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Thursday, 13 April 1961

Mr HAROLD HOLT (Higgins) (Treasurer) . - The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has given the House a valuable, convincing and impressive account of his recent mission overseas. It is an historic statement of the historic events which he has recorded so accurately for us and which he has analysed with such clarity for the Australian people. Most of his fellowAustralians feel grateful for the distinguished representation he has thus once again given to this country. They appreciate his effective representation of Australia at these great events.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) is not, however, included in that company, nor are those who sit behind him. They have invited this House to add to the formal motion " That the paper be printed " words that would serve as a censure of the Prime Minister. They ask that he be removed from the office of Minister for External Affairs. They purport to give as the reason for the latter proposition, at least in part, that the right honorable gentle man is over-burdened by his dual duties. It is rather interesting to learn of that point of view because when honorable gentlemen opposite were in office, I seem to recall that their two leading spokesmen held several portfolios. The Labour Prime Minister of that day, Mr. Chifley, somehow managed to conduct the two portfolios of Prime Minister and Treasurer throughout the whole term of his Prime Ministership. His deputy, Dr. H. V. Evatt, conducted the two portfolios of Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs. I think the present Prime Minister at least has the same capacity and energy as those two gentlemen had. 1 have never heard Opposition members suggest that the distinguished Prime Minister of India, Mr. Nehru, who has held the two portfolios of Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs for so many years is incapable of doing these jobs, or that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Holyoake, who also holds those portfolios cannot manage them. This is a very specious argument. Members of the Opposition know that much of the work of Administration in connexion with the portfolio of External Affairs is conducted by my colleague the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton). They also know that in this modern age with so much international activity, the Prime Minister of any country is heavily involved in international affairs, whatever other duties he may have to perform. One has only to read of what goes on around the world to see that this is so.

In earlier days when Lord Casey conducted the portfolio of External Affairs, the Prime Minister found no necessity to attend to it himself, but at a time when Australia's prestige abroad can be assisted so much by his unmatched range of contacts and his prestige and authority around the world, Australia can get the best results from the kind of representation he can give.

But let us not devote too much time to what is not a major matter in this debate. The Opposition is suggesting in effect that the Prime Minister be removed from office. Further, the Opposition suggests also that the Government go with him and that a government from the other side of the House take office to administer Australia's affairs. I wish I had very much more than twenty minutes available to me for this discussion. It might be worth while to conjecture for two or three minutes on how Australia might have been represented at these conferences had the wishes of honorable gentlemen opposite come true by some miracle and one of their leading figures been Australia's spokesman overseas. Let us picture the first interview with President Kennedy, with whom the Prime Minister has established such cordial and satisfactory relations. We can imagine that a well-informed President Kennedy, suitably advised and briefed by his Department of State, would have before him some information about what honorable gentlemen opposite stand for.

He would know that he was speaking to the spokesman of a government which had denied the United States the use of Manus Island for a great base in the Pacific. He would also know that he was speaking to somebody who represented a party which, when in Opposition, had persistently attacked the former American Administration led by President Eisenhower, with the late John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State. That would not be any great comfort to President Kennedy, although he belongs to a different party from former President Eisenhower's party, because happily for the American people on practically every major foreign issue in that country there is a bi-partisan policy. One needs only to listen to this debate to-night to see what a gulf divides honorable gentlemen opposite from those on this side of the House who speak for Australia. President Kennedy would be talking to a man whose party had opposed the sending of forces to Malaya. The Labour Party knows that we rely very heavily on America for our security in the Pacific, yet it said to America, " We oppose the sending of forces to Malaya. We propose to slash the Australian defence vote by £40,000,000 to £50,000,000."

Mr Calwell - When did we say that?

Mr HAROLD HOLT - You said it in your election policy speech. Do not try to deny it. The Labour spokesman would be saying, " We do not support Seato. We regard Seato as a bolstering-up of reactionary regimes in Asia." That is a state ment from the Hobart conference uttered by honorable gentlemen opposite. Altogether, such an interview would be very interesting.

When they went on to the Seato conference^ - I will depart from the chronological order for a moment - and the American Secretary of State sat in with this Australian representative and the spokesmen for the allegedly reactionary regimes in Asia, how would Australia fare? Would Australia be able to exercise a significant influence on the deliberations of Seato at a time when our security in South-East Asia and indeed the position of the free world was gravely threatened, as it has been in recent times? How would we have fared if honorable gentlemen opposite had been claiming to he the true voice of Australia?

I do not need to dwell on these matters because the particular subject of discussion in this debate is what arose at the conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and the bearing it has had upon a foundation member of our Commonwealth of Nations. I do not quite know how the spokesman for the, Labour Party would have conducted himself at that Commonwealth gathering because I have read the Leader of the Opposition's statements-

Mr Calwell - He would not have performed like an acrobat. He would not have had two voices.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - Let us have a look at that for a moment. I have read the statements of the Leader of the Opposition on this matter and I think they are worth quoting so that we will have a balanced perspective. On 31st March, 1960, after the Sharpeville episode, when emotions were running high on this and other issues, speaking for his party in this House the honorable gentleman said -

We have no sympathy with those who say that South Africa must be removed from the Commonwealth of Nations. That would not solve any of the problems of to-day. It is far better that a proper relationship should exist between the races that are living together in South Africa, and have lived together there for 300 years or more . . .

As I have said, we want to see South Africa remain within the Commonwealth of Nations and develop a proper multi-racial form of society, which must be established if there is to be peace, understanding and tolerance in that actually and potentially prosperous land.

