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Wednesday, 31 October 1956


Mr SPEAKER - Order! Honorable members must remain silent.


Dr EVATT - That is the background of the situation. A map is before me on the table, and honorable members should consult it when it is suggested that the offer made by Britain and France was reasonable. I know, or I think I know, why Britain and France did not let too many other countries know of their intended action. What would the great General Eisenhower have said about it? He would have said, " It is monstrous. I could not stand for such a proposition. I could not occupy the position of President of the United States and endorse it. How can I, if Egypt is being attacked, compel the people who are defending their own country to move back 10 miles? " For what purpose is it suggested that they should move back 10 miles? It is simply to allow the British and French forces to occupy the canal zone, and to return to the position from which Great Britain withdrew voluntarily a few years ago.

The situation is truly amazing. The Prime Minister talks about the true facts of life. Well, here is an illustration of them. The Prime Minister prepared his statement, of course, before recent events had been reported in this country, but one of those events is this: It is not merely an intangible ultimatum that is being carried into effect; force is being used. Individuals, if only a few people, according to the evening press, have been killed by bombs which come from British or French sources. Those are the facts of life. Is not the life of an innocent Egyptian bystander just as important to the Prime Minister and his family as the life of any man in the world?

Government supporters interjecting,


Mr SPEAKER - Order! 1 remind the House that the Prime Minister was heard in silence, and I ask honorable members to pay the same respect to the Leader of the Opposition.


Dr EVATT - 1 say that certain events are happening, and innocent people are being killed because of the action of the British and French governments. It is disgraceful to think that this should occur without the authority of the United Nations.

Can any one forget the extraordinary speech that the Prime Minister made a few weeks ago? He enunciated a new theory about the use of force in international affairs, and there would have been no need for Sir Anthony Eden to consult the Prime Minister of Australia in order to ascertain his views, because he would already have learnt of them from the speech that the Prime Minister made recently. The right honorable gentleman has postulated the theory that you can use force without the authority of the United Nations if you think it is right that it should be used. That is what the Prime Minister said in connexion with the Suez Canal dispute. That is an absolutely intolerable and illegal doctrine, and no one who has any experience of the United Nations Charter or its working would put forward such a proposition. It cannot be defended. Military force can be used only with the authorization of the United Nations, or in self-defence in the case of armed attack against one's nation. In no other case is it permitted. The views put forward by the Prime Minister on that matter were, with great respect, those of a person who had not studied the history of the United Nations and was not very conversant with its charter.

Government supporters interjecting,


Mr SPEAKER - Order!


Dr EVATT - Those who laugh simply show a like ignorance of the history and the Charter of the United Nations. I suggest that they might read the terms of the Charter. It would be an interesting exercise for them.


Mr Wight Mr. Wightinterjecting,


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Lilley will cease interjecting.


Dr EVATT - I point out that the result of this intervention, which the Prime Minister says is for the protection of Egypt and has been undertaken so that Egyptians may be protected from aggression, is that Egyptians are suffering and dying at the hands of the forces of Great Britain or France. That is one anomaly.


Mr Howson - The right honorable gentleman has no proof of that yet.


Dr EVATT - Of course, I have. It has been announced in to-night's newspapers.


Mr Howson Mr. Howsoninterjecting,


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honorable member for Fawkner must remain silent.


Dr EVATT - Mr. Speaker, what kind of people are we dealing with in this House? ls it that they do not want to hear a case that they do not like? I ask them to listen to it, because there are others who wish to hear the views of the Australian Labour party.

Government supporters interjecting,


Mr SPEAKER -Order! If honorable members do not refrain from interjecting I shall name them. I ask for order.


Dr EVATT - The inference to be drawn from the action of Great Britain and France is clear and plain. This matter has been discussed, of course, by four of the greatest authorities on international affairs in the United States, including Mr. Reston, the world's greatest authority on the subject. He has gone deeply into this matter, and he speaks of the whole thing being engineered from the beginning. It is unnecessary to discuss that aspect of it. It is quite plain that Great Britain and France knew that the trouble would extend to the Suez Canal, and, knowing that, what was their purpose in issuing the ultimatum? The object was to regain military possession of the canal zone.

