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Friday, 27 August 1937


Senator ABBOTT (New South Wales) . - I earnestly request - I do not like to use the word - challenge - the Leader of the Opposition to explain fully that part of the Labour party's policy on defence which he expounded in this chamber yesterday, providing that no Australian military forces shall be allowed to go overseas! In what measure would that rule of the Labour party apply if the very existence of our sister dominion in the Pacific, New Zealand, were threatened by the naval forces of other countries? I believe that the Australian people will demand from the Leader of the Labour party a clear, unequivocal declaration on this point, because it is of the utmost importance to the welfare and happiness of every man, woman and child in Australia that our citizens should know just what responsibility is placed upon them in deciding who shall be given the right to say what part Australia shall play in the preservation of the British Empire. According to press reports of his speech yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition said that, under the rules of the Labour party, every member of that party was committed to the " adequate " defence of Australia.


Senator Collings - I did not say under the rules, but under the policy, of the Labour party.


Senator ABBOTT - The honorable senator is reported in the press as having said that the rules of the Labour party provided that no Australian forces shall te sent overseas without the consent of the Australian people.


Senator Brown - What is wrong with that?


Senator ABBOTT - There would be a good deal wrong with it in the event of the existence of the sister dominion of New Zealand being threatened; because under these " rules " of the Labour party a referendum of the people would have to be taken to decide whether or not Australian naval forces would co-operate with the rest of the Empire in the defence of New Zealand.


Senator Brown - The people in NewZealand are not worrying about their position. The Government reduced the defence vote the other day.


Senator ABBOTT - In this morning's newspapers, Mr. Savage, the Premier of New Zealand is reported as having said - "We are building a comparative paradise in the Pacific, and I do not see any reason to worry about the future. " Mr. Savage drew a beautiful picture of the New Zealand paradise, and I suppose we need not be surprised at that, since it is a natural human impulse to try at some time or other to attain to a state of supreme felicity. But I remind our Labour friends in this chamber and elsewhere that in the world to-day, there, are very many people in other countries who would be only too glad of an opportunity to break into New Zealand's paradise if they thought that effective measures had not been taken to prevent them. Even the Labour party cannot divorce itself from its responsibility to the citizens of Australia with regard to defence.


Senator Brown - We shall tell the people all about our policy.


Senator ABBOTT - Over and over again yesterday, when the Leader- of the Opposition was speaking, Senator Guthrie asked him point blank to say what a Labour government would do in the event of a threat being made against the sister dominion of New Zealand, and the honorable gentleman is reported to have said "I shall answer that later." He has not yet answered the question. I challenge him to do so now or on some other occasion before this Parliament is dissolved. The people are entitled to know what would be the position in the Pacific in the event of the Labour party being returned to power. Honorable senators will no doubt remember the interesting position that developed in the Pacific during the Great War, and the anxiety felt in Australia because of the exploits of a small but efficient fleet of German cruisers which raided shipping and did enormous damage to the cause of the allies. At one time they were believed to be planning a raid on Fiji, and there is little doubt that they would have done so but for the fact that they picked up a wireless message indicating that the Australian battle cruiser

Australia,whichwas - superior in speed and gunpower to any of the German vessels, was in the vicinity. As a matter of fact, the Australia was not anywhere within striking distance of the enemy cruisers, but a " bluffing " wireless message served its purpose, and the raiders did not, as was feared, visit Fiji or New Zealand. Most of us remember the battle between those German cruisers, and an inferior British fleet off Coronel in the South Pacific; the British vessels were destroyed.We remember also that the German warships later descended upon the Falkland Islands, a possession in the South Atlantic, where they were met. and destroyed by a superior fleet of British battle-cruisers -which had been released from other duty in European waters to attend to them. What would have been the position if, at that time, the commanders of the German cruisers had known that Australia was under Labour government, and that a "rule" of Labour's defence policy precluded Australian naval forces from proceeding beyond territorial waters until after the taking of a referendum?


Senator Brown - The honorable senator is talking sheer bunkum.


Senator ABBOTT - I am putting before the Senate the rules governing the defence policy of the Labour party.


Senator Brown - Bunk!


Senator ABBOTT - I am glad that my friend applies such a term to that policy. It is bunk.


Senator Brown - I mean that what the honorable senator is saying is "bunk".


Senator ABBOTT - And I repeat that I am merely placing before the Senate the implications of Labour's defence policy. The rules state definitely that Australian defence forces must not be sent overseas until after the taking of a referendum.

What is meant by British defence in the Pacific, if not co-operation? And without co-operation there or elsewhere, what is the value of the British Empire? Do my friends in Opposition in this chamber wish us to believe that they cannot wholeheartedly admire the magnificent declaration of non-aggression contained in the review by the Leader of the Senate of the Imperial Conference proceedings? Do they affirm that the British nations have not displayed qualities of world leadership, and do' they not know that other governments, even those hostile to the British Empire, are satisfied as to its bona fides? And are they not proud of Britain's declaration of non-aggression as the keynote of its re-armament policy?


Senator Brown - That is Labour's policy.


