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Friday, 8 February 1929


Mr MANN (Perth) .- Although we are under a disadvantage in speaking on this subject without having the report before us, those who have been interested in the work of the League of Nations have followed its activities closely enough to understand fairly well the main points of the report. The Prime Minister referred to the financial cost of the League, and the necessity of restricting its activities because it was stretching out too far and becoming too costly. Everybody is aware of the stand taken by the British delegation to the League at the last meeting of the Assembly, and there is certainly much to be said for the attitude adopted by it on that occasion.

On the other hand, the attitude of the British delegation, supported by the Australian section of it, came in for a certain amount of criticism in this regard. I quite agree that the scope of the League might be so widened as to cause it to obtrude upon a number of subjects which do not seem properly to belong to the sphere of international politics; but there might be a valuable indirect effect, in the creation among certain countries of a friendly feeling towards the League and towards the larger nations which previously have been thought to dominate European politics without much regard for the welfare of their weaker neighbours. In consequence of the broad activities of the League these small nations are coming to have . a more sympathetic interest in its operations. Even in such countries as China and India the mind of the people is being cleared, and a true realization of the full political significance of what the League is doing to bring about a closer co-operation and understanding and greater trust and goodwill between the nations is gradually coming. For these reasons I believe that the expenditure of money on these activities of the League is justified.

Great Britain has taken a prominent part in this matter, and one of the outstanding features of the work of the League is that what Britain says carries greater weight than what any other nation says. That is a striking tribute to the influence of Great Britain. It is also a recognition of the unselfish attitude which she has always adopted towards the other nations of the world. In consequence of this the British delegation, and we as part of it, should be very careful to do or say nothing which may imperil the confidence which the other nations of the world have in the British Empire. We should take all possible pains to consider every question that is submitted to the League in an openminded way, so that our influence may not be weakened.

What the Prime Minister said respecting the failure of the League to make as much progress as people desired towards practical disarmament is true. We should all like to see greater progress in this regard; but we should not discount the advances that have already been made. In my opinion, the League has done a great deal to clarify our conceptions of disarmament and the obstacles which stand in the way of achieving it. We should give the most careful consideration to the factors which are preventing the realization of this great ideal. Apart from the more direct conception of military disarmament, ' certain other views of the subject have emerged from the discussions which have occurred. One of these is that, before we can expect material disarmament, we must work continuously, energetically and enthusiastically towards mental and moral disarmament. I do not hesitate to say that the greatest obstacle in the way of a greater fulfilment of the ideal of material disarmament is the suspicion and distrust which continues to exist between the nations of the world in their commercial and other relations.

The Prime Minister referred to matters of domestic jurisdiction, and said that some of the dangers of the League arose from the over-enthusiasm of its supporters and their desire to push into the forefront certain economic questions which he has classified as entirely domestic and therefore not appropriate for the League to discuss. Probably more progress has been made during the last 18 months in the economic sphere of the League's operations than iri any other. More earnest and solid investigation has been made into economic subjects than most of us realize. This is continually pointed out in the literature issued by the League. Not only was the great economic conference held in 1927, but effective work has since been done by subsidiary conferences and by the Economic Committee of the League. This has tended to clarify the causes of economic friction between various countries and that, of course, opens the way to their removal. I was a little surprised to find that the Prime Minister did not seem to understand the allusion that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) made this morning to commercial disarmament. The term was a proper one to use. There is at present a great deal of commercial hostility among the nations which must be disarmed before substantial progress can be made in material disarmament. In my view the report presented by the Economic Conference was one of the most weighty international documents of its kind ever issued. It surveyed the economic conditions of the world as they had never previously been surveyed, and showed that the various countries are mutually dependent. It it remarkable that this report was almost parallel in the international sphere to that submitted to this Government a few days ago by the British Economic Mission which has been inquiring into Australian affairs. The Prime Minister has stated that the greatest work of the League has been to create a new standard of conduct among the nations and to create an international conscience. I believe that it has done a great deal in this regard, and we should do nothing which is likely to interfere with the good results which must follow work of that description. I regret therefore that the Australian delegation to the last Assembly expressed views which were, in my opinion, out of harmony with these objects. We may take it that the delegates expressed the views of this Government when they spoke ; but if so their views were not in accordance with those uttered by the Prime Minister this morning about the necessity of a new standard of conduct among the nations and the development of an international conscience.

