at present engaged, and more particularly what is the point of view of the Australian people with respect to this struggle. Where there are bad governments, the only conceivable remedy is enlightened and determined peoples. The importance of keeping these things before the world impresses me. It i3 not the reshaping of maps and territories that is our concern. Our concern is for peace, security and safety, and economic order of the type that Labour believes is the foundation upon which pea eg i5 practicable.

Om- conception of democracy - and this is pertinent to a matter mentioned in this House a few moments ago - is one that we refuse to abdicate. We agree neither with dictatorships exercising coercion over other peoples nor upsurging from within. Our conception of national unity, which we regard as imperative in ensuring the maximum strength in time of war, does not imply that we condone profiteering and exploitation, or any violation of the civic liberties of the people. To oppose dictatorships does not mean that we countenance the piling up of fortunes by a i*m am ents rings and the profit-making interests that batten on the people. While man-power is drawn on to wage the war of liberty, we must not allow the instruments of production and exchange to be used to build up economic power for a privileged class in our own country. Opposition to the external enemy does not require us to give new strength to the capitalist forces in Australia. I say to the Government that when exploitation breeds discontent, as it always will, it is not the discontented who must be dealt with, not the man getting 28s. a month who must be blamed for enemy activities, but the exploiter. The Government must deal with the cause and not the effect. Instead of suppressing information about, Lascars getting 28s a month, the Prime Minister should have said something to the shipowners who were expecting services in time of war without giving to those men new articles as the result of the declaration of war. Parenthetically, I remark that only the other week at Fremantle, in similar circumstances, I took a personal part in enabling the mercantile services of the British Commonwealth to be continued, while at the same time successfully arranging with the shipowners to treat Lascars more fairly than might otherwise have been the case. I see no reason why the agreement made at Fremantle should not be repeated at Sydney. I suggest that course to the right honorable gentleman as a practical and reasonable contribution to the solution of the problem.

It is very important for us to realize that the war has taken what the Prime Minister has described as an unusual course, because in the background there is a more or less well-founded belief that there is some hope of peace being negotiated. The interposition of the King of the Belgians and the Queen of the Netherlands, the responses immediately made by His Majesty the King to those communications, and the fact that in many places where influence is exerted some endeavour has been made to see if, even at this terrible stage, it is not practicable to resolve the situation without prolonging or continuing the war, is unquestionably one of the reasons why we have not had the intense military struggle which, no doubt, many people expected. Having regard to the statement made to-day by the Minister for External

Affairs (Sir Henry Gullett), in which he referred to the representations of the King of the Belgians, and then spoke of the fact that military operations were being hampered by the wettest autumn for many years, it occurs to me that at this stage, at any rate, it would not do civilization any great harm for us to pause and reflect whether, after all, some method could not be devised as an alternative to all the horrible consequences that must follow if this ghastly struggle attains full momentum. The Labour party is not alone in the belief that the door should never be closed against negotiations which may have for their object the prevention of a lengthy struggle. I believe that to the degree that we make plain the legitimacy of our purpose we shall be helping to bring about a more favorable atmosphere for a settlement of the struggle, and thus avoid a tremendous loss of life which mustbe colossal, when the war is waged with full ferocity. I direct the attention of the House to a statement which appeared in the West Australian of the 10th November last. It is important not because of what it contains - it would be supported by all democratic, radical, and peaceloving people the world over - but because of the representative nature of its signatories. They are -







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