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Thursday, 26 March 1942


Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) . - Most honorable members will agree that debates on international affairs in this House should be of paramount importance. We have been very slow to realize the value of taking a lively interest in international affairs. In Great Britain debates in the House of Commons on international affairs are always of great interest to members and the people at large. It can be said truthfully that debates on foreign affairs are of the greatest possible interest in both Great Britain and on the Continent. Therefore I propose this afternoon to say a few words on the role that I think Australia should take in the international world, or, if honorable members prefer the expression, in diplomacy. I am led to make these remarks by certain happenings in the last few months. I trust that 1 shall speak with due diffidence. Yet, as I have strong views on this subject, I make no apology for uttering them. I have had the privilege of learning a little about Australia from outside Australia, and that must be of great advantage in discussing this subject.

For many years Great Britain spoke for the British Empire, including the selfgoverning dominions, on international affairs. In those days the view of Great Britain was the view of the Empire, but, in the course of the years, the Dominions have gained strength and status and have made it clear that they wish to speak for themselves. Years ago Canada and South Africa appointed diplomatic representatives to other countries. During the last two or three years Australia has followed this lead. A. forward step was made also when the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster. The purpose of that measure was to attempt to define the status of different parts of the British Empire, but the effect of it was to leave foreign nations with a peculiar view of the structure of the British Empire. It is not too much to say that .foreign nations cannot understand how the British Empire holds together. Consisting of peoples scattered over the four quarters of the globe the Empire is bound together by invisible ties, and similarity of parliamentary institutions and national ideals. Nevertheless, the various parts of the Empire have developed certain points of view. Australia, like other dominions, has gradually developed its own outlook on international relations. However, I believe that the dominions should not desert their old citadel and take up residence in what might he described as a row of villas. Whilst it is proper for us. for example, to develop our own international policy, we should endeavour to harmonize our views with those of other parts of the Empire, so that, as an Empire, we may still speak with a united voice.

Australians who travel overseas are almost invariably struck by the ignorance of the people of other countries about this country. Australia is, in fact, a little-known land. We have developed greatly in the 150 years of our history, but in the international sphere we must strive to see things in proper perspective. It appeared to me, during my travels in Great Britain and on the Continent of Europe, that Australia was known principally as a part of the British Empire. Consequently, it would be foolish for us to arrogate to ourselves an importance which we do not really possess. Particularly when we seek to give voice to Australian views in world councils we should maintain a true perspective. In 1935 I visited Signor Mussolini at Borne, in company with the former honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson). I am afraid that our Australian arrogance received a severe setback when Mussolini asked us whether the King of England appointed the Prime Minister of Australia! It was amazing to hear such a question from the leader of a great nation. " Good Lord ", I said to myself, " Does this man know nothing whatever about Australia? Are we so insignificant in world affairs and he so ill-informed about us as to think that we are merely a colony, and that the British Government is responsible for us?" Strange as it may seem, that is a true story of Mussolini's view of this country. The average person that we met was almost equally ill-informed. For this reason we should not enter arrogantly into world affairs. To do so is to damage the fair name of this country. Such an attitude must inevitably appear a little ridiculous to the great nations of the world. In my view we should take all proper means to give voice to our views, but we should also do our best to encourage harmony in the expression of Empire opinions. In that way, assuredly, we shall most effectively achieve our desires.

With those observations as a background I wish now to discuss what I regard as some of the blunders of this Government during the last two or three months. I speak with a measure of humility, but also with conviction. The first matter to which I shall refer is the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) towards the end of December that Australia looked to the United States of America without any pangs. I do not think that any statement made since the outbreak of the war has created so much division in our own country as that one. I have had arguments with some of my stoutest friends on this subject. The tide of resentment is now flowing out again, but there will be still further reactions in Australia to that statement by the Prime Minister, for it did not contribute in any way to the maintenance of harmony among our people. The statement was made in the full knowledge that Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt, in their talks at Washington some little time earl le', had reached an agreement as to the roles that Great Britain, the United States of America and Australia, should play, respectively, in consequence of Japan entering the war. It had even been suggested at that time that there should be a kind of consultative council to advise the proper authorities concerning operations in the Pacific war zone. With all that knowledge in his possession the Prime Minister made the statement - it seemed to me for political purposes - that Australia was now looking to the United States of America for help. The observation was not qualified, as it might well have been, by comments concerning the agreement reached by Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt. It was obvious that Australia could not have been overlooked in the conferences between those two world leaders at Washington. It is only necessary to look at an atlas to realize that Australia could not possibly have been overlooked, and that, from geographical considerations, assistance in the defence of Australia would fall naturally within the sphere of the United States of America. Undoubtedly the Prime Minister's statement tended to create an opinion that Great Britain did not intend to do anything more for Australia, and that, consequently, this country had to appeal to the United States of America for help. I have little doubt that the Prime Minister considered that by making his appeal to the United States of America at that time he would be in a position, when American troops and equipment were landed in this country, to say, " That is what we have done. I told you so ".

Certain extraordinary happenings have occurred also in relation to the proposal for the formation of the Pacific War

Council. This subject was not discussed between government and government through the usual diplomatic channels. What was said about it by the Commonwealth Government was shouted from the housetops for all the world to hear. The requests of the Commonwealth Government appeared under big headlines in the press and were referred to in frequent radio broadcasts. Yet that subject also was discussed at the Washington conference.

Again, a request was made by the Commonwealth Government for direct representation on the British War Cabinet. This request also was made, not through the usual diplomatic channels, but through press and radio publicity. In my view it is improper to discuss such important subjects in that way. Resortto such measures does not look well and does not " go down " well. That is borne out by the statement made yesterday by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) that the good name of Australia was possibly held in lower esteem in Washington and London to-day than for many years. Further support to this view is given by reports published in to-day's press to the effect that President Roosevelt had made a statement to the effect that if Australia wanted a council it could have one " with a fancy name if it would make anybody happy". The people of Australia do not favour such methods of approach to either Great Britain or the United States of America. They take 'pride in the good name of this country abroad. As the honorable member for Flinders truly observed, the public expression of Australian demands and appeals to Great Britain and the United States of America are not helpful.







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