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Wednesday, 25 February 1959

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member for Melbourne will proceed.

Mr CALWELL - May I say this, Mr. Deputy Speaker: If the Government wishes to ascertain the views of the Opposition on foreign affairs and defence there will be no difficulty in arranging a time and place for a full discussion of the problems associated with such vital matters, without prejudice to the rights or interests of either side. The discussions must, we insist, be at the highest level and not down at the school class level. They must be conducted at the highest level, or they will be worthless. The experiment made at the time of the Suez crisis, for a brief period, could well be repeated from time to time. On that occasion the Leader of the Opposition and 1, representing the Labour party, conferred with the Minister for .External Affairs and the then Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden, in the absence of the Prime Minister overseas, -and at least we kept feelings in this House from reaching explosion point. We most certainly believe that foreign affairs and defence are matters of vital importance to this country. But there is a tremendous difference between the attitude of the Opposition and that of the Government. Basically we are the Australian party in this Parliament, while the Government forces are the imperialists. They are under continuous pressure from people overseas and adopt an accommodating attitude so far as European problems are concerned. We put Australia first at all times and in all circumstances.

If the Minister wishes at any time to create a favorable atmosphere for the reception of any proposals that he might like to make to the Opposition, he will have to change his habits and his ways. During the recent election campaign he indulged in the most reckless invective, the grossest abuse, directed at the Leader of the Australian Labour party. He inspired the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) to make a bitter attack upon the Leader of the 'Opposition, and then he repeated those charges himself the following night. The Minister for Air said that overseas countries would not trust defence secrets to a Labour government. If that is true, is the Minister for External Affairs acting sensibly or reasonably in asking us to join the committee that he proposes to set up on foreign affairs? We might, perhaps, discover some minor secret with regard to foreign affairs with disastrous consequences!

The Minister for Air said that we are not trusted by foreign governments, but no foreign government has ever said so. It was a miserable, contemptible falsehood for the Minister for Air to utter, as was his subsequent statement that relations with overseas countries would degenerate if the Labour party won the election. He was speaking, of course, before the vote was taken. This story appeared in the Melbourne " Sun " on 5th November. On the next day there was another statement of the same sort and this time it came from the author of all these miserable, contemptible attacks upon the Leader of the Labour party - the Minister for External Affairs. This gentleman is reported as having said that Dr. Evatt and the A.L.P. had links with the Communist party which were extremely dangerous. If he believed that statement, then obviously he is acting hypocritically in offering us membership of a committee under his control which he proposes to set up. If his offer to-day is sincere, then his .attack upon the Labour party during the election campaign was most contemptible and outrageously unfair.

The -Leader of his Government, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in a television interview on the night of 10th November, a report of which .appeared in the Melbourne " Sun " on the following day, sidestepped the question whether he thought that a Labour government would not be trusted as alleged by two of his Ministers. To the credit of the Prime Minister, he refused to sink to the depths reached by the Minister for External Affairs and the Minister for Air,

Despite all .these statements, we :find the Minister for External Affairs, who has submitted this motion, speaking as if nothing had ever happened in the campaign that he has any reason to regret or that we have reason to feel hurt about. We resent what he said and we resent it very deeply.

The Minister said that the members of this committee which he proposes to set up will be able to move from place to place. The first proposal was put forward by Sir Percy Spender. Later his proposal was broken down by the present Minister. As a matter of fact, the first Spender proposal was weakened by the second Spender proposal. Then, the present Minister came along and weakened the proposal further still. He did hold out the bait to members that they would get trips overseas; that they would be able to travel from place to place outside Australia in order to inform their minds, but none of them has ever had a trip overseas. Just before the federal election took place, four members of 'the committee thumbed a ride to Antarctica. They called up the American Ambassador and said. " Have you got any seats on a 'plane going down south because we would like to see the South Pole ". And they went and returned, but we have heard nothing from them yet with regard to what is happening down at the South Pole.

Mr Turnbull - You might take a trip yourself.

Mr CALWELL - I hope that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) will take such a trip. The honours system has been called an inexpensive form of carrot: I think that the Foreign Affairs Committee is an expensive form of the same vegetable. It seems to be as attractive to certain anti-Labour politicians as it is to seekers after so-called honours and to a certain creature in the animal kingdom. The Minister can dangle the carrot wherever he likes, but he will have the takers all on one side. Labour party members do not want to join this committee until it is a proper committee. Indeed, we do not give any promise that we will join it then, but we will have a look at the conditions and see whether they approximate to what we would require in order that we could serve with advantage and without embarrassment to ourselves and our party.

As an Opposition, we have a duty to the country to put the opposite view, if we think it is desirable, to that advanced by the Government. And we are not going to jeopardize our position in advance by agreeing to appoint our most prominent members to a committee - we would not put any one on the committee - only to have them precluded from telling their party colleagues any important information that they might obtain by virtue of their membership of the committee. Certainly, we do not feel in any frame of mind to listen to the siren voice of the right honorable member for La Trobe at this particular moment.

We have put forward an alternative proposal. We think it is a better one. Let the members of the Government parties who like to meet or to run around on this committee do so. If the Government really wants to ascertain the Opposition's views on foreign affairs and on defence in the best interests of Australia; if it wants to prevent things from happening which, perhaps, could be avoided, let there be consultations as there were on the occasion of the Suez campaign. But do not let misrepresentations continue - particularly the charge that we do not want to join a proper foreign affairs committee. The next time that the Minister makes a statement about the attitude of the Labour party to foreign affairs let him not repeat these malicious and mendacious statements he is in the habit of uttering.

Our record in foreign affairs is as good as that of any member on the Government side and the record of Labour members during the last war, when they had to conduct the foreign relations of this country, is as good as and much better than that of the present Minister at any time in his career.

If I wished to be very nasty I could remind the Minister that he still has a lot to answer for in regard to his conduct as Australian Minister at Washington. I do not want to resurrect the past, but I recall that when the Labour party came to power in 1941, he walked out of his job in Washington and found a more congenial job somewhere else.

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