I return now to a consideration of the views put forward by the Prime Minister a few weeks ago. In the opinon of those on this side of the House who have studied the matter, and their colleagues outside the Parliament who have discussed it, the object of Great Britain and France was to regain military possession of the canal zone, as one move in the settlement of the Suez Canal dispute. There is no explanation of their action otherwise. It cannot be explained on any other hypothesis. But let us see what that means. It means that force is being used for a perfectly illegitimate purpose, and that the Security Council, with its varied membership, was right in its condemnation of the action. Even the representative of Australia, Dr. Walker, unembarrassed by instructions either from the Prime Minister or the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) voted in favour of c declaration ordering the Israeli forces to go back to their own country, 100 miles away, and in favour of a resolution which directed Great Britain and France not to take part in this affair, but to let it go to the United Nations. Dr. Walker was not criticized by the Prime Minister for his vote. Well, that resolution was vetoed. Of course, most people think - quite wrongly - that the veto ends the matter. It does not end the matter. People look upon the use of a veto as a disastrous thing, but it is only part of the procedure. The matter may then be taken to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and the majority of the Security Council has decided to refer this dispute to the judgment of the whole body of the membership of the United Nations, which will deal with it.


Mr Menzies - What do you mean by " deal with it "? They cannot do anything.


Dr EVATT - Do you want to crossexamine me?


Mr Menzies - I should love to. Give me a chance. What a splendid idea!


Dr EVATT - The Prime Minister, apparently, would like to cross-examine me, but there are many questions that I should like to ask him first. He is very good at asking questions, but he will not answer them. When 1 asked him yesterday afternoon whether there had been consultation with the British Government, why did not he say that he did not know of this matter until then? He did not say that yesterday, which was the time he should have said it. What is his explanation of that? That is a question, but I do not want him to make another speech now.


Mr Falkinder Mr. Falkinderinterjecting,


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Franklin will apologize to the Chair for interjecting.


Mr Falkinder - I apologize, sir.


Dr EVATT - It seems to me that we must look at the position in the light of this Government's policy. It is this Government with which we are dealing. What is its policy? Dr. Walker voted in favour of condemnation of the ultimatum and the enforcement action thereunder. We on this side of the House assert that that enforcement action is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations. President Eisenhower takes the same view. I submit that it is the view which is correct. Does the Prime Minister contradict that view? There is another question. No answer is given to it. I take it that we shall have to wait and see. The Prime Minister certainly contradicted that view a few weeks ago. In our opinion, the action taken by Great Britain and France was wrong from the point of view of the duties cast upon members of the United Nations. That kind of thing amounts to aggressive action, which must come before the United Nations for judgment. If a veto is exercised in one tribunal, the matter must go to the other tribunal, where there is no veto.

The view that I want to put may be summed up in this way! There was a certain situation in Egypt, the main points of which have been described. If Britain and France had desired to have the matter composed, they could have brought it before the United Nations immediately, but they did not do so. Why did they decide to act on their own account? The United States is vitally interested in the Middle East, and Australia and a lot of other Commonwealth countries are equally interested. But the facts were kept back from those countries. They should not have been kept back. The object, of course, was to try to present those countries with an accomplished fact within a certain time. Troops would have been back in the canal zone and that would have been a position of strategic importance. For what purpose would it have been of importance to the two countries concerned? Was it seriously suggested then, and is it seriously suggested now, that shipping in the canal was in danger? Has there been an incident? Is there a report of a ship being interfered with in its ordinary progress through the canal? There is not a single scrap of evidence of that, but the apparent ground of the action was that shipping might be endangered. Presumably, the Egyptian forces would be able to protect shipping, but there is no evidence at all that shipping has been interfered with or delayed. So that reason has got to go by the board.

