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Wednesday, 12 April 1961

Mr BIRD (Batman) . - It was quite humorous to hear the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) rush to the defence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). He said, for example, that this debate is not a debate about the Prime Minister but is a debate about Australia's future. It is because the Australian Labour Party is very concerned about Australia's future that we are taking the Prime Minister to task in this debate. We consider it to be our duty to let the nations of the world know that we dissociate ourselves from the series of extraordinary statements made by the Prime Minister, which have done Australia irreparable harm throughout the world. Because we do that - because we state what we believe to be the opinion of the majority of the Australian people - the honorable member for Mackellar has accused us of making political capital. Nothing of the kind! All we are concerned about is to make our position clear to other nations that have been, and are, naturally concerned about the Prime Minister's incredible statements.

Naturally those people would like to know whether such statements receive the support of the major political parties in Australia. We say that they do not receive the support of the major political parties, and we have a perfect right to say so, just as the Opposition in the South African Parliament has a right to say that it thinks that the Prime Minister of that country was entirely wrong in the decision he made at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers conference in London.

The Prime Minister's speech last night has been characterized as one of the most important in his career. All sections of the Australian public and the Australian press looked forward to it with great interest because of the Prime Minister's volte face regarding his attitude to South Africa - a most remarkable somersault. Nothing he said last night gave us reasons for that remarkable somersault. Apparently the Prime Minister was able to convince the Cabinet - or the Cabinet was able to convince him - that Australia's policy regarding the South African position had to be radically changed. I suspect strongly that when the Prime Minister returned to Australia he was disagreeably surprised at the overwhelming public opinion against him in regard to this matter. We find, for example, that the Melbourne press - the "Herald", the "Sun" and the " Age " - which always champions the Prime Minister at election times, is particularly antagonistic to the Prime Minister's attitude on this important matter. We find also that television and wireless commentators in Victoria are hostile to the Prime Minister's attitude. In my own electorate I have found that dozens of people who are my political opponents, and invariably work against me in election campaigns, agree with me that on this occasion the Prime Minister has blotted his copy book.

Because of these things, I strongly suspect that the Prime Minister was told by back-benchers in the Liberal Party and his colleagues in Cabinet that he was barking up the wrong tree. I strongly suspect that because of this and because of the nearness of a general election at the end of the year, he decided that something had to be done to correct the position. Therefore we had the remarkable change of face which occurred last night. We listened in vain for the Prime Minister to explain his change of front. His speech was remarkable for what was left unsaid rather than for what was said to explain the change of face. It is my profound opinion that Australia's last-minute decision condemning the South African Government's policy on apartheid was most welcome to the Australian people. Certainly it was most welcome to the Australian Labour Party, but it suffered because of the circumstances under which is was made. It could almost be labelled a death-bed repentance. The Prime Minister, in the course of his speech said -

Under inexorable pressure South Africa is out of the Commonwealth.

All I can say to that extraordinary statement is that a cool and reasoned examination of the events of the conference demonstrate that the attitude of the Com monwealth was the only one that could have been adopted in the circumstances. Instead of saying that pressure had been exercised, I would say it was pure logic that made Or. Verwoerd recognize that he had no sympathy and had to make the decision that he did make.

When we look at the Prime Minister's emotional views expressed at a couple of London banquets we find that they are entirely at variance with the speech that he made last night. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) clearly and cleverly tore the Prime Minister's case to ribbons when he pursued this matter. The Prime Minister had very little to say about his London views last night. I suggest that we must recognize, as the Prime Minister must recognize, that, in a changing world, the Commonwealth of Nations must change, too, if it is to survive. To describe the South African racial policies as purely a domestic concern is to be completely unrealistic in this present world in which countries are not now divorced by distance as they were in years gone by. This is a world in which countries are closely linked by business ties and by speedy modes of communication. Because of that, one country cannot remain isolated from the others. We must remember that the Commonwealth is a multi-racial association and that such an issue as South Africa's discrimination is naturally a matter of prime importance to many Commonwealth countries.

