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Thursday, 8 November 1956

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- I rise to voice a protest at the cavalier way in which honorable members who represent the public of Australia are treated by the Government in the matter of international affairs.

At the beginning of the year, in either February or March, and on several occasions since then, I requested the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) to arrange a debate on international affairs, but at no time have honorable members on this side of the House had an opportunity to give general expression to their views. In addition, questions on this subject which have been placed on the notice-paper have been treated in a light-hearted and cavalier fashion. It seems that the Government regards our international relations as the private province of the Minister for External Affairs, or the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I suggest that that is not the right attitude. The proceedings of the House to-day have provided a classic example of that outlook.

Honorable members in this chamber represent the people of Australia. At one stage during the afternoon I counted the number of members present, and there were more than 100. We listened to a speech by the Prime Minister, and we heard his speech annihilated by that of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). Honorable members on this side of the House have contributions to make to such a debate, and I know, too, that there are men of sincerity on the other side of the chamber who also could make worth-while contributions. Yet, the fact that we exist has been ignored. I understand that the Parliament may be brought back at some early date, and if that happens, no doubt it will only be to rubber stamp more decisions with which not only honorable members on this side of the House, but also the great majority of the Australian people, disagree.

I protest against the failure of the Department of External Affairs to keep us supplied with the kind of information that would allow us to make a considered judgment of the whole matter of international affairs. When honorable members on this side of the chamber ask questions on this subject, they are treated as though they have done something that gentlemen should not do. Recently, I placed the following question on the notice-paper: -

1.   Does the department receive reports from officers overseas on the internal conditions of countries in relation to all aspects of government. social conditions, aid the like?

2.   Does the department compile information on countries in which Australia is not directly represented by officers of the department?

3.   Is this information compiled as an academic exercise, or for the use of the Australian people, including members of this Parliament?

4.   If the information referred to is compiled, will he give further consideration to his answer to the question of which I gave notice on the 23rd October with reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

I have received the following answer: -

Information on internal conditions in countries overseas is obtained primarily for guidance in the formulation of the Government's foreign policy.

The Department of External Affairs is nol the property of the Government; it is the property of the people, and it works, 1 presume, for the benefit of the people. Ii should be prepared to supply us with the information for which we ask. 1 hope that during the recess, no matter how long it lasts, the Minister for External Affairs, or the Minister who acts in that capacity from time to time, will at least arrange that information on international matters is supplied to honorable members, so that when the Parliament re-assembles we shall be able to deal with these important matters in a manner that is worthy of them.

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