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Wednesday, 23 March 1927

Seventh Assembly

Debate resumed from 15th March (vide page 386) on motion by Senator Pearce -

That the paperbe printed.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia - Vice-President of the Executive Council [12.2]. - Honorable senators will remember that the Australian delegates to the Seventh Assembly of the League were the Attorney-General, the Hon. J. G. Latham, M.P., the Hight Hon. Sir Joseph Cook, and A. G. Manning, Esq., M.P. The substitute. delegates were Sir Arthur Rickard and Miss Freda Bage. The outstanding feature of the Seventh Assembly was the admission of Germany, not only as a member of the League, but also to a permanent seat on its council. It surely was a milestone passed on the road towards peace when the leading nation among those opposed to the Empire and its Allies in the Great War became associated with them on the League of Nations, the declared object of which is to safeguard the peace of the world. The important subject of disarmament was dealt with by the third committee of the League. This subject, with which is linked up arbitration and security, is in an improved position today because of the Locarno agreement, the coming into operation of which was dependent on the entry of Germany into the League. This matter is still in the hands of the preparatory commission, which is engaged in technical investigations, and is drawing up a programme for the conference to be held this year on the limitation of armaments. Honorable senators will have seen in the press this morning a draft of the proposals that are being put forward. Should this draft he favorably received by the nations at the meeting of the League, it will constitute a further step in the direction of dealing with the vexed question of the limitation of armaments. That matter is also the subject of an announcement by the Government of the United States of America, which invited the great nations to consider the question of further naval disarmament. Although that invitation has received a mixed reception, no advocate of peace can take exception to its reception by the Empire of which we form a part. Great Britain has again shown that her objects and desires are peaceful, and that she is willing to assist in any movement in the direction of peace consistent with the safeguarding of her own interests as an Empire. Another matter of a somewhat different character dealt with at the Assembly was that of the proposed International Economic Conference. This matter deserves the serious consideration of the Senate, and I propose to quote from the report on the subject submitted by Mr. Latham. If there is one danger that confronts the League, it is that of dealing with subjects that might lead to meddlesome interference in domestic concerns. Therefore, the International Economic Conference needs to be carefully watched and wisely directed. The report of Mr. Latham in this connexion commences -

M.   Theunis. the Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the International Economic Conference, addressed the Second Committee at length upon the work of the committee. He stated that the lengthy and exhaustive programme of subjects which appeared in the report of the committee was not intended to he the agenda of the proposed conference, but was merely a list of subjects upon which documents were being obtained or prepared. The actual agenda would be decided by the council.

From the report of Mr. Latham's address before the Assembly I take the following extract : -

The people of Australia were greatly interested in the proposal to hold an international economic conference, but they also regarded it with some concern. The question of holding a conference was raised by a resolution of the assembly, dated 24th September, 1925. That resolution left it to the council to decide the date upon which the conference should be held. The council had appointed a preparatory committee, but there had not yet been any authoritative description by the council of the nature and scope of the conference. The reports of the economic committee and of the rapporteur of the council recommended that the conference should be composed of members who would not be regarded as government delegates. The rapporteur to the council had gone further, and' suggested that the conference should freely discuss all forms of programmes and doctrines, and should not be bound by the immediate necessity of transforming the conclusions of the conference into international engagements. It was very important, in view of the nature of these provisional recommendations, for the council to decide as quickly as possible as to the convening of the conference. There was a certain fear that the conference might feel itself entitled to make recommendations upon which the League might bo asked to take action, but many of which might prove to be of a domestic character. A declaration of the council upon the scope and nature of the suggested conference was, therefore, an early necessity.

Potential subjects of inquiry by the conference included questions of tariffs, questions of protection and freetrade, more particularly preferential tariffs, selling organizations, State trading, bounties, the organization of internal trade and commerce in relation to the utility of middlemen, & c, together with various questions affecting migration. Until the council had settled, at an early date, the scope and nature of the conference, work on all those matters would lie carried on, and thus a position might be reached in which all those matters would be assumed to be fit subjects of inquiry by the league.

Upon a number of those matters political opinion was acutely divided. It would be an error for the league to hold a conference of such a character that the league would risk becoming a party on one side or another in a domestic controversy. A definite decision upon the nature and scope of the conference should bo taken, and the conference should be defined as one of experts, not representing their governments, with the proviso that the League would best serve its own interests by avoiding domestic questions not of a truly international kind.

That was a timely warning to the League issued by the Australian delegate. I feel sure that the Senate will concur with those views. Sir David Gordon, a wellknown business man of South Australia, has already been nominated as one of Australia's delegates to the further conference, and others have yet to be appointed. Mr. Latham's statement represents the considered view of the Common wealth Government on this question. Mr. Latham also attended the meeting of the Second Committee when the general discussion on this matter took place. I shall read from the report of his address: -

For that reason he was very glad to hear M. Theunis (Belgium) say that it was for th, council to determine the scope of the work of the conference, and that, although so many questions had been touched upon in the preparatory committee, the object had merely been to collect information. The conference should avoid domestic issues, and confine itself to questions of a truly international character.

The conference ought to be a meeting of experts, and not of politicians or government delegates. The success of the Brussels conference had, in his opinion, been due to the fact that it had not been a conference of persons invested with power to bind any governments, but of men who had been able to express their views quite freely, without being influenced by political considerations.

Another important question to Australia discussed at the Assembly was that of mandates. The Sixth Committee, whose duty it was to consider this matter, expressed its appreciation of the work done by the Permanent Mandates Commission. Two points of interest to Australia arose. One referred to the right of individuals in mandated territories to petition to the League or to the Permanent Mandates Commission. At present, individuals have the right to send petitions by way of correspondence; but a suggestion was made that they should be entitled to attend personally before the Mandates Commission and advocate their claims. That was opposed by Australia on the ground that it would be embarrassing to the Power concerned, seeing that it might have no knowledge of the matters to be brought forward, and would, therefore, not have an opportunity of preparing evidence in rebuttal of any charges that might be made. The Government felt that, if complaints were submitted in writing to the Secretary of the Mandates Commission, and by him transmitted to the mandatory power, it would then be possible for a reply to be prepared. The Mandates Commission would then have before it, not only the charge, but also the defence. I am glad to say that the Mandates Commission adopted that view. The second point arose in connexion with the commission's practice of submitting to the mandatory powers a questionnaire upon the subjects concerning which they are expected to report to the commission. As honorable senators are aware, there are different forms of mandates. In the past, these questionnaires have been prepared in accordance with the different kinds of mandate; but it was proposed to issue a general questionnaire dealing with all classes- of mandates. In the case of Australia's mandate over New Guinea, that would have meant that we should be asked questions by the Mandates Commission, and presumably be expected to furnish replies, upon subjects concerning which Australia is under no obligation to render any account to the commission. Our delegates took exception to the general questionnaire, and it was not persisted in by the Mandates Commission, the view of the Commonwealth delegation being generally accepted by the League.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - The questionnaires will be continued, but on the basis applicable to each class of mandate.

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