The whole matter turns, of course, upon what are subjects of domestic jurisdiction. I had said on a previous occasion in this House that I consider that our interpretation of what constitute domestic matters is too narrow. For instance, it has been said that migration is a matter of domestic jurisdiction, although we know perfectly well that this subject has been and is being considered to-day in relation to the natural sensitiveness of other nations. If we desire to improve the standard of international conduct and strengthen the international conscience we must take the views of other nations into account in formulating our own. I am sorry therefore that during one of the debates at the last Assembly of the League the leader of the Australian delegation acquired a rather unenviable notoriety by expressing opinions on this subject which were different from those of any other delegation. He said -

There are many reasons why it is a dangerous, even a hazardous undertaking, for the League to concern itself actively with the question of customs tariff.

In effect, he said that the League must keep its hands off the tariffs of the nations, although the Economic Conference made it clear that one of the questions which must be faced before material disarmament can be achieved is the tariff relations of the different countries. It is regrettable that only the Australian delegates expressed views of the nature I have quoted. Their attitude was definitely and uncompromisingly against that of the other members of the Assembly. The observations of our delegate were replied to by the Minister for Finance of the Irish Free State who said -

I do not agree with the speaker, who on Thursday last suggested it was improper and perhaps dangerous for the League to deal in any way with the complex problem of Customs tariffs. It is obviously not enough that the League should strive to bring about the reduction of armaments and to prevent war when disputes have arisen which involve the danger of war; the League must endeavour to dissuade nations from the adoption of policies which are likely to produce exasperation or a sense of injury among their neighbours.

The general comments by members of the Assembly seemed to indicate that the Australian delegate had, by the expression of his views on this subject, made himself somewhat unpopular. It appears to me that the attitude of the Commonwealth Government was, perhaps, prompted by a desire to develop the idea which apparently is influencing the present British Government to establish free trade within the Empire and to set up tariff barriers against other countries. That fantasy, which is being condemned even now by conservative organs in England, is impracticable, and useless. If we entertain it too long we shall jeopardize our relationships with other countries, because imperial preference implies a hostile attitude towards other countries in the economic sphere. Moreover, it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the League, which we profess a desire to maintain and uphold. It is unwise for us, for the sake of this wild chimera, which can have nothing but a bad effect upon the Empire itself, to dissociate ourselves from the obvious movement in European countries towards a better commercial relationship. It would be a pity if we persisted iu our present attitude. We shall be judged, not by our professions in regard to League matters, but by our attitude towards specific questions.It is unfortunate that we should have taken this stand at a time when Australia is feeling the strain of a great economic burden. We should open our ears to the arguments of the representatives of other countries, and certainly we should display a less recalcitrant attitude towards other nations. Considerable progress has been made in removing some of the outstanding difficulties to the improvement of commercial relations between the various countries' of the world. It is much to be regretted, therefore, that the Australian delegate was alone in his refusal to sign an agreement entered into by other countries. I am afraid that we are placing ourselves more and more in an unenviable position of isolation on this issue. From our own point of view this is unwise. The same remarks may be applied to our attitude towards the " optional clause ", to which the Prime Minister, I understand, did not refer to-day. This matter has been receiving a great deal of attention in other countries. The British Government was one of the few of the great nations represented on the League that has' withheld its signature, the reason given being that the British Government had first to consult and obtain the approval of the dominions. It appears to me that there are no insuperable difficulties. I listened to the remarks of the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) on this subject, and I think we might very well inform the British Government that as far as we are concerned we have no objection to Britain's signature being attached to the " optional clause ". Apparently, an undue sensitiveness and distrust of the League have prevented us from according our support to it.

I am greatly obliged to the right honorable the Prime Minister for his courtesy in allowing me to speak at this stage. On former occasions the discus sions of the report of the Australian delegation to the Assembly of the League of Nations has been curtailed in the most unsatisfactory manner. Sufficient time has not been allowed for that careful consideration which its importance demands. Hitherto discussion has been postponed till so late in the session that the interest in the report had entirely faded and the practical issues arising out of it could not be dealt with adequately. I hope that on all future occasions the Government will endeavour to co-operate in the economic side of the work of the League more actively and in a spirit of greater goodwill. At all events, I trust that the Government will not display an uncompromising attitude, because if we are to bring about cooperation and a better understanding among the nations, we must be prepared to give as well as take; we must be willing to make concessions even in regard to those matters which perhaps we have come to regard as our inalienable right to deal with under our domestic jurisdiction.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin) adjourned.







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