16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. M. Nairn) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following bills re ported : -
Appropriation Bill 1042-43.
Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1942-43.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Mr. CUMIN (Fremantle - Prime
Minister). - by leave - Cabinet has considered the reports of the committee appointed by War Cabinet some time ago to investigate man-power problems, dairy herds, the level of remuneration to producers, and related matters in the dairying industry.
The supply of dairy products for the armed forces, the British people, and the Australian consumers, control of the consumption of the civil population in Australia, the level of wages in the industry, and the remuneration to the dairy farmer - all were brought under review.
Cabinet decided to consider these problems comprehensively, and to place the industry on a war-time basis, with a view to ensuring adequate supplies and maintaining producers and workers in the industry under reasonable living conditions. To this end, the following important decisions were reached : -
The Tariff Board to make its recommendations to the Minister for Trade and Customs.
I emphasize that the Government- desires that any improvement of the conditions under these arrangements shall be enjoyed by the producers, and the workers in the industry. To this end, it is intended to ensure that the subsidy shall be paid to the producer. Provision will be made for a tribunal, to which sharefarmers and others who are operating under special conditions may apply for a determination as to the distribution of the improved remuneration between them and the owners of the farms as well as to review the regulations controlling land values and rents.
I am satisfied that this comprehensive plan will do justice to the industry, particularly to the dairy-fanners and wageearners in it. An attempt has not hitherto been made to establish reasonable living conditions for workers in the dairying industry, nor has the small working proprietor been assured of a reasonable living standard. Apart from the intrinsic merits of the matter, the Government has to take into account the necessity for offering decent living standards in an industry which ranks as of high priority under war-time conditions. If sufficient supplies of dairy products are to be available for the armed forces in and around Australia, for the Australian civil population, and for the British people, it is necessary to ensure that output shall.be maintained at a high level.Consideration is being given to the scale of consumption in Australia compared with other countries, and to the man-power needs of the industry.
-It was a stab in broad daylight.
– As dairy-farmers all along the east coast of Australia are in a condition of extreme distress, will the Prime Minister arrange for the payment to be made in October, even if all the details of the procedure are not completed by then! The necessary adjustments could be made through the . butter and cheese factories later.
– The honorable member’s suggestion will be considered, but I expect that, in view of the announcement which has been made, the producers will not be subjected to undue pressure by their creditors between now and the time when the subsidy can be paid.
Amalgamation of Forces - Criticism of Minister - Pharmaceutical Chemists - Australia “ Badge - Courts Martial - “ Lost Legion”Minister’s Visit to New Guinea - Minors in Advanced Operational Areas - Greta Camp.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether, when the Australian Forces in New Guinea have succeeded in expelling the enemy from the south-eastern or British portion of the island, he will consider that the Australian Military Forces have completed their task, or whether they will be permitted to join the Australian Imperial Force in expelling the enemy from the Dutch portion of the island?
– Never previously, since the commencement of hostilities, have so many members of the Australian Imperial Force been under . the control of the Australian Army. In addition to those in the Middle East and to the north of Australia, . there have been transfers of members of -the Australian Military Forces at the rate of approximately 6,000 a week. As a unit of the British Commonwealth, Australia can be relied upon to honour all its obligations to the democracies, to the greatest degree that could be considered advisable by any farseeing person.
– Has the Minister for the Army read an article in the MelbourneHerald of the 6th October, written and caused to be published by Sir Keith
Murdoch., in which several charges are made against the Minister in the following terms: -
His term of officehas been marked-
– Order ! The honorable member may not read newspaper statements when asking a question He should give only the substance of the charges.
– The substance of the charges is that the Minister’s term of office has been “ marked by his insistence on the retention of two army systems “, and “by his share in the sad defeat of the Battle of Singapore Island, and in the loss of Burma “. The Minister is also charged with “ inexcusable failure to apply the lessons of Malaya to training and equipment of the Australian forces for the inevitable New Guinea battles “. He is accused of taking-
– Allegations by outside persons may not be given publicity in this chamber under cover of a question.
– I have indicated the serious character of the allegations.
– The honorable member has indicated the absurd nature of the charges.
– I have no doubt that the Minister has a perfectly satisfactory answer.
– Order! The honorable member must put his question.
– In view of the irresponsible nature of the charges, and the effect that they will have on public morale, will the Minister put a censor in each office of the Murdoch press, or will he issue an order prohibiting Sir Keith Murdoch from writing articles calculated to lower public morale, or, better still, will he have him interned ?
– I glanced over the article to which the honorable member has referred when it was brought to my notice to-day, but it contains such absurd statements that it deserves to be treated with absolute contempt. The argument that the fall of Singapore and Burma can be laid at my door or at the door of this Government, is fantastic.
– Or at the door of any Australian Government.
