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Thursday, 24 September 1936

Debate resumed from the 17th Sep tember (vide page 228), on motion by Senator Abbott -

That in order to encourage the breaking down of barriers and in the interests of mutual understanding and peace among the nations of the world, and to permit full use of the invention of wireless and enable the foundation of an international public opinion and literature -

(l)   It is imperative that a means of international thought exchange be established by a common language agreed upon in conference of the nations - such language to be compulsorily taught in their respective primary and secondary schools.

(2)   For this purpose this Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia urges that the nations,be invited by His Most Gracious Majesty the King to send their representatives to a world convention.

(3)   That this resolution be conveyed to His Excellency the Governor-General for submission to His Majesty with the humble prayer of this Senate that action be taken accordingly.

Senator SirGEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for External Affairs) [8.0]. - Everybody must agree that international peace is to be most ardently desired. Therefore, on this motion to enlarge upon the glories of peace and the horrors of war would be, I suggest, not to approach the "subject in the right way. The question which we should ask ourselves is this : Would the carrying of the motion be a practical step in the direction of universal peace? This Government earnestly desires to support every movement of a practical nature that is likely to lead to peace. It strongly supports the League of Nations and every movement having for its object the attainment of peace in a world that is now distracted by fear of war. Everybody in this generation knows something of the disastrous effects of the Great War, which will not be forgotten by any living person who was old enough to appreciate its horrors. The general desire for peace by the people of every country may be taken for granted. Our concern should be the adoption of practical means for its attainment.

Having said this, I invite honorable senators to consider if the adoption of a common language would, as is suggested in the motion, be a guarantee of peace? I remind them that before the Great War the most sanguinary conflict in history was, I suppose, the American Civil War - a struggle between peoples largely Anglo-Saxon in origin and all speaking the English language. At the present time a disastrous war is being raged in Spain between people speaking a common tongue. These two tragic occurrences in history prove conclusively, I should think, that a common language is not a guarantee of peace.


Senator Abbott - No honorable senator said that it would be a guarantee of peace.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - What 1 have said justifies me in suggesting that the course outlined in the motion is somewhat impracticable. It invites His Majesty the King to summon a word convention to consider a proposal that is not in its essence practical - this, too, at a time when all the nations are faced with perplexing problems of great moment that seem almost incapable of solution. If the motion be adopted in its present form, it will be presented to the King, who will refer it to His Majesty's Government in Australia for advice.


Senator Abbott - I challenge that statement.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - As things are to-day, the Government could not advise the summoning of a world convention for the purpose indicated. I say this because there is in existence at Geneva machinery, having world-wide ramifications, for the promulgation of peace. The League of Nations at the present time is endeavouring to find a common basis for the settlement of the internationa l problems of peace and disarmament. The statesmen of every country are exercising their minds to this end. Therefore, I repeat that this proposal to summon a world convention to consider an abstract question is not practical politics.

I submit also that language is not the only element in the differences between nations. The elements of religion, race, and national customs affect national character and thought just as vitally as does language. Withso many urgent questions awaiting solution upon which it seems almost impossible to have agreement, is it likely that agreement will be reached in respect of a proposal which. I submit, is prima facie impracticable?

Let us consider for a moment the problems that beset the citizens of all nations, and upon which it seems impossible to get accord. I need mention only some of these minor difficulties - the reform of the calendar, the suppression of the drug traffic, the Geneva Red Cross Conventions, and the prohibition of the use of poison gas. There have been many attempts to reach international agreement upon these subjects. Yet it is now proposed to summon a world convention to consider a proposal much more difficult of achievement than any of those which I have mentioned and upon which there appears to be little hope of reaching agreement. Having in mind these facts, I feel certain that the proposed convention would not arrive at an agreement upon this issue. Is it conceivable tha t use of the German language would be acceptable to the people of France? It is extremely unlikely that many nations would adopt English as the common medium. Therefore, the adoption of some neutral language would seem to be inevitable, and I suggest that even in Australia such a proposal would be extremely unpopular.

Senator Sampson. - Why?


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - Because of the belief that it would mean the abandonment of Our mother tongue.


Senator Abbott - The right honorable gentleman does not understand my proposal.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.I assure the honorable senator that I fully understand all that it means. That is the reason for my intervention in the debate at this stage.

As is well known, there have been numerous attempts to secure the adoption of a synthetic international language, such as Esperanto, and Ido. Many such languages have been invented and vigorously promulgated by excellent organizations, but all have failed to make substantial headway. I have said that an attempt to introduce a synthetic language such as Esperanto would be unpopular in Australia. I hold this view, because at one time there was published in this country an Esperanto journal known as La Suda Kruco. After an existence of thirteen years it ceased publication in October, 1934, and in its last editorial headed Morituri te salutant, it stated that the journal had come to an end through insufficient support.

