Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 13 March 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [11.20]. - by leave - I lay on the table of the Senate the report of the Australian delegation to the Sixteenth Assembly of the League of Nations, which was held at Geneva in September and October, 1935, and move -

That the paper he printed.

The Australian delegation consisted of the Rt. Hon. S. M. Bruce, CIL, M.C.; F. L. Mc.Dougall, Esq., C.M.G.; Professor T. Hytten, M.A.. and Mrs. B. M. Rischbieth, O.B.E., J'.P. The work of last year's Assembly was naturally overshadowed by the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. It will be remembered that it was on the 10th October that the Assembly was called upon to record its opinion on the decision of the Council of the League that Italy had resorted to war in violation of the Covenant, and to co-ordinate, in conjunction with the Council, the appropriate measure? to he taken under article 1G of the Covenant in connexion with sanctions. This matter has already been dealt with in the Senate in connexion with the Sanctions Bill, so there is no need to touch further on this aspect of the work of the Assembly.

In connexion with the subject of women's nationality, it was impossible, as anticipated, to obtain anything like unanimity as to the desirability and practicability of equality of nationality for women, and the Assembly resolution on the subject merely recommended the early ratification of the Hague Nationality Convention by signatory States, and directed attention to the recent treaty drawn up at Monte Video, providing for equality of nationality for women. This treaty is open to accession by all countries. Certain States, as will be seen from the report, were in favour of equality of treatment between the sexes in this matter, but there were many delegates who held that they could not accept, the principle that the nationality of a married woman should be independent of that of her husband. In this connexion, it was pointed out that the difference of nationality as between husband and wife might conceivably affect adversely the unity of the family and the wife's civil rights and position in time of war. Owing to the obvious diversity of opinion on the whole subject, the Assembly took the view that no provision beyond that embodied in the Hague Convention appeared possible at the present time. Honorable senators are aware that the Commonwealth Nationality Bill, which was introduced last year, embodies the provisions of the Hague Convention in question. The Commonwealth Government intends to proceed with this measure at an early date.

A very important matter was raised by the Australian delegation, namely, that of the problem of nutrition in relation to public health. Mr. Bruce pointed out that this matter, which was primarily a public health problem, had now become also a social and economic ma tter closely related to the difficulties experienced by the farming industry in disposing of surplus foodstuffs. He suggested that the essence of the problem was to be found in the paradox of glutted markets for the farmer, while large masses of the population were not consuming as much food as was necessary to attain a reasonable measure of health. The problem, he said was accentuated by the economic crisis, which resulted in agricultural countries losing purchasing power through the destruction of markets in industrial countries, whose trade barriers had been increased and whose purchases of food had decreased. It appeared from the debate on this subject that the view was generally held that the root of the agricultural depression lay, not in over-production, but in under-consumption, and it was emphasized that efforts should be made to expand rather than to restrict markets. The Health Organization of the League reported that in many countries there was a very great danger that wide-spread under-nourishment would in the course of time involve serious health problems. The Health Organization was invited by the assembly to develop its work of investigation in relation to public health, and, concurrently with that study, certain other technical organs of the League, in collaboration with the International Labour Office and the International

Institute of Agriculture, are to examine the economic and financial aspects of the subject in connexion with, measures already adopted in various countries towards improving nutrition and mitigating the plight of agriculture. This investigation is now proceeding.

It will be remembered that the Australian Government delegate at the International Labour Conference last year, (Sir Frederick Stewart), raised this matter of nutrition in relation to agriculture, and was instrumental in focussing the attention of the representatives of over 50 countries on this important subject. When abroad last year Mr. Lyons drew international attention to this subject of nutrition and its relation to underconsumption of agricultural products.

In view of the social and humanitarian importance of this matter and its interest to Australia as a great producer and exporter of agricultural products, and the lead taken by Australia at the International Labour Conference and the League Assembly for international cooperation, the Commonwealth Government felt that it was incumbent upon it to take some action with a view to an internal survey, and consequent improvement of the general health and condition of our own people. Therefore, it has recently decided to create for this purpose a Central Advisory Council consisting of scientific and other representatives with the Commonwealth Director-General of Health as Chairman. It is also proposed to appoint local committees in all the States.

The other matters discussed at the assembly, which are of varying degrees of importance, do not require special mention at this stage, and honorable senators are invited to peruse the report for full information in connexion therewith.

Debate (on motion by Senator COLLINGS) adjourned.

Suggest corrections