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Friday, 8 November 1935


Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - After listening to the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) and the Assistant Minister (Senator Brennan), I rise with some diffidence to speak on this important subject. Each Minister has stated the position very clearly from his viewpoint. Their opinions may have considerable influence, because sentiment plays a very important part in the minds of the people, particularly during periods of national stress. It is easy for an honorable senator or any other public speaker to appeal to the people on sentimental grounds, and, in this instance, a strong appeal will be made to the people to support the League of Nations in its effort to impose economic and financial sanctions on Italy. Such an appeal lias been made by all -sections of the community including ministers of the gospel whose responsibility it is to preach the doctrine of peace. The members of tha Australian Labour party are as sincere in the policy they advocate as are honorable senators opposite in the course they are following. According to the arguments adduced by our opponents, the members of the Labour party are seeking refuge in a coward's castle. It has been said that we are sneaking away from our obligations, and beating a strategic retreat to a point where we shall be perfectly safe. That is not so. We feel that our action is just as courageous as is the action of honorable senators opposite. As a matter of fact, it is tho easiest thing in the world to pander to the people and by using platitudes speak of peace in our time, but it is not so easy to advocate a policy requiring thought and consideration. Although I may not agree with the views of extreme pacifists, we have to admit that some of the finest mcn in the world have definitely declared that in no circumstances will they take hu in an life. During the war, many men were persecuted because of the attitude they adopted towards Avar, and the sacrifices some made were equal to those of men who served at the front. The British Labour party is supporting a policy which it believes to be right. The Australian Labour party, which is opposed to the imposition of sanctions, believes that it is right. As was admitted by Mr. Baldwin, we are ail engaged in a mighty gamble. There is a possibility of war, and Great Britain may have to go further than the imposition of economic sanctions. The Leader of the Senate mentioned this morning that Mr. Morrison, who is chairman of the London County Council, has taken a definite stand, but I would remind the right honorable gentleman that Mr. Morrison makes the significant statement that if the imposition of sanctions leads to war, the British Labour party will have to review the position. Having studied this subject from every angle, the members of the Australian Labour party are convinced that the imposition of sanctions will ultimately lead to Avar, and because of that Ave intend to oppose the bill. We hold that those who believe that it is right to impose sanctions should be prepared to see the matter through to the bitter end, even to the arbitrament of Avar. How could the Labour party, as a party, support sanctions and then, when Italy inevitably took reprisals and Avar resulted, say to the people of Australia: " We are sorry Ave have reached the end of our tether; Ave will have to Avithdraw " ? It is because the Parliamentary Labour party has viewed this situation from every angle, and has come to the definite conclusion that the imposition of sanctions will lead to Avar, that it, Avith the whole of the Labour movement, has decided not to support the Government in this course. If the voice of the Australian Labour party could reach overseas we would like to tell our comrades on the other side of the world that our position is entirely different from theirs. Europe has its own peculiar problems, and Ave have ours. Australia, being situated in the southern Pacific, and far distant from the centre of the Empire, cannot be expected to follow blindly every action taken by our kinsmen overseas, even if amongst those people are a majority of the people of England. As my leader has pointed out, Australia's population is less than 7,000,000, and if by our action Ave are to be committed to another war, we may lose another 60,000 or 100,000 of ourmanhood on thebattlefields, in which event our defensive strength would be dangerously reduced. I also stress the point that if Australia as a nation supports at all times the League of Nations, irrespective of the circumstances, we may be embarrassed when the matter of Australia's extensive unpopulated areas is being considered by the League in the future. I emphasize that the consequences of whatever action we take to-day will not be confined to the present. This Government is definitely committing Australia to a policy of agreement with the League of Nations. Is it not possible that in the near future when our unpopulated areas are being discussed by the League - and this matter has already been mentioned on many occasions in the councils of the League - that body may adopt a policy which runs contrary to our immigration policy, and the White Australia principle? What would be the position of Australia if the League should, in its wisdom, decide that Australia, having extensive unpopulated areas, should admit migrants, including some of those who, in the past, have been kept out of this country? Would this Government, under such circumstances, plead, as the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) and Senator Brennan have pleaded to-day, and as it has pleaded through its press and publicists, that we should stand behind the emasculated League? Or would the supporters of this Government then begin to look for excuses to justify abandonment of the League? Senator Brennan said that the Labour movement had openly supported the League of Nations, but is now adopting a contrary policy, because we say that Australia should not participate in the imposition of sanctions. The honorable senator's argument sounds all right, but it will not bear examination. The position to-day is altogether different from that which existed a few years ago. The Labour party and the Labour movement have supported the League of Nations. They believed that a league composed of all the nations of the world could, by economic pressure, bring to bear sufficient force to compel any recalcitrant nation to accept peaceful arbitration in an international dispute. That was all right in theory, but in practice it does not work.