The situation is of such a nature that no one, I think, can fairly defend the action taken. We in this country want to find out what the policy of this Government is. Is it going to issue a direction to the Australian representatives in New York that they are to support the action of Great Britain, against which a vote has been recorded, as I have explained? Is Dr. Walker to remain the Australian representative in New York; or is the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) to deal with the matter?


Mr Menzies - If you are really interested


Dr EVATT - I am very interested.


Mr Menzies - If you are really interested, I can tell you that Dr. Walker's instructions in the General Assembly will consist of my statement to-night.


Dr EVATT - He will find some difficulty in fathoming it.


Mr Menzies - He is a very intelligent man.


Dr EVATT - He must be, if he can understand that statement. If he reads the statement of the Prime Minister that he views with pleasure the statement of the President of the United States of America, who says that the action taken was improper, he will have to balance one view against the other. If the Prime Minister runs the Government entirely, he will instruct Dr. Walker how to vote.

The party that I represent, having considered this matter, expresses its strong condemnation of the threats of military force contained in the ultimatum addressed by Great Britain and France, nominally to Egypt and Israel, but, in fact, in substance and in truth, only to Egypt. Israel said that it would keep its troops 10 miles from the canal as long as Egypt did likewise. That shows that the ultimatum was not genuine and that it was not regarded as genuine. That withdrawal would not settle the dispute. The Security Council of the United Nations took a view different from that taken by Great Britain and France. Those countries did not suggest at the United Nations that the order by the Security Council was wrong insofar as it directed the Israeli forces to retire behind their armistice line.

Our opinion is that the real object of the ultimatum was to obtain effective possession and military occupation of the Suez Canal zone. It is admitted that that is Egyptian territory and that Egypt has sovereignty over it. British forces withdrew from the canal zone some years ago. In our view, the object of the ultimatum was to get military possession of the canal zone. The only view consistent with the known facts is that the intention of Great Britain and France is, by force, to make it obligatory for Egypt to agree to the proposals made by the Menzies committee during the negotiations that took place a few weeks ago. Those negotiations failed. The Prime Minister said subsequently that the use of force was still possible, and it is extraordinary that threats of force and actual force were used by the nations concerned within four or five weeks of that statement.

We repudiate and disaffirm the principles stated by the Prime Minister in his speech on that occasion, in which he expressed the bald view, the good old rule, or the simple plan that they should take who have the power and that they should keep who can. That is the rule of the nineteenth century - the policy of the gunboat diplomat. You go in and try to get what you want. If the people concerned are not acquiescent and do not recognize your superiority, you use armed force. I tell him that in the opinion of the people of this country that doctrine ought to be dead. I tell him, too, that on the legal conception of the United Nations Charter that doctrine cannot be justified.

Let me add one thing. Any treaty that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations must give way to the charter, which is the overriding, supreme law in international affairs. It is useless to go back to old precedents, which are discredited by the modern approach to international problems. The view we take is that force can be used only if the United Nations authorizes its use, either through the Security Council or the General Assembly, or in self-defence against armed attack. Those are the only occasions when the use of force is permitted, and they are occasions which are interpreted pretty broadly. No one will say that the force used by Great Britain and France against Egypt was used in self-defence against attack by Egypt. No one will put forward such a fantastic view. Therefore, as the United Nations did not authorize, and, in fact, condemned that use of force, it is plainly exposed as a naked exercise of military power. It cannot last. It cannot be successful. The peoples of the world in general, and, in particular, the peoples of Europe who are great friends of these countries, have condemned it.


Mr Wight - What, Hungary?


Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I name the honorable member for Lilley.


Dr EVATT - 1 should prefer no action to be taken-


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I warned the honorable member for Lilley previously.

Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -

That the honorable member for Lilley be suspended from the service of the House.


Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Lilley is suspended from the service of the House.

The honorable member for Lilley thereupon withdrew from the chamber.


