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Tuesday, 9 April 1957


Mr DOWNER (Angas) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,it would be ungracious to begin a speech in this debate without some reference to the distinguished parts played on the international stage by the Prime Minister (Mr.Menzies) and the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). Australia has probably never been so well served by its leaders, with so much advantage, or with so much prestige among the nations of the world, as in the last nine months. In consenting to lead a mission to Cairo when his chances of success were obviously slim, the Prime Minister displayed admirable courage; but it is equally in his general approach to the whole Middle East problem and in his incisive pronouncements on it that he has attained a stature in the highest traditions of British statesmanship.

Whether the British and French were right or wrong in going to war against Egypt is a matter permitting of legitimate differences of opinion that cut quite across customary political boundaries. The Opposition has concentrated its fire on the Conservative government in England, but it has not reminded the House or the country that the British in this excursion joined hands with a socialist government in France. For myself, I believe that what Sir Anthony Eden set out to do will be vindicated by history as a wise decision, improperly frustrated. Whether he chose the propitious moment to intervene is arguable, but having resorted to force I for one regret that the Allies did not persevere until their objectives were attained.

One can estimate the correctness of the Anglo-French policy by visualizing what would have occurred had it proceeded to fulfilment. The Suez Canal would have been placed under international control. Colonel Nasser would have been deposed. Israel would have been secured in her right to live. Russian infiltration in the Middle East would have been checked. Stability would have been injected into the whole of that area. and. not the least important, theensuing anti-American feeling would have been avoided. As it is. none of the problems underlying the Egyptian war has been resolved. On the contrary, they have been exacerbated. Colonel Nasser is reinforced in his determination to prevent the internationalization of the canal. He is still bent on destroying Israel. He is still continuing flagrantly to ignore the rights of Israeli shipping; flouting the Constantinople Convention, as well as the much more recent 1951 United Nations directive. His openly proclaimed imperialist aims are stimulated by diplomatic successes hitherto unknown in the whole course of history for a country whose army was defeated so ingloriously in battle.

What are the true reasons for this unhappy and humiliating position in which Great Britain and her overseas kinsfolk find themselves to-day? The answer, I suggest, is not so much in substantial errors in Britain's Middle East policy since 1945, but rather in the actions of our American friends and the United Nations. I propose to speak very frankly on this matter because nothing is gained by pretending that in our relations with the United States all is well when indeed much is awry.

America, as many of us feel, has never shown a proper appreciation of Britain's interest in the Middle East, or of the necessity for British influence in that region in order to ensure a smooth uninterrupted functioning of the British economy. Since the war, the influence of American policy on British decisions is well known. It was partly due to pressure from Washington that Sir Winston Churchill consented to evacuate the Suez Canal in 1954 and concluded at the same time a treaty with Egypt, which, of course, Colonel Nasser has since denounced. Since Colonel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal last July, the United States Government has pursued a zigzag course, resembling a liner seeking to escape from an enemy submarine. At first, we saw firm support for the United Kingdom proposals at the September conference in London. Then came the President's amazing declaration, in the middle of the Prime Minister's negotiations with Colonel Nasser, that he was opposed to the use of force under any circumstances. This was followed by the Secretary of State's Canal Users Association, a monumental essay, if ever there was one, in the art of the impracticable. Then, when Britain and France intervened last October and November, the American Government, as we know, strongly assailed their action. America sided with the Soviet against us in the United Nations and, as we were aware at the time, there were ugly stories of threats of oil sanctions against Britain and France from their usual ally.

And after all this fury and hypocrisy in Washington, what has happened? The British and the French were ordered to stop. They complied. Their influence crumbled to mingle with the dust of Arabia. In place of their historic role is propounded the Eisenhower doctrine which tries to do, in a less effective way, because of its unreal reservations, what England and France with their long experience, with their deeper understanding of these regions could have done swiftly to the advantage of the whole of the democratic world. It is quite apparent that, in the eyes of the United States Government, what is wrong for London and Paris to do is right for Washington. Sir, America's actions are tantamount to denying the right of two great powers to defend and maintain their vital interests. Is she really sincere in this doctrine? What would be the attitude of the United States if, for example, some local Nasser in Central America were to nationalize the Panama Canal in contravention of all existing treaties? Would the State Department then run to the United Nations, call conferences, press for condemnatory resolutions, and accept a comic opera international force such as we now have in Gaza? The question has only to be asked to answer itself. No one believes that the United States, with all her ruthlessness and might when her own security is affected, would do other than settle such a threat in a very direct way and in a very short measure of time.