The League of Nations is not composed of all the powerful nations, for at the present time Japan, Germany and the. United States of America are not members, this notwithstanding the fact that President Wilson was really the founder of the Leagune. Furthermore, Italy has run contrary to the expressed will of the League, leaving only two of the more powerful nations - Great Britain and France - in the organization. I do not mention Russia in this connexion because honorable senators opposite have invariably contended that Russia should be kept out of the comity of nations, and that we should have no truck with it.


Senator Dein - Are there not 48 other nations ?


Senator BROWN - Yes; there are nations like Ecuador, Peru, a few other South American States, Mexico, and a conglomeration of small States which have no force or power, and would not exercise any force or power in any struggle which might eventuate. Possibly, these same nations would run counter to the wishes of the League of Nations if the League became embroiled in a struggle with the object of preserving the peace of the world. Thus, the argument that 50 nations are members of the League is very weak. Undoubtedly, the main powers in it are France, Great Britain, and Italy, and for the last 30 years these three powers have been deeply involved in negotiations and activities for the economic partition of Abyssinia. Our people read in the press of these negotiations, agreements and understandings, and they naturally ask themselves in all innocence, whether these nations, in playing a leading partin the present activities of the League, are as disinterested as some supporters of the League would have us believe. Can we sincerely say that Great Britain, France and Italy could act in this matter entirely from disinterested motives? Is it not true that these countries have ratified certain treaties with respect to the economic partition of Abyssinia, and that they have fallen out over the matter; that such treaties were signed on the understanding that none of the signatories was to take any action in collaboration with another without informing the third party of its intention; that that undertaking was broken, and one of these parties indignantly attacked the other two, because they had committed such a breach? Honorable senators know that these are facts. Therefore, when the people of Australia are told that three of the most powerful nations are not members of the League, and that the three most powerful members of the League are quarrelling over the economic partition of Abyssinia, they are entitled to question the bona fides of those who say that the impending struggle is one to end war and bring about a reign of peace on earth. 'The queries I have raised are being asked by the people.


Senator Herbert Hays - The honorable senator is saying these things himself without justification.


Senator BROWN - I declare that America, Japan, and Germany, which are three of the seven foremost powers of the world, are not members of the League. I point out that Italy has taken its present course contrary to the wishes of the other members of the League, with the result that, virtually, only two of the more important nations - excepting Russia - are left in the League. And history proves that those two nations have been economically interested in Abyssinia in the past. I do not mention these facts with the idea of reflecting on the attitude of Great Britain, or any other nation.


Senator Herbert Hays - Great Britain controls territory adjacent to Abyssinia.


Senator BROWN - It controls territory on three sides of Abyssinia ; in fact, Africa as a whole has been cut up, and is now practically governed and controlled by European nations. Abyssinia is practically the only remaining independent State.


Senator Herbert Hays - The honorable senator really suggests that Great Britain is acting in this matter from ulterior motives.


