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Wednesday, 22 March 1961


Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - On 16th March last, we learned with very great regret that

South Africa had decided to quit the Commonwealth of Nations. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) made a statement to the House, which was accepted by the very great majority as representing Australian opinion. I made a statement by leave in much the same strain and I should like to flatter myself by believing that my views too were representative of the opinion of the Australian people.

We all regretted that the South African Prime Minister had decided to leave the Commonwealth of Nations because the application he made for South Africa's admission to the Commonwealth, once it became an independent republic in June next, was not favoured by a majority or by more than a substantial minority of the Prime Ministers assembled in the conference. The question of apartheid would never have arisen at the conference if South Africa had not decided last year to become an independent republic. Had it decided to remain a dominion inside the Commonwealth, the discussion that took place at the recent Prime Ministers conference would never have arisen and could never have arisen. South Africa had been practising this policy of apartheid for a number of years and the issue had never previously been raised at these annual conferences of Prime Ministers. I want to make that point at the beginning because our Prime Minister has attempted to equate apartheid with our immigration laws. We of the Opposition believe that he has done a very great disservice to Australia, that his observation is arrogant, that h endangers Australia, that it is provocative and that it should not have been made at all.

Immediately the conference ended, the Prime Minister of Australia made a statement which most Australians read. They were concerned at some parts of it and wondered just precisely what he meant when he said -

The debate was of a frankness and intimacy which, in my experience, is possible only in a meeting of Prime Ministers.

It is, I think, deplorable that it can never be conducted in such a forum and atmosphere again.

What the implications for the future nature of the Commonwealth may be, we do not as yet know.

For myself, I am deeply troubled.

That seemed to me at the time to be the emotional reaction of a man who had taken a very active part in trying to persuade the conference to allow South Africa to remain a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations and who, when he failed, felt that he had to give vent to his disappointment. But as the days passed, the Prime Minister's language became more intemperate and his remarks more provocative. This was quite different from the attitude adopted by other Prime Ministers. Mr. Diefenbaker, the Prime Minister of Canada, was the man responsible for South Africa leaving the Commonwealth, so we are told, but when the conference was over he made no statement at all. He went quietly back to Canada. He was not criticized or attacked by South Africa or by any other nation. Indeed, Dr. Verwoerd's own statements were, in all the circumstances rather moderate. He said -

South Africa will be stronger than ever.

He also said -

We seek our own unity.

That was understandable enough for a man who had lost and was determined to make the best of the situation that had been created. He did make an attack on some nations of the Afro-Asian group, such as Ghana, India, Malaya and Ceylon. He said that in these countries oppression and discrimination were openly practised and the basic principles of democratic government were flouted. It was understandable that Dr. Verwoerd should say this, but it is certainly not understandable that the Australian Prime Minister should join in that type of attack. There is no reason in the world for the Australian Prime Minister to go out of his way to attack the Asian nations. Having failed as the advocate defending Dr. Verwoerd, there is no reason why he should want to continue the fight outside the conference long after it had ended. However, he has been making quite a number of statements since the end of the conference.

I should like to return to this question of apartheid being discussed at the conference. Dr. Verwoerd agreed to the question being raised. The discussion was not forced on South Africa against its will. Many newspapers report that the South African Prime Minister said he would defend its position at the conference and that it hoped to be able to persuade the Prime Ministers that what it was doing was right and that it had a right to do this even though others may disagree. When the issue was raised at the conference, Dr. Verwoerd took a leading part in the discussion. According to press reports, he seems to have occupied a good deal of the time of the conference in answering objections to his policy. Every Prime Minister at the conference had something to say about the matter.

When the announcement was made after the conference that South Africa had decided to leave the Commonwealth of Nations, we all believed that that was a correct description of what had happened. Newspaper headlines said, " South Africa quits " and " South Africa leaves the Commonwealth ". Since the conference, our Prime Minister has been trying to create the impression that South Africa was kicked out of the Commonwealth. He has spent a considerable amount of time arguing in this way and creating propaganda against the nations he believes were responsible for doing this. They are the nations nearest to us, geographically. They are the nations alongside whom we live, with whom we wish Vo have the most kindly and best possible relation and with whom we have to trade. We have cultural ties with them. We are helping them in the Colombo Plan. We are encouraging their scientists and others to come here.

The Prime Minister, by his speeches in London, and particularly by the two most recent ones, has been poisoning the atmosphere against Australia in Asian countries and lining us up as a junior partner in the policy of apartheid. The Prime Minister now takes the view publicly for the first time that apartheid rs wrong. He would not condemn the policy of apartheid when the matter was under discussion in this Parliament last year. He specifically refused to do so, and on that issue he proposed an amendment to a motion which I had presented on behalf of the Opposition. The Prime Minister would not attack the policy of apartheid by name last year. He does so this year. But then he is seeking to help South Africa in every way possible. He says, in effect, "The South Africans have the right to adopt this policy, even if it is wrong, and rt is wrong for anybody else to interfere and to criticize it ". The Prime

Minister said that some day, perhaps, Australia's immigration policy will be involved.


Mr Haylen - He sard that quite gratuitously.


Mr CALWELL - That was a gratuitous statement which had no foundation and the comparison is not justified. We do not deny to anybody the right to vote. We do not discriminate against anybody within our boundaries, and our white Australia policy has been defended by no less a figure than Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister of Malaya. But although the Prime Minister of Malaya said that we are entitled to follow that policy, our Prime Minister, in a spirit of pique and disappointment, seeks to create the impression that we shall be put on the spot at some time or other, and he says that we may be kicked out of the Commonwealth of Nations. He struck a dramatic pose and said that he would adopt the same attitude as has been taken by Dr. Verwoerd and that he would not have our immigration laws scrutinized by a conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. Then he added - I won't be bossed.

The Prime Minister held a press conference on Sunday and, on Monday evening, he attended an Australia Club dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London. Quite a number of Asian and African diplomats and a number of distinguished Englishmen, including the Duke of Gloucester and Field Marshal Viscount Slim were present, and our Prime Minister ranted; he harangued them. There was nothing temperate in what he said. There was nothing balanced in what he said.

It is our view, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister, by his speech on Monday night, has harmed Australia without helping South Africa. He has made difficulties for Australia by his outbursts, all made in a spirit of resentment, and by the series of diatribes that he has delivered over the last few days he has done himself no credit. It would have been far better if his statements had never been uttered. Mr. Nehru has made no statement since the conference ended. Mr. Macmillan has! been noted for his temperate remarks over the whole issue. He wants to try to bring South Africa back into the Commonwealth. So do we all. But the statements made by our Prime Minister are helping to extend the fissure and make it deeper and wider.

All that I want to say in conclusion is that the Prime Minister apparently feels that he must have the limelight. Dr. Verwoerd has had it; somebody else has had it; and now our Prime Minister wants ir. So he made his speech on Monday evening in the hope that he would get the headlines. This is the contribution of our talkative and peripatetic Prime Minister. There are problems in Australia that he ought to attend to. He ought to come home now and deal with them. The Prime Minister is charged with this responsibility, because he has the majority in this Parliament behind him. But, as Prime Minister of Australia, he is concerned only about interfering in overseas events. His failures with Nasser over the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, at the General Assembly of the United Nations and in connexion with the Summit Conference in 1960, and now at the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1961 are milestones on his road to failure!







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