– Of course. The operations referred to took place in theatres outside Commonwealth jurisdiction. The last Government sent a part of a division to Malaya, and the present Government supported that action by sending reinforcements. Another absurd charge was that I had taken the “ Australia “ shoulder badges from the uniforms of the Australian Imperial Force. That appears to be a deliberate falsehood, because it is well known that the order for the action taken was issued from Army headquarters, without reference to the Minister, and it was I who countermanded that order, and had the badges returned to the members of the Australian Imperial Force as well as having similar badges issued to other men who joined the Australian Imperial Force. Sir Keith Murdoch’s unbalanced outburst comes with very bad grace from one who was a dismal failure as Director-General of Information. Whilst Sir Keith may be able to manage a chain of monopolistic newspapers and broadcasting stations, he will not dictate policy to me, as Minister for the Army, or to this Government.
– In view of the fact that lawyers, comedians and journalists are given high rank in the Army because they are lawyers, comedians and journalists, and in view of the additional fact that medical men in the Army have ranks ranging from major-general to captain, will the Minister for the Army consider the advisability of giving to pharmaceutical chemists a higher rank than that of staff sergeant, and grant to them at least junior commissioned rank in the Australian Military Forces?
– Does the Minister . for the Army think it right that in any offensive which Australia may wage only one section of the Australian Army shall be engaged, whilst, the other section remains behind in Australia or its territories within the three-mile limit?
– Australia has been able to honour its obligations so far, and so long as the present Government is in office it can be relied upon to do so in the future. The honorable member may be able to help to the degree that he said he would when he offered to leave Australia on the first transport for overseas.
– Will the Minister of the Army take the necessary steps to enable me to board a troopship for active service in any part of the world?
– Immediate consideration will be given to the honorable member’s request.
– Prior to the departure of the Minister for the Army for New Guinea I askedhim a question relating to the “ Australia “ badge concerning which he stated earlier to-day that he had countermanded an order forbidding the use of the badge. I also asked him whether he would consider sympathetically the cases of members of the Australian Imperial Force who had been fined for not removing the “Australia “ badge from their uniform. A further question related to 57 men who had been court martialled, the officer chiefly concerned being one who had since been returned to Australia “ services no longer required “. I asked whether he would make the papers available for the perusal of honorable members, or of myself, if he thought that course justified. I also inquired about the “ lost legion”, concerning which a photograph appears in the latest Smith’s Weekly. Can the Minister now make a statement in regard to these matters?
– Consideration will be given to the matters raised by the honorable member. I shall be glad to confer with him in my office later this afternoon.
– In view of the many complaints which I have received from parents of men in the Australian Military Forces that officers in charge of units are using undue pressure to persuade men to join the Australian Imperial Force, will the Minister for the Army again issue instructions to Army officers to cease this practice? Further, will he see that no non-commissioned officer will be reduced in rank because of his refusal to join the Australian Imperial Force?
– Some time ago, the Commander in Chief issued a definite order which was sent to all commanding officers throughout Australia, that no coercion whatever was to be used to get men in the Australian Military Forces to join the Australian Imperial Force. If the honorable member will bring to my notice any definite instances in which it is alleged that coercion has been used, I shall have them investigated, and will furnish him with a report as soon as possible.
– Last week I asked the Minister for the Army the following questions, upon notice: -
I ask the Minister whether he is now in a position to supply to me an answer to those questions?
– I hope to provide a reply not later than to-morrow.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether it is a fact that the Greta military camp is seething with discontent, and that the troops are on the verge of rioting? Is that position due to the presence of Major de Groot, who at one period was placed in a mental hospital as the result of an incident in which he participated at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Is it also a fact that this man was a member of the New Guard, an organization with beliefs similar to those of the Nazi party? If so, does the Minister consider him a fit and proper person to be in charge of a military camp? Is not his place in either a mental hospital or an internment camp ?
– I am not aware of any alleged disturbances at the Greta Military Camp or of the identity of the officers, but I shall inquire as to whether there are any grounds for the honorable member’s statement.
– Does the Minister for the Army intend to deal with the naughty, nasty people who insist 021 referring to members of his beloved Militia as Koalas, because, under Australian law you must not shoot at them, and you must not export them?
– Our commanding officers in New Guinea are loud in their praise of the gallantry of members of the Australian Military Forces and Australian Imperial Force in the face of great difficulties. Throughout the Army any attempt to set the Australian Military Forces against the Australian Imperial Force is deprecated. Such action is calculated to undermine the discipline and morale of the greatest fighting force in the world.
– There is a good deal of dissatisfaction in Tasmania in regard to the quantity and quality of the leather supplied to that . State. Will the Minister who is acting for the Minister for . Supply and Development request that honorable gentleman to have an investigation made in order to determine whether or not the complaints are well founded?
– On behalf of the Minister for Supply and Development, I inform the honorable gentleman that the matter will he the subject of investigation and report. ‘Consideration will then be given to the need for remedial action should such exist.
– Subject to censorship direction, will the Prime Minister lay on the table of the House or the Library the file relating to the site of the proposed power alcohol distillery in Victoria ?
– As early as possible, I shallhave a look at the papers and shall then advise the honorable gentleman of my decision.
