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Thursday, 16 November 1939

Sir HENRY GULLETT (Henty) (Minister for External Affairs) . - by leave - Since the first major calamity of the war - the overthrow of the Polish nation, and the partition of its territory between Germany and Russia - international affairs bearing upon the war may fairly be said to have developed unfavorably to Germany. The independent attitude adopted by Italy, the advance of Russia to the Vistula, the ascendancy acquired by Russia in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and, what is of still more importance, over the greater part of the Baltic Sea, can be read only as most grievous and bitter setbacks to Nazi feelings and aspirations.

The decision of the United States Congress to lift the embargo against the export of arms and munitions, and particularly military aircraft, might well prove in the long run a mortal blow to Germany in the war, while the agreement successfully reached between the United Kingdom and France and Turkey is of scarcely less significance.

In the Far East there has been, at least for the time being, a marked easing of the strained relationship which previously prevailed between British and French and Japanese interests. Until the war had actually commenced there was positive apprehension that the Allies might have, even at the outset, to contend against more than one enemy. So far, at least, the only enemy is Germany.

Of perhaps still more moment is the undisputed fact that in this mighty conflict, upon which the Commonwealth has entered in co-operation with the British Empire and with France, the weight of neutral opinion, and even strong sympathy, is overwhelmingly on our side.

To-day, Germany not only fights alone, but also fights without declared friends. We of the British Empire enter into the struggle with a proved and trusty ally of great military renown; and we enter it, too, with a host of most influential friends in almost every part of the world. The sea routes by which Germany normally receives supplies from the outside world are already closed. Those leading te France and Britain are wide open.

From these relatively happy circumstances, however, it must not be too confidently assumed that the position in an international sense, and with respect te neutrals, will remain unaltered 'Until the conclusion of the war. In the light of all the information possessed by this Government - which means &M the information possessed by the Governments of the United Kingdom and France as well - what can be said with certainty is that the position, at the moment, is not only favorable to us but is also improving from day to day.

I turn now to the condition of the war as it is developing along the FrancoGerman frontier, and further north, and in the adjoining seas. Courageous and the old battleship Royal Oak. Apart from those two losses, however - and it was never anticipated that the British navy could avoid some important losses - the war at sea has gone to a reassuring degree against the enemy. Its losses in submarines have been quite up to British and French expectations.

On our side, the losses to the mercantile marine, the safety of which is so vital to us here in Australia, have by no means exceeded expectations, and actually have been more than set off by the capture of German tonnage and the charter of new ships completed since the declaration of war.

Moreover, the reduction by destruction of a substantial portion of the enemy's submarine strength, and the development of the convoy system, have, during the last few weeks, given a progressive measure of safety to both Allied and neutral shipping. The losses during .the last, day or two of odd ships by contact with enemy mines need not be seriously regarded. They are incidental to war.

A little reflection will persuade honorable members that with Allied shipping scattered as it was at the outbreak of hostilities over the whole globe, some little time passed before the convoy system could be effectively applied, lt has not even yet reached its full control, but day by day its protection against the enemy submarines is increasing. A reassuring factor is that the loss of ships which have been in convoy has been nominal.

There is, however, one consideration which should not be overlooked. At any hour Germany might decide to launch an air attack of great strength, not only upon vital objectives on land in the United Kingdom and Prance, but also upon allied shipping in convoy and more particularly in port. This contingency has been fully considered, however, and we may take it that the great encounter, when it comes, will be by no means a one-sided affair.

As to when the German air attack will be made, or as to when the enemy will move with his gigantic armed land forces, I know no more than honorable members. The offensive lies for the time being with Herr Hitler, and he will strike in his own way and in his own time. We may expect that the blow when it falls will be on1 a scale of unprecedented magnitude and violence, but the resistance which will be offered by the French and the British, fighting so far as the Franco-German frontier is concerned, upon the defence of a line of care-, ful choice and prodigious preparation, will be of the most confident kind.

Flooded heavy ground strongly favours the defenders. This is the wettest autumn in western Europe within half a century, and that alone would give pause to the German High Command. It may be, but this is only surmise, that Germany intends to attack by land and air simultaneously and so place the heavieststrain upon Britain and France.