South Africa's inflexible determination to cling to apartheid as a permanent policy - and it will be permanent if Dr. Verwoerd has bis way - is quite incompatible with the ideals of the Commonwealth. Therefore, it was inevitable that the Commonwealth should take the line that it did. It was the only line h could take. It had no alternative but to pursue it. Any person who believes that this matter should not have been discussed at the Prime Ministers' Conference must believe in Father Christmas.

The Prime Minister has made it quite plain that he did not take South Africa's departure from the Commonwealth very kindly. His reference to Australia's immigration policy and his veiled references to discrimination in other Commonwealth countries showed that he was smarting very much over South Africa's decision to leave the Commonwealth. Mr. Macmillan has very correctly set forth the real situation.

The Prime Minister, last night, apparently was very annoyed with a lot of Australian people because they were prepared to accept Mr. Macmillan's point of view rather than his. Over the last year or two there has been no comparison between the utterances of our Prime Minister and those of the British Prime Minister. Mr. Macmillan has shown quite definitely that he realizes that we cannot live in the past. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister has still a nineteenth century outlook on foreign affairs. Mr. Macmillan succinctly summed up the present position when he said -

The fundamental difference between ours and the South African philosophy is that we are trying to escape from these inherited practices.

Mr. Macmillanrealized that whilst Commonwealth countries, no doubt, are guilty of certain practices which cannot receive the imprimatur of approval, at least they are endeavouring to modify or delete those practices. South Africa is not prepared to do that. It wants to perpetuate the policy of apartheid, an outdated philosophy to which the Commonwealth does not subscribe. There would be no hope for the future of the Commonwealth if we were to agree with Dr. Verwoerd.

I think that the departure of South Africa from the Commonwealth, at least whilst its present Government is in office, has strengthened the bonds which keep the Commonwealth together. I believe that if the present Government of South Africa were to vacate office and the Opposition were to take over, a new view-point would be expressed and at an early date the new government would request to be returned to the fold of the Commonwealth. But whilst Dr. Verwoerd is in power the Commonwealth suffers nothing by South Africa's departure. His views are not the views that we want to hear put forward in a Commonwealth with high ideals which are the antithesis of apartheid. The Prime Minister was very pessimistic and gloomy about the future of the Commonwealth because of South Africa's departure. He sard -

But let us, who are within the covenant of the Commonwealth, make no mistake. The issue con cerns more than South Africa; it concerns the whole character and future of the greatest international partnership the world has yet seen.

In this matter, the Commonwealth took a stand on principle and whilst it stands on principle there is no need for pessimism. Any organization which is prepared to make decisions on principle alone without doubt has a very cheerful future. For the conference to have done other than it did would have been to reduce the status of the Commonwealth to that of a mutual admiration society. The coloured nations within the fabric of the Commonwealth have had their confidence in that body increased as a result of the decision. To have allowed South Africa to emerge unscathed from the Prime Ministers' meeting would have been to announce to the world that a blind eye had been turned on that country's detested racial policies in which human rights have been ruthlessly trampled upon.

I regret that since the Prime Minister appointed himself as Minister for External Affairs, the whole foreign policy of the Commonwealth of Australia has been consistently in error. You cannot attack the foreign policy of the Commonwealth without attacking the Prime Minister because he makes foreign policy. He is the man who announces foreign policy without any reference to his party or the Cabinet. He makes the policy and expects the rank and file to follow, willy-nilly, behind him. Whilst, on occasion, the Opposition criticized Lord Casey for his foreign policy, at least I firmly believe that before he made announcements he conferred with the Government parties and the Ministry.

Apparently, the Prime Minister has bee[ unable to see that the whole basis of international relationships has completely changed since the end 01 World War II. He is living in the past when the views of the African and Asian people were ignored or ridiculed. Nobody took any notice of the African and Asian people prior to 1939. They were not noticed. They did not count.

Mr Anderson - Who said that?

