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Tuesday, 3 May 1932

Mr BRUCE (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) (Assistant Treasurer) . - by leave - Considerable apprehension must have been caused by the statement published in the newspapers on Friday last that the Disarmament Conference had broken down. As that is not. the case, it is desirable that 1 should make a statement regarding the progress of the conference to-date. The proceedings began on the 2nd February, and in the general commission a draft submitted by the preparatory commission was adopted as the basis of discussion. On the 8th March the conference adjourned over the Easter, resuming on the 11th April. Several definite proposals have been submitted. The representative of the Russian Soviet Government proposed complete and immediate disarmament, but that was regarded as impracticable. The United States of America proposed the disuse of certain offensive weapons, including tanks, heavy mobile guns, and poison gas, and was supported by the representatives of the United Kingdom and of Italy. The Italian delegation submitted a further proposal for the progressive annual reduction, with a view to their ultimate abolition, of certain kinds of offensive weapons, including bombing planes, battleships, aircraft carriers and submarines, and a percentage of heavy artillery. The conference resolved that the possession or use of certain arms should be prohibited or internationally controlled, and special committees have been appointed to report as to which weapons are " most specifically offensive ,;. Pending the completion of this examination the conference has adjourned, and the delegates have returned to their own colin tries, but that docs not imply the failure of the conference. In many respects the specific proposal now being investigated is as practicable as any which has ever been submitted to the conference.

A good deal of apprehension has been caused by the report of the speech made at Geneva by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), who is the Australian delegate to the conference. Before speaking about battleships, the honorable member announced, without reservation, Australia's support of the general idea of the progressive and immediate reduction of armaments, but having dealt with the broad and general question, he directed his attention to the specific proposals that are now occupying the consideration of the conference, relating to the armaments that are " of most specifically offensive " character. It was in that connexion that he touched upon the subject of battleships. His first argument was that battleships were not peculiarly of that type, but should he placed fairly low down in the list of armaments which it is imperative and desirable to abolish. He put the whole case as he saw it from that angle; yet, at the same time, he stated that Australia wholly subscribed to the view that the number and size of battleships should be progressively reduced. I make this explanation in fairness to the AttorneyGeneral - the report of whose speech has clearly been the subject of a good deal of misunderstanding.

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