Personnel of Party
– Will the- Prime Minister state whether the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) accompanied the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) and service personnel on the Minister’s recent tour in New Guinea ? Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether the honorable member for Henty was selected by the Government to make that trip, and why members of recognized political parties in this House were not invited to nominate a member to visit New Guinea as one of the ministerial delegation? Will the right honorable gentleman arrange for visits by members of the Opposition to New Guinea, if they desire to obtain first-hand information regarding the conditions there?
– No nominations were received from anybody, so far as I am aware, with respect to proposed visits to operational areas. One honorable gentleman asked me to get priority for him to travel on an aeroplane. That honorable member will recall the answer that I gave to him. I have had nothing whatever to do with arrangements made with respect to visits to operational areas, other than to consider the recommendations made to me by two Ministers that they considered that visits by them to certain areas would be of great assistance to them in the administration of their departments. I approved those recommendations. I was not asked for any other approval, except in the case already alluded to by me, but to which I shall not refer in detail, because I do not desire to make public the reason that I gave for not authorizing priority to travel on a plane. For my own part, I have no objection whatever to members of Parliament visiting war zones, subject to certain proper restrictions, which I think should be determined, not by me politically, but by the commanders of the fighting services. If honorable members wish to go to those places, they are as free to do so as they are to volunteer for active service.
– I volunteer now.
– The honorable gentleman is free to do that.
– Is it a fact that the Minister for the Army wore the uniform of a private during his recent visit to New Guinea, and can he say for how long he has been . qualified to wear such uniform ?
– The honorable member should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers, even those journals which displayed so prominently, under black headlines, his unbalanced outburst against the Statute of Westminster Adoption Bill, which the Attorney-General introduced so ably last week.
– Is the Prime Minister now in a position to make a statement regarding a request that I made to him some time ago for a modification of the daylight saving regulations, as far as they apply to dairying and other rural industries ?
– I have decided to take no action to interfere with the operation of the regulations. I find that any adaptation of them would produce even more anomalies than now obtain.
– I remind the Treasurer that following protests from members of the Opposition the original Economic Organization Regulations were referred to an all-party committee, and were subsequently amended along the lines recommended by that committee. Will the Treasurer state why the amending regulations that have been promulgated have not been placed before the committee for consideration? Is he aware that there is widespread and growing dissatisfaction with the regulations in their present form? Having regard to the prohibition of the purchase of land on terms, is it not reasonable to assume thai many working people, who would otherwise be able to put aside money for the purchase of homes during the post-war period, will be prevented by the regulations from doing so?
– The amending regulations have been promulgated because of changed circumstances, and the need for a closer regulation of investments. The particular matter referred to by the honorable member has been very closely examined. As a matter of fact, there has been a good deal of abuse associated with the sale of land for the purpose mentioned, but there is nothing in the regulations to prevent the building of a home where land has been purchased and permission obtained.
– by leave - The remarks of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and the honorable member for “Wilmot (Mr. Guy) on the subject of the secrecy of communications transmitted through the Post Office, have been brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General (/Senator Ashley), who has prepared the following reply : -
The Post Office has always prided itself on the fact that it has the full confidence of the public as far as the secrecy of communications is concerned. That feeling of security on the part of its customers has been built up over many years, and there is no indication of any weakness in this respect, nor is there any evidence whatever that the information contained in the telegram in the case under notice was obtained by the honorable member for Melbourne from departmental sources.
Certain inquiries hare been made by the department, and it has been ascertained that the person who sent this telegram is known in Sydney as an irresponsible person. From this and the fact that the message was left at an hotel to be telephoned by a member of the staff of the hotel to the department as a phonogram, it will be realized that the department cannot be expected to accept responsibility for the number of people who might share the confidences of a person who would send such a message, nor is the department responsible for any leakage of information as to the contents of messages before they reach the Telegraph Branch or after they have been delivered. Honorable members may be assured that the most serious view is taken of any violation of secrecy of communications.
In this respect section 127 of the Post and Telegraph Act provides as follows: - “ Any person employed in a telegraph office who divulges the contents or substance of a telegram otherwise than by delivering the telegram or giving a copy of it to the person to whom he is authorized to deliver such telegram or give such copy shall bo guilty of a misdemeanour and on conviction thereof shall be liable for every such offence to a penalty not exceeding One hundred pounds or to imprisonment with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding two years.”
Section 9 of the Post and Telegraph Act also provides that every officer shall, before exercising the duties of his office, take and subscribe before a justice of the peace or a commissioner for declarations a declaration in the form prescribed in the second schedule to the act. This declaration requires the employee to keep strictly secret all telegraphic or other communications that may pass through hi* hands in the performance of his duties, and is in harmony with one of the cardinal principles incorporated in the International Telecommunication Convention by which contracting governments have undertaken to adopt all possible measures to ensure the secrecy of international telegrams.
Apart from being required to make the declaration of secrecy before taking up duty in the Post Office, officials are reminded from time to time of the provisions of the Post and Telegraph Act. Various books of instructions issued to the officials also give prominence to those provisions.
