Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 October 1935

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- The position of the Government has been so clearly expressed that it is with a certain degree of diffidence that I address the House on this important matter, because I fear that my own remarks may, to some extent, confuse the issue. But I feel that the Government, in taking the stand which it has, is entitled to hear from members of its own party exactly how they re-act to its pronouncement of policy. I warmly commend the Government for placing the full weight of Australia's support behind Great Britain and the League of Nations in their efforts to maintain world peace. I feel confident that that is the view of the honorable members on this side of the House. As members of the Opposition profess to speak for the Labour section, I shall preface my remarks with a few quotations which will throw some doubt on the genuineness of that claim. Unquestionably there is a decided division of opinion on this matter in the ranks of Labour supporters. The Labour Premier of Western Australia (Mr. Collier) speaking on the 22nd August last, said -

I appreciate, perhaps, more than I have done in past years, the magnificent attitude adopted by the Government of Great Britain. If there has ever been an occasion in our history when wo might well be proud of the attitude of Great Britain and its Government it is to-day, not only with regard to this trouble but with regard to the questions of peace and disarmament.

The secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Railways Union, Mr. L. Ross, recently remarked -

We believe that the Federal and New South Wales Labour leaders are wrong in their attitude. We think a stand must be made against Italy, and for this reason link ourselves with the working-class movement in all parts of the world in demanding that the League shall apply sanctions. Our union and the Miners Union are the only ones in New South Wales to oppose the Lang policy on this subject.

Mr Rosevear - The honorable member is quoting Communists.

Mr HOLT - It is suggested that these gentlemen are Communists. Let me inform the honorable member that a telegram from Adelaide., published in the press on the 26th 'September last, stated -

Approval of the application of sanctions by members of the League of Nations to bring pressure to bear on Italy to prevent warfare with Abyssinia has been given by the United Trades and Labour Council, which represents more than 60,000 workers in South Australia.

My final quotation is from a speech by the Labour Premier of Tasmania, Mr. Ogilvie, who, in a statement made on behalf of his party on the 25th September last, said -

The day may come when Australia may be n dire need of help. How could we demand sanctions when attacked if in time of difficulty and danger we leave the weaker members of the League to fend for themselves. Great Britain and the dominions signed the Covenant of the League, and are morally bound to uphold principles of non-aggression. To abandon these obligations under the pressure of a fascist dictator is unthinkable, and must inevitably destroy the hopes of all those who wish the world to live- at peace. Sanctions mean peace, not war.

If the Labour Premiers of Western Australia and Tasmania fall within the category of Communists, communism must have a stronger hold in this country than we have been led to believe.

During the last few days, the wild statement has been made that those who support the present Government are a war party; but I claim that the attitude of the Ministry is summed up in the title of the minister of the department which administers our war and peace measures. He is styled the Minister for Defence, although in European countries this official is called the Minister for War. The Government has not adopted ;a warlike attitude in the present crisis, but has shown that it is acting entirely in the interests of peace. The collective system of security connotes defence -or nothing. Support has, perhaps, been given to the Labour party in connexion with this dispute, because of a misunderstanding - I prefer not to call it a misrepresentation - that the application of sanctions, or support of the League, necessarily means that Australia will be involved in a war of the same magnitude as that of 1914-1S. But nothing could be further from the truth. Reports received from overseas in the last few days clearly show that nothing of the kind is contemplated. The collective system is one of armed defence., which, in certain contingencies - extremely remote, if the system is applied at all - may demand resistance to attack. Under this system, a group of States agrees in given circumstances to boycott the war-maker by refusing to purchase his goods, to supply him with money, or to furnish him with any other means of carrying on a war. [f we must have armies and navies, let us make it clear , that their purpose is common resistance to the war-maker.

I think we may appropriately draw an analogy between the League of Nations and the police force in our own community. A nation is a collection of human beings, and the world is a collection of nations. These nations, in their behaviour to one another, exhibit the same characteristics as do human beings. We in Australia would think it sheer lunacy to suggest that we should depart from the system under which we have a deterrent body such as the police force to support the judiciary and the legislature in their attempts to maintain and regulate law and order. That, after all, is what the League of Nations is endeavouring to do. It represents an attempt on behalf of the nations of the world to preserve law and order, just as our police force applies it to individuals. Some years ago we had an illustration in Melbourne of what can happen when that deterrent body temporarily ceases to discharge its functions. Prior to the war which was launched upon civilization in 1914, we found in the world the same condition of disorder and anarchy which would prevail once again if the arguments of the Opposition were carried to their logical conclusion.

