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Wednesday, 22 March 1961

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK (Parramatta) (Acting Minister for External Affairs and Attorney-General) . - I have not been long in this House but in the time that I have been here I have not heard the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) hold up as an illustration of oppression what occurred in Hungary and point to the bodies in the streets. In the United Nations, when somebody had what was thought by the Soviet to be the effrontery to call attention to the Soviet's treatment of captive nations, the Rumanians, at the instigation no doubt of the Soviet bloc, upset the whole meeting by claiming that this was a domestic matter into which the United Nations ought not to go.

What is the Labour Party really saying? The honorable member for Parkes got very close to saying it - that there is no domestic policy in this country into which the rest of the world cannot pry and, by weight of numbers, overturn. That is his proposition, because his remarks left no domestic policy which could be kept for the Australian people themselves to work out and decide, free from pressure of numbers. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has seen a great risk in the dramatic change that has taken place in the Commonwealth - and it has been dramatic. At one moment there was a group of men who could sit down and quietly talk, seeking to influence one another in all the legitimate ways one can adopt in conversation, passing no resolutions but going away with their minds, perhaps unconsciously, moulded and affected. In this manner Commonwealth countries could assist each other through their best men. At one moment that was the position. What was it at the next moment? The Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers became a place where numbers counted - that was all. I should have thought that the Australian Labour Party would have been very quick to get in behind the Prime Minister and the Government parties in saying, "This is something which we really do not want to happen ". That is all the Prime Minister has said, and I should imagine that he said it without ranting but with forceful and clear words.

Where is this alleged arrogance? I have read the speeches and I am wondering whether the Opposition could pick me out some phrase that shows arrogance. There was the expression about jumping in the lake - and that is what the Serpentine is. I have used the expression - we have all used it, without any degree of arrogance, but with firmness. Does any real Australian deny that he would say that to anybody who came to this country and said, " We will determine your domestic policy "? Would any of us not say, " You can go and jump in the lake " ? It is firmness. It has been said in the interests of this country and with a long-term, far-sighted view; not for the sake of a general election this year, not for the sake of any personal popularity, not for the sake of cheer chasing or anything of that sort; but because the Prime Minister has a deep love of this country in his heart and nothing more. I have heard from the Leader of the Opposition the remark that our Prime Minister began to talk after the conference, whereas the other Prime Ministers did not, and that is broadly true. It is to his very great credit, because the Prime Minister was wise enough not to burn his boats or have his bridges down before he went to the conference. The other Prime Ministers - or some of them - did, and because of their utterances they found themselves not quite as free as they might have liked to be to do the things which really ought to have been done or not to do the things which ought not to have been done in this conference. The Prime Minister was silent.

It will be remembered that the Prime Minister pointed out in this House that it was a signal and important necessity that there should be people in the Commonwealth of Nations who could assist each other. When the discussions had finished and the die was cast he did speak and speak clearly. He took several occasions to traverse much the same ground and he put his strong point of view as to what effect this dramatic change in the circumstances of the Commonwealth might have for all of us.

There is a line to which T wish to refer in the first press statement to which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) called attention. Let me read it to the House, if I may. On 15th March the Prime Minister said -

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

And his experience is probably second to none among those who were there! He continued -

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

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What does h mean?

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - The " it " refers - this is as plain as a pikestaff - to a discussion with South Africa in a Prime

Ministers conference. It is tragic because, as the Prime Minister pointed out, South Africa is not a government but a group of people, black, coloured and white, who will never again - unless some small miracle takes place and South Africa comes back into the Commonwealth of Natrons - be able to have the assistance that is to be gained when top men sit down and get the benefit of frank and clear discussion, not inhibited by the fact that there is a pressman or somebody else just outside the door to whom one has to accommodate oneself in a discussion. In that passage to which the Leader of the Opposition called attention the Prime Minister stated clearly what the real tragedy is, because South Africa has a problem which we are lucky not to have.

I have said in this House previously that an approach to the problem of the South African situation calls for a great deal of tolerance and good feeling. The people of South Africa are going to need a great deal of assistance in the course of the years and they will not now get it through the Commonwealth of Nations. That is the tragedy, and that is the change that has taken place. Do not worry, for the moment, about whether we are involved in it. Just look at it as a change taking place in the utility and the great advantages of this very remarkable Commonwealth of Nations.

I know that members of the Opposition have great trouble in thinking of a group of men who can sit down in club and afterwards not tell others what has happened; men who can trust each other and discuss things frankly. The Opposition knows nothing of that, but this side of the House does. We know what it is to sit down and trust one another and keep our mouths shut about what has happened. This is one of the great advantages that the Commonwealth offers this group of young peoples and soon there will be more of them - S'erra Leone and Tanganyika. Even those which have recently come in are not very strong yet and they need this very advantage. They need a foregathering place where men can exchange ideas and one nation derives benefit from the experience of the others.

Australia has a very long and honorable experience in government. We have inherited great traditions and we are useful to people like those of South Africa. We may not succeed with one government or Prime Minister, but governments and Prime Ministers come and go over the years. The people whom the Opposition appears to feel most for are those who will suffer most because of this event. They are the coloured and black people who will be virtually unrepresented and unable to get any assistance. These are the people for whom one should feel when we realize, with the Prime Minister, what has taken place.

Let me now turn to what both speakers on the other side of the House referred to. They seem to think that because the Prime Minister was forthright the Asian and African nations would somehow be repelled. I think that is one of the silliest ideas I know of, because the African and Asian people want to be treated as equals. That means that they want to be criticized just as two white men will criticize each other.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Minister's time has expired.

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