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Thursday, 13 April 1961


Mr FORBES (Barker) .- I am sorry for the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) who claims that, as members of the Australian Labour Party, he and his colleagues have been consistently misrepresented in respect of their foreign policy. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) must be smiling rather wryly at that statement because never in Australia's history has an Australian leader been so misrepresented in such a short space of time as has our Prime Minister in relation to his actions during his recent trip abroad, despite the fact that he came into this House and gave, in my opinion one of the most masterly analyses of international affairs that I have heard for a long time. In his speech, the Prime Minister answered all the charges of the critics which were made, incidentally, when he was overseas and could not then answer for himself. Despite that fact, the Opposition has continued through this debate to act in the manner of Goebbels, working on the principle that if you say something untrue often enough, the people will eventually come to believe it. This debate provides us with a rare opportunity to discuss the British Commonwealth of Nations, the direction of its development and its value to Australia. It is most unfortunate that on the first occasion for many years on which this House has discussed the British Commonwealth of Nations, the debate should take place as the result of the loss of a founder member of the Commonwealth. It is still more unfortunate that that occasion should be marred by attempts to make party political capital out of these events by attempts to over-simplify the problem, and by attempts to label people for or against apartheid, even when the morality of apartheid is not relevant to what they are discussing.

We sit in the Australian Parliament. Membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations is one of the ways by which we traditionally safeguard and further Australia's interests in the world. Surely we should be looking at the implications of these events from the point of view of Australia's interests, and not be wallowing in a sea of moral self-gratification that South Africa has departed. I have no doubt that the Labour Party feels morally uplifted by its condemnation of South Africa's policy; but surely its members have an obligation to show where their state of moral elevation and Australia's interests coincide. Only, I would submit, if it can be shown that the Commonwealth is a better vehicle for furthering Australia's interests, now that South Africa has gone, are we entitled to rejoice at South Africa's departure, as the Opposition has obviously done in this debate. That is the criterion by which we should judge the actions of Australia's representative, the Prime Minister, in the events which took place in London. That is the criterion by which the Opposition, whose members are always boasting loudly that the Labour Party has a monopoly of Australianism, should judge the position. That is exactly the criterion by which honorable members opposite have not judged the position, as they have shown in this debate. We cannot determine the effect of South Africa's defection from the Commonwealth, and the usefulness of the Commonwealth to Australia, without being clear in our minds as to precisely what the modern Commonwealth has become. In this respect, I have been interested in the fact that not one single member of the Opposition - and I think I have heard every one of them who has spoken in this debate - has attempted to state what, in the view of the Opposition, the British Commonwealth is to-day. I hope that future speakers on the Opposition side will do that.

It amuses me that some members of the Opposition - and I refer particularly to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who is asleep over there at the present moment - and some newspapers have accused the Prime Minister of holding an anachronistic and old-fashioned view of the British Commonwealth. This, of course, is nonsense. The Prime Minister's attitude to the British Commonwealth is the exact opposite of that, as I hope to show. The form of the British Commonwealth, as it has developed since 1946, makes the question of domestic jurisdiction important to its working and its continued existence. Under the old form of Commonwealth, which we could expect the Prime Minister to espouse if he had an anachronistic view of these things, the greater legal ties made this particular aspect of the Commonwealth not quite so important as it is now. Indeed, there are recorded resolutions of the old Imperial Conferences which quite definitely impinged on the domestic affairs of member countries. But it is the developments in the Commonwealth since those days which make this question of domestic jurisdiction and interference in the internal affairs of member countries so important. We have come a long way from the days when the Commonwealth was prized because it was able to speak with one voice on the great questions of the day, and when it was a definite constitutional entity, identifiable in international law. To some, the fact that that position has altered is a matter for regret. Indeed, many people regard the former state of affairs as an idyllic state of affairs to which they hope that one day the Commonwealth will return. But it was inevitable, Sir, from the day in 1926 when it was decided that the Commonwealth would consist of a group of independent States which, to quote from the Balfour Declaration, would be " equal in status and in no way subordinate one to another", whose members would pursue policies dictated by their own interests - that such policies would be pursued. It was inevitable, therefore, that on occasions some members would differ from their fellow members and that the constitutional links would disappear until only the recognition of the British monarch as Head of the Commonwealth remained.

In the post-war years we have had the spectacle of Commonwealth nations on opposite sides on practically every great international issue, particularly those which stem from the cold war. This is practical proof, if it were needed, of the independence which members of the Commonwealth enjoy. It also leads many people to question the value of an organization the members of which are so deeply divided on questions fundamental to the peace of the world.

What is it, then, that gives the Commonwealth its value to the different member nations? We know that membership of it is worth while, because there is hardly a person who has had practical experience of the Commonwealth in action, from Prime Minister to the humblest official, who does not testify to its value. Why else are busy Prime Ministers prepared to journey to the other side of the world, with increasing frequency, in order to take part in weeks of discussion? Why else do the Commonwealth Finance Ministers meet every year? Why else do ambassadors of the Commonwealth countries in important posts like Washington meet regularly every week in order to talk things over? Why else are former British colonies, even those with the bitterest memories of colonial dominance, eager to become members of the Commonwealth of Nations after they have achieved their independence? The list could be amplified indefinitely, but I have said enough to make my point that the Commonwealth is something that is highly prized by its members, despite its failure to reach a consensus and a common view on great world problems. I believe that it is the system of consultation and co-operation which has grown up pragmatically over the years which gives the Commonwealth its value. Certainly this is true from Australia's point of view. All over the world Australian diplomats, trade representatives and service officers have a special and intimate relationship with their opposite numbers in other Commonwealth countries, because of our membership of the Commonwealth. Our departments of government have access to a vast stream of confidential information which flows through

