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Wednesday, 26 June 1946

Mr RYAN (Flinders) . - I regret that the Government and its supporters should have refused an extension of time to the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain).

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honor able member is not in order in reflecting on a vote of the House.

Mr RYAN - I shall not transgress your ruling, Mr. Speaker; but I should like to have heard what the honorable member for the Northern Territory had to say, because he is closely in contact with numbers of people who have received great help from the Dutch. Moreover, we have not had the opportunity to hear him on many occasions during recent years. I propose to continue to the best of my ability where the honorable member for the Northern Territory left off. Our relations with the Dutch authorities are not. at all satisfactory, as. other honorable members on this side of the chamber have pointed out. The Leader of 'the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) spoke effectively on this subject at some length. If' honorable members opposite had the courage to express their own opinions many of then, would, I believe, agree with the views which have been placed before the House by honorable members on this side. It is rather surprising that not one voice has been raised by Government supporters during the debate for or against the Dutch authorities or the wharf labourers. The existing state of affairs is most unsatisfactory and dishonorable; it is a blot on the fair name of Australia. This country has manygrave problems to face. Most of them relate to internal matters, but some of them affect our relations with other nations. These matters are of great importance to us. Perhaps the most important of the foreign countries with which Australia has to do are those geographically near to Australia, and of these the Dutch notion is, perhaps, the most important, because it is our nearest neighbour. Honorable members know that Dutch ships, both naval and merchant vessels, have been laid up in Australian ports for months, not because of any action by the Government, but because a small section of the population refused to have anything to do with them. Indonesians and other nationals as well as Dutch people have suffered from what has- occurred. When the Netherlands Government first ordered supplies from Australia, those goods included medicines and machines and plant to enable goods to be distributed in the Netherlands East Indies. Among them were trucks and tractors and watercarts. These things were necessary to replace equipment -that had been destroyed by the enemy if the population of the Netherlands East Indies was not to suffer great hardships and be subject to the ravages of disease. No question of military supplies now arises. At first, military supplies did enter into the matter, but later the ships which were being held up were cleared of any goods of a military nature. We have heard an excellent speech by the. honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who has first-hand knowledge of the help given to the Allies by the Dutch. Other speakers also have recounted what the

Dutch nation did for the cause of freedom in the South- West Pacific operations, often at the cost of great sacrifice by its people. I shall not repeat what others have said, but I say that, quite apart from the humanitarian issues involved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Dutch people. In the circumstances, it is difficult to believe that any nation would act towards the Dutch nation as some Australians have done. The Dutch were loyal allies and gave great assistance to us in the war in which both nations were engaged until about a year ago. What would Australians generally think if a small section of the people of the United States of America took strong exception to our treatment of Australian aborigines? There is nothing startling or impossible about that, because there are societies even in Australia which believe that our aborigines have not been treated as well as they ought to have been. Suppose such a group in the United States of America was powerful enough to insist that 'Australia should get no more supplies from that country, and that no Australian ships should be worked in- the ports of the United States of America until we in Australia righted the wrongs which have been done to the aborigines. The situation thereby created would be analogous to that which now exists in regard to ourselves and the Dutch.

There are many people in Australia who regard our treatment of the Dutch over this matter as a great dishonour to Australia and they would like to see it remedied, but nothing is being done. Last week, I. put a question to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) for the purpose of finding out what the Government intended to do. I asked him whether he had abandoned the matter of - Australia's relations with the Dutch to the tender mercies of the wharf labourers, and he replied "No". I also asked what he intended to do to remedy the present state of affairs, and to ensure that Dutch ships should be worked in' Australian ports and repairs made to Dutch ships in Australian dockyards To this question the reply was unsatisfactory. He said that he was arranging for the holding of further conferences and the making of further inquiries, but he gave no indication that positive action was intended. Then, to my astonishment and, I think, to the astonishment of the House, he entered upon a long animadversion on the attitude of the head of the Dutch legation in Canberra. He said in so many words that he regarded the action of the Dutch Minister, as improper. He said that it was unusual, and, indeed, improper, for the head of a foreign mission in Australia to publicize his views on the state of affairs which existed in regard to Dutch ships in Australian ports, and he added that there was quite a deal more that he could say. I cannot imagine what more there was to say. The facts are well known to members of this House and to the public generally, and I do not know what more the Prime Minister could have said to clarify the matter. In fact, I do not, think that the Prime Minister knew very much about it himself. When I questioned him about Piet Hein he did not know whether it was a warship or a merchant ship, and he did not even know where the ship had sustained - damage. He said .that it had been damaged in the English Channel. The fact is that the ship sustained some very slight damage in the English Channel, but the damage which now needs to be repaired was sustained near Sumatra, not very far from Australia. Seeing that he was so unsure of the facts, he was not justified in making the statements he did. This is the statement made by' the Dutch Minister to Australia on 11th June -

Dutchmen will fail to understand this treatment which they will feel inclined to consider, an insult to the comradeship in arms and detrimental to the future relations between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Commonwealth of Australia.

Dutchmen all over the world will be bewildered by the " condemnable ban" on Dutch merchant ships and relief goods, which has resulted in the refusal to render any assistnce to the Dutch steamer, Tasman, and the hold-up of a Dutch man-of-war.

The PietHein has vainly attempted in port after port in Australia to have essential repairs executed, because unions would not allow work to be done on the ship. A statement by a union official has explicitly confinned this state of affairs.

I invite honorable members to note the words "because unions would not allow work to be done on the ship ". No complaint was made by him against the Australian Government. He did, however, put his finger on the trouble, and he said that Dutchmen would be inclined to consider such action as an insult to the comradeship in arms between Dutch and Australians. Probably he is quite well aware how supine the Government has been, and how difficult it is for the Government to take action in the circumstances. The statement of the Dutch Minister is very much on the same lines as that of the Prime Minister himself when replying in the House in March last on a motion of want of confidence. This is what he said -

I repeat that there was no justification for the refusal to load ships with foodstuffs and hospital supplies when it was certain that nothing was being loaded that could be used for military purposes.

In other words, the Prime Minister himself said that the action of the waterside workers was unjustifiable and wrong. Again, Mr. Monk, of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, described the action of the wharf labourers as the greatest bit of chicanery he had ever seen in his life. It is evident that, on the facts as known, there was no justification for the outburst of the Prime Minister. In all my diplomatic experience, which nas been fairly considerable, I have never known any government representative - except in the United States of America - from his place in parliament to charge the head of a foreign mission accredited to his country with improper conduct. Far from helping the situation, I regret that the statement of the Prime Minister has made matters worse. I have no desire to embarrass the Government. Indeed, I do not think the Government could possibly be more embarrassed than it is now. However, this matter goes far beyond the reputation of the Government. It- concerns the reputation of Australia as a whole - something which means much more to me than the reputation of any government. I entertain the earnest hope that this question will be taken up seriously by the Government, and that action will be taken to restore good relations between Australia and the Netherlands.

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