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Wednesday, 6 September 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - On looking through the Speech addressed to Parliament by His Excellency the Governor-General yesterday, I am forced to the conclusion - which I think would be arrived at by less experienced parliamentarians than those sitting on both sides of this Chamber - that the length of the document is in inverse ratio to the substance contained in it. It appears to touch upon almost every subject under the political sun ; but, nevertheless, there is only one matter to which the Government has definitely committed itself. We have the assurance that the Government is carefully considering this matter; that it is deeply pondering the other; but there is only one project upon which Ministers speak with any definiteness, and that is our old friend the Navigation Bill. We have at length the comforting assurance that that measure is to be passed into law before the close of the present session ; but with regard to everything else, it appears to me that the Government have left it optional either to go on with any Bill that is foreshadowed, or to drop it as they please. Before I proceed to discuss what we may consider to be the proposals foreshadowed in the Speech, there are one or two other matters outside the document itself to which I desire to direct attention. In doing so, may I make just one reference to the speech delivered by Senator W. Russell yesterday afternoon. The honorable senator is always more or less interesting in the speeches which he delivers here; but I want, if he will allow me, to make a suggestion to him I hope that, being my senior, he will not regard it as a species of impertinence on my part if I suggest that his speeches would be likely to make a more lasting impression upon the Senate if he would, at some time or other, deliver one which was free from the personal feeling that characterized his remarks concerning a colleague from his own State.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Most unfair.

Senator MILLEN - I am making that as a suggestion to my honorable friend.

Senator de Largie - Tt would not be a bad thing if the honorable senator acted up to his own advice.

Senator MILLEN - I am not aware that I have ever criticised in similar terms a colleague from my own State.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Why not suggest to the honorable senator's colleagues to be less personal in their references in the press to members of the Labour party?

Senator MILLEN - If my honorable friends opposite like to attack any one, let them do so, but T am merely suggesting that occasionally - not every time, of course - we might be afforded an opportunity of listening to a speech from SenatorW. Russell which should be free from what I regard as a blemish upon his utterances.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was defending an attacked man who was absent.

Senator MILLEN - Of course, I know what my honorable friend's position is. He and his friends are the only persons who have the right to attack their opponents whilst they appear to arrogate to themselves the exalted privilege of being free from attack in return. Passing from that, I desire to offer my congratulations to the Prime Minister of this country upon the distinguished honour which has been conferred upon him. and the title which he has accepted. It was an honour of which any man might reasonably be proud, to be called into the inner circles of counsel of the monarch of a great empire like the British Empire. The honour which has been conferred upon the Prime Minister has been marred only by one thing, and that is by the efforts made to apologize for his acceptance of it. Sir, it required no apology. The acceptance of this honour by Mr. Fisher was, I repeat, marred by that one fact, that it was considered necessary to put forward a kind of excuse in the form of a pretence that the title was accepted only because it was thrust upon him. I also offer my congratulations to the Government in another connexion. I do not know whether the statement be correct or not - if it be incorrect, the Vice-President of the Executive Council will, of course, put me right - but I understand that the Government has treated its delegates to the Imperial Conference with a greater degree of liberality than has ever been shown by any Government before. I wish it to be distinctly understood that, in my opinion, the Government have acted rightly. I am not finding fault with them in the slightest degree. Hitherto, it seems to me, Governments have paid too much attention to a kind of criticism that has been made outside - and a great deal of that criticism, it must be remarked, has come from the Labour party - with the consequence that we have seen delegates sent to Great Britain provided for with a distinctly parsimonious hand. But, having expressed the opinion that the Government have done rightly 'in this matter, I proceed to point out - as I am fairly entitled to do - that it is a little curious that the party which! has always preached Spartan simplicity is the first one to send Home a Labour Premier who has deemed it necessary to have a personal attendant, and which has provided for Ministers who were sent Home with the Prime Minister more liberally than any previous Government had done. I merely point this out in order to express the hope that, in future, my honorable friends opposite will not be so captious in their criticism in regard to similar expenditure which may be authorized by other Governments. Hitherto, I say again, the allowances made to representatives on such occasions has been parsimonious.. A Labour Government have been the first to set a new example. I do not find fault with them.

Senator Rae - We always believe in good wages.

Senator MILLEN - Well, I think that if I turned up the records I could find that there was on previous occasions rather sharp denunciation from honorable senators opposite on account of expenditure on what has been termed " picnics " of tnis kind. I take quite a different view. I say that if we send Home representatives to participate in conferences such as that recently held we should see that they are reasonably provided for, and not compel them to draw upon their personal means, or prevent them, through insufficiency of provision, from upholding the dignity of their position. Having said that, however, let me express my sincere regret that a Government which so liberally handled the public funds to provide for the expenses of its own members, did not view with the same liberality a proposal which was made to send Home a contingent of our troops to take part in the Coronation ceremonies. The reason cannot have been insufficiency of funds. Otherwise I assume that a Ministry which is supposed to be representative of severe economy and simplicity would not have sent a Prime 'Minister with a large retinue, provided for more liberally than any previous Ministers had been. It must have been rather humiliating to Australians who were in London to see that the Australian Prime Minister was escorted by Canadian troops. There can be no questioning the fact that a contingent of our troops would - I unhesitatingly say this - have compared more than favorably with troops from any other portion of the Empire. There could have been no better advertisement for Australia than would have been provided by sending a small and select body of Austra lian soldiers. I further point out that the Government cannot for a moment pretend that they are not anxious that Australia should be advertised, because the whole tenor ot recent speeches made by Ministers has tended to advertise Australia, and to bring before the minds of those 111 the Mother Country who may be anxious to emigrate the great advantages that Australia offers to them. There must have been some reason why it was thought on this occasion inadvisable to send troops to London. It cannot, as I say, have, been that there were no funds available.

