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Wednesday, 22 March 1961

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HigginsTreasurer) .- The Australian Labour Party has sunk very low in recent years, but it has never sunk so low, nor resorted to lower parliamentary tactics, than it has in this debate this afternoon. What it has done has been to make a cheap personal attack upon a man who is not here to defend himself. The Labour Party has not had before it the Prime Minister's own account of what he said and what he did. It has based its charges on newspaper accounts. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) waved under our noses newspapers giving their version of what happened. I am not prepared to accept these newspaper versions of what the leader of this country said, because, as one spokesman for the press has gone on record over the weekend as saying - and this could hardly be misreporting, because it is reported in his own newspaper -

In the government of this country there is clearly a lack of an effective opposition. The press must take on the position of being the unofficial Opposition.

So, Sir, anything I read in the press of this country - certainly anything that I read in those sections of it which have set them selves up as the unofficial Opposition - I read with that proviso in my mind. Why has the Opposition chosen this moment at which to make a personal attack upon the Prime Minister? Honorable gentlemen opposite know that he is going to be back in this Parliament when we meet again. They know that he is going to be here in his place able to give us his own account of the things he said and how he came to say them. The Prime Minister is a man who holds strong views, of course, and can express himself more articulately than any other man in the public life of this country. Why do not members of the Opposition have the sportsmanship and the sense of fair play to wait until the Prime Minister is in his place here and able to speak for himself and answer, for himself, the cheap sneers and jibes that members of the Opposition have been throwing across the table? The reason that they do not wait for that is because they do not want to issue a fair challenge, they do not want to subject their attack to rebuttal by the facts. One might class them as a lot of jackals yelping at the heels of a lion, who flee as the lion turns to face them, but of course they do not measure up even to that. They do not even wait for the lion to be in the neighbourhood. They just come yelping and hoping that he will not return in a hurry to discomfit them. It is not their way to do otherwise. If they think that to-day's performance here can weaken the esteem in which the Prime Minister, who has held his distinguished office for a record term and who has had a succession of victories at the polls against honorable gentlemen opposite, is held by the people of this country, they are very much mistaken.

There is no proper opportunity for us this afternoon to go into the merits of the South African decision or all its implications. After the Prime Minister had stated publicly in London that he was troubled by that development the Leader of the Opposition expressed his regret for what had happened and his hope that South Africa would be back in the Commonwealth at some point of time. Is he not troubled by the loss from the Commonwealth of one of its foundation members who has stood with us through two great world wars and who has joined us to fight for the freedom of mankind against the challenges which have confronted us? Is it surprising that our own Prime Minister, in the thick of these discussions, with the weight of responsibility upon him and seeing more clearly than many less experienced around that conference table the implications of decisions then being taken, felt strongly, as I believe our fellow Australians feel, and that he spoke strongly on these matters for Australia? Here was a great Commonwealth principle and course of action being jettisoned.

Let us not debate at this time - we shall have a more adequate opportunity later - the merits of, in effect, casting South Africa out of the Commonwealth on a matter of domestic concern. Of course, there are differences of opinion as to how far a domestic issue can go beyond the boundaries of a nation before it becomes an issue of concern to the Commonwealth as a whole, but unless such a contingency is so exceptional that it is not likely to occur more than once in a lifetime or once in a century, how can our Commonwealth proceed? Certainly it can never hope to proceed with the intimacy and co-operation that we have enjoyed in the past.

To-day, we have had from the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) one of the most poisonous speeches that I have ever heard from him. When he throws at this Government the accusation that its leader, the Prime Minister, has no heart, that he has no regard for the coloured people of South Africa, when he sinks to the depth of throwing around in this House the name of Sharpeville, then it is time for us to remind honorable gentlemen opposite that there have been episodes in recent history when they were in power and we were gravely embarrassed and Australia was greatly prejudiced by the course of action which they pursued.

Mr Ward - Which episodes?

Mr HAROLD HOLT - I shall cite some. On more than one occasion I have paid a tribute to the great job that the Leader of the Opposition did in relation to our immigration policy, but when it came to the practical application of the restrictive immigration aspects of that policy no man did more to threaten it than did that honorable gentleman by the ham-fisted way in which he antagonized the people of other nations. There was the case of the O'Keefe family in Indonesia which was on the front page of every newspaper in Asia. His attitude in that case caused us grave embarrassment. Then there was the ill feeling which was whipped up in the Philippines because of his handling of the Sergeant Gamboa case. Then there was the cheap sneer that he made on more than one occasion about the Wong family, which was thrown across the headlines of journals throughout Asia. He said, " Two Wongs don't make a white ". Those are things that honorable gentlemen opposite would do well to remember when they start to throw brickbats in our direction.

Even more recently we have had the de facto head of the Labour Party, who is not a member of this Parliament - I refer to the present federal secretary and former federal president of the Labour Party - giving tongue to his views and to his warmth of heart in terms which have been quoted by a respected correspondent, Homer Bigart, in the authoritative "New York Times ". Following an interview with Mr. Chamberlain, on 27th February, this was how Mr. Bigart reported Mr. Chamberlain's attitude to the people of Taiwan -

He could not see why the United States, now that it has a new Administration, should have any qualms about letting Taiwan go to Communist China. Face could be saved by quietly fomenting a revolution in Taiwan against Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, he suggested. The United States did this in Seoul to get rid of Syngman Rhee and it could do it in Taipei, said Mr. Chamberlain seriously.

This is the foreign policy of the Labour Party - " Hand over the people of Formosa to the Communists. Start a revolution. You did it on one occasion and you can do it again. What does it matter what happens to them? "

We rn this place are proud of our leader. We know that the Commonwealth is proud of the leadership that Mr. Menzies gives when he goes to the conferences of Prime Ministers in London. When he returns to this country and is able to face his accusers of to-day - the Labour Party which has sunk as low as I ever expected it to sink, but which in all probability will sink a great deal lower - he will tell them in his own terms just where he stood for Australia, and invite them to challenge the validity of his stand.

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