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Thursday, 25 June 1914

Senator MILLEN (New South WalesMinister of Defence) . - I do not feel disposed to allow this motion to pass without saying a few words regarding the view which I take of the inexpediency of its introduction here. When this matter was first brought forward, in 1905, I expressed views which I entertain just as strongly to-day, and which I have no more hesitation in expressing now than I had then. The view which I voiced on that occasion was that this Commonwealth Parliament was not only not justified in interfering with the internal affairs of other portions of the Empire, but that the Senate would be the first to resent similar action if it were taken by the Imperial Parliament or by any other Parliament in the British Dominions. In support of that view, I should like to make a quotation from a recent public utterance by Mr. Fisher. Not long ago, some matters connected with the internal government of the South African Federa-tion occupied public attention here, aa elsewhere, and Mr. Fisher, amongst other public men, was either invited to give an opinion, or did give an opinion, upon them.

Senator de Largie - Mr. Fisher is not a member of this Chamber.

Senator MILLEN - But he is a public man in Australia, and I venture to say that we are entitled to assume that amongst the members of his own party, at any rate, his opinions are regarded a« worthy of consideration.

Senator de Largie - Then the Minister intends to make this a party question?

Senator MILLEN - Certainly not. In addressing the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Mr. Fisher is reported in the Argus of 16th February last to have said -

Whatever determination was come to in legard to the South African incident, he hoped that the Mother Country would not see fit to interfere with the policies of the Overseas Dominions, but would allow the autonomous Governments to manage their own affairs.

That was a very sound position for him to take up. But it is equally sound, if, instead of assuming the position of one of the autonomous Dominions being dictated to by the Mother Country, we reverse it, and picture the position which exists here to-night - that of one of the Parliament* of an autonomous Dominion attempting to obtrude its views, and by that means seeking to influence the current of public affairs in the Old Country.

Senator Story - But this motion is in support of the Imperial Government.

Senator MILLEN - Whether it is in support of, or in opposition to, the Imperial Government, is immaterial. If it be proper that the Parliament of one of the self-governing Dominions should seek ibo support the Imperial Government, it must be equally competent for it to oriticise and denounce that Government. In my opinion, it is extremely inadvisable that we should attempt to take part in matters which belong exclusively to another portion of the Empire.

Senator Needham - Did not a previous Government, of which the honorable senator was a member, wish to present a Dreadnought to England a couple of years ago?

Senator MILLEN - I recognise that, since the resolution of 1905 was adopted, a distinct change has taken place in regard to the matter upon which this motion bears. No greater proof of that can be looked for or desired than that memorable and historical speech made by Mr. Balfour in the House of Commons, when he admitted the failure of his life's work as an opponent of HomeRule, when he declared that the time had arrived when some form of self-government should be conceded to Ireland, and pleaded for an effort to be made to arrive at an arrangement which would render that form of government acceptable to all parties in Ireland .

Senator de Largie - An old die-hard.

Senator MILLEN - He can hardly be described as a die-hard, in view of the testimony of Mr. Asquith, his political opponent. It seems to me that we are asked by the motion to affirm that the measure of Home Rule now before the Imperial Parliament should be pushed through apparently at all costs.

Several Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear?

Senator MILLEN - I am glad I have not misunderstood the purpose of the motion. It is intended to be read as a declaration by this Senate that the measure of Home Rule now before the Imperial Parliament should be pushed through at all costs. I enter a strong protest against such a motion going through. I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that Ireland is armed from north to south, and arrayed in two hostile camps, and that it is recognised by the Imperial authorities at Home that the slightest false step may precipitate a civil war.

When we stand face to face with a position so serious as that, it seems to me that it is time for silence and nob for motions of this kind. My friends may deal lightly with the matter ; I cannot. I can conceive of no more pitiable spectacle, nothing of more serious moment to the Empire as a whole, than the result of one shot being fired in Ireland.

Senator Needham - Who started that business ?

Senator MILLEN - I am not concerned with who started it. All I am concerned in now is that we are asked to declare that the Senate of the Commonwealth Parliament wishes to see the Home Rule Bill pushed through irrespective of all consequences. I protest against such a motion being carried here at a time when the best men and the most patriotic minds in Great Britain and Ireland are seeking for some solution which will secure to Ireland what it desires without bringing about the undesirable and disastrous consequences to which I have alluded.

Senator de Largie - The motion will help them.

Senator MILLEN - If I thought it would bring about what is set out in the motion, the welding of the Empire into one harmonious whole, I should vote for it, but I venture to say that there is no honorable senator who does not honestly believe that if the Home Rule Bill is forced through without some modification or some arrangement with the dissenting section of Ireland we shall be face to face with the most serious crisis in the history of the British Empire.

Senator Long - Do not threaten.

Senator MILLEN - I am making no threats. I do not wish to do so. I view the matter far too seriously. So far as I can read' the cables published in the papers and the news they have to convey to us, the position is viewed by those responsible for the conduct of the affairs of Great Britain as so serious that they have faltered in the course they set for themselves, and they are seeking in every direction for a door which will lead to a solution of the difficulty that has proved so far greater than they have been able to surmount. .

Senator Long - Because they are dealing with aristocratic rebels.

Senator MILLEN - I do not think that such terms dispose of the matter.

If there were only a few of those, I do not think the British Government would have faltered .as it has done. But it has recognised, just as thousands of loyal Britishers have recognised, that to push the matter to .an extreme would mean precipitating a crisis.

Senator Rae - Is it not a fact that the Home Rule Bill has been pushed through all its stages as far as the House of Lords?

Senator MILLEN - Yes; but the Government are bringing in an amending Bill.

Senator Keating - It is only a promise Bill.

Senator MILLEN - There are only two points I wish to put. No matter how strongly honorable senators may hold views on one side or another, I cannot see how they can shut their eyes to the fact that the position at Home is extremely critical, and fraught with the utmost danger. In these circumstances, it seems to me extremely undesirable that a Parliament not immediately concerned with the outcome of this struggle should attempt, by such a motion as this, to declare that an action at which the Imperial Government falters should be pushed through, rightly or wrongly. For the two reasons that I have given, first, that it is in my opinion a pernicious practice which is growing up, for Parliaments in outlying Dominions, by resolution, to interfere in matters which are of purely local concern to other portions of the Empire; and second, that at this juncture a motion of this kind will be pernicious rather than helpful, I propose to vote against it.

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