Senator de Largie - This is the first Government that sent Home its political opponents at Government expense.

Senator MILLEN - At Government expense ?

Senator de Largie - At the public expense.

Senator MILLEN - It is quite in keeping with the view which my honorable friends, opposite; take of things that they should speak of " Government expense " in this connexion. I am saying that it is a marvellous thing that this Government,, which could draw upon the public funds so liberally when providing for the expenses of its members, and for members of the Federal Parliament, should have become economical, even parsimonious, when it was a question of sending Home a small body of Australian troops.

Senator Lynch - It was not a matter of the expense at all.

Senator MILLEN - What was it then? I am trying to find out.

Senator Lynch - It was not that, any way.

Senator MILLEN - Evidently not. That is the whole point of my argument. I am pointing out that a Government which could double the allowance to Ministers, and which could send Home a Prime Minister with a retinue rivalling that of an Eastern potentate, was still unable to provide a few pounds for the sending Home of troops on an occasion when troops from all parts of the Empire were represented. If it was not a question of money, what was it? Here is a Prime Minister who is supposed to have been brought up and to be living in Spartan simplicity, and he is the first representative of this country to go Home provided with a valet. I should like to know the reason. Turning now to the Conference itself, I desire to say that there has been jio more important gathering of the representatives of the Empire than that which recently concluded its labours in London. It was important first, in my judgment, because of the increasing gravity of the international outlook. Whether it be well founded or not there is unquestionably a growing belief in the minds of most people that many years will not pass over our heads before a great trial of strength will be witnessed. That being so, it appears to me of increasing importance that the various portions of the Empire should have these conferences for the interchange of ideas, the understanding of one another better, and, it may possibly be, learning more of the point of view of different sections of the Empire, with a view to united action when the hour of trial comes. There is, in addition, another matter which marks this Conference as distinct from any of its predecessors, and that is, that, for the first time in our history, the representatives of the outlying Dominions have been admitted into the very inner councils of the Empire. That is the statement which has been made by our representatives, and we have a right to accept their assurance.

Senator McGregor - The Imperial authorities could not trust the other people, but they could trust the Labour people.

Senator MILLEN - Senator McGregor would not be himself if he did not joke even upon an important matter of this kind. I say that this matter not only marks a distinct advance towards the time when there will be closer unity of action between the Motherland and the outlying Dominions, but something else of greater importance. I believe that the admission of the representatives of the outlying Dominions to the inner councils of the Motherland means something more than merely the imparting of information. I consider that it throws an added responsibility upon those who have been admitted to the Conference. It is idle to assume that those, who have been made participators in that information, and intrusted with that confidence, can have done otherwise than come away impressed, I hope deeply impressed, with the fact that upon them there is now an obligation to consider, not merely the requirements of Australia, but also the obligations and requirements of the Motherland. They cannot share in this confidence without also to some extent being held responsible in the way I have indicated. There is this further reason why that responsibility should be theirs. Rightly or wrongly I take this view as to the future: Hitherto wars in which Great Britain has been involved, have been wars in which the interests of Great Britain were principally involved. The next war, in my view, is going to threaten the British Empire. Hitherto Australia has lent some very useful assistance to Great Britain in wars in which she has been engaged. |Tn the next war Australia will not merely be assisting Great Britain, but as a part of the Empire, will be fighting for her very national existence. Therefore, I regard this disclosure of Imperial policy to representatives of the outlying Dominions as another step towards the time when we shall have established more frequent communication between the different portions of the Empire, with a view to joint action in such a time of stress as that to which I have referred. I have not the slightest doubt that, as time goes on, some means will be devised by which common counsel can be taken, with a view to that united action. Passing from that to the next paragraph of the Governor-General's Speech, I see a somewhat audacious reference made to the Naval Agreement. One would have thought that the Government, as a result of the Conference, had drafted some entirely new Naval Agreement. As a matter of fact, the position is practically the same now as that which existed after the agreement arrived at by the Conference to which the previous Government sent Colonel Foxton as their representative. The statement is made that -

The Naval Agreement arrived at after Conference between Commonwealth representatives and the Admiralty is extremely satisfactory, embodying the policy formulated by the Government, and approved by the people of the Commonwealth.

It is perfectly true that it is the policy formulated by the Government, but not by the present Government.

Senator Givens - The policy of the last Government was a Dreadnought policy.