– Will the Minister for the Army give an assurance that, before Parliament goes into recess, he will table the complete file dealing with the case of Mr. J. A. Mendes, of the Mayfair Hotel, Darlinghurst ?
– Will the Prime Minister make a statement to the House concerning the requisitioning of the vehicular steamer Lurgurena? Is he aware that the requisitioning of this steamer has severed a vital link in the transport system of Tasmania, while pleasure vessels of a similar type are allowed to ply their usual trade in other States’?
– The matter referred to by the honorable member is being investigated. I assure him that suitable pleasure vessels are not being left undisturbed in other States. The Government desires that there should be as little interference as possible with ordinary transport arrangements, but it sometimes happens that vessels of a particular type are needed.
– by leave - Last week, I gave an assurance that I would present to honorable members of both Houses a considered statement on strategy as it affects the Commonwealth Government, and on the state of the war as it concerns the people of Australia. I should like to be able to make that statement this evening after dinner, but because the Senate does not meet formally .until to-morrow, it will be impossible to pass the requisite resolutions in both Houses to ensure that the regulations regarding secrecy shall operate. Other courses are open to me. One would be to continue the meeting of this House and to direct attention to the presence of strangers, but that would make it impracticable for members of the Senate to be present at the meeting. Another course would be to adjourn the House before dinner until a suitable hour to-morrow, and then to have a private meeting of members, but such a meeting would not be of the kind which was originally intended. The matters which we propose to discuss are of such a nature that I feel it to be obligatory to enforce the regulations regarding secrecy.
– Would it not be possible to make a special censorship order?
– We are concerned with what might be divulged in the course of conversation outside the precincts of Parliament, and a censorship order would be of no use in that regard.
– The secret meeting of honorable members and such honorable senators as are in Canberra, which I had hoped to convene this evening, will not be held before to-morrow.
– In view of the high prices ruling for fruit and vegetables, will the Government take action to fix both the wholesale and retail prices of these commodities?
– I shall have the matter considered by the Prices Commissioner.
– Has the Treasurer given consideration to the suggestion of the Minister for Labour and National Service that no person should draw an income of more than £500 a year ? Is the Treasurer aware that if the suggestion were given effect, and all incomes in excess of £500 a year confiscated, the amount available, after payment of taxes at the present rates, would be about £40.000.000, a sum which would enable war expenditure to be met for a period of less than six weeks?
– [ do not know that I have seen a full report of the statement by my colleague, but I understand that if the principle to which the right honorable gentleman has referred in his question were applied, the result would be as he has stated.
– In view of the proposal of the Minister for War Organization of Industry to transfer female shop assistants to munitions plants, will ho have a register compiled of all single women who are doing no useful employment and frequent daily the lounge bars of city hotels?
– I shall be pleased ta give attention, to the honorable member’s suggestion.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Commerce been drawn to a report in to-day’s Sydney Daily Telegraph regarding certain recommendations of departmental experts in relation to the future of the meat industry; and, if so, can he indicate whether the report is accurate? In view of the publication of the report, will the Minister make a full statement on the subject before Parliament rises for the forthcoming recess? Will he also say whether it is a fact that the honorable member for Darling is to be appointed to represent the Minister on the commission to control the meat industry? If so, will he state what association the honorable member has had with the industry, and what are his qualifications for the position ?
– I shall take the matter referred, to by the honorable member into consideration.
– I direct attention to an allegation that the clothes rationing scale applicable to female mill employees in Launceston is inadequate. Will the Government request the Director of Rationing to investigate the statement?
– I shall direct the honorable member’s remarks to the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– According to a report in to-day’s issue of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the interstate executive of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, which met in Melbourne yesterday, announced that the Government intends to vary the basic wage by the issue of National Security Regulations. Will the Prime Minister indicate whether that statement correctly expresses the intention of the Government? If so, will he explain the reason for the departure from the usual practice of allowing the Arbitration Court to determine this matter?
– This question was addressed to me at my conference with representatives of the pres9 to-day. I do not know what statement the Australasian Council of Trade Unions made yesterday, if it made any at all. That body is not entitled to indicate government policy, and the report that the Government intends, by regulation, to increase or decrease the basic wage, is without foundation.
– Is lie Minister for Social Services aware that the Pensions Office in Sydney sometimes takes three months before it completes its examination of applications for widows’ pensions? Nearly every claim is delayed for six weeks. Will the Minister take action to reduce this period of waiting ?
– I am aware that delays have occurred, and action is now being taken to re-organize the office. I hope the changes will be completed in a few weeks.
– Last week, I directed the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that the Minister for Labour and National Service had issued to his officers an instruction that they should be financial members of a bona fide union. The right honorable gentleman replied that he had not time to answer the question. As the week-end has since intervened, I now ask the Prime Minister whether he will answer the question before the House rises?
