Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 3 March 1927

Senator PEARCE (Western. AustraliaVicePresident of the Executive Council) . - I lay on the table the summary of proceedings of the Imperial Conference, 1926, and move -

That the paper be printed.

I do this in order to give honorable senators an opportunity - perhaps not now, but at a later date - to discuss the proceedings of the Imperial Conference and the conclusions arrived at at that gathering. I think that it will be gene rally admitted that the Conference of 1926 was notable alike for the shortness of its duration and the importance of its achievements. It began on the 19th October, and finished its deliberations on the 23rd November. During that period there were sixteen plenary meetings, and 148 meetings of committees and sub-committees. Honorable senators who note those figures will agree that a conference of such a character is not in the nature of a picnic. It was announced to this Chamber prior to the departure of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) that the main items on the agenda were -

(1)   The relations of the different parts of the Empire one to another.

(2)   The question of defence.

(3)   Inter-Imperial trade and economic development.

Broadly speaking, those three questions cover the subjects that were dealt with at the conference. Those honorable senators who remember the Prime Minister's speech before he left Australia will recollect that he took a very sanguine view at that time as to the possibility of a solution of the complex problems that were vexing the different parts of the Empire. The story of the conference has proved that his optimism was justified. General Hertzog, the Prime Minister of South Africa, in his opening speech, set the stage for the most important phase of the conference. He said quite candidly that South Africa did not feel that she possessed implicit faith in her full and free nationhood on a basis of equality, but would possess it the moment her independent national status had become internationally recognized. Realizing that unity was essential to the existence and progress of the Empire, and that disunity, no matter how solid or flimsy the causes, was dangerous, the Conference referred the question of inter-Imperial relations to a committee composed of the Prime Ministers. This was probably one of the most important committees ever set up in the history of the Empire. The result of its deliberations was expressed in a declaration, from which I shall quote the most important sentence -

They - Great Britain and the Dominions - are autonomous communities within the British Empire equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs,though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of nations.

I think it is accepted to-day that that declaration has fully satisfied the responsible Governments and Parliaments of every part of the Empire, and to have accomplished that is a very great deal. We in Australia recognize that the declaration contains nothing new; we have already achieved full equality of status. The events of the war have long since created the Empire-wide conviction that there should be the fullest inter-Imperial consultation on foreign affairs, and complete autonomy on the vital matters of peace and war. But that declaration has removed all suspicion and mistrust, and enabled the Empire, as a community of free and independent nationalities, to continue to work out its destiny in absolute harmony. If it had achieved nothing more than that - clearing the air when the atmosphere was charged with dangerous, if unfounded, elements of mistrust - the conference of 1926 would be monumental. The other conclusions reached, which tended in a subsidiary way to emphasize the declaration, had relation to: -

(1)   The position of the GovernorsGeneral, and the channel of communications.

(2)   The title of the King.

(3)   The operation of dominion legislation.

In regard to foreign affairs, the discussions - I was going to say " revealed " but perhaps a more suitable word to employ would be " affirmed " - that the Empire's foreign policy was based absolutely on a desire for peace. The other subjects dealt with, and mentioned in the report, are as follow: -

Special position of India in regard to inter-Imperial relations.

Compulsory arbitration in international disputes.

The colonies, protectorates, and mandated territories.

Questions connected with the work of the permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations.

The condominium in the New Hebrides.

British policy in the Antarctic.

Nationality questions.

Pacific cable.

Workmen's compensation.

This side of the discussions at the conference shows how fully we in Australia are entering upon those responsibilities which have come to us as a result of nationhood, and that we must be prepared in respect of all these matters to play our part. With regard to defence, Australia's position is most satisfactory, contributing, as she does, more towards this object than all the other dominions. Those who demand equality of status in the Empire must be prepared to shoulder their share of the defence burden. There is no danger of our motives being misunderstood. With a great country to develop, and with a system of government based on adult franchise exercised by a people who love peace and are not bent on conquest, I think we can fairly claim that Australia is above suspicion. We want peace, but whilst the world remains as it is we cannot ignore the ordinary precautions of adequate defence. The subject of rapid communication, which was dealt with by the Conference, is perhaps more important to Australia than to any other part of the Empire, because of its effect on development, population and defence.

The economic problems of the Empire also are of the first importance to us. It is obvious that the outstanding need of the Empire is an organized system of inter-Imperial trade. America owes its ascendancy, in part, to its vast home market. The Empire has a home market which it has not yet developed or exploited. There are many means by which inter-empire trade may be stimulated. It may be stimulated by the application of scientific research to industry, by industrial standardization, by marketing on a co-operative basis, and by investigation into the resources and requirementsof the Empire. All these subjects were examined closely by delegates attending the Conference, and the conclusions of the various committees are to be found in the report which I am laying upon the table of the Senate. Arising out of the visit , of the Prime Minister to Great Britain, and apart from the deliberations of the Conference, there were some important results to Australia. As the outcome of public addresses delivered by the Prime Minister, and representations made by him in Great Britain, the British Government is sending to Australia a delegation to inquire into our methods of development and to ascertain in what way existing trade arrangements in Australia can be co-ordinated and harmonized with those of the Mother Country. Representatives of the motor and chemical industries are also being sent to this country to inquire into our needs. Other matters dealt with by the Conference were forestry, the exhibition of Empire films, maritime conventions, Imperial Shipping Committee, Imperial Economic Committee, oil pollution of navigable waters, and statistical and taxation questions. To sum up, it may be said that the Conference epitomized and clarified the relations between different parts of the Empire; removed irritating misconceptions j made progress towards a proper economic development ; created a better understanding of our obligations of nationhood, and paved the way for the solution of the problem of Empire defence. It can, I think, truthfully be said - and claimed with pride because of the part that Australia played in the Conference - that from its deliberations, the Empire emerges stronger than ever before. The task, however, does not end there. It is for us in Australia to recognize what our obligations are and to do our utmost to carry them into practical effect. We have sounded the note of closer co-operation. It is not merely for the Government, but for our producers, our manufacturers, and our citizens generally, to join in a task which means so much to us all. If we do that, nothing can check the progress of Australia and the advancement of the Empire.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grant) adjourned.

Suggest corrections