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Tuesday, 9 April 1957


Mr COUTTS (Griffith) .- I have followed with interest the speeches of honorable members opposite in support of the paper presented by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). It would appear that the principal purpose of supporters of the Minister has been to criticize the United Nations and, to some extent, to advocate subtly the abandonment of our association with that organization. The speech of the honorable member for Angas (Mr, Downer) was, to say the least, frightening. I have not been a member of this House for many years, but it was the most jingoistic speech that 1 have listened to in this place. He even out-jingoed the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who, we remember, last year counselled that the British Government should use military sanctions in the Middle East.

As a representative of the ordinary working men and working women of Australia, I am fearful for the future of this country and of the future actions of the government supported by the honorable member for Angas, if the sentiments he has expressed should ever pervade the minds of the Ministers of this Liberal Government. I understand that the honorable member is a potential Cabinet Minister because of his brilliance, his devotion to his leader and his party loyalty. But the people have good cause to dread that the honorable member will enter the Ministry or, worse still, enter the Cabinet, where notice will be taken of his opinions. Until this moment I had the highest regard for the honorable member. [ am not speaking personally in any respect when I say (hat the sentiments that he has expressed strike at the heart of every Australian citizen and every Australian mother who is rearing sons. If the opinions of the honorable member for Angas become operative in the future, those sons will be reared merely to serve as gun fodder for imperialists on the other side of the world.

The sympathies of honorable members on this side of the House are whole-heartedly with the United Nations. We have seen its successes and its failures; no human organization has been completely successful. We have seen successes which, I feel, have astonished the United Nations itself. One early success was in Indonesia, when a frightening civil war was prevented because of negotiations conducted by the United Nations. Then, it acted successfully in the Middle East, and I shall talk about that a little later. In Hungary, we have witnessed its disastrous failure. 1 admit that one must take some notice of the standards of civilization of the countries with which the United Nations is dealing. The civilization of the British and French people is on a far different plane from that of the Russian people. Perhaps that may explain the success of the United Nations in the Middle East and its complete failure in dealing with the tragedy of the Communist invasion of Hungary. However, do not let us discount the successes of the United Nations because there have been many failures. We hope that, in the future, the failures will diminish and the successes will mount.

I feel, as an Australian, that our hopes are with the United Nations. Should that organization go overboard, the hopes of many millions of ordinary people in the world to-day will be completely shattered. Despair will grip their hearts and they will have no hope. We will revert to the days of 1938 and 1939 - the days of power politics and secret alliances between extreme organizations, such as the alliance between Stalin and Hitler, with the common aim of subjecting free peoples to their will. The Australian people must not follow the policy that has been naively announced by the Minister for External Affairs and supported in speeches by honorable members opposite. Our hopes lie in the United Nations organization. I sincerely trust that the organization will continue to function, because while it exists there is a reasonable hope for peace in the world.


Mr Lucock - The honorable member should tell that to the people of Hungary.


Mr COUTTS - The honorable member for Lyne suggests that I should tell the people of Hungary that. It is to the crying shame of the civilized world that we witnessed the recent bloodbath in Hungary. Would the honorable member suggest that the world should have been plunged into a bigger bloodbath when nothing could be done, because of the military situation, to aid the people of Hungary? Would he advocate a military invasion of Hungary? I admit that the action of the Russian nation in invading Hungary warrants the severe condemnation of all civilized peoples.

Further than that, it warrants divine intervention to make the Russians pay for what they have done- to the Hungarian people. It is the tragedy of our age that people who were trying to assert themselves and were demanding freedom, received a promise of it and were then ground down by tanks in the capital city of their own country, lt is nothing to be proud of, and 1 mourn, as much as any other honorable member of this House, the tragedy of Hungary. 1 hope that some day the Hungarian people, who have fought for liberty for as long as those of us who claim to be descended from the grand people of England, will eventually achieve the liberty to which they are entitled and for which they have fought and shed their blood.

We have witnessed a tragedy, as far as Australia is concerned, in the Middle East. Our Prime Minister is one of the principal architects of the disaster in the Middle East. He returned from his mission of failure and reported to this Parliament at length on the actions that he had taken in Great Britain and in Cairo. He concluded his remarks by counselling ultimately military sanctions against the Egyptian Government for its nationalization of the Suez Canal.


Mr George Lawson - He suggested force, if necessary.


