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Tuesday, 24 February 1959

Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Minister for Trade) . - Mr. Speaker, I have listened with close attention to the addresses made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), and I am bound to say that it is very, very hard to get a grip on anything that these gentlemen have said that is really relevant to the issue or is really capable of interpretation. The line that has been taken by them seems to be that if the spokesmen for the Australian Labour party announce often enough - and shout it vigorously enough and often enough - that the Labour party is in favour of the Dutch remaining in New Guinea, that will prove that the Government is not in favour of the idea. What nonsense! How simpleminded do these honorable gentlemen think members of the Parliament and the people are?

This is the Government that recognized the arrangement under which the Dutch achieved sovereignty in western New Guinea, and the whole of this Government's history, its actions past and present, and the things that its spokesmen have said in the United Nations and in the Parliament on all occasions, go to show that we have adhered unfailingly to our policy that we believe that the Dutch are entitled to retain their sovereignty over West New Guinea. But the Government has always acknowledged that there is a security significance for Australia in the situation existing in West New Guinea. However, the Government has not had to turn to that aspect at all. The simple truth of the matter is that in international law the Dutch, who were our loyal allies in the last war, are the sovereign owners of West New Guinea. So far as Australia is concerned, that is the end of the matter. We have made that very clear indeed on every occasion that the subject has been raised, no matter what the forum, and we have stated the grounds on which we take that line. In his closing remarks. the Deputy Leader of the Opposition showed that the policy of the Labour party in this regard relates first to the security of Australia, and secondly to the welfare of the people of Dutch New Guinea. That is not the order used by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition, throughout 95 per cent, of his speech, discussed the welfare of the people of New Guinea, and he floated into the air an observation that there was a security significance. We have done more than float this security significance into the air. We have said that we acknowledge it.

Where does the argument that has been canvassed so thoroughly in the press, and supported by some enthusiastic patrons in this country, carry us in the discussion that has proceeded? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said that it is vital to Australia's interests that the Dutch retain control of West New Guinea. In addition, the Opposition asserts that the Dutch and the Indonesians have no right to reach an agreement, despite the fact that such an agreement, as has been pointed out by the Min'ster for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), conforms to the principles of the United Nations Charter. The Leader of the Opposition, who was so vigorous in the early days of the United Nations, says that we cannot have such an agreement between those two powers.

Frankly, nothing that has occurred up to date would lead one reasonably to expect that the Dutch will agree to give up the sovereignty of West New Guinea in the face of such world-wide support for their retention of sovereignty. But if the Dutch and Indonesians did reach agreement, this champion of the United Nations and of the rule of law would repudiate it. That is the substance of his remarks. Has he forgotten all the speeches that he made in the past about Labour's belief in the rule of law? The Government has said that it believes in the rule of law and will stand by it. We have said that if this dispute in relation to West New Guinea, over which the Dutch have important sovereign rights is taken to the instrument of international jurisdiction and a ruling is given, we will recognize that ruling. We will not repudiate that stand. We mean it when we say that we believe in the rule of law. Apparently, when the Leader of the Opposition says that he believes in the rule of law, they are only words issuing from his mouth to support an attack upon the Government, in the hope of making some political gain by lining up with those who say that we should regard as a scrap of paper an agreement arrived at in accordance with international law. The Leader of the Opposition throws all his principles overboard when there is a chance to scramble for a few votes. Is his argument right? Of course not; it is nonsense. The entire argument of the Leader of the Opposition on this issue is without sense or logic. He says that an agreement between the Dutch and the Indonesians is incapable of being validly recognized, but he propounds the idea of an agreement that will dispose of this territory between the Dutch, the Indonesians and Australia.

What support has the Leader of the Opposition for his proposition that an agreement between the Dutch and the Indonesians, in respect of a territory over which one party has sovereign rights and over which the other party has made claims, and received some support for them, should be regarded as a scrap of paper and ignored, but if Australia is also a signatory to the agreement, it becomes a sacred document? What nonsense! This country would be laughed at in any international jurisdiction if it propounded that belief. If we did that the world would suspect that all our talk about the welfare of natives is so much camouflage, and that our aim is to get a foot in the doorway for military purposes. That would be the conclusion drawn from what the pacifist Leader of the Opposition is propounding to the Parliament and to the people. The Government is glad of the opportunity to dissociate itself from that process of thinking. Our line has been clear. We have said that the Dutch have sovereign rights. We have not only said that to the Dutch; we have said it to the Indonesians as well. We have also said it in the International Court.