Senator BROWN - I object to such an inference being drawn from my remarks. The honorable senator's interjection is stupid. It has to be admitted that every nation has to look after its economic interests, and because Britain is doing so I do not suggest that it is prompted by ulterior motives. Economic interests are vital to individuals as well as to nations. Because I state plain facts, no honorable senator is justified in saying that I impute ulterior motives to Great Britain. I am merely stating the position as I understand it, in an endeavour to explain why the Labour party says that, under all the circumstances, it is better for Australia not to join with other countries for the purpose of imposing sanctions on Italy. This is a plain, straightforward statement, and I fail to see how I can reasonably be charged with imputing ulterior motives to any nation. When an honorable senator discusses facts and realities, however unpalatable they may be to some people, it does not follow that he is resorting to underground tactics. All nations to-day are actuated in the main by economic circumstances, and the sooner this Government recognizes that fact the better. I do not intend to be humbugged by sentimentalists. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) put his side of the case well when he gave his reasons why the people of Australia should stand by the Government. Knowing that the Labour party had made a strong point of the fact that the United States of America is not a member of the League of Nations, the right honorable gentleman reminded us that that nation had passed a Neutrality Bill which practically amounted to sanctions against Italy, in that it prevented the export of arms to that country. Remembering also that Germany and Japan are not members of the League, he told us that Hitler had decided not to intervene and that Japan would remain neutral. There are economic reasons why the United States of America does not wish to be embroiled in European affairs. For many years that country refused to participate in the Great War, but eventually it decided to join the Allies against Germany. The actions of the United States of America are determined not so much by a high regard for peace as by the economic interests involved. Similarly Hitler's neutrality in the present conflict is not due to his love of peace. He and his followers are among the most warlike people on earth. At the moment Hitler advocates German neutrality in the present conflict, not because he loves the League of Nations or desires peace, but because lie is of the opinion that the interest® of Germany can best be 'advanced by adopting a neutral attitude. Much the same may be said truthfully of Japan. Although not now a member of the League of Nations, Japan is opposed to Italy. The reason may be found in the fact that Japan has an ever-increasing market in Abyssinia. Japan is not a peace-loving nation, for when economic circumstances necessitated action, it engaged in a war with China without even making a declaration of war. Honorable senators know what that nation did in Manchuria. The League of Nations was not particularly active in regard to that act of aggression, probably because the most powerful of its members were not interested in Manchuria. But had Great Britain and France been as interested in that territory as they are in Abyssinia, one wonders whether the League of Nations would not have adopted in regard to Japan's aggression an attitude similar to that taken up by it in respect of Italy's invasion of Abyssinia. The man in the street is asking why the League of Nations, which is so active in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, was apparently little concerned with the invasion of Manchuria by Japan. The considered opinion of the Labour party is that some nations are not concerned so much with peace as with their economic interests. Indeed, under the existing economic system, that is only natural. The editorial columns of those newspapers which advocate sanctions inform us that there is a trend towards a policy of collective security. The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) said that a country could adopt a policy of isolation, or it could negotiate treaties with other countries in order to bring about a. balance of power or it could have collective security. In the present condition of the world, collective security is a will o' the wisp. Collective security is only another way of expressing the old term, " balance of power ". Great Britain, France and Russia are the principal nations which favour the application of sanctions against Italy, and it is possible that before the trouble is over, they may be mobilized against Italy. If collective security is to become an estab- lished fact, the League of Nations must include all the great powers of the world. I do not say that the League of Nations is not a great ideal, or that the policy of collective security is wrong, but I do say that any intensification of the existing antagonisms between nations must necessarily militate against the establishment of collective security. Unfortunately, pledges are sometimes lightly regarded by a nation whose economic interests are affected by them. So long as the present economic system obtains, nations will continue to be antagonistic, and collective security will be unattainable. In order to obtain an economic advantage in Abyssinia, Italy has thrown everything else overboard. The nation has been organized with a view to having its differences with other nations settled, not by peaceful means, but by war. The Labour party believes that Australia should not necessarily follow in the footsteps of Great Britain. On this subject there is a wide divergence of opinion. On the one hand, we are told that Australia, as a sovereign nation, can decide for itself what action it will take in the present dispute; and, on the other hand, it is stated that, as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, Australia is immediately involved in any war in which the King engages. We are also told that if the imposition of sanctions leads to war, all the nations which have imposed sanctions must participate in that war. We on this side say that Australia should decide for itself whether it will, or will not, follow Britain in the present dispute. The position would have been much clearer had the Government done its duty with regard to the Statute of Westminster. It has been most difficult to get a clear statement of Australia's pOS: tion; but from a mass of conflicting statements on the subject it appears that if sanctions lead to war, Australia will become involved in the conflict. I realize that the Prime Minister has dismissed Mr. Hughes because he said truthfully in his book that sanctions lead to war. As a consequence of being f rank, he has been incontinently " fired " from the Government. As a Labour man opposed politically to Mr. Hughes, I say that in his stand he has the support of a great majority of the Australian people because he has the intestinal stamina to tell the people the truth. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and various honorable senators have hedged on this question. Mr. Hughes for having been courageous and truthful in his book, now occupies one of the back benches.


