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Thursday, 25 August 1921

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I congratulate Senator Gardiner on affording us this opportunity to discuss the representation of Australia at the forthcoming Conference. During the last two or three weeks, on more than one occasion I asked Senator E. D. Millen questions regarding our representation; but on two of these occasions I was unable to get any definite information further than that the matter was being considered. When I was in Tasmania a few days ago, however, I saw an intimation in the press, at the end of last week, that Mr. Shepherd had been appointed. To say that nobody was more astonished than myself would be incorrect, because each one who has since discussed the matter with me I have found to be more astonished than thelast. This week Senator E. D. Millen, in reply to a further question by me confirmed what had appeared in the press, and, whether the honorable gentleman intended it or not, I think he distinctly conveyed the impression to the Senate that the responsibility for the appointment rested on the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). That that was the impression conveyed to the public by the press report of the Minister's reply, I am abundantly certain. I know that is the attitude of a number of people " outside," rightly or wrongly, in regard to the whole matter. More than one has said to me,' " This appointment will cause trouble. I would not be surprised to see some resignations from Ministers who will dissociate themselves from it." The impression has been conveyed that the appointment was made by Mr. Hughes, and afterwards notified to his colleagues. Honorable senators have been informed to-day, however, that before the Prime Minister finally appointed Mr. Shepherd he indicated his selection to his colleagues in Australia, and that they fully share responsibility for it.

I shall not enter into the qualifica tions or otherwise of Mr. Shepherd for appointment to this representative position; but I agree with other honorable senators who have already spoken that if we have any hope and confidence in the League of Nations, and in the outcome of its existence, it becomes our bounden duty to do all that may be possible to uphold and maintain its dignity and prestige. In taking the course of appointing Mr. Shepherd to represent Australia on this occasion - meagre though the agenda paper may be - I do not) think that the Government fere insuring the maintenance of such dignity and prestige. There have been opportunities to provide for the representation of Australia at the meeting of the League in a manner which would have secured much more dignity, skill, and prestige. The Minister (Senator E.D. Millen), referring to the scantiness ofthe agenda paper, mentioned one or two specific items. The honorable senator alluded, for example, to the consideration of a report concerning those particular members of the League which had subscribed to the protocol in connexion with the International Court of Justice. I think the Minister referred also to a report in regard to the international Tribunal itself. I take it that such report will have specific reference tothe functions of the Tribunal.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Its constitution was debated at the previous Assembly ofthe League, and adopted in the protocol. Each member of the League was asked whether it would accept it or not. The only report which will be placed before the gathering of representatives will have to do with the number and identity ofthose nations which have accepted.

Senator KEATING - That is as I understand the position. I understood, further, that the constitution and jurisdiction of the proposed. Tribunal having been previously determined, the various members of the League of Nations were being asked to assent to its establishment.

SenatorGardiner. - And also to the election of Judges.

Senator KEATING - Yes. Honorable senators may recall that I asked questions earlier this year as to whether Australia had assented to the establishment of the Tribunal. I am now given to understand that the two items to which I have just alluded were separate - the one having to do with a report regarding the different members of the League who had signed the protocol, and the other concerning the Tribunal itself. I may be in error, but it appears to me that many of the matters which will arise, although they may be based merely upon reports, will be subject to discussion. That will almost inevitably be the case, despite the fact that, as the Minister has correctly pointed out, they will not be debated with any sense of finality, seeing that they must afterwards go before the respective Governments. There is bound to be something, therefore, in the nature of preliminary discussion. And the representatives of each member of the League will subsequently report the views put forward or indicated by his co-delegates. Such reports, to a varying extent, will naturally influence the opinions formed by the Governments themselves. For example, a subject may arise upon which Lord Robert Cecil and his fellow delegate representing the South African Union may comment informally and without committing South Africa. Canada's representative, upon returning and reporting to his Government at Ottawa, might say that, so far as he could ascertain, South Africa's attitude was likely to be so-and-6o. To that extent, Canada might be influenced. Or the Canadian delegate might report that the South African representatives expressed certain views upon a specific subject, but were very cautious and careful to disavow official responsibility for their sentiments. Whereupon the Canadian Government might be impressed in another direction. It is, I urge, in these informal preliminary discussions that a great deal of groundwork is likely to be done, and indications given which may effectuate common sentiments and common conclusions among the members of the League hereafter. In all the circumstances, someone should have:been appointed to represent Australia who has been trained in responsible utterance and action, is intimately sympathetic with Australia's ablutions and responsibilities, and has some knowledge at least of the poli tical questions with which the League of Nations is and will be confronted. With all his qualifications in other directions, however great they may be or whatever they may be, I do not think that the gentleman selected possesses the ^requisite equipment, and I think that Australia will not be fitly represented at the gathering of the League. I say that without disparagement of Mr. Shepherd, either personally or in relation to the manner in which, he has discharged his duties here and in London. I agree with Senators Thomas, Fairbairn, and Gardiner that Australia is not holding up her end in the deliberations of the League of Nations, and that, to that extent, she is not doing justice to that international body. I am glad of the opportunity which, perhaps, would not otherwise have been afforded, to gain a more or less intimate sense of the particular work to be done at the forthcoming Conference. The result of the Prime Minister's selection may be that Australians will take a greater interest in the proceedings and become more deeply concerned regarding future developments. I do not know that anything final or practicable can be done in the matter by the Senate at this stage - certainly not upon this motion. But I hope that members of the Ministry realize that, in such an important situation, it is not desirable, however expedient it may be, that the announcement of an appointment of this kind should be sprung upon Parliament and the public. For some time. I have been asking what steps were being taken in respect of the representation of Australia at the gathering of the League, but I have not been able to get a definite reply. Obviously, Ministers here did not know. All I could learn was that some steps were being taken. It was only during the short interval covered by the last week-end that the public and members of Parliament were informed, through the newspapers, that an appointment had been made. And, almost simultaneously, the Prime Minister was announced to be leaving England. Even had the Commonwealth Parliament been actually sitting upon the day of the announcement of Mr. Shepherd's selection, it may be taken for granted that Ministers would have replied to inevitable criticism, immediately raised, that nothing .could be done in the matter, seeing that Mr. Hughes had departed. At all events, it cannot be said that the date of the meeting of the League of Nations was sprung upon the Government. lt has been known for a considerable time, and all arrangements should have been made for the adequate and efficient representation of the Commonwealth. The statement that these reports were promised for June last, and that some are not yet available, is no answer to the fact that the date for the meeting of the Assembly has been known for some time. I again thank Senator Gardiner for submitting this motion, and so giving us an opportunity to discuss the whole situation.

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