Commonwealth channels. By virtue of our membership of the Commonwealth we have the right to nominate people to- such diverse bodies as the Imperial Defence College, the Commonwealth Economic Committee, the Commonwealth Liaison Committee, the Commonwealth Shipping Committee and so on. Even in fields where all members do not wish to participate the system is flexible enough to permit us to have an almost organic relationship with those countries which are active with us in pursuit of a common purpose. An example of this is our participation in the Anzam treaty with the United States and New Zealand. This system of consultation and co-operation, in short, which has at its apex the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, and which extends its tentacles into every branch, of everyday activity, is the. core of the Commonwealth relationship. There is no doubt in my mind that, if Australia were not a member of the Commonwealth our influence in the world, as a country of 10,000,000 people, would be very much less than it is, and the means available for achieving our international objectives would be greatly reduced. Our security would also be more precarious. We should never forget that because of the Commonwealth system Australia has the unique opportunity of influencing to our advantage some of the most important and strategically placed nations on earth. Nowhere is that more important than in our part of the world - in Asia and South-East Asia.. So it can be said that the maintenance of the Commonwealth in its present form, with this system of consultation and co-operation, assumes the character of a vital interest of Australia. For this reason we must examine very carefully any change which may affect the usefulness of the Commonwealth to us.

Before we attempt to answer this question against the background of events surrounding the expulsion of South Africa, there rs one further question which needs to be answered. What is it that makes this system of consultation and co-operation work? What is it which makes it the undoubted and uniquely satisfying experience which it obviously rs. After all, there are scores of other organizations outside the Commonwealth through which States consult and co-operate. The United Nations, with all its ramifications,, is an excellent example. What is the difference? This is something which, can only be determined pragmatically, by experience.

I have questioned many people who have had that experience and, generally speaking, they are agreed on what gives the Commonwealth relationship its. essential quality. It is an intimacy and frankness which springs from a belief that members of the Commonwealth can trust one another; that what one representative says in private will not be used against him in public; that heads of government can communicate directly as they regularly do in the Commonwealth and that they do not have to assume publication as they do in communicating with almost any other state. People agree also that the- fact that the Commonwealth does not make decisions binding on its members plays a major part in the quality of the relationships because members can speak freely and without the inhibitions which are inevitable if a group of states are working towards a decision binding on them all.

Lastly, and perhaps more important to those of experience who have talked or written about the essence of the Commonwealth relationship, they agree that the tradition that members do not sit in judgment upon one another is fundamental to a continuance of this system of consultation and co-operation that has been built up over the years. They agree that this requires the exercise of self-restraint and self-discipline on. the part of Commonwealth members - a self-discipline and selfrestraint which, in the past, members have been only too glad to exercise because it was obvious to every one who could look a little below the surface that it was essential to the quality of the relationship. Why this should be so, Mr. Speaker, is not difficult to see. How can you have intimacy and frankness in the relationship between nations if you feel that anything you say or do will be recorded and used against you? How can you have free and independent nations co-operating as equals if they feel that what they do within their borders will be the subject of accusation, criticism and public rancour? All of us know, Sir, that such a state of affairs would poison relations between individuals. Still more is it likely to do so between nations. It is not a question of formal legal enactment, but of plain common sense.

When Dr. Evatt led the fight for article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter he did so, not because it was customary in international law to exclude matters of domestic jurisdiction from the purview of the organizations, but because he knew that the organization just did not have a chance unless it did so. Still more is that so in a body like the Commonwealth, where the relationship is at once more intimate and the ties less formal and binding. It is on this point that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers made a departure from precedent last month.

If I am right in saying this - and I am sure I am - then we must hope that these events will not be regarded as a precedent and that the self-restraint which has characterized Commonwealth relations in the past will continue to be recognized for what it is - the lynch pin of the whole system. How much justification have we for the assumption that there was something in South Africa's racial policies which led many of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers to act in a way in which they would not normally act in their relations with their fellow Commonwealth members? Was there anything to suggest to us that the South African problem was unique and that discussion of it did not constitute a precedent which could destroy the Commonwealth?

I must confess, Mr. Acting Speaker, that from the point of view of my own particular approach to morality, I find it difficult to distinguish between the immorality of apartheid and the immorality of other policies practised by other members of the Commonwealth. After all, the thing that revolts us about apartheid is that it represents a form of cruelty practised by a group of human beings on their fellow human beings. I am equally revolted by the cruelties inflicted, for instance, by some Ghanians on their fellows in Ghana. The fact that in one case the cruelty is practised by white on black and, in the other, by black on black does not seem to me to make the slightest difference to the morality of the situation. Although that is the way I see it, I am perfectly prepared to believe that others see it differently, particularly our

Asian and African friends in the Commonwealth. History has possibly dictated in those countries an emotional attitude which could not be gainsaid - emotions of such force that the normal restraints implicit in and essential to the Commonwealth relationship could not bear the strain. If this is so, then perhaps we can regard these events as unique and not likely to be repeated except in similar unique circumstances. We can only hope and pray that it is so because there is not the slightest shadow of doubt that the Commonwealth will be destroyed if it is not so. As has been stated in the London " Economist " - . . the Commonwealth bridge may not have been able to withstand the weight of Dr. Verwoerd's racialism. But there are limits to the extent to which bridges can be built by pulling girders away.

So important is this to Australia, Sir, that I do not believe that we should leave anything to chance. I believe, as I have already said, that the maintenance of the Commonwealth is in itself a vital interest of this country. To this end, I believe that we should immediately initiate a round of discussions amongst Commonwealth members, designed to ensure explicit acceptance of the principle that, except in exceptional circumstances, members do not sit in judgment upon one another. That is essential to the continued existence of the Commonwealth itself.







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