Senator Brennan - He could be courageous without being correct.


Senator BROWN - The cabinet door has been slammed in his face, and now he is only a private member of the United Australia party for having the temerity to speak his mind. Honorable senators have stated that sanctions will not lead to war. Presumably we shall deal with Italy gently. First we shall stop tanks, guns and ships from being sold to Italy, and then we shall cease lending money to that country, but always gently and inoffensively. Such a statement is so much camouflage. Australia does not export munitions, arms or ship?, nor does it lend money. On the contrary, it always seems to be borrowing. Therefore these sanctions, so far as our part in them is concerned, can have no influence on Italy. I desire to put on record what Mr. Hughes says in his book, Australia and War To-day -

All effective sanctions must be supported by adequate force. Economic sanctions which do not materially hamper Italy's war-Hike operations arc not likely to deter her from aggression. If, on the other hand, sanction"! that cut off her supplies of food and raw materials and threaten her line of communication, are applied, she will use every means at her disposal to compel the nations responsible (o abandon them.

The implication is that Italy, on reaching a certain limit, will fight, but the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) and other Cabinet Ministers say that if this should happen the 50 nations applying the sanctions cannot be blamed. They may starve the Italian people and cutoff financial and material supplies, and if Italy should show resentment by force,, the fault will not be theirs. To use pugilistic parlance, 1 might hit a man in his " bread-basket ", and then on the chin and black his eyes, but if he returns the punishment, he is to blame. Like Pontius Pilate, the sanction-imposing nations will wash their hands of all responsibility. Mr. Hughes continues -

Tn the highly strung mental state of the

Italian people this means resort to force. Italy's air force is amongst the strongest in tho world. Its submarine forces in the Mediterranean are superior to those of Britain. Thousands of tons of British ships pas* through the Mediterranean every day. Malta is 50 miles from Sicily. In half an hour the Italian air squadrons could bomb the docks, dockyards and ships at anchor and rain down death and destruction on the island. Every British ship that attempted to run the gauntlet between Gibraltar and Suez would be exposed to great risks.

The latest press cables tell us that the Assembly of the League has agreed with the Council's finding and adjudged Italy guilty of aggression. Sanctions are to be imposed. Tho nature of these has yet to be determined. But an economic blockade, more or less complete: the restriction of imports from Italy: the cutting off of foreign loans; the lifting of the embargo against export of arms to Abyssinia have been suggested. Unless Italy bows to the decision of the League, these or any sanctions imposed by the League can only be effective to the extent that they are backed by armed force. Assuming that Italy decides to persist in her thrust into Abyssinia, she is not likely to tamely submit to an economic blockade, but will endeavour to break through it. This, of course, means war.