– The answer was banded in at the commencement of today’s proceedings.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether we are to understand from a report of a speech which he delivered recently that he regards membership of his party as an indispensable qualification, for employment in his department? Does he regard it as proper that any employee of his department who is found to belong to another party should receive short shrift? Does he believe that this attitude is in conformity with the Four Freedoms which the Attorney-General proposes to embody in our Constitution?
– I believe that in order to ensure proper administration of the Labour Department it is indispensable that occupants of responsible positions in that department be sympathetic with the policy which they are called upon to administer. It is also imperative that any Minister dismiss immediately any person he discovers to have been placed as a paid spy in his department by members of the Opposition.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he believes that the Opposition has placed any spy in any government department at any time?
– -My ignorance on some matters is profound. I know of nothing that would suggest that members of the Opposition had been responsible for the appointment of a spy in any government department.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs whether Staff Instructions No. 55, issued by the Imports Procurement Branch on the 23rd July last, is to be taken as indicating that in future the remuneration of officers of the department will be determined on the basis of membership, or nonmembership, of unions, rather than efficiency?
– I shall secure from the Minister for Trade and Customs an answer to the honorable member’s question.
– Will the Minister for Commerce inform me whether it is a fact that an Advisory Committee on Man-power, representing the Departments of Supply and Development, Commerce, and War Organization of Industry, and the man-power authorities, has been constituted? If so, does not .the Minister consider that it would be advantageous to appoint representatives of primary producers’ organizations to that body?
– This is a departmental committee, and it has co-opted primary producers’ organizations throughout the Commonwealth. They have assured the committee of their full cooperation. In many instances, prominent officials of the organizations have been placed on the agricultural committees which assist the departmental committee.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to an article in Country Life, Sydney, of the 2nd October, stating that, despite an appeal by the Minister for Commerce and tho Minister for Supply and Development, slaughtermen in Sydney and Melbourne were still on strike, and that mutton slaughtermen declined to finish a consignment of 775 sheep delivered by a well known firm of carcass butchers for dehydration purposes? The report mentioned that beef slaughtermen went home after killing 78 head, and that time was lost in the mutton section as the result of a stop-work meeting. The article commented that it is appalling and disgusting to record that men are on strike when our troops are fighting in one qf the most dangerous and strenuous battles of history. If the Prime Minister has not seen the report, will he order an immediate investigation ot the position and make a statement to the House?
– It is not for me to offer any comment regarding the sources upon which newspapers and, I regret to say, some honorable gentlemen appear to rely for their information. I have been informed that there is no strike of slaughtermen in Sydney and Melbourne, and that the union has undertaken to give its utmost aid in ensuring continuity of work in this most essential service.
– Did the Minister for Labour and National Service read in the Sydney Morning Herald, of the 3rd October, the following report of an interview with President Roosevelt, after his recent tour of the United States of America : -
Asked whether hp had heard of a single strike, Mr. Roosevelt answered “No”. He added, “ If 200 men walk out because some foreman used profanity or because of a small jurisdictional row, a lot of people in Washington . blow it up and make the country believe it is the rule rather than the exception.’’ Ninety-five per cent, of the people would “ go along “ on any necessary war measure, while Congress and the press would play up the remaining 5 per cent.
Has the Minister noticed that the reference to Congress and the press, is equally applicable to some people in Australia, even in Canberra? Will the Minister also take the opportunity during the recess to inspect some of these industries, taking with him, perhaps, press representatives and some honorable members opposite, in order to enable them to see the wonderful work that is being done by the workers in our war effort?
– I have read the press report referred to by the honorable member. It would appear that profit-mongers in the United States of America and the newspapers they control are no different from those in this country. With regard to the honorable member’s suggestion that I should make a tour of industrial establishments, I shall endeavour to inspect as many industries as I can in order to obtain first-hand knowledge of them. However, I shall not need to take with me on such visits any . representatives of the press. They already know the good work that is being done in our war factories, but refuse to give the workers credit in that respect.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an Act Relating to the Estates of Deceased Members of the Naval, Military and Air Forces of the Commonwealth, and for other purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Debate resumed from the 2nd October (vide page 1400), on motion by Dr. Evatt -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- I accept without reservation the assurances of the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) that party considerations have not inspired the introduction of this bill ; but I am at a loss to understand why the right honorable gentleman should have introduced at the tail end of the session, and at a moment when the enemy is literally at our gates, a measure which he must have known would certainly tend to disrupt that unity upon which a maximum war effort depends. Although I entirely agree with him that its provisions should be discussed calmly, and dispassionately, I say, frankly, that I find myself quite unable to purge my mind of those deep-rooted sentiments which, when all is said and done, are the foundation of our relations with Great Britain, and which have for generations been interwoven into the pattern of our national life. That my fears that the adoption of this statute may imperil those relations are shared by many people in Australia is evident from the right honorable gentleman’s efforts to reassure them on this point. He deprecated the suggestion that there is anything in this bill that savours of disloyalty, and . urged us to approach it as a practical measure designed to remove certain restrictions which obstruct the war effort of the Commonwealth ; in particular he directed our attention to the overriding provisions of the Colonial Laws Validity Act, and the Merchant Shipping Act, which, he said, limit our legislative powers and hamper regulations made under the National Security Act dealing with shipping, and our extra-territorial powers. He said that the need for this measure is urgent and imperative; that the present limitations upon our power seriously hamper our war effort. I propose to examine the position as the right honorable gentleman has stated it, but before doing so, I think it proper to set out the circumstances that led up to the passing of the statute.