I pass by the sinister feature, known to many honorable members, of the desire of American oil interests to oust Britain from the Middle East. The subject is too painful to dwell upon. But looking at United States policy in recent months, the conclusion is forced upon us that she has behaved in a shabby, short-sighted, unfriendly way towards her closest ally, her most constant friend, her first line of defence in the west. This is of great concern to us in Australia, not only on account of our attachment to the Mother Country, but because of our pacts with the United States as a member of Anzus and Seato. In the formulation of our foreign policy we shall be wise, very wise, to bear this lesson in mind. 1 believe - and 1 hope that all honorable members, whatever our political differences, will agree with me in this - that we should make it plain to Washington that, however earnestly we seek the closest relations with the United States in international politics, in defence, and in trade, we are not prepared to stand idly by and see Britain humiliated, her influence destroyed in a theatre vital to her survival, her policies defeated and one of her principal lines of communication cut by an upstart dictator.

The Leader of the Opposition and his followers have talked at great length about the United Nations. 1 do not for a moment doubt the genuineness in this respect of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr., Evatt), but he has transformed his own experiences into enthusiasms which affect his judgment. With him, hopes become facts, whereas, viewed in the cold light of achievement, the most we can claim for the United Nations is that it is an experimental body. But alas, to-day, it is exhibiting tendencies which could prove gravely inimical to our welfare. Let us examine its record in the last six months. What did it do about Hungary? Talk to a Jew and ask him whether he regards the United Nations as a protector of Israel! Can we say that it is a friend of the British Commonwealth in relation to British, Australian, or New Zealand interests in the Middle East? Can we possibly claim that the Trusteeship Council showed any real recognition of reality in its recent report about New Guinea? In truth, of course, as we all know, and as we must admit if we are honest, the United Nations has failed to protect Israel. It has underwritten Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal. It has sent a pop-gun force to Gaza. It is powerless to free Hungary from Russia's brutal tyranny and. unless we are watchful and obdurate, it may well try to wrest New Guinea from our hands.

Moreover, what confidence can we possibly derive from the manner of its proceedings? It is fast becoming a partisan, a group-ridden assembly. The A fro- Asian bloc is smiled upon by the Latin-American republics. The role of Russia and her satellites is notorious. Another group consists of what one might call the hard core of British

Commonwealth countries, together with our friends of western Europe and, as a rule, the United States of America. One gets the impression that the smaller nations are using its machinery to settle old scores against each other and against the Great Powers. The main problem, as I see it, for the United Nations to-day is in reconciling the equitable claims of the smaller nations with the maintenance of the vital interests of the Great Powers. This, sir, it has yet to do. In recent months it has shown no solicitude for the vital interests of five members of varying degrees of importance - Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. Note, sir, the conclusion from that. It is inescapable. It means that it is willing to jeopardize some of the means of survival of ourselves and our friends. So long as membership of the United Nations means this, we trust it at our peril.

Before I sit down I would like to refer to several courses of action which we might follow in the difficulties, dangers and embarrassments surrounding us. The Minister for External Affairs, in his speech last week, made certain proposals which 1 believe will commend themselves to most honorable members. I would like to add this. Firstly, if Colonel Nasser is adamant in refusing to settle the canal problem except on his own terms, then I believe we should support a British boycott of its use, together with a freezing of Egyptian foreign funds. Secondly, we are all agreed, surely, that Israel has a right to live, free from threats to her territory and to the functioning of her economy. Accordingly, we should join with others in assisting her to withstand Egypt's unrepentant aggression, backed by Russia's impudent growls. Israel, we must all realize, is the one reliable, proven ally remaining to the democratic powers in that part of the world. Therefore, it is only elementary prudence to ensure her survival.

Thirdly, I believe that we should press for speedy alternatives to the Suez route. Tn an atomic war, it would probably be valueless. In time of peace, if it is going to become the plaything of egyptian politicians, it will be a waterway that none can rely upon Therefore, I would urge that we should participate with Great Britain in a plan for the construction of giant oil tankers - tankers which are speedy, which can use the Cape route and thereby obviate the necessity to use the canal. Some of these might well be built in Australia, with very great ensuing benefits to our own shipbuilding industry. There is interest also in the idea that investigations should be made for the construction of an alternative canal.

Whatever may be our feelings on this subject, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, we must, of course, co-operate in America's Middle East policy, but we should always try to influence that country's statesmen to acquire a more penetrating understanding of the realities of the situation in the Middle East. lt is not enough for President Eisenhower to announce plans for stopping overt Communist aggression. Subtler processes of infiltration, and of capturing the citadel from within, call for equal attention. Above all else, we must try to rebuild the Anglo-American alliance on firmer foundations. I believe that we can gain much by plainer speaking, by refusing to conceal differences, by reconciling economic rivalries, and by devising machinery for constant consultation. The Government could explore the idea of establishing a permanent consultative council, composed of representatives of the United States and of British Commonwealth countries bordering on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This would include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and possibly South Africa. Whether or not this is practicable, I believe that Australia has an important part to play in restoring the old relationship. With our usual friendly feelings towards America revived, our contribution in the not-so-long run could be decisive for the peace of the world.







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