Mr. Hugheshas paid the penalty for being outspoken. Later on, if some of us commit similar indiscretions, we may be put in gaol under the Crimes Act. Mr. Hughes continued -

It is reported that 50 nations supported the motion which involves the imposition of sanctions. The part the great majority of these will play in the terrible conflict that may ensue is negligible. Wo are told that Haiti and Mexico are behind the League and will fulfil their obligations under the Covenant. But Mussolini will lose no sleep over that. Nor will he be greatly perturbed at M. Mottas's rhetorical declaration that Switzerland will also fulfil her obligations - so far as her policy of "neutrality" permits! Neutrality! In these unsettled days the word is more blessed than Mesopotamia! No doubt many others of the noble band that valiantly stood in the Assembly of the League for the cause of right will find reasons for their absence from the arena of conflict. We must rid ourselves of all illusions. With the exception of France and Russia, the support that all the nations will, or can, give to Britain to enforce sanctions is not worth a snap of the fingers.

We must pay heed to the opinions of so prominent a man as Mr. Hughes.


Senator Dein - Would the honorable senator be guided by Mr. Hughes' vote?


Senator BROWN - Because I take notice of his opinions, it does not follow that I shall copy his every action.


Senator Collett - Then why does the honorable senator quote Mr. Hughes as an authority unless he believes in him?


Senator BROWN - I repeat that because Mr. Hughes holds certain views and I quote them, it does not follow that I shall adopt any line of action he may take. But Mr. Hughes is an ex-Prime Minister, until recently a Minister in the present Government, and a member of the United Australia party, the Government must think deeply over what he says. Mr. Hughes is solidly backing the league of some nations, even to the extent of war, and he has been plucky enough to say it. The Labour party's objection is that the Government has not been similarly frank. Mr. Lloyd George, one of the greatest statesmen, a contemporary Prime Minister with Mr. Hughes, holds the same opinion as he does. One of the greatest of English editors, Mr. J. L. Garvin, has also made a similar statement in regard to sanctions leading to war, and he believes that if the sanctions are carried out as the League expects, war will occur in Europe. Mr. Garvin says -

Any action by Great Britain that would spread the Abyssinian war to Europe would be the utmost crime against God and humanity.

The Labour party in this chamber and the great mass of workers are influenced by statements made by authorities like Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Garvin, and Mr. Hughes. It cannot be argued that,because they are supporting the Labour movement in its antagonism to the imposition of sanctions, they are seeking to safeguard their lives and that they are cowards. Many of the soldiers who fought and suffered in the Great War are supporters of the Labour party's attitude. Because we have adopted this attitude to sanctions, honorable senators should not gain the impression that we are a collection of pacifists who would not fight under any circumstances. The Labour movement stands for the adequate defence of Australia, and any man worthy of his name would, if Australia were attacked, defend its shores against the invader. Not only have Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Garvin, and Mr. Hughes caused in the minds of the people certain disturbing thoughts about the consequences of sanctions, but they have also made other statements which cause the public to feel that there is more behind the present matter than sanctions. Surely Mr. Lloyd George would not speak without his book.


Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Mr. Lloyd George has spoken several times without his book!


Senator BROWN - Mr. Lloyd George is a man of high character, and his motives cannot be impugned by any honorable senator. He has made certain statements that have had a disturbing influence on the minds of many people who are thinking over this great problem. He went so far as to say that the Prime Minister of France (Monsieur Laval) had made arrangements with Signor Mussolini months ago regarding the impositions of sanctions, and that they had reached an agreement as to the extent to which sanctions should be applied. He says -

I am not the only one to suspect that. Mussolini has already negotiated these sanctions with the French Premier.

Ordinary working people, when they read that a man like Mr. Lloyd George has made such a statement, begin to ask themselves what is behind it all. Can there be collective security when several major powers are outside the League, and when the most important business of the League itself is transacted behind its back? Only a few months ago Great Britain and Germany came to an understanding with regard to naval strengths, as the result of which Germany is allowed to build up to 35 per cent. of British naval tonnage. This agreement caused a good deal of misgiving on the part of other European powers, and they were not slow to indicate their displeasure. Mr. Lloyd George stated, further that these sanctions were arranged to preserve the respectability of the League's authority for future use, and that, following their imposition, Germany and Austria would continue to trade with Italy, so that huge supplies of the world's commodities would be shipped through those countries into Italy. I ask leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Senate adjourned at 4.3 p.m.







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