The right honorable gentleman has said that the statute does not affect our status. That is quite true, for our constitutional right to equality of status with Britain had been firmly established, many years before the Statute of Westminster had been enacted, by declarations by Imperial cabinets and conferences that placed the matter beyond all doubt. The Attorney-General referred briefly to these declarations, but a more detailed review will help honorable members to see the picture in proper perspective, and to understand why equality of status had been granted and how this statute came to be enacted. Reference has been made to what, is usually known as the Balfour Report 1926, and many people regard this a? the first authoritative recognition of the new status of the Dominions; but this is an error, for the 1926 conference, 30 far as status is concerned, did no more than re-affirm the very definite and authoritative recognition of the equality of status of the Dominions with Great Britain made in the War Cabinet in 1919, and restated in more precise terms by Mr. Lloyd George at the Imperial Conference in 1921. For proof of this it i? enough to quote from the speeches of Sir Robert Borden, then Prime Minister of Canada, and Field Marshal Smuts, representing South Africa. Sir Robert Borden said at the opening meeting of the War Cabinet in 1919:” “We meet here on terms of equality and Field Marshal Smuts, amplifying this, said -
The Union Parliament stands 011 exactly the same basis as the British House of Commons, which has no legislative authority over the Union. We have received a position of absolute equality and freedom, not only among other States of the Empire, but among the other nations of the world.
So, seven years before the 1926 conference and twelve years before the passing of the Statute of Westminster, complete equality of status of the Dominions with that of Britain had been firmly established. For a more precise pronouncement upon dominion status and for the reasons why equality has been recognized, let me now quote from Mr. Lloyd George’s speech at the opening of the 1921 Imperial Conference -
In recognition of their services and n enlevements in the war. the British Dominions have now been accepted fully into the community of nations by the whole world. They are signatories to the Treaty of Versailles and of all the Other treaties of peace. They are members of the Assembly of the League of Nations and their representatives have attended meetings of the league; in other words, they have full national status and they now stand beside the United Kingdom as equal partners in the dignities and the responsibilities of the British Commonwealth. If there art; means by which that status can be made clearer to their own communities and to the world at large, we shall be glad to have them put forward at this conference.
The 1926 conference - to which I shall refer in detail in a few minutes - did not raise the status of the Dominions. As I have said, equality with that of Britain had been for years firmly established. What it did do was to attempt to reduce inter-imperial relations to a written formula. I have always opposed attempts to set out the relations between the Dominions and Britain in writing. They are an organic growth - a living force ; to attempt to confine them in a formula is dangerous folly. When, in 1921, it was sought to summon a constitutional conference for this purpose, I strenuously opposed the proposal, and, for the time being, the suggestion was dropped. In the conference of 19,26, however, efforts were again made to give formal definition and description of inter-imperial relations in the following terms: -
They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another, in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
That the report confused rather than clarified the position is apparent from the opinions of the dominion representatives who attended the conference. On the one hand, Mr. Bruce, on his return to Australia, said -
There is really nothing new in the status of the Dominions as a result of the recent conference.
Mr. Mackenzie King, on the other hand, said that it had altered everything. He said -
I believe that the work of the conference will take its place beside those charters which have stood in one form or another for a larger freedom.
Whilst Field Marshal Smuts was of the opinion that it made Magna Charta a back number! what he actually said was -
The British Empire now exists as a name only.
When opinions so widely divergent can be expressed on the report upon which the statute is based, the Attorney-General ought not to be surprised that many people in this country regard the measure now before the House with critical and even suspicious eyes. In Australia leading men of both political parties have criticized it adversely. In 1930, the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), then Prime Minister, said -
To my mind there is nothing to be gained and a great deal to be lost by attempting to crystallize our relations too closely -within the Confines of any legal document.
The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), then Attorney-General, speaking in 1938, said -
It was highly dangerous experimentation to endeavour to reduce to a written formula and, therefore, to rigid and legal terms, a relationship some of the supreme value of which had been its very vagueness and elasticity.
