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Friday, 27 August 1937

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator cannot find in our rules anything about a referendum in the circumstances mentioned.

Senator ABBOTT - The rules definitely state that the Labour party objects to despatching defence forces overseas without the consent of the people. That means a referendum.

As to the influence of the British Empire on world peace, I remember, as a boy, well over forty years ago, reading a significant statement made by the Consul in Australia for the United States of

America who, in the course of an address, said that if the English-speaking nations cared to say to the rest of theworld " There shall not be war," there would not be war. That is as true to-day as it was then. The Government is striving to secure effective co-operation in the defence of the Pacific.

Senator Collings - It should also be striving to keep on good terms with the United States of America, a friendly nation in the Pacific.

Senator ABBOTT - A very worthy object, too. Vessels of the British Navy are stationed at Singapore, and, in tho event of war, the naval strength of that squadron would be increased. British vessels are also on the China potion and New Zealand has a small force. Only a lunatic would suggest that, in the event of war, Australia should not co-operate with other British naval forces in the Pacific zone. If the Government declared that the Australian naval vessels were to serve only on the Australian coast, that co-operation would be impossible. In endeavouring to explain what he terms the " adequate " defence of Australia, Senator Collings used the same words as the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives. Senator Collings, in referring yesterday to our extensive coast-line, the area of this continent, and the vast amount of British capital invested in this country, said that Australia would be doing its job if it defended its own people and tho interests of British capitalists in Australia. Does the honorable senator think that we can protect the whole of Australia merely by aeroplanes operating within the 3- mile limit"? I imagine that, in the event of war, the objective of naval experts would be to get the enemy vessels into a bottleneck, which would not be on the Australian coast. I rose more particularly to see if I could secure from the representatives of the Labour party in this chamber a straight-out answer as to Labour's policy in respect of co-operation with British naval forces in the Pacific. But all honorable Senators of the Opposition do is to refer us to some plank or rule in their -platform at a time when the whole world is struggling under Rafferty rules. We have reason to be proud of the outstanding results achieved At what the Leader of the Opposition calls a " dud " imperial Conference-. It was ni>t a " dud " conference, but one which gave to the world an inspiring declaration of where the British Empire stands-. Yet we have some members of the Labour party quibbling about the expense Australia incurred in sending its delegates to attend that gathering. In view of the results achieved, the cost was insignificant-.

Senator Collings - I never took any exception to the expenditure incurred.

Senator ABBOTT - In all seriousness, I ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he believes that, in the event of war in Which Australia was involved, the centre of hostilities would be in close proximity to Australia?

Senator Collings - Where does the honorable senator imagine the centre would, be ?

Senator ABBOTT - It certainly would not be within the 3-mile limit. It might be in eastern or western waters; but, wherever it was, the service of the silent navy would bo required. Surely he does not suggest that the power to determine whether the Australian Navy should participate in any conflict to ensure the safety of the Australian people should be in the hands of one section of a political party! That is the greatest insult that could bo offered to free people in a democratic country. The Leader of the Opposition also gave to the Senate an interesting disquisition upon the value of aeroplanes in modern warfare. There are, I know, many so-called experts in the Labour party, and probably there are some in the party to which I belong, but I remind the honorable senator that Great Britain is more vitally concerned in the defence of the Empire than we are. What is Britain doing?

Senator Collings - Sending its experts to train potential enemies.

Senator ABBOTT - The idea was prevalent for some time that in the event of war aeroplanes would be more effective than, capital ships, but British naval experts have since declared that the strength of the navy must be increased.

Britain is now building capital ships of the Hood class.

Senator Sir George Pearce -Britain is constructing five new capital ships.

Senator ABBOTT - Yes, and remodelling some of the older vessels. Would that policy be adopted if capital ships could be readily sunk by bombers as the' Leader of the Opposition suggests? Are not vessels of the Japanese fleet now anchored in. Chinese waters where they are open to aerial attack? Notwithstanding this, the Labour party wishes us to believe that ah air force is our only means of protecting the country.

Senator Collings - We said that an air force could be superior to a naval force.

Senator ABBOTT - The British naval authorities, who have more information on this subject than the members of the Australian Labour party, decided after full inquiry and considerable expense, that capital ships are still the most effective means of protecting British interests. How does the honorable senator think that we could cripple an enemy fleet on our coast without the assistance of a strong fleet acting in cooperation with the whole of the British naval strength in the Pacific? Will the Australian Labour party deny that protection to the Australian people? I challenge the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) and their master, Mr. Lang, to say what a Labour government would do in the event of New Zealand being attacked. Let them say straight out whether they would hold a referendum before they would consent to assist that sister dominion, which is controlled by a Labour government led by Mr. Savage.

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