Basic English seems to have more chance of adoption, because it represents a simplification of the English language into not more than 850 elementary words. Text-books and numerous articles com mending it have recently been written in basic English. Almost without exception these books are remarkable for their clarity of expression and elegance of style. H. G. Wells, in The Shape of Things to Come, predicts that: - "One unlooked for development in the 100 years between 2,000 and 2,100 was the way in which basic English became, in that short time, a common language for use between nations . . by, 2,020 almost everyone was able to make use of basic for talking and writing. "

This distinguished writer, whose prophetic vision is evidenced in so many of his works, this optimist of the optimists, forecasts that by the year 2,020 basic English may be in universal use! Humanitarian ideas, such as the adoption of a universal language, and proposals in general for the growth of goodwill between peoples, are extremely slow in evolution. During the war it was widely believed that armaments in a highly developed industrial world created suspicion, tension and conflict. Accordingly, the framers of the covenant of the League of Nations, believed that a proposal for the gradual disarmament of the nations offered the best chances of universal peace ; but despite provision in the covenant and exhaustive examination over a period of years, the scheme for disarmament utterly collapsed and we are further from that ideal than ever before.

Although it might be conceded that a universal language -would lead to a mutual understanding of international difficulties, and help to bring about peace among the peoples of the world, it does not follow that it would ever be acceptable. Nevertheless it is reasuring to know that the British conception of freedom of thought, British principles of justice, and British efforts in the cause of peace are gaining recognition despite the formidable barriers presented by certain forms of totalitarian government. In the same way the English language, by its inherent merit and comparative simplicity, is making headway, and is fast superseding French as the diplomatic language, particularly in Asia. English commercial terms and practices are now adopted in all parts of the world, and with the almost universal adoption of English as a language of intercourse in the

East, the adoption by a section of the British people of this motion would be a matter for regret because it might jeopardize the acceptance of our own tongue as the universal language. Honorable senators may have seen a report in the press of the 23rd September that English is to replace German as the most widely taught language in Russia. Among the inherent merits mentioned is that English is a blend of Germanic syntax and Latin vocabulary such as is offered by no other European language. An added difficulty in the case of many countries is that several languages are spoken by different sections of the one people. The element of national pride must also be taken into consideration. Language is an outward and visible sign of a people's cultural, moral and psychological development. Even if the Senate felt that a universal language should be advocated on the ground that it is an ideal worth trying, it is extremely questionable whether an address to His Majesty would be the correct procedure. Such an address would be referred by the King to his responsible advisers - in this case the Commonwealth Government, which could not support the proposal. If honorable senators are in favour of the general principles underlying this motion, the proper procedure would be for the President of the Senate to forward the proposal to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations for submission to the Committee of International Intellectual Co-operation which is responsible for the consideration of questions of this nature. Should the proposal command support from other countries it will be placed on the agenda-paper for discussion at the assembly. If sufficient support is then forthcoming any resolution for implementing the principle or a proposal for an international conference to discuss the subject would be referred to individual governments.

I ask honorable senators to contemplate what would happen if we did as we are invited to do. We are expected to ignore the League of Nations, and to ask for the appointment of a world-wide convention. What would such a convention do, even if it were summoned? Obviously, one of its first actions would be to appoint a committee to consider the language to be adopted, and how such a language could be made universal. It would have to provide a cumbersome system when the necessary machinery is already in existence. Because "of that I. suggested to the honorable senator when he moved the motion originally that the proper body to approach was the League of Nations.


Senator Abbott - The right honorable gentleman said that even if that were done the Government could not support the motion.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.That does not effect the advice I gave to the honorable senator. I again remind him that an organization which is almost world-wide is already dealing with similar subjects. I. suggest that the motion be amended by omitting paragraphs 2 and 3, and submitting in lieu thereof the following paragraph: -

That thePresident of the Senate be requested to forward this resolution with a request that it be referred to the Committee of the League on International Intellectual Co-operation for consideration.

I am informed that similar action has been taken in connexion with other matters. Organizations submit to the League for consideration, proposals which are not sponsored by governments, and the League refers them to appropriate committees. The motion in its present form will lead to a dead end, because it is practically asking the Government to sponsor it. I submit, with all respect, that the Government cannot do so.


Senator Abbott - The Government has not been asked to do so.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE..Not in specific terms, but the constitutional effect of the motion is that the Government is to sponsor it.


Senator Sampson - The Senate is not the Government.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE If an address is presented to His Majesty, the King refers it to his advisers. In this case advice would be sought from the Commonwealth Government. The Government feels that it cannot sponsor the motion, because it considers that the scheme is impracticable. In view of the fact that the League of Nations exists, the summoning of a world-wide convention is unnecessary.


Senator Sampson - Many important nations are not members of the League.


Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) - Their representatives act on committees.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - Although some nations are not members of the League they are represented on committees dealing with subjects in which they are interested. The International Labour Office functions under the League, and although Japan and the United States of America are not members of the League they send their representatives to the International Labour Conferences. Some of the nations represented on the International Intellectual Co-operation Committee are not members of the League of Nations. I was not present when the honorable senator spoke on this subject last week, but I understand that a considerable portion of his speech was devoted to elaborating the blessings of peace and the horrors of war. That was quite unnecessary; we should address ourselves to the practical side of the subject. The proper course to follow is to 'utilize the machinery already in existence. I make that suggestion not in a spirit of hostility, but in all friendliness.The Government cannot support the motion in its present form.







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