Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 2 April 1957


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) .- Events which occurred last year in Egypt and in Europe have brought to this nation a sense of urgency which has been further accentuated until it has bordered on nearpanic because of the failure of the great nations, and also the failure of this Government, to take a positive lead in the face of disaster. The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), who has just resumed his seat, strung together so many platitudes that his speech, in that respect, was comparable to the statements which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) makes from time to time in this House. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) has given us this night a statement with which we can disagree on only a few points, but I think that he is to be complimented on the manner in which he glossed over the points at issue between himself and his leader. Now, approximately six months after the event, this House is given an opportunity, for the first time, to debate matters which were of vital urgency, and still are of vital importance, to the people of Australia.

If we look at the statement that the Minister delivered this evening, we shall find very little with which to disagree. Perhaps the only matter upon which we can comment is its notable omissions. In fact, the right honorable gentleman's speech was nothing more than a diplomatic " square-off " to cover up for the Government's Jekyll and Hyde policy, with the Minister for External Affairs assuming the role of Dr. Jekyll and the Prime Minister in the obvious role of Mr. Hyde. In April, 1955, in a statement dealing with foreign affairs and defence, the Prime Minister said, " We support the Charter of the United Nations, its structure and its procedures ". In relation to the Near East, as we on this side call it - it is the Far East to many honorable members on the other side of the chamber - and our Asian neighbours, we find great difficulty in ascertaining any coherent policy so far as this Government is concerned. We must go back, then, to a statement made by the Minister for External Affairs in 1954, when he was introducing the South-East Asia Treaty Organization Defence Bill, and we must come forward again to further statements made by the Prime Minister in the speech to which I have already referred, in the course of which he said -

We pursue " good neighbour " policies towards the Asian countries in this section of the world. We encourage the development of the world's peaceful trade including our own with other countries.

It requires little evidence to refute the whole of the three statements of foreign policy made by this Government.

Dealing with the first tenet of the Government's policy, support for the Charter of the United Nations, the most recent example of the Government's failure to support the United Nations is seen in its handling of the Suez dispute. On this occasion, due to the personal intervention of the Prime Minister of Australia, we as a nation not only failed to support the Charter of the United Nations, but we also actively sabotaged and openly opposed it. The Prime Minister sought to write into the Charter a completely alien doctrine of aggressive economic sovereignty, or " economic sovereignty " as he called it, when he stated in this House on 25th September last -

The other view is that force can never be employed, except presumably, in self-defence, except by and pursuant to a decision of the United Nations' Security Council . . . This I would regard ... as a suicidal doctrine . . .

He went on to give his reasons, referring to the exercise of the veto by the Soviet in the Security Council. Thus the Prime Minister not only denied the letter of the United Nations Charter; he also denied its spirit at a time when we could least afford to deny those principles, and at a time when the voice of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was the sole voice in this House, with the Australian Labour party behind it, demanding that the matter of the Suez Canal should be taken to the United Nations organization. Either through inexcusable ignorance or wilful misrepresentation, the Prime Minister chose to ignore most conveniently, the " uniting for peace resolutions " which were passed by the United Nations in 1951 and inserted in the Charter to overcome the difficulty of the veto in the Security Council. The right honorable gentleman must have known full well that the United Nations General Assembly could exercise those powers which he complained had not been exercised by the Security Council. He showed either abysmal ignorance or, as I have said, wilful ignorance of the procedures of the United Nations. For his purpose, the Security Council veto was final, though he well knew that that was not so.

Secondly, by supporting this wholly alien doctrine of economic sovereignty, the Prime Minister deliberately and conveniently ignored a resolution of the United Nations which was passed at the Tenth Assembly of the United Nations in regard to undeveloped countries. The declaration stated -

The people may for their own ends freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources, without prejudice to any obligation arising out of international economic co-operation based upon the principle of mutual benefit and international law.

The Prime Minister, if he presumed to have the knowledge necessary to fill his high position, would at least have known, or had cognizance, of that resolution which was passed by the United Nations General Assembly and, therefore, was binding on all member nations.

To the eternal sorrow of this young nation, which is so greatly dependent upon the goodwill of its Asian neighbours, at a time when we needed a unanimous voice, when we needed to speak with authority and conviction, the moral right to do so had been taken away from us because the Prime Minister's hands were stained by support for the invasion of Egypt and by the plight of 125,000 homeless Egyptian refugees. It is well known that the whole basis of our British system of justice - which is the best - is that he who seeks equity must himself give equity. At a time when we needed to bring the whole of our moral judgment to bear against the savagery of the Russian aggression in Hungary, we found that this Government had deprived us of the moral right to criticize.


Mr Whitlam - Its hands were not clean.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Its own hands were dirty. In fact, they were filthy. Therefore, it not only alienated from us the sympathy of America, which this Government, allegedly, has so sedulously cultivated, but it also took away from us any goodwill we had from our Asian neighbours. That was a direct result of the Prime Minister's interference in the foreign policy of this country.

If it was right for the United Kingdom and France to invade Egypt, then, to use the Prime Minister's argument of economic sovereignty, it was right for Russia to invade Hungary. That is the logical conclusion of his argument. I have no doubt that the right honorable gentleman could find some justification for sliding out from that one. The Australian Labour party, on the other hand, said that it was wrong for the United Kingdom and France to invade Egypt and, similarly, that it was wrong for Russia to invade Hungary. At least we were consistent, and at the most, we have not taken away our moral right to criticize Russia in that regard. I say that it is hypocrisy on the part of the Government and the Prime Minister to try to obtain the benefit without the burden, as it suits their convenience. Because of the failure of Imre Nagy to control the revolutionary forces under him, he allowed the situation to get out of hand. Unfortunately, Nagy was not of the calibre of Gomulka of Poland. Be that as it may, it does not alter by one iota the criticism which we have levelled against the Prime Minister and the Government that permitted him to take such an untenable stand.