Mr BIRD - That was the whole concept of the thinking of the important nations about the coloured people, whom they regarded as people of no consequence. The coloured nations were treated with no consideration whatever prior to 1939. The war was needed, for example, to bring India and Pakistan their independence, which was given to them by a Labour government in the United Kingdom. Before 1939, the Dutch East Indies were under the heel of Holland, and the whole of their wealth was exploited solely for the gratification of the Dutch people. But the Dutch took an entirely different view after the war, because they realized that they could not live in the past. To say that the whole conception of our attitude towards the coloured races has entirely changed since World War II. is to voice a truism.

Somebody once said - and no truer words have ever been spoken - that events move much faster than do men's minds. This is especially true of our Prime Minister, because his intemperate and ill-timed statements, made with consistent regularity, have undoubtedly irritated the Afro-Asian nations. From Australia's stand-point, this is a matter of tremendous concern, because our relationships with Asian countries in recent years have been relatively cordial. Our sponsorship of the Colombo Plan indicated to the Asian people something of our national thinking on the problems of Asia. Lord Casey, by a long-range, premeditated plan, made many friends and contacts among Asians as a result of his many visits to Asian countries as Minister for External Affairs. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister since his advent as our new Minister for External Affairs, has alienated many former friends by his clumsy methods.

I should like to read to the House now a passage from a leading article on the subject of the Prime Minister's speech of last evening which appeared in to-day's issue of the Melbourne " Age ". This newspaper has always been a champion of the Prime Minister. Without fail, at the five elections which T have contested since I have been a member of this Parliament, the " Age " has been right behind the Prime Minister and has urged all its readers to support Liberal candidates. But this newspaper has now had enough of the Prime Minister in his role as Minister for External Affairs. This morning, it stated -

Proceedings in Parliament may well prove to the world that Australia is not united behind the Prime Minister's personal opinion, and in the meantime our record has been put straight by our delayed decision to support the U.N. motion condemning apartheid. The mending of our damaged fences can now begin, and the task will not be quickly accomplished. Our relations with the Afro-Asian world have suffered a severe setback and patient labor will be required to restore our previous good will.

For this task we require a Minister for External Affairs who can be in constant contact with hi* foreign colleagues and has both the time and the opportunity for rethinking his attitudes as the Commonwealth develops. Such a Minister may bc hard to find, but the need is there.

The Melbourne " Age " and the Opposition may well think, when they look at the calibre of the members who sit on the Government benches, that such a Minister may indeed be hard to find. But, even among the mediocre talent in the Government's ranks, there would be, I suggest, Mr. Speaker, 20 or 30 men who could do a better job than the Prime Minister is doing as Minister for External Affairs. Although the " Age " has been a consistent supports of this Government in season and out of season, it has had enough of the Prime Minister in his role as Minister for External Affairs. I am strongly of the opinion tha; quite a number of members on the Government side of the House think as this newspaper and I think in this matter and would like to see a change.

The Prime Minister is very much concerned about the future of the Commonwealth of Nations. He has claimed that some Commonwealth Prime Ministers made very pertinent comments about the domestic policy of one of the countries of the Commonwealth, the future is in jeopardy because other countries could come under criticism in the years to come. Therefore, let us have a look at the specia relationship in which Commonwealth countries stand one to another. First, all the members of the Commonwealth, with the exception of the United Kingdom, arc former dependencies of Britain. Because of this, they have been subjected to similar influences with respect to systems of government, habits of thought, the investment of money, use of the English language, systems of education and trade links. As a result, they share a good many common attitudes, particularly at international conferences, and that is all to the good. Those things in themselves mus! make the Commonwealth strong and permanent.

Let us look next at economic relationships between the countries which are members of the Commonwealth. We find that most Commonwealth countries have developed export economies designed to meet the particular needs of the United Kingdom economy. Because of the many trade and investment links between the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries the United Kingdom acts as ... banker for all except Canada. There are also certain military ties. Canada, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Malaya are involved in formal military pacts of one kind or another with each other. In foreign policy, there have been numerous differences, as might be expected in a group of sovereign States. But in overall policy-

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