Senator ABBOTT - I have always been a firm believer in a policy that will tend to remove misunderstandings among the peoples of the world, but I do not blind myself to the fact that if we do not adopt reasonable precautions for self protection, there are robbers abroad who are only too ready to break into our homes, if they know that we have thrown away our guns, or if they believe that we have become such weaklings as to be unable or unwilling to defend ourselves. On the other hand, we do not want to see a display of that spirit of jingoism which, towards the end of last century, became such an object of derision. As a civilized people we do not stand for that. Neither do the Leader of the Opposition and his supporters here and elsewhere. But we of the ministerial parties do affirm that the leadership for peace displayed by the British Empire is an important factor in world affairs. It is so regarded by the governments of other countries, but it would be foolish to allow our defence measures to be determined by the " rules " of a political party, especially at a time like the present, when nations, without even a declaration of war, are fighting among themselves under " Rafferty " rules - fighting not minor wars, but cruel, major wars of the worst type.

This, I remind the Senate, is what is going on in the world to-day. How long will our Labour friends - these political dreamers - shut their eyes to facts, and refuse to see the, position as it is? How long will they persist in their foolish policy that we must have a referendum of the people before anything can be done by Australia to assist, say, the sister dominion of New Zealand should it be threatened by an aggressor? What would be the value of British defence measures in the pacific if there were no cooperation among the components of the Empire? We depend for our safety on prompt and effective co-operation. Any other policy would mere-y be cruel selfdeception of British peoples who rely for their security upon a powerful British navy.


Senator Brown - Listen to this fighting pacifist!


Senator ABBOTT - I do believe in peace; but I am now fighting for the principles underlying a strong British Empire which, by its self-denial in the policy of disarmament for many years, gave an example to the world of absolute sincerity in the cause of peace. Unfortunately, Great Britain's efforts evoked no response from other major powers. On the contrary, the spirit underlying the peace gesture was mistaken for evidence of weakness. Some, indeed, entered the realms of prophecy; they talked of the disintegration of the British Empire and metaphorically threw their hats in the air.

But having for fourteen or fifteen years given the world a lead in disarmament for the sake of world peace, the sincerity of which cannot be called in question, and having found that that example was not followed, and that. robbers are abroad, Great Britain has changed its policy and, by the adoption of a well-devised rearmament programme, has shown its resolve to be once again the determining factor in world diplomacy based on a policy of non-aggression.

In VieW of what has happened and is happening to-day, we are entitled to ask what hope there would be for the people of this country if Labour came into power as the result of the swing of the pendulum during the coming election, and if, as it would have the right to do, it gave effect to its defence policy to take a referendum before the Australian Defence Forces could be employed to assist even the sister dominion of New Zealand. Et is important to note also that, if that unhappy day should arrive, Federal Labour could not possibly govern, except with the consent of the New South Wales Labour party, and from events of recent years we know what that means. Not long ago we heard the Leader of the Op position in this chamber wholeheartedly and sincerely repudiating the actions of a well known Labour leader in New South Wales. Very well! Now I tell him that as surely as God made little apples, if his party wins the next election anc! comes into power, it will be compelled to g.ve effect to the policy of that New South Wales Labour leader, no matter what Mr. Curtin, the Federal Labour leader or the rest of the Federal Labour party may think or do.


Senator Brown - Bunk !


Senator ABBOTT - Again I agree with* the honorable gentleman that much of Labour's policy is " bunk ", and I remind the .Senate that, with one exception, all the New South Wales Labour members of the House of Representatives belong to what is known as the Lang party. That fact, I suggest, is highly significant. We know, from recent utterances of certain members in the House of Representatives and from newspaper reports of speeches of other political leaders what their attitude would be following success at the polls. From speeches which we have heard in this debate we gather that a fair amount of Communist support will be given to Labour candidates at the coming elections. A real danger to British interests in the Pacific would be constituted, should the government he in the hands of the New South Wales Labour party, as there is good reason to believe it would be.


Senator Collings - So this is what we have got down to, is it?


Senator Brown - It is tragic that an intelligent senator should talk such rubbish.


Senator ABBOTT - It is tragic that such a contingency should be possible, if Labour should be successful in the coming elections. It is tragic that, notwithstanding repeated requests from the Leader of the Senate and government supporters for a declaration of Labour's defence policy, there should have been such deliberate reticence on the part of the Leader of the Opposition. What is needed is a straightout declaration of what will bo the position in the Pacific if Labour be returned to power. We have had certain " rules " of the Labour party read to us. What is our strength in the Pacific? Does it rest solely upon the naval forces which Australia can afford? Even Mr. Curtin, the Leader of the Federal Labour party, says " No " to that question. He clearly is of the opinion that, alone, we could not provide a navy of sufficient strength to safeguard all our interests. Therefore, it is true that our strength in the Pacific depends upon cooperation between the Australian naval forces, the smaller naval forces in New Zealand, the British China Squadron and the Singapore Naval Base.

If our friends of the Labour party will take the trouble to examine the map of the world, they will find that, in the Pacific, to the north of Australia, there is a string of islands which afford the best chance to save Australia from actual invasion. We cannot, I suppose, hope for complete immunity from raids or serious damage. But we have been told that the " rules " of the Labour party would prevent an Australian naval force from being used to check an enemy there until the people had been consulted by referendum.


Senator Collings - Thank Cod for the CanberraTimes!


Senator ABBOTT - I am glad that my friend has expressed thanks to the Deity for something. I can only hope that, as the result of what has been said in this debate, he will see the light and give us a straight-out declaration of where he and his party stand in relation to co-operation of the Australian naval forces with those of other parts of the Empire in time of emergency.







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