But for those factors, I believe that Hungary would to-day be enjoying the slight measure of freedom and independence which is Poland's. In the light of those comments, how can the Liberal Prime

Minister of Australia say honestly that he has supported the Charter of the United Nations? The record of the Government in respect of its policy concerning Asia and the East is no better. We are of the East, and the sooner we work out a modus vivendi, or a means of living peaceably with the East, the better it will be for us and for our Asian neighbours.

Having alienated American sympathy and offended the Afro-Asian bloc by a stupid policy on the Suez Canal, we have sought refuge in military regional pacts that ignore the spirit of conciliation and arbitration envisaged by the United Nations Charter. Having become a party to the Manila pact, this Government has sought consistently to clothe with flesh and blood the military skeleton of Seato, an organization which was facetiously described by Madam Pandit with great truth as " a South-East Asian alliance minus South-East Asia ".


Mr Calwell - It is a toothless wonder.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - So far as this Government is concerned, it has only one tooth, as is evident from the sedulous cultivation of Thailand. I do not regard the Philippines as a South-East Asian country. Instead of co-operating with the more democratic and Commonwealth-minded Government of India, this Government is more concerned with bolstering the undemocratic regime of Thailand, the only South-East Asian member of Seato, regardless of whether it is democratic or not. In that I see nothing palpably wrong, but having regard to the treatment that India has received at the hands of this Government, I see everything wrong in the situation.


Mr Chaney - What does the honorable member mean by that?


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I mean that this Government, in my opinion, has not supported and given proper recognition to India's claim in respect of Kashmir, particularly so far as it concerns the Jhelum Valley. When Kashmir voted in favour of going with India, sufficient recognition was not paid to the decision of a Moslem state to go in with India. I believe that the Government has been afraid of alienating Pakistan and complicating that country's membership of the Baghdad pact. Therefore, this Government has not supported India as it should have done in this matter.

This Government also failed dismally when it did not accept the advice given by the Leader of the Opposition and the Australian Labour party that there should be a resort to arbitration in the armed conflict in Indo-China. By refusing to take the initiative, and to put into operation the arbitration and conciliation aspects of the United Nations Charter, and by refusing to call the parties together in conference, this Government prolonged the dispute until it was settled finally by arbitration at the Geneva conference. I believe that when historians write about this age and the foreign policy of this Government, they will have no difficulty in diagnosing the basic malady from which this Government is suffering as " pactomania ".

The Prime Minister knows that under the United Nations Charter no military action can be taken in connexion with regional pacts without first obtaining the consent of the United Nations. Therefore, if the Prime Minister's statement on the Suez Canal is to have any meaning, and if the military conditions of Seato are to be put into effect, the right honorable gentleman will be acting in breach of his own first statement of foreign policy in which he expressed full support for the United Nations organization and its Charter.

If, on the other hand, we accept this Government's policy on Suez, these regional pacts are purely military alliances built up outside the United Nations Charter and its spirit. They are designed to protect our economic sovereignty in the East. On both counts, this Government's policy fails to give an inspired lead to the nation. On the other hand, the Australian Labour party believes that by making alliances in keeping with the spirit of the United Nations, which favours conciliation and arbitration, we shall best serve our own interests and those of the peoples of the world.

By emphasizing the cultural assistance rendered under the Colombo plan which, in itself, is a good thing, this Government has tended to mistake the shadow for the substance. It has failed to appreciate that the true problem of Asia is not political but economic. Last year, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) complained bitterly about the action of the United States of America in disposing of its surplus foodstuffs in Asia. Yet, on 18th March this year, the following statement was made by the United Nations Far East Asian Commission: -

Most Asian countries produced less food in 1956 and there was no widespread improvement in the food situation. India, Pakistan and Indonesia had smaller harvests than in the previous year. Food prices rose and the food situation deteriorated sharply.

Vet, on 17vh January last, the "New York Times " reported that President Eisenhower proposed to seek authority from Congress to pay the sum of 1,600,000,000 dollars to the American farmers to take 40,000,000 acres of land out of food and cotton production because of huge surpluses in those products. If we look at ourselves as the Asians must see us. complaining of the gift of surplus food to Asia while knowing that about one-third of the Asian population is affected by starvation and, at the same time, making available in one year, in order to take land out of production, the equivalent of the total amount of money provided under the Colombo plan, we must see that we have failed dismally to see the Asian problem as it is - mostly economic and far less political.


Mr Turnbull - Does the honorable member condemn the United States of America, too?


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I condemn the whole system of Western distribution which allows one-third of the world's population to be adversely affected by starvation when we have the food available but fail to get it to them. This Government has failed to appreciate the urgent need for international action through the United Nations to stabilize prices. The economic earnings of staple crops in a region that is underfed is a matter of the utmost importance. The same considerations should apply to mainland China, but 1 shall not have time to deal with that matter fully. All I wish to say about the recognition of the Chinese People's Republic is to ask how the Government can defend its attitude to that nation. Does it intend to put its head in the sand and deny that 600,000,000 people exist?


Mr Turnbull - lt is not the people of China, but the government of that country with which the Australian Government is concerned.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - It is the government of the people of China. Has this Government any constructive policy to offer on red China? Has it any alternative? Unless we have a constructive policy we may find that to-morrow will be too late.







Suggest corrections