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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Dr EVATT (BARTON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I wish to direct a supplementary question to the right honorable gentleman. I am not interested in putting a hypothetical question; I ask him whether action can be further delayed if it is to be of any value. After all, three or four months have elapsed since it was reported that Australia and France were to have this matter brought before the United Nations. No action has yet been taken. I ask the Minister whether this Government proposes, or has proposed - with the support of other governments or not - taking positive action to bring before the tribunal, which could decide the matter directly, or before the United Nations, the question of the right of Israeli vessels to use the canal on equal terms with vessels of other countries, and proceed up the Gulf of Aqaba to their own port. I put it to the right honorable gentleman that action which could lead to violent reaction may be taken when, instead, the constitutional procedures available through the United Nations or the international court should be availed of now.

Mr CASEY - I know of no specific reference in recent times to the Security Council or the United Nations General Assembly of this subject of Israeli shipping using the canal. I have heard, unofficially, suggestions, hints and rumours that the matter might be taken to the international court but, from the messages that have been passing in the last fortnight, my instinct is that that proposal is not receiving any widespread support. In any event, the processes of the international court are not notably rapid. Speaking as one who is not a lawyer, I believe that relatively quick action may be called for, and I would not regard reference to the court as a solution, because events would catch up with its decision very quickly.

Our conscience - so far as conscience comes into these things - is clear. No less than six weeks ago, and several times since, we have strongly advocated to our friends that this matter should be firmly put on the plate of the Security Council once more. I refer to the general subjects that have been currently at issue over the last month or six weeks. These, as we all know, include prominently this question of Egyptian shipping. We have had no official information that Israel proposes sending a test ship through the canal, but the press has reported this - apparently authentically - and I suppose that one must accept it as being definitely in prospect, in the immediate future. I can say no more than that. I think we have done our utmost in this matter and I do not see what else we can do.

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