When the Indonesians have occasionally made threatening noises, we have used our good offices diplomatically, in the interest of peace and the preservation of a lawful situation, by counselling temperance. We have inspired our great friends in the world to counsel temperance whenever threatening noises have been made. That is further evidence, not only of our belief that the Dutch have their rights in this regard, but of our real interest in sustaining peace throughout the world. In the interests of the natives of the area we have proffered our experience in New Guinea, which has been wider than that gained by the Dutch in West New Guinea. Within limits that I cannot describe here the Dutch have made good use of our experience gained in the administration of a backward people and their preparation to take a place in the world. At all times we have endeavoured to help in this regard and on no occasion have we weakened in our affirmation that the Dutch have sovereignty over West New Guinea. Where does the argument that Australia should not refrain from opposing an agreement, which is another way of saying that Australia should repudiate the agreement, take those who invoke it? Where does this argument take Australia? Why does not the Labour party come forward and say that if there were such an agreement, the Labour party would repudiate it if it were in office? That is the inference to be drawn from remarks made oy honorable members opposite, even if they have been reluctant to say so in those words. That is the only logical conclusion to be drawn. What friend would Australia "have in the world if we were to say that we, believing in the peaceful settlement of international disputes, repudiate an agreement that does not suit us the first time such an agreement is reached? Who would be our allies? The great powers of the world have pinned their hopes of peace upon the sacredness of agreements internationally reached between sovereign States. So we would have no friends among the great powers. In this part of the world in which it is our destiny to live - for the only thing on earth which does not change is geography - what would be the attitude of the Afro-Asian group of nations, the 1,000,000,000 people of Asia, if we were to take the line propounded by the leaders of the Labour party here, and repudiate such an agreement? If it did occur? I believe that Australia would not have a friend on earth. Yet we are talking about the security and the safety of our country. Surely, ultimately the safety of our country is very intimately related to the number of friends that we have around the world, and we could do nothing more deadly to impair our own safety than to affront our friends, to disavow what we have been declaring for years to have been our principles - the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

What word has been uttered by those who have been attacking the Government to-day about the desirability of Australia and Indonesia, their Governments and peoples, achieving a more friendly relationship? Surely it is tremendously important that a more friendly relationship should be developed between these countries. If there is anything at all new in this, it is that when our spokesmen repeated to Dr. Subandrio the policy for which we have stood for years, that is, that we adhere to a belief in Dutch sovereignty over the area, they explained to Dr. Subandrio that we had nothing but feelings of goodwill for the people of Indonesia, and that our attitude in this regard was not one that derived from any unfriendliness towards the people of Indonesia. Having had conversations myself with the gentleman, I have not the slightest doubt that the result of his visit has been a better mutual understanding. The Indonesians understand better the grounds upon which Australia stands, and I have not the slightest doubt that my colleagues of the Government and the Australian people generally will feel that, as a result of Dr. Subandrio's visit, we understand a good deal better the grounds upon which the Indonesians took the stand that they have taken. On that, we have agreed to differ. That is all. As good friends may, we have agreed to differ, and we have agreed to accept the decision of an appropriate international umpire. Is that to be challenged? Of course, it is being challenged.

I say that this is the proper conduct for a country like ours that has these principles and has this geographical location. This country cannot afford to have it believed that what has been propounded by the Labour leaders in this Parliament to-day represents the policy of the Australian people or of the Australian Government. The Leader of the Opposition has spoken vigorously in international councils, as president of the General Assembly, and in speech after speech has affirmed the desirability of adhering to the rule of law. Here, while shying away from uttering the words, he is saying clearly, for any one who listens to him or reads his speech, that when there emerges an agreement between two sovereign powers which does not suit our book we shall repudiate it pronto. Well, he does not speak for the Australian people. He does not state the views of the Australian nation. We want to retain the respect for the Australian nation that has been built up in international councils, and I believe that our conduct has enhanced the respect of the Australian people.

All of this, however, is about a hypothetical situation. To say that this announcement has given the green light to Indonesia to put pressure on the Dutch is complete nonsense. It is completely false, and I believe that at least some ot those who utter this statement know that it is false and do it for base reasons. I believe that this whole schemozzle has emerged because some people have seen an opportunity to twist the tail of the Government. There are some who will do it on any occasion. It is done in some journals, as we know. That approach having been initiated at the level of journalism in the first place, we know what great newspapers do. They canvass people to see how many will associate themselves, by lending their names, with the charges made. This is done; we are familiar with it. Then the Labour party, not having had a view on the matter, jumps on the bandwagon when it finds that there is some criticism. I will concede quickly and immediately that these sections do not include all of those who are not in agreement with the Government on this matter. I do believe that there are enthusiastic, burning patriots of Australia who, thinking solely of the well-being and safety of our country, are capable of confused thinking, and of believing that by announcing that we would not accept an agreement if it occurs we would be contributing to the safety of this country. Of course, we would not contribute to the safety of this country. We would only establish the fact that it was a country not worth doing business with, which would denounce documents that did not suit it. That would be no contribution to the safety of this country.

On more than a few instances we have seen that the great powers of the earth to-day will not be dragged about by lesser powers. The issues of world peace and survival to-day are too great for great powers to be finally moved on important issues other than on their own decisions. Let us not think that if Australia gets herself into an unhappy or false position over any incident in this part of the world we shall drag the rest of the world with us. We have seen an instance in Suez. Surely that ought to be a lesson to the world. In taking a line that affronted Asia and the Afro-Asian aggregation of nations, we would establish the fact that our word was not good, notwithstanding all our protestations. Finally, I expose the falsity of the Labour party's leaders in proposing that an agreement dealing with the future of Dutch New Guinea, if signed by the two principal parties is invalid, but if signed by three parties is completely valid.

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