Up to this point there- is no difference of policy between what was said by the Leader of the Opposition and what this Government stands for in relation to South Africa.

I come now to his more recent statement om 22nd. March when he moved the adjournment o£ this Mouse. This is a very illuminating, comment by the honorable gentleman because from this comment it becomes apparent that had South Africa itself not raised the question of apartheid there would have. been, neither the danger nor the effect of South Africa being expelled from the Commonwealth, which is in substance what has happened - at least in the view of honorable gentlemen opposite. The Leader of the Opposition said -

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 . . .

If those words mean anything they mean that the Leader of the Opposition agrees with the Prime Minister that domestic matters should not be made a basis for the disciplining of fellow members of the Commonwealth of Nations. He concedes that had South Africa not raised the matter by its action in applying to remain a member of the Commonwealth of Nations as a republic, this issue would not have arisen at all. Is not that what our Prime Minister has been saying? So, I find it difficult to know just where the Opposition stands.

I should like to turn to one or two other aspects which have not been dwelt upon to the same extent as have other elements of the discussion in the course of this debate. Most thoughtful people in this House, around Australia, and indeed around the Commonwealth nations and the friendly countries of the free, world, are troubled, as we are, by this development. There are those, perhaps partly as a product of their emotional reaction to the situation and perhaps as the product of solid thought, who have said that our Commonwealth of Nations will be strengthened as a result of this development. Of course, we all want to see our Commonwealth strengthened and we must all do what we can to keep it strong. But there will be differences of opinion on whether it has been strengthened or weakened. 1 do not ask that a judgment be expressed on this matter to-night. What I do put to the House is that in my view this situation has produced grave weaknesses which call for effective action on our part if our Commonwealth is not to be gravely weakened.

In the first place, I put it to the House that the jettisoning - I use that word because that is in effect what has occurred - of a foundation member of our Commonwealth is itself a sign of weakness causing disquiet and uncertainty in the Commonwealth countries generally. The fact that the action was taken on a domestic matter, however distasteful and however much its ramifications might fairly be argued to have spread outside the borders of South Africa,, raises the question of where the line is to be drawn in- the future. There are other policies which are distasteful to some members of the Commonwealth and which themselves can have influences outside the countries in which they operate.

A policy of racial dictatorship in one country can have influence beyond ite boundaries. A policy of abolition of parliamentary institutions, a policy of the suppression of the press and the abandonment of the rule of law, a policy of discrimination against people, not necessarily of different colour, but of different race inside one country, can be abhorrent to us and have ramifications outside the borders of that country. Yet I am not overstating the position when I say that, somewhere or other, around our Commonwealth at this time, each and every one of these things is happening to a greater or less degree. If we should go on a series of witch hunts and look for those who should be ejected from our company where would the process end? That is a fair query.

Our Prime Minister did a service not only to Australia but also to the Commonwealth by raising this matter. After he had raised it the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom gave a most forthright assurance in the House of Commons that the South African episode was not to be treated by Commonwealth countries as a precedent.

That was a valuable gain. I wonder whether Mr. Macmillan would have felt it necessary to be so forthright and so prompt as he was bad our own Prime Minister not drawn attention vigorously to the danger which existed. Again, our friend from Malaya, the Tunku Abdul Rahman, gave a most forthright and friendly assurance that his country did not read into our immigration policy anything which was distasteful to his country or which made Australia undesirable as a member of the Commonwealth in the eyes of that country. That, too, was a valuable and welcome statement. Again, would it have come forward so promptly and in such clear and emphatic terms had the Prime Minister not drawn attention to the serious danger which could exist?

The third weakness to which I would like to point is that, in my opinion, never again can there be the same kind of Prime Ministers' Conference that we knew before. I say that not only because the number of those attending has grown to such an extent that the same friendly, frank and intimate discussion is no longer possible

Mr Duthie - Why?

Mr HAROLD HOLT - The honorable gentleman knows how difficult it is to get frank, friendly and intimate discussion inside his own caucus. The smaller the number of persons concerned, the more readily that process can be achieved. But that is not a matter of argument. What is a matter of deep regret, however, is that what were formerly highly confidential discussions in which there could be the most frank exchange of views no longer can be regarded as confidential discussions. If frank views are expressed, they can be expected to appear in some newspaper in a distorted version on the following day. I believe, Sir, that this result was one of the most distressing features of this conference in London.

The fourth weakness that 1 want to mention is the ramifications of this matter, going far beyond South Africa itself. I do not take away anything from the sentiments expressed by Mr. Macmillan when he used his imaginative phrase about the winds of change. He would be the first to admit that the winds of change did not start when he made his speech. There has been an evolutionary process towards multiracial government going on for years in

Africa, and not only in South Africa where the apartheid policy is abhorred by us and is so different from policies in other countries of British influence in Africa. I believe that one of the best speeches in this debate was made by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) who related how these African countries with British influence have been steadily moving towards a greater degree of multi-racial government. It is the small communities, largely of British origin, which have changed a situation of barbarism, wilderness and jungle into one of civilization, enlightenment and advancement. They have improved conditions of life, of education and of health in a great variety of ways for the people of Africa. We want winds of change, of course, but we want steady, favorable winds, not the gales and the gusts which fluctuate from time to time. We do not want the hurricane which could sweep away the best influence developed in Africa and which would leave the kind of disastrous chaos that we see in the Congo. These are matters which have been thrown up as a result of the conference in London. I hope that we shall all have the statesmanship and the goodwill towards our Commonwealth to try to combine to meet these weaknesses as they show themselves.

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