Senator MILLEN - The policy of the present Government was limited to the use of small coastal boats. That was the original policy of the Labour party. The larger scheme which is now being carried out is unquestionably the scheme formulated at the Conference at which Colonel Foxton represented Australia. These are simple facts beyond serious 'controversy. I therefore say it is a little audacious of the Government to frame this paragraph in such a way as to make it appear that they are making some entirely new agreement, and turning over a fresh page in Australian naval history. Another paragraph that strikes me as curious is this -

The renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty for a further period of len years is an additional guarantee of the world's peace.

Senator McGregor - What policy did Colonel Foxton go Home with?

Senator MILLEN - Colonel Foxton, I hope, was not stupid enough to consider that he went Home with any fixed policy. I know that his colleagues were not stupid enough to send a man to a Conference with a definite policy for the purpose of conferring afterwards. The idea of the Conference was to enable us to see how far we could give effect to national ideals while at the same time working in with the plans of the British Admiralty.

Senator McGregor - It was a Dreadnought policy.

Senator MILLEN - To have defined a policy first would have been to render the Conference useless.

Senator Rae - Surely Colonel . Foxton could have suggested a policy.

Senator MILLEN - That is so, and the agreement practically embodies it.

Senator Givens - There is nothing about presenting a Dreadnought in the new policy.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, there is the Indomitable. The provision of a Dreadnought was never in the present Government's policy. The policy they put forward was unquestionably one of small coastal boats, the chief advantage of which appeared to me at the time to be simply that they were to be built in Australia. The policy of the party to which I belong was unquestionably one of ocean-going boats, and I leave honorable senators to say which of these policies is being carried out to-day.

Senator Givens - The last Government's ocean-going boats were to be sent straight away to Great Britain.

Senator MILLEN - No, they were not. My honorable friends need not think for a moment that they will turn me away from the interesting paragraph dealing with the Japanese Treaty. I might, perhaps, repeat it with advantage in order that honotable senators "might be impressed, not so much with what it contains, but with what it omits to say. If there is anything at all in the traditions of Parliament one would think that it is rather the business of a Government to tell Parliament something as to what they have done in the name of the people whom they represent, but there is not a single word here as to whether this agreement was, or was not, approved by the Australian delegates. The press has informed us that that approval was given, but there is not a word of it here.

Senator Rae - Inferentially, there is.

Senator MILLEN - There is not a word here at all as to whether it was approved or not. There is simply the bald statement which we knew all along that this agreement has been extended for ten years. It does appear that Mr. Fisher, moving about in the Old Country, amidst the environment there, did, as the newspapers informed us, express his approval of it, but when he conies out here, somehow or other, he appears to display a little timidity, probably because some of the more militant members of the party, fearful of the view which might be held by certain voters, have restrained the honorable gentleman, and so we find not a single word in this document to tell this Parliament whether or not our principal representative has approved, in the name of Australia, o£ the renewal of that Treaty". Surely we were entitled to that information. We were entitled to know how far our statesmen committed Australia in this important matter.

Senator Rae - The fact that the matter is included in the Governor-General's Speech shows that the Government approve of it.

Senator MILLEN - There is something in the Speech that they do not approve of, and that is the result of the referenda. They do not approve of that.

Senator Rae - And they say so.

Senator MILLEN - They say that they regret it. Why could they not have said that they approved of the other matter?

Senator McGregor - Does the .honorable senator wish us to say that we do not approve of the other?

Senator MILLEN - I wish the Government to say what they have done in the name of Australia. I venture to say that none but a Labour Government would have had the audacity to commit Australia in an important matter of this kind without at the earliest opportunity telling Parliament what they had done. Are we to understand that because they are a Labour Government, they consider they are under no obligation to do so. It was their duty to tell Australia what they have done, but we have not heard a single word as to whether they were consulted, or whether they expressed approval or disapproval. I can only put their action down to a fear which is almost groundless - the fear that if they approved their action might be misunderstood. I sincerely hope that they approved. But for that renewal the position of Australia would indeed be perilous.

Senator Rae - The paragraph would not be in the Governor-General's Speech if they did not approve of the renewal of the Treaty.

Senator MILLEN - I am certain that whether this Government fails by omission or commission, it will not make the slightest difference to its supporters. I venture to say that if a Liberal Government had been on the Treasury benches, the moment it failed to make a statement as to what it had done in the name of Australia, my honorable friends on the other side would have been scarcely able to contain themselves. Let me pass on to one or two minor matters before I draw attention at a little greater length to the referenda. The first is a reference to the Australian Notes. Act. The Speech assures us that it is intended to bring in a Bill to extend the usefulness of the Act. That, of course, is a euphemistic way of saying that already, although the Act is not twelve months old, it is the intention of the Government to commence to undermine it. The objection of the Opposition was not to the mere issue of Government notes, but to the fear that, little by little, the safety of the notes would be tampered with, that, little by little, the Government would commence to destroy its reserve, until, perhaps in a time of financial stress or shortage, they would go beyond the safety line in their desire to utilize that which ought to be held in reserve.

Senator Givens - Was that the only objection ?

Senator MILLEN - That was the principal objection.

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