Dr EVATT - The Prime Minister of Denmark criticized this action in very clear terms, according to to-day's Melbourne " Herald ". It was criticized also by the Italian Cabinet, and by the Swedish Foreign Minister, who said that Great Britain and France had usurped the role of the United Nations and resorted to methods which were not provided for in the United Nations. Charter. An influential Dutch evening newspaper also criticized what had been done, and the " News Chronicle " and other leading newspapers in Great Britain, including the " Manchester Guardian ", also criticized it.

I say that the action taken by Great Britain and France will not succeed. The shocking thing is that the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, and presumably of the Australian people, welcome! what has been done. This Government, after having hesitated and supported the action of the majority of the members of the United Nations Security Council, now turns in the opposite direction. It is setting an example which, I submit, will be resented by the Australian people. I believe that the proper course is to discuss this matter in the United Nations General Assembly and to see whether Great Britain and France can be persuaded to withdraw their operation of force, which is directed against Egypt. That would be a courageous thing to expect them to do, but it should be done. I consider that, if the governments of Australia and other countries such as Canada and New Zealand were not consulted, they should now bring all their persuasive powers to bear on Great Britain and France, not for the purpose of attacking and discrediting the United Nations, but for the purpose of supporting it when vital clauses of the Charter are under consideration. On this occasion the security council represents all types of countries so far as their internal politics are concerned. The council has eleven members - five permanent and six non-permanent - and in the decisive votes only two nations supported the action taken by Great Britain and France. That indicates a great probability that the overwhelming majority of the members of the United Nations would not support the action of Great Britain and France.

I think it is important, Mr. Speaker, to state that the views I am putting forward are in substance also the views of the British Labour party, and, I believe, of similar parties throughout the world which may be considering this position. We request that the present disastrous situation be reconsidered as soon as possible, either by the security council or, now that it has been referred to the General Assembly, by that assembly, in order to achieve a cessation of hostilities. I tell the Prime Minister on behalf of the Opposition and the Labour movement throughout Australia that we shall oppose any attempt by the Menzies Government to involve Australia in what may in truth be described as a Suez Canal war. How can it be otherwise described? How absurd it is that Great Britain and France are entering the canal zone to prevent damage from being done by either Israel or Egypt to some imaginary ships carrying valuable cargoes! Israel has indicated its willingness to retire, but Egypt cannot abandon its own territory and sovereignty. The demand that it should do so is the most humiliating ultimatum ever put to any country in the history of diplomacy so far as I know.

We have heard a few observations from the Prime Minister this evening, but he has not dealt with the real issues: First, was the action of Great Britain and France lawful under the United Nations Charter? Secondly, was it prudent? Thirdly, were Australia and other nations consulted? I gather that the Prime Minister says that none of them were. Apparently he was not consulted. Was the Minister for External Affairs consulted? The Minister made a statement over the radio to-day to the effect that he was fully informed of the situation throughout the passage of events, and that he had kept the Australian Government informed. Was not any information about the proposed ultimatum obtained from him? Are we not entitled to know that? I hope that complete freedom of opinion in the matter we are discussing will not be interfered with. On this point I want to mention that commentator who was about to express his views on the ultimatum and the situation in the United Nations in an Australian Broadcasting Commission broadcast to-day was not permitted to read several sentences of the script of his proposed broadcast, and he therefore refused to make the broadcast. So we have censorship in this matter in Australian Broadcasting Commission broadcasts.


Mr Menzies - Tell us the name of the commentator?


Dr EVATT - I have no doubt that the right honorable gentleman has been fully informed about the incident.


Mr Menzies - He is your friend.


Dr EVATT - He is not a friend of mine.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I ask the House to come to order.


Dr EVATT - Let it be perfectly well understood in this House that the people of Australia will take all proper and constitutional steps to oppose the completion of the action that has been initiated by Britain and France. It is an action which in effect amounts to an act of aggression. It was condemned by seven out of eleven members of the United Nations Security Council, and I believe that it is opposed to the feeling and conscience of the great majority of the people of Australia.







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