It would be idle to deny that the concentration upon the most powerful scale by German armies along the Belgian and particularly the Dutch frontiers is causing concern. It is assumed that if Hitler strikes through Holland, his objective will be the possession of Dutch ports which would give him bases for his submarine campaign in closer proximity to allied shipping- than those he pos- sesses in German territory to the north. A still more important requirement he would achieve by a successful drive across Holland - where, by the way, he is faced by only four or five Dutch divisions - would be taking-off grounds for his great fleets of fighting aircraft. This type of very high speed machine is not equipped for long distance flying. Operating as they are now compelled to do from aerodromes upon German soil, these machines could not give to great fleets of German bombers launched over England that protection which the bombers to be effective must have. Operatin'g alone, the bombers would certainly suffer very heavy losses at the hands of British aircraft of fighting types.

Germany has at the moment a substantial superiority in both the number of army divisions and aircraft. The army superiority is perhaps more than set off by the strength of the Maginot line. One factor should, however, be borne in mind. Provided Germany does not violate the neutrality of Belgium or Holland, it will be able to concentrate its military strength upon a far shorter line than that which must be covered day and night by the armies of France and the gathering forces of Britain. This is because it is necessary for the Allies to guard against invasion of France by way of Belgium, more or less by the route followed by the armies of the Kaiser 25 years ago.

Reference to Holland and Belgium makes this an appropriate point at which to refer to the impressive move for the preservation of peace, even at this stage, by the Queen of Holland and the King of the Belgians. Honorable members will be familiar with the reply of Mr. Chamberlain to this overture. In that reply the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom left the door wide open to negotiations, but insisted, and with the approval of the dominions as a whole, that the first step towards peace must be guarantees from Nazi Germany that any peace now contemplated by negotiations must be supported by guarantees of a completely convincing kind. The spoken or written word of Hitler can no longer in itself be accepted by the Allies or indeed by any nation in the world.

The pact between Germany and Russia still remains secret to its parties. When signed, it was heralded by Germany as a great triumph for Hitler and a staggering setback to the Allies. The events which have followed it, however, cannot fail to have caused angry heartburnings in1 Germany and particularly among the Prussian element.* It is a reasonable guess that Russia has, since the signing of the pact, far exceeded its terms.

By its transgressions into and virtual absorption of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania., and its acquisition of a huge portion of eastern Poland, Russia has enormously advanced its strategic position and its general Baltic influence as against Germany. Hitler has, in short, paid a disastrous price for the neutrality of the Soviet, which, Ave must remember, he had previously invariably declared in violent language to be the chief enemy of Nazi Germany.

Moreover, Russia has, at least for the time being, apparently denied him of what roust have been an almost unresisted conquest of Rumania with its prolific oil supplies and its wide wheat lands.

The position in the Balkans still remains indefinite. Unhappily, a number of these States entertain traditional animosities which are proving difficult to compose even now when they are in the shadow of a positive menace from Germany and a potential menace from Russia. There are, however, grounds for the strong hope that all or at least a number of the Balkan countries will come together with the common purpose first of preserving their neutrality, and if that becomes impossible, of merging together in a united resistance, with Italy or Turkey - or possibly both - in active support. Here, however, we are in the realm of doubt and speculation and hope, and it would be folly to engage in a positive forecast of any kind.

The two bright spots in the Mediterranean in recent events are the very valuable alliance with Turkey, and what certainly appears to be a_ steadily improving relationship with Italy.

As I have said, the tension has gone out of the situation which prevailed for some months between Japan and the United Kingdom with respect to Tientsin and other concessions and settlement areas in Chinese territory, and to a lesser extent between Japan and Prance. When Ger many linked up with Soviet Rusia, it dealt a heavy blow to its prestige with the Japanese. The downright declarations of the United States Ambassador at Tokyo in warning Japan as to the consequences of further interference with American property and rights in China, and also the recent great expansion of American armaments cannot fail to have a steadying effect in the Pacific generally.

If I have in this brief survey ventured to sound an optimistic note respecting international events since the declaration of the war, apart from the tragedy of Poland, I ask the House to believe that I do not for a moment overlook the fact that the mighty conflict into which we

Iia ve entered is only just beginning. The defeat of Nazi Germany will call for all the fortitude and resources of the British Empire and of France. The road to victory will be long and the sacrifice heavy, but it is one which we must tread to a completely victorious end if we are to continue to live in safety and in the enjoyment of those things spiritual, political and material, which individually and in ;i national sense make life worth living. I lay on the table the following paper: -

External Affairs - Ministerial Statement and move -

That the paper be printed.

Mr Curtin - Before I move the adjournment of the debate, I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, a question. Having regard to the text of the Minister's statement, which bears intimately upon the statement made' by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), would it be practicable in the discussion on the Prime Minister's statement to make extended reference to this statement, I think that they are distinctly related.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Itmust be apparent to all honorable members that the two statements relate in the main to the same matter and should be debated together; that may be done.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Curtin) adjourned..

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