But there is no doubt that, considered as a whole, the report was indeed a wonderful document. Almost metaphysical in some of its references to Imperial relations, it was, nevertheless, intensely realistic. Above all its purpose was political. It took stock of everything. Nothing escaped it. It noted the presence of the representatives of Canada, South Africa and the Irish Free State ; it knew very well what each wanted, and gave it to them. It was all things to all men. Every Prime Minister went away perfectly satisfied- Mr. Bruce because it altered nothing that affected Australia, Mr. Mackenzie King because it taught Lord Byng where he got off, and General Hertzog because he was able to assure the burghers that the King of England was no longer the King of South Africa, although it was true that the King of South Africa was also King of England. As for the representatives of the Irish Free S’tate, they, too - or some of them - we’re for the time being satisfied. It is only fair to say that all this happened before Mr. De Valera took charge. That the Balfour report and the Statute of “Westminster, upon which it is based, were political in their origin and purpose and designed to placate certain dominions - newcomers to the council table of Empire - is clearly evidenced, inter aiia, by the preamble, which provides that “ any alteration in the law touching the succession to the Throne or the Royal style and titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliament of all dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom”. The people of Australia, who, throughout their history, have proudly proclaimed their kinship with the people of Britain and their attachment to the King, the symbol of the unity of the Empire, will be at a loss to understand the application of the preamble to Australia, whose people ask nothing better than to continue their close connexion with the British people and their membership of the Empire, and to acknowledge the King of Britain as King of Australia. That it was thought necessary to insert this provision, which implies permanent membership of the Empire under a King of the United Kingdom who was also King of the Dominions overseas, can only be explained by the desire of certain dominions to secede. That its adoption was in fact incompatible with the right to secede was stressed by Field Marshal Smuts, who said that “it disposed once and for all of the question of secession “. From this General Hertzog, then Prime Minister of South Africa, dissented, and insisted that adoption of the report should not affect the right of a dominion to secede. Oh a party vote in the South African Parliament it was decided that the adoption of the report should not be taken as derogating from the right of any member of the British Commonwealth of Nations to withdraw therefrom. I shall not press this question further. It is enough to say that only the Irish Free State and the Dominion of South Africa adopted in their fullest extent the powers which the statute made available; that, as every one knows, General Hertzog, who had insisted that the adoption of the report should not derogate from the right to secede, is now openly against the war; and that the Irish Free State has seceded from the Empire and in this lifeanddeath struggle is neutral, which shows that a policy of appeasing the unappeasable in Empire relations is as futile as was Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement to avert this war.
I turn now to the statute itself. As I have said, its purpose was political; it was intended to placate General Hertzog and the Irish Free State. How completely it failed in its object every man and woman in Australia can see for themselves. As a piece of legislation, leading constitutional authorities have at best damned it with faint praise, and many have criticized it severely. Professor Keith has said that -
While it contains a complete renunciation of the Imperial authorities of any measure of control over or interference with dominion affairs, it is at the same time a singular assertion of the sovereign authority of the British Parliament. For, as is well known, it is legally impossible for the sovereign Parliament to limit itself in this way, and there is nothing to prevent a future parliament from repealing the statute either expressly or by inconsistent legislation, however unthinkable such an exercise of the Imperial power may be.
Dr. Wynes, in his Legislative and Executive Powers in Australia, says -
The domination of the central power in and so far as it has disappeared in the result, has given place to the domination of legal formula and the substitution of the letter for the spirit.
Mr. J. H. Morgan, K.O., of the English bar, an authority on constitutional relations, said -
The Balfour Report was a good empirical statute, and those who penned it were writing English and not law. Unfortunately, it had been thought necessary to imprison the most delicate, the most flexible and the most expensive thing in the British Empire - namely, its constitutional growth - in the strait-jacket of an Act of Parliament.
Lord Atkins, one of His Majesty’s Lord Justices of Appeal, on the same occasion observed that -
The statute dismembered the Constitution and left no unity.
Dr. Wynes says ;
All that was necessary, as Mr. W. M. Hughes pointed out when the draft bill was before the House in 1931, was the repeal of the limiting provision of the Colonial Laws Validity and the Merchant Shipping Acts.
I turn now to an examination of the bill before the House, the need for which the right honorable gentleman has told us is imperative and .urgent. Its urgency is indeed at once the reason of, and the justification for, its introduction. It is upon the ground of urgency that he rests his case. Let us look at the hill from this angle: What is the urgency for the adoption of the statute? Dominion status is not in danger. It was, in all its essentials, recognized as a constitutional principle long before the Statute of Westminster, which purports to declare the established constitutional position, was enacted. The adoption of the statute will not affect it in any way. Clearly there is no urgency here. The statute was enacted more than eleven years ago. The war has raged for over three years, this Government has been in office for a year ; yet it is only at the tail end of this session that this highly controversial hill has been forced -upon us on the ground of urgency. The right honorable gentleman has directed our attention, to the restrictions upon our legislative powers by the Colonial Laws Validity Act. No doubt its application to the Commonwealth is incompatible with our equality of status. I said in 1931, when the question was before the Parliament, that I thought it should cease to apply to Commonwealth legislation; but, in the face of all the facts, the question is not one that can be regarded as urgent.. Let me make this quite clear. The act existed before the Commonwealth was established, and the limitations upon our power by that act and other British statutes have extended for 42 years without limiting in any material way our full powers to make laws for the Commonwealth. What, then, is the urgency for this measure? It is true, of course, that we are at war, but I remind the right, honorable gentleman that this is not the first war in which the Commonwealth has been engaged. In 1914-18 we were, as we are to-day, involved in a life and death struggle, and these limitations upon our powers applied with equal’ force from 1914 to 1919, when the Treaty of Peace was signed, as they have done in the three years of the present war. The right honorable gentleman says that these limitations seriously obstruct the Commonwealth’s war effort, but the facts do not support his contention. I am able to speak with some authority on this point. Since the Commonwealth was established, I have occupied the office of Attorney-General for some fourteen years. I was Attorney-General in the last war from 1914 to 1919, and I was for two years Attorney-General in this war. I say quite definitely that no case for urgency for the repeal of the limiting provisions of the English act existed during my occupancy of office as Attorney-General in this war or in the last war. No one suggested to me that our power to make regulations during the last war or in this war was in any way affected by English statutes, and although I admit that the right honorable gentleman may have made more regulations in his twelve months of office, than I have made in as many years, I think he will agree that I made a few regulations which did not pass unnoticed in 1914-18, and, as he knows, I was concerned in drafting a few in this war. So that when I say that to the best of my knowledge and belief our power to make regulations to ensure the vigorous prosecution of the war has not been limited in any material way during the last war or during ray occupancy of office in this war by English statutes; and that although the right honorable gentleman has been AttorneyGeneral for over a year in this war, this is the first intimation we have had of the urgent need for repeal of the limiting provisions of the English acts, the case for urgency presented by the right honorable gentleman seems quite unconvincing.
