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Wednesday, 25 August 1937


Mr BRENNAN - A. very good answer!


Mr MENZIES - It 'is a plausible answer, and we are fortunate that the world has agreed to receive our plausible answer with a degree of complaisance. I mention it, however, because, if we talk about complete independence as if we were foreign nations, there are a few problems of the kind I have just referred to, and some important ones to which we shall have to devote a lot of attention. [Leave to continue given.]

The second problem which, I suggest, has been produced without being solved is that of how far a dominion owing allegiance with other dominions to a common crown can be neutral in a war to which that common crown is a party. 1 am not going to enter into a controversy about this, but I remind honorable members of it because, as they know very well, it is one of the live problems that might become very much more alive in less happy circumstances than those in which we live at the moment.

Finally, I confess to a feeling of great doubt as to the virtue of a bold declaration, such as is found in the Balfour Declaration, that we are equal in all things, equal in all ways with, for example, Great Britain, in all matters of foreign policy,, when, we know perfectly well that the completely independent conduct of foreign policy by each individual member of the British Commonwealth of Nations would lead to nothing but chaos and disaster.

My leader and colleague, the Prime Minister, has just come back from the Imperial Conference at which one of thegreat achievements, not yet perhaps recognized, but, nevertheless, one of great moment, has been the production of a united declaration by all members of the British Commonwealth of Nations on the Question of foreign policy. I can well imagine how difficult it is to take all the various views existing in the variouscountries and reconcile them on a matter of foreign policy, and to my mind the moment we said in the, Balfour Declaration that we were all equal with each other, all with the same authority, power and responsibility on matters of foreign policy, we created a problem, and a' very real one, to which a great deal of attention will have to be given within the next ten years; the problem of translatingwhat is at the moment very little more than a rhetorical statement into a working statement, into something which will enable us to go on as a united British Commonwealth of Nations, while at, the same time giving as much force as possible to the individuality and independence of ear-h member of that commonwealth.

All of these criticisms I have been referring to, 1 want to suggest to those who are troubled about this legislation, are now too late. That is why 1 said I was referring to them as a matter purely of historical interest, because for better or for worse we have the Balfour Declaration and the history . of 1926 and 1930, and the only question that remains is whether we are to proceed upon the footing that those are the facts, and get whatever relatively minor advantages are to be obtained by adopting the particular provisions of the Statute of Westminster to which I have referred.


Mr Blackburn - In what substantial respect do the sections we have been asked to adopt now alter the practice that existed for a great many years even prior to the war?


Mr MENZIES - I think they do so to a very trifling extent. In the case of two or three sections, possibly doubt is removed by a clear declaration, but in point of practice, I think the differences are negligible. That is why I said at the beginning of my speech that this postwar development has been a development of theory rather than of practice. In point of practice the real and administrative legislative independence of Australia has never been challenged, since the Commonwealth was created. It did not need any new theory to tell us that.

I think, and I suggest to the House, that, having regard to these circumstances, we ought at this stage to recognize the facts, and to come into line uniformly with the other dominions. I think that on all these matters of constitutional doctrine and practice as rauch uniformity as possible throughout the British world, should be aimed at.

Above all things, it seems very desirable indeed that when Australia adopts the Statute of Westminster, as it unquestionably will sooner or later, it should adopt it in circumstances of friendliness, without passion and without heat. This is the time to adopt it when we have no particular reason to think we may need it. That may seem rather .a strange statement, but it is, nevertheless, true. I should be sorry to think that the day would come when, in the heat of some argument, some intra-imperial controversy, this Parliament might be invited to adopt the

Statute of Westminster as a sort of weapon to be used in the course of such discussion. Let us adopt it to-day in terms of deliberation, in terms of complete amity, and in circumstances in which nobody will imagine that its adoption will have anything to do with feelings of separatism or undue assertion of our interests at the expense of those of any other part of the British Empire.


Mr Brennan - And not on the motion of a Labour government.


Mr MENZIES - I was not thinking of a Labour government in general.

Finally, we are sometimes inclined to confuse the end of a road with its beginning. Some of us have talked about these matters as if we had concluded a great period of our constitutional history. I want to remind honorable members that this adoption, and the whole of the constitutional process to which I have been referring, merely begin a series of responsibilities. We do not conclude this matter simply by saying, " That is the end of that chapter ". It is not the end of the book, and the book is one in which we have to write. We have now to deal with a very much more difficult problem than that of determining and asserting our own rights. We have to approach the problem of reconciling our own independence - all our own independent, national aspirations - with all the duties that attach to our membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations. That is the big problem of practical statesmanship for the future'. That is the real constitutional problem for the future.

We are not merely the Australian Commonwealth; we have also an association with other members of the British Commonwealth ; and it is because we have that association, and because the independence of every one of us is, to an extent, dependent upon the independence of the other that we are a Commonwealth of Nations, and. not a mere alliance. That, I believe, is the thing we must constantly keep in mind, because, if we degenerate in the British world to being merely friendly allies, who may cast off the alliance to-morrow, our very security in the world, to say nothing of all those other intangible elements which mean so much to us, will be threatened. That, I think, is the task we approach when, by adopting this statute, we conclude this particular post-war constitutional chapter.

We British people, wherever we may be - -in Australia, Canada, South Africa or . New Zealand, or in the United Kingdom itself - are extremely fortunate to-day, because we live in a state of relative happiness in a most unhappy world. The best thing Ave can say for ourselves, and for the future that we approach when we deal with legislation of this kind, is what is frequently repeated at an Oxford club founded in commemoration of Sir Walter Raleigh, one of the first of the builders of this British Commonweal th. and not the least distinguished of its founders. I refer to the observation made by him 300 years ago now used - by the Raleigh Club at Oxford as an opening invocation : -

Thou that of thy free grace didst build up this Britannick Empire to a glorious enviable heighth, with all her daughter islands about her, stay us in this felicitie

Debate (on motion by Mr. Brennan) adjourned.







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