We may now properly ask what system the Labour party proposes to substitute for the League of Nations. The Labour view now put forward is that Australia should concern itself only with defence if attacked on its own shores by a foe from overseas. That interpretation was advanced by one speaker on this side of the House this afternoon, and it waa not disputed by the Opposition, so we may take it that it fairly represents Labour's attitude to defence. But I claim that that attitude could only be supported if Australia were a selfcontained nation. It is not, and does not wish to be, self-contained, because a policy of isolation would mean that, with its enormous territory, and its comparatively small population, it would be thrown upon its own resources, and would then have to expend a sum out of all proportion to that now devoted to national defence. It would also have to devote to national defence time out of proportion to that now given to it, and despite the most energetic efforts it would still labour under a sense of insecurity. Australia can never be self-contained while it has to import oil, rubber, tea, coffee, cocoa and other essential products, just as it can never be prosperous until it is able profitably to export most of its primary products. It i3 nonsense to say that for defence purposes Australia can rely on a policy of isolation or selfcontainment. If that be the policy of the Labour party it is the policy of the ostrich. While scuttling from one danger it runs into greater perils. It was suggested - 1 think by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) - that Australia is tied to Great Britain hand and foot. Undoubtedly, many ties exist between the two countries. They are strong ties, not of hand and foot, but of head and heart; ties which are based on healthy sentiment and on sound commonsense. That healthy sentiment arises largely and inevitably from the fact that we are sprung from British stock. Australia and Great Britain have common traditions and history. It amazes me, and is beyond the comprehension of any genuine Australian, that it should be suggested that the Commonwealth should stand aloof when Great Britain is in a position of peril. While Australia may, to a certain extent, and along the most reasonable lines, influence Great Britain's foreign policy, it should never, and I suggest it will never, lose sight of the fact that its foreign policy iB ultimately and fundamentally bound up with that of Great Britain. Is it suggested that if the heart of the Empire is threatened with danger, Australia should stand apart as a disinterested onlooker? Suan a policy could not be entertained by any genuine Australian.

The Attorney-General last night clearly set out 'three possible courses which Australia could adopt in the present crisis, and just as clearly placed his finger on the only policy which this country could 'honestly pursue. The two courses which remain are the system of collective security within the British Empire, and the alternative of full support of the League of Nations. The same objection can be taken to the policy of security within the British Empire as against the suggestion that Australia should depend for its security on isolation. In the -first place it would place upon the Empire intolerable burdens of expense and insecurity. I sug- gest that such a policy should be considered by the British Empire only when it finds that other attempts to obtain security have failed. The only possible alternative, therefore, is support of the League of Nations.

I find it difficult to believe that honorable members of the Opposition are suggesting that we should hot support the League so long as its decisions' are in accordance with the Covenant and the articles of procedure. Has Australia not signed the Covenant of the League of Nations, and is it not still a member of the League? If Australia to-day disavows its membership and its obligations it should immediately inform the League that it no longer desires to be part of the League. Does the Opposition claim that Australia should at once throw off the cloak of the League and relinquish the security which it gives not only to the great powers of the world, but also to .the smaller and weaker countries, including Australia ?

Mr Rosevear - And China.

Mr HOLT - Much of the argument in tlie present debate has hinged upon the fact that the Sino-Japanese crisis was not adequately treated by the League. I do not intend to attempt to apologize for the League's action at that time. T am prepared to admit that the League did not act with the strength that its adherents would have liked to see. But is there any justification for a declaration that the League, which, after ail, is the expression .of an ideal and has been in existence -for less than twenty years, should be thrown overboard because at one stage pf its history it did not possess the strength which no intelligent person could expect it to possess at such an early period ? At any rate that argument cannot be entertained as justification for Australia withdrawing its membership. Australia is still a member of the League pf Nations, and when it accepted membership it accepted certain obligations. Reasons not only of honour and probity, but also of expediency, prohibit such a course. There remains therefore the necessity for Australia to maintain its association with the League, and to give its full support to it.

If there ' exists any danger that the world may be involved in another conflict it is, I think, due to the fact that never previously has there been a collective expression by members of the League that they will not permit conflict. If aggressors know beforehand that every war will be a world war, in other words, that they will have to face the world, or a large part of it, there will be no war. There would have been no world war if Germany could have foreseen that twenty States would oppose it. The world war came not because those twenty States were committed beforehand to common resistance, but because they were not. If Italy had clearly understood that collective resistance would be made, there would have been no act of aggression against Abyssinia. Though the League may fail, there is no hope for the world but along its way. The League must not fail. International anarchy must not return to a world which has seen the birth of international law and order. Australia, as a signatory to the Covenant of the League, must do its part to ensure that international law and order will triumph over international anarchy.

Suggest corrections