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Friday, 4 March 1927

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - The Senate has not been furnished with the information concerning the Imperial Conference, to which it is justly entitled. Although the Government may have further details, all that has been placed before honorable senators is that contained in the summary of proceedings, which although fairly extensive seeing that it comprises 38 closely printed pages, is scarcely a full report of the proceedings of a conference which lasted nearly a month, during which period sixteen meetings of the full conference and innumerable meetings of the various sub-committees Avere held. From a perusal of this report it is almost impossible to obtain any definite knowledge of what was accomplished by the conference. It would appear that, notwithstanding the galaxy of talent drawn from the various parts of the Empire, very little was actually accomplished by the conference. I can understand that in matters affecting the relations of Great Britain with the different dominions and with foreign countries, it may be desirable to withhold certain facts but, nevertheless, more information than is contained in this report should have been supplied to us.

Senator Pearce - None of the decisions arrived at have been withheld.

Senator GRANT - All that hasbeen made available to honorable senators is a report containing a summary of the proceedings of the conference. I understand that reports were submitted to the full conference by the various sub-committees and that several speeches were delivered.

Senator Pearce - The summary of the proceedings includes the various resolutions of the conference. The speeches will be published later.

Senator GRANT - Those reports should have been made available to us before we were asked to agree to this motion.

Before the Prime Minister left Australia for Great Britain, he said that, in his opinion, Australia should have a voice in Empire affairs, but he did not make clear how far he was prepared to go in that direction. I desire to set before the Senate the views of honorable senators on this side of the chamber regarding these matters. Personally, I have no desire that Australia shall take part in the affairs of the Empire, especially in relation to wars or possible wars.

Senator Pearce - Then why did the Labour party yesterday pass a resolution dealing with the situation in China? That resolution was a declaration on foreign affairs.

Senator GRANT - That was an entirely different matter. The resolution passed by the Labour party yesterday was a clear declaration of the party's attitude towards the situation in China, and was in complete agreement with what I have just said. The Labour party does not agree that, because Great Britain may go to war with China, Australia must do the same.

Senator Pearce - That is not what the motion said. It was a clear expression of opinion regarding affairs in China ; it deplored Great Britain's attitude.

Senator GRANT - That is a small matter in any case. The impression made upon the minds of many people by the Prime Minister's statement was that Australia should have a voice in deciding whether war should be declared. The majority of the people of this country do not desire that. They hold the view that, in the event of war being declared by Great Britain, they should decide whether Australia should participate in it. It does not necessarily follow that they would not fall into line with the Mother Country. Mr. Amery, the Home Secretary, was apparently of the same opinion when he said recently that it was right to let the outside world know now and again that, Great Britain and the dominion governments did not interfere with each other's affairs. He said that there was a wide-spread opinion, which he thought was well founded, that the various parts of the British dominions should, as far as possible, have complete control of their own affairs, and that one dominion should interfere as little as possible in the affairs of other portions of the Empire. That view is gaining ground every day. In my opinion, it is the view we should endeavour to cultivate. There is no desire on the part of the great majority of the people of Australia to interfere in Great Britain's affairs. When Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister of Great Britain a treaty with Russia was entered into. Australia was not consulted, nor did she desire to be; it was a matter between Great Britain and Russia. The more that spirit is cultivated, and made known, the better it will be for the Empire. With its component parts having complete control of their affairs, and each minding its own business, the Empire will be stronger than if they interfere in each other's affairs.

I desire to refer to that portion of the report dealing with the New Hebrides condominium. The reference to the joint control of the New Hebrides by Great Britain and France, which has not been satisfactory to British residents, who would gladly welcome a change, is a fair illustration of the inconclusive nature of this summary of the proceedings of the Imperial Conference, and of the lack of information afforded. The paragraph referring to this matter is as follows: -

The further developments in the New Hebrides since the Imperial Conference of 1923 wereexamined by representatives of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain, in consultation with the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand, and agreement reached on the policy to be followed.

As to the nature of the agreement, we are left completely in the dark; and that is the position in relation to nearly every paragraph in the summary. It is a most unsatisfactory report. This Parliament should be taken into the confidence of the delegates to the conference, and of the conference asa whole, and should bo told exactly what was done and what decisions were reached. Particularly do I wish to know the decision arrived at in reference to the condominium in the New Hebrides.

I notice that, in addition to the delegates to the conference, there were in attendance many other people, including Mr. Gepp, the chairman of the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission. Apparently this is an innovation, aud I have no strong objection to it; but I should like to know what decision was reached in regard to migration, because one of the most important problems of the Commonwealth to-day is the need for increasing its population. Some little time ago we took the trouble to pass a Development nnd Migration Bill, under which we appointed Commissioners, with a view to securing an increase in our population, particularly from Great Britain; but, so far, nothing appears to hove been done in that direction. Yesterday a vessel arrived at Melbourne with representatives of seventeen or eighteen different nationalities, and very few Britishers among them, and it was stated that arrangements for a regular service of steamers - with accommodation for from 600 to 800 immigrants - between Southern European ports and Australia, had been made. I should like to know what practical steps the Migration Commissioners are taking to ensure that Britishers who desire to como to Australia can find ways and means of doing so. Personally, I am of opinion that they are going about the businessin the wrong way, and that while their efforts may be costly, they may not be very fruitful. People came to Australia in the early days because they were of opinion that gold could be found here easily. They came in large numbers, of their own free will, and at their own expense, and they were of a better type than, or at any rate of as good a type as, those who are now being assisted to come to Australia. What is required in Australia is a condition of affairs that will appeal to the people of Great Britain and induce them to find their way voluntarily to our shores. We havo a country which is capable of sustaining n very large number of people in addition to those who are already here. The density of our population is about two to the square mile. Europe is very much more densely populated. It is true that there may be small areas in Australia that are not as fertile as parts of Europe, but it is never safe to dogmatize on such matters, because what may be regarded to-day as a desert may later on, with different treatment, prove to be one of the most valuable areas of the Commonwealth. We need not highlypaid commissioners, but action on the part of the various Governments of the States to show people that Australia is the best country to come to. By those means migrants will come to Australia of their own free will. It seems to me that nothing was done in this direction at the Imperial Conference. The document we have before us is the most extraordinary I have ever seen. Every paragraph it contains seems to be more inconclusive than that immediately preceding it. I defy any one to get anything of a definite character out of it. Certain resolutions have been placed on record, but they do not appear to me to be of any particular value. I should like to know what the Imperial Conference did to find additional markets for the excess production of the Commonwealth. There is nothing in the document itself to supply that information. There are references to workmen's compensation, and a number of other matters, but each paragraph appears to be more inconclusive than that preceding it. The Government should not ask the Senate to debate this question until the printed documents to which the Minister has referred have been circulated.

Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.


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