Mr COUTTS - As my friend the honorable member for Brisbane says, he suggested force if necessary. The United Kingdom Government accepted the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia and. with amazingly accurate timing, the governments of Israel, the United Kingdom and France invaded Egyptian territory. There was an amazing amount of slaughter and carnage in Port Said. Though our former minister in Cairo, Mr. A. R. Cutler, said that the bombing by the Royal Air Force was amazingly accurate, he admitted that one bomb fell on a prison and wiped from this earth several hundreds of prisoners. The carnage was almost indescribable. In American magazines to be found in the library in this Parliament House one can see photographs showing blocks of buildings in Port Said completely destroyed hy the bombing of British and French aeroplanes. That is not something of which Britons or Australians should be proud. Nevertheless, our own Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies counselled the Government of the United Kingdom to take this action.

I am pleased to say that the Australian Labour party has been consistent in its attitude to the Suez Canal dispute. 1 believe that the outlook of the British people is somewhat different from ours, because we all know that the Suez Canal is the lifeline of British trade. If the canal is closed, the cost of sending British products to overseas markets is considerably increased. The freight charges on goods sent to the Far East must rise considerably, and I may say that Great Britain does an extensive trade wilh Communist China.

When the Egyptian President nationalized the Suez Canal, he made no reference to abrogating the 1888 treaty. He was prepared to observe the conditions of that treaty, which provided for the free movement of all ships of all nations through the canal. He made many promises and gave many undertakings. He said that if Egypt was attacked the Egyptians would defend it to the last man. He said that the women of Egypt would go into the Army and fight side by side with the Egyptian men. He made a host of other statements, one of which was to the effect that if Egypt was attacked the Suez Canal would be blocked. The only promise that he kept was the one involving the blocking of the Suez Canal and that, we are told, was why Great Britain and France attacked Egypt That attack failed initially because the canal was blocked. The blocking of the Suez Canal was disastrous from Australia's point of view. Our principal market, the United Kingdom, was, in effect, immediately placed 4.000 miles farther away from Australia.

The closing of the canal was used as an excuse for increasing the prices of many products brought into Australia. The price of petrol was increased in every State in the Commonwealth because of the closure of the Suez Canal. The price of tea was increased by at least 6d. per lb. in every State for the same reason. I regard it as an excuse rather than a reason, because Australia obtains its tea mainly from Ceylon, and I believe that the price of tea in Australia has been increased so that the price increase in western European countries can he kept to a minimum. In this regard, the Australian consumer has again been made a milking cow.

As a result of United Nations negotiations the Suez Canal is now open to traffic.

The President of Egypt has been described by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) as " the upstart Nasser ".I agree that the Egyptian President is a dictator of the worst kind. He has stated, however, that he is prepared to observe the conditions of the 1888 convention, but the British Government has advised British shipowners not to use the Suez Canal, and those shipowners have stated that they are not prepared to use the canal at the present time. They do not know to whom they should pay the dues for using the canal. This is a disastrous thing from Australia's point of view.I suppose that of all the nations of the world we are the most interested in this action of the British shipowners. We are again the victims of the Conference line. As the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said in the great speech that he delivered last Thursday, Australia is being milked week by week by the Conference line because of the increases that it has made in shipping freight charges. In February of this year, the freight rates were increased by 14 per cent, because of the closure of the Suez Canal. The Australian producer must pay that extra amount when he sends his goods out of the country, and those who buy goods imported from other countries have also to pay the increased freight charges. It can be seen, therefore, how greatly the attitude of the British Government and the British shipowners will affect Australian producers and consumers.

There are many problems in the Middle East involving Egypt and Israel. The decision of the Egyptian dictator not to permit Israeli ships to use the Suez Canal warrants action by the United Nations. Discrimination against any nation must not be permitted. Although the Suez Canal is in Egyptian territory, it is, in fact, of great concern to all the countries of the world. This was recognized in the 1888 convention. I do not believe that one can logically object to the action of the President of Egypt in acquiring the canal, which lies in Egyptian territory, and paying compensation to the Suez Canal Company, the former owners. However, when President Nasser associates the Arab refugee problem with his action in preventing Israeli shipping from using the canal, he is committing an act of injustice towards Israel. Although the United Nations supported Egypt in September of last year because it was being attacked, I feel that to-day the United Nations must insist on Israeli ships having the right to move through the Suez Canal, just as the ships of any other nation must have that right.

I have already said that the action of the British Government in advising British shipowners not to use the Suez Canal will prove disastrous for Australia. It will cost us an enormous amount of money, and will further jeopardize the position of many of our primary products in Western European markets. Our primary producers have been selling their products in those markets under difficulties for some time. I have heard the honorable member for Angas refer to the difficulty of selling wine and dried fruits overseas. Those difficulties will be accentuated by the refusal of British shipowners to use the Suez Canal because of prejudice, and because the United Nations insisted on the withdrawal of Great Britain, France and Israel from Egypt.







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