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Friday, 18 June 1937

Senator Sir GEOEGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) . - I lay on the table of the Senate the report of the Australian delegation to the 17th Assembly of the League of Nations which met at Geneva in September and October of last year, and move -

That the paper be printed.

Australia was represented at the Assembly by the Eight Honorable S. M. Bruce, C.H., M.C.; F. L. McDougall, Esq., C.M.G.;Raymond G. Watt, Esq.; and Mrs. E. A. Waterworth, O.B.E. It is interesting to note that 52 nations were represented at the Assembly, and that among the representatives were three Prime Ministers and 26 Foreign Ministers. So far as Australia is concerned, the most important discussions at the Assembly related to the reform of the League, nutrition, and trade barriers.

The failure of collective security to prevent the conquest of Abyssinia had led to considerable criticism of the machinery of the League for the prevention of aggression. The British Foreign Minister ascribed the failure of the League in that dispute to the lack of more energetic action and effective League intervention in the early stages of the crisis. Mr. Eden suggested that machinery should be devised as soon as possible to improve the working of the Covenant.

Various proposals were discussed at the Assembly for strengthening the provisions of the Covenant in regard to collective security, but some delegates, including those from Canada, held that formal amendment of the Covenant at that time was neither possible nor necessary. The New Zealand delegate insisted that sanctions would be ineffective in the future, as in the past, unless they were immediate and automatic. He said that the League had lapsed into futility as the result of the vacillation of governments, and not by reason of indecision on the part of the people.

In his address to the Assembly, Mr. Bruce, acting on instructions from the Commonwealth Government, suggested that the conflict in Abys sinia had demonstrated conclusively that, a non-universal League, particularly one which did not include three of the greatest Powers of the world - the United States of America, Germany and Japan - could not prevent, or bring about the immediate cessation of, aggression by the overwhelming nature of financial, economic or military sanctions, and that, in the circumstances, for the League to have endeavoured to operate the Covenant in full might have been to increase the danger by spreading the area of the conflict instead of ending it. Mr. Bruce pointed out that whilst, its non-universality was the most obvious reason why the League had. not achieved all that was hoped of it, there had been other Causes, but to review them would serve little purpose at that stage. In his opinion,- the wisest course for final achievement was a full and honest recognition of the facts as they existed, and a determination to establish the greatest measure of co-operation possible in the circumstances. The Commonwealth Government,he said, did not propose any amendment of the Covenant, but merely suggested some changes of interpretation, although it would welcome the introduction of certain" amendments.

Mr. Bruceadded that the Commonwealth Government unreservedly supported the views expressed by the British delegate as to the necessity formore effective intervention in the earlier stages of disputes by an improvement of the working of Article 11 of the Covenant. In this manner it would be possible for the League to intervene before disputant nations had gone so far that national prestige rendered any retirement extremely difficult. The Commonwealth Government favoured regional pacts and, as regards general obligations in respect of financial and economic sanctions," Mr. Bruce stated that the Commonwealth Government considered that the existing practice, whereby economic and financial sanctions under Article 16 of the Covenant are not automatic but are applied only after a meeting of, and full consideration by, the members of the League, should be fully maintained. He considered that the strength and pressure of world public opinion would grow progressively until statesmen would be. compelled to act justly whenever world peace was endangered by the act of an aggressor,

In regard to nutrition, a subject which had been raised by the Australian delegation at the previous assembly, Mr. Bruce declared that nutrition was the focal point of the movement to substitute a policy of production for one of restriction. He said that Australia continued to attach the utmost importance to the economic issue, believing that a solution of it would open the way to world peace and the removal of social unrest. Mr. Bruce urged that a special committee should be set up by the Council for the investigation of economic problems. He suggested that the first steps should be taken by the great powers, especially the creditor nations. He also advocated the rejection of the fearful negative policy which had emerged from the World Economic Conference in 1933, namely, that prosperity should be achieved by restricting instead of increasing production. This doctrine, he submitted, would ultimately drive impoverished millions to revolt.

The Assembly adopted a resolution commending the Currency Agreement between Great Britain, France and the United States of America, and invited the co-operation of all States, whether members of" the League o'r not, in the direction indicated by Mr. Bruce. The Assembly urgently recommended States as an. essential condition of final success, to organize, without delay, determinate and continuous action to ensure the reduction of excessive obstacles to international trade and communications, and, in particular, to abolish the present system of quotas and exchange control.

The Assembly requested the Council to appoint a committee to inquire into the question of equal commercial access for all nations to raw materials. A committee of experts was duly set up in January. It met. in March and, after a preliminary discussion, agreed that for any study of the accessibility of raw materials to be adequate it must, not he limited to consideration of. the raw materials for industry, hut must include also foodstuffs and fodder. Although many raw materials are admittedly derived from colonial and mandated territories, it had been pointed out that most raw materials are produced wholly, or to a great extent, in sovereign, countries. The committee, therefore, further agreed that raw materials ought to be taken into consideration, whatever their origin.

Another matter of some importance dealt with by the Assembly was that of terrorism. It will be recalled that part of the settlement by the League of Nations of the dispute between Yugoslavia and Hungary in connexion with the assassination at Marseilles of King Alexander of Yugoslavia was the framing of two international conventions intended to secure co-operation' between governments against terrorism. Two draft conventions have now been drawn up, one for the prevention and repression of terrorism, and the other for the establishment of an international criminal court to try any person brought before it by a contracting party. These drafts will in the ordinary course come before either a later Assembly or a special conference for formal adoption and signature. The Commonwealth Government has already informed the League that it agrees in principle to the adoption of a convention for the repression of terrorism, but does not favour the proposed international, criminal court.

The usual reports from the technical and other organizations of the League on the work carried out during the preceding year came before the Assembly. These indicate that in the field of social and humanitarian activities the League is carrying out all that could be expected of it in the circumstances. I commend the report for perusal by honorable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Collings) adjourned.

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