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Friday, 15 May 1931

Debate resumed from the 1st May (vide page 1522), on motion by Senator Barnes -

That the Senate approves of the accession on the part of the Commonwealth of Australia to Chapters I., II., III., and IV. of the General

Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, subject to the following conditions. (vide page 1521.)

Senator SirGEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [11.11]. - I am sure that we all welcome, as a further step in the direction of peace, the accession, on the part of the Commonwealth, to these parts of the General Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes. Speaking for myself, I agree with all the reservations that have been made. The whole of them are interesting, but some are of particular moment to Australia. The third reservation, for example, reads -

Disputes between His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia and the Government of any other member of the League which is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, all of which disputes shall be settled in such manner as the parties have agreed or shall agree.

That emphasizes one of the international difficulties of the British Empire, or, as it is sometimes termed, the British Commonwealth of Nations. It would appear to be difficult to reconcile the status which is claimed for the component parts, within the Empire itself, with the relations of the Empire as a whole with other nations, but these things have a habit of adjusting themselves. This, I think, is due largely to the strong vein of common-sense which runs through all British peoples. They decline to exaggerate the difficulties, and are disposed rather to emphasize agreements. Some years ago, when I attended the League of Nations Assembly as a representative of the Commonwealth, I was much impressed with the belief that agreements should be arrived at between the various parts of the British Empire in order to ensure concerted action on their part. In the eyes of other nations the Empire is a unit ; but at meetings of the League of Nations its component parts appear as six separate units, each of which has a vote. There again the common sense of British peoples is in evidence, because, so far as I am aware, only rarely is any diversity of views expressed by the representatives of the constituent parts of the Empire; but there is in this regard, all the possibility of trouble. I do not desire to explore nor to emphasize that aspect of the matter this morning; but I have always felt that there is a weakness in, shall I say, the constitution of the Empire. I am one of those who are old-fashioned enough to believe that the British Empire offers the greatest guarantee for the peace of the world, and that the rest of the world looks to it verylargely for a lead on these international questions. Any one who has attended an international conference as a representative of a Dominion must have been struck with the respect and attention that are paid to the views put forward by the representatives of the British Empire. I shall not be a party to any weakening of that unity of the British Empire. In unity there is strength, but in diversity there is weakness. Should the day come when the British Empire speaks with divided and opposing voices, on that day the usefulness of the Empire in international affairs, its prestige and its influence, will very largely disappear. This reservation No. 3 brings home to our minds very forcibly the need for such a reservation, so that any differences that may arise between the component parts of the British Empire shall not, except with their consent, be referred to the League of Nations. It is a striking illustration of the difficulties that have been created by the new status which has been conferred upon the component parts of the British Empire. I hope that, in all our future policy touching international affairs, Australia, at all events, will always act and speak in the direction of the unity of the Empire rather than in emphasis of any diversity of opinion that may exist. Putting the matter on selfish grounds, our safety depends upon the unity of the Empire, not on the breaking up of its constituent parts. The peace and well-being of the world also are very largely wrapped up in. that unity of the British Empire. Therefore, I trust that, in any action we may take as a nation, we shall emphasize that unity rather than our individual ideas.

Paragraph iv. also is very interesting from an Australian stand-point. It relates to disputes concerning questions which, by international law, are solely within the jurisdiction of the States. The phraseology of that paragraph is quite satisfactory ; but I am not altogether sure that that applies also to its interpretation. The first question that arises is, what is international law? Is there any code of international law? I know of none. There are certain international usages that have been established by custom.

Senator Daly - They are law.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.And of course there is the Court that has been set up to decide questions that are submitted to it under the Versailles Treaty. I am glad to have the assurance of Senator Daly.

Senator McLachlan - The codification of thatinternational law is proceeding.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I am aware of that. I also know that Australia, through its very learned and able representative, Sir Harrison Moore, has played a leading part in the preparations that have been made for the codification of international law. But it is a very broad and general assertion to state that any code of international law yet obtains. The very fact that the committee of the League of Nations has been engaged uponthis work for some years indicates that it does not yet obtain. I think we are justified in assuming that there are certain questions which internationally are assumed tocome within the scope of domestic jurisdiction. Possibly, the most importantof those is the question of immigration and emigration. I feel sure that no Australian would willingly concede that that question does not come within the scope of domestic jurisdiction. I take it that that is one of those questions which, by this reservation, is excluded from the procedure prescribed in the general act.

I can only express the wish that further steps will be taken towards that concomitant action which is necessary to bring about general disarmament. No one who is aware of what is going on in Europe and elsewhere to-day can be satisfied that much real progress is being made. Therefore, we can only hope that the spirit which prompts this ratification, the spirit which is behind these resolutions, will more and more animate all nations in their international relations, and that ultimately it may result in action of a binding character that will ensure international peace. But there, again, I think we are forced to this consideration, that international peace is very largely de pendent upon the spirit and the mentality of the people. If we wish to preach international peace we should be prepared to preach peace within our own borders. So long as the doctrines of class hatred are being preached and promulgated actively throughout the world by one great nation, there can be no guarantee of either national or international peace. The promulgation of that spirit within any nation is the greatest menace to international peace, and must lead to war. Very much credit for sincerity cannot be given to those people in our own country who, while talking glibly about international peace, are yet prepared to set class against class! So I say that it is the spirit that matters, not the words that are uttered. What is the spirit of our community? Is it a spirit of peace and goodwill towards each other? If it is, we can enter the larger field of international peace, and preach that doctrine. Charity begins at home. We should begin within our own borders to preach and practice the doctrines of peace, before we commence to speak, as some so glibly do, about international peace. This is a national demonstration of our desire for international peace, and as such I give it my support.

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