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Friday, 9 August 1946

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader' of the Opposition) . - I rise, first, to add a few words to some remarks of a personal character by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), and, secondly, to say one or two things about matters of administration during the last few weeta. On the personal side, I had the opportunity last night, in the course of debate to refer briefly to the retirement from politics of the honorable member for Parra-matta .(Sir Frederick Stewart), and I do not desire to repeat what T then said.

He has undoubtedly been a good workman in this House during the last fifteen years, and lias served the people of Australia faithfully and well. I should also like to inform my friend, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) that every member of this House, whatever party he belongs to, regrets his departure from this Parliament. I' should like him to know that, while leaving the Parliament is a break, ii and will involve inevitably regrets on his part, he may have the satisfaction of knowing that he leaves here with the warm personal goodwill of all the members, whatever their political views may be. :

I have learned from the press quite recently that the appointment is either being made, or has actually been made, of the right honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) as High Commissioner in London. 1 do not desire to be thought to canvass the qualifications of the right honorable member to be High Commissioner. There can be. very little doubt in our minds that both he and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), who has just left us, have been valiant champions of Labour, and are admirably qualified to speak the views of this Government in any part of the world. Therefore, I have no personal comment to make about that matter. But I do desire once more- to emphasize my objection to the notion that appointments of great importance should be made in the last few hours of a parliament. After all, whatever the views of individuals may be, and there will be a great deal of prophecy in the next. six or eight weeks-

Mr Chifley - I should not be surprised.

Mr MENZIES - I daresay that_ the least prophetic will be the Prime Minister and myself, because we know that these are matters about which we cannot prophesy very successfully. But whatever the prophecy may be, it is quite possible for this Government not to be the government after the elections. This ii the end of a parliament. It is the end of a government unless the people return it for another term of office. In those circumstances, it i3 a breach of a very sound rule of public administration to make appointments of a major kind just us the Parliament is concluding. On the 21st December, 1945, I made a public statement on this matter when the right honorable member for West Sydney was about to be sent to London as Resident Minister. In the course of that statement, I said -

The public will perhaps feel that the appointing of Cabinet Ministers to high national posts on the eve of a general election at which the Government may be defeated would be grossly improper, lt seems to me that it would be nonetheless improper because it would be preceded by ambiguous appointments as High Commissioner or Minister abroad.

Although that comment is now more than six months old, it is full of point. The position is that in the normal course, a high commissioner is appointed for a certain term of years. By the device which has been used in this case, an appointment for the normal term is only about to begin, although the occupant has, in fact, been exercising the functions of the office for the greater part of a year. I do not need to underline that. This is not the time for a lot of underlining. This is the time for a simple and dispassionate statement on these matters. I have been very exercised in the last few days to read in the cables what I can only hope are most ill-founded speculations about the appointment of si Governor-General.

Mr Chifley - The Leader - of the Opposition may take it from me that the subject has never been discussed by Cabinet.

Mr MENZIES - I . accept that assurance very willingly, because I am bound to say tia. t when I 'read those observations in the cables, I could nol associate such a rumour with what I would have expected in the circumstances.

I turn from that to say a few words about a matter which I raised a week or so ago in relation to the peace conference which is now taking place in Paris. We read a great deal in the press abou it, and we have been told from day to day that the great thing to be fought for in the peace conference is a democratic settlement of the issues between nations. I am at a loss to understand bow we can have a democratic settlement between nations if one of the nation* participating in the conference - I refer to Australia - has not had an opportunity in discuss or' think about the matters which will bo determined by the conference. I have read in the press, as other honorable members have, that a fight has been waged on behalf of a simple majority in the decision of questions which arise. Here is a major procedural problem. Shall all nations at the peace conference have the same voting strength, or shall there be a two-thirds majority so as to impose, some restriction upon ordinary democratic decision?

Mr Pollard - What does the right honorable gentleman think about it?

Mr MENZIES - I want to know something about it. My mind is inquiring. I am old-fashioned enough to consider that the members of the Australian Parliament should be told something about this matter, instead of having to pick up the news through the press, and that those honorable members, to whatever political party they belong, might be able to contribute something to the subject. I have before me a list of the nations. which are represented at the conference. It may very well be - I say nothing about it- that Ethiopia is i - fi t i ti eel to as large a voice in the peace settlement as. the United- States of America. The reasons are not very obvious to mc; but, no doubt, they are good ones because they are being expressed on behalf of Australia. I would have been assisted if the Acting Minister for External Affairs - if there be one - could have explained to us why Ethiopia should have as much power at a peace conference as the United States of America has, or why Brazil should be able to speak at the peace conference with as powerful a voice i.= the United Kingdom has.

Mr Pollard - What attitude did the former Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), adopt at the peace: conference after World War I.?

Mr MENZIES - The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) need not Hart talking to me about other people other events. The great event to which T direct my mind now is. the -peace conference in Paris - the conference at which, presumably, peace treaties arc to he settled, between Australia and Finland. Italy, Yugoslavia, and others. I am not. going to say dogmatically that the views which are being expressed are wrong. That would be very foolish. All I say is that I have an inquiring condition of mind. 1 should like to understand, and so. would other honorable members and thoughtful people throughout Australia, why those views are the correct views, and why Brazil and Ethiopia should stand on equal terms with Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States of America. On the face of it, I had thought that those great powers and communities made an infinitely greater contribution to the deliverance of man than was made by those small countries. However, we have been told nothing about it. So far, I have spoken only about matters of procedure. Those are merely the preliminary skirmishes. After all, the value of the peace treaty will largely turn upon its terms - the essential justice of its terms - and once again we are confronted with this point, that the peace conference is apparently meeting in an atmosphere of great publicity but the only thing that wo in this Parliament know about the subject being discussed is what we read after the event in the cables from Paris. That is an intolerable position for a national parliament' to be in. In the circumstances, whoever undertakes to -peak for Australia at a foreign conference can speak the mind of Australia only by accident, because no steps have been taken to determine what that mind is, or to ascertain the joint view of this Parliament. All that we know "is that some one is abroad. He has been in Australia, it, is bound to be admitted, so little that he is completely out of touch with whatever the currents of opinion here may bc. Being abroad, he says, " This is what (Australia wants". He may be right; he may be wrong; but there is only one way in which can bc determined what Australia wants on political problems, and that is by finding out from this Parliament what its view is.

I said that I would be brief, so I shall not continue longer. My sole purpose is to direct public attention once more to these rather extraordinary things. The early termination of the session, of course, makes it impassible that they shall be adequately debated; but I venture to say that the people will believe that they should have been adequately debated long ago.

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