But let us examine the right honorable gentleman’s case for urgency further. As honorable members know, the resolutions of the Balfour Report were translated into the language of legislation in the preamble of the Statute of Westminster 1931. In this form, the King in Parliament solemnly recognized the free association of the British Commonwealth of Nations as having been constitutionally established. Many people again thought this unnecessary - but it was done, and is not now in question. It stands in the British statutebook, applying to all the Dominions, Australia included. But sections 2 to 6 of the statute do not apply to Australia, or New Zealand, until adopted by the Parliaments of those countries. They relate to certain particular matters in which existing practice was thought not to be in accord with the constitutional position as defined. But as I have reminded the right honorable gentleman, the Commonwealth has got along without these sections for the eleven years since the statute was passed; and. of course, for the first 31 years of its existence before the statute was passed.
But let us examine these five sections in turn to see if their adoption is a matter of urgency.
I shall deal first with section 2, which relates to the Colonial Laws Validity Act. In 42 years, one section of one Commonwealth act has been held “ repugnant “ to English law. I refer to section 124 of the Navigation Act relating to engagement and discharge of seamen. The question of repugnancy was raised in a case under the Service and Execution of Process Act in its application to New Guinea, but the point proved not necessary for decision of the case, and was undecided. Seeing that for 42 years only one section of one Commonwealth act has been held to be repugnant to British laws, surely the right honorable gentleman will not contend that the need for repeal is urgent?
As to section 3 of the statute, which relates to extra-territorial operations, about which the right honorable gentleman is greatly concerned, what are the facts? Some 50 years ago, in a bigamy case under New South Wales law, the bigamy having been committed in England, the Privy Council gave a decision which was commonly accepted as denying extra-territorial operation to the laws of a “ colony “. But in 42 years, no Commonwealth act has been held invalid on this ground ; and the trend of modern decisions makes it unlikely that the existence of this limitation would be recognized to-day. The power to the Commonwealth Parliament is expressed to extend to making laws, as to specified subject-matters, “ for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth “ - not a word, or a suggestion, of the territorial limitation of this power! Nowadays it is almost certain that extra-territorial operation would be recognized where it had relation to the government of the Commonwealth ; that is - in relation to Australian forces overseas, or to smuggling goods into Australia, and so on. There is certainly no urgency here.
Section 4 of the statute provides that future United Kingdom acts are not to extend to the Commonwealth unless by request and consent. This is one of the matters defined in the preamble to the statute as being the “ established constitutional position”; and the declarations in the preamble extend to all the
Dominions, Australia included. It is inconceivable that, in the face of this declaration, the Parliament of the United Kingdom would attempt to extend a law to Australia, except on request. Here again there is no urgency.
Section 5 of the statute has application to sections 735 and 736 of the Merchant Shipping Act. The legislative power of the Commonwealth with respect to merchant shipping is undoubtedly limited by the combined operation of these sections and the Colonial Laws Validity Act. But, again, no case for urgency has been, or can be, made out, First, it does not appear that any -immediate amendment of the Navigation Act is contemplated. Secondly, as regards the coasting trade and ships registered in Australia, there is only the requirement of suspension of operation for the King’s assent. The right honorable gentleman dealt with this at length. In the memorandum which he prepared for the information of honorable members he laid great stress on the inconvenience and hampering effect.3 arising out of long delays to bills reserved for the King’s assent. As honorable members may be under the impression that the reservation of bills for the King’s assent does in fact involve long delay, it will be helpful to set out the facts. In recent years, the delay has been only from three weeks to two or three months. Obviously the telegraph must in some cases have been resorted to as the medium of communication, and as there is no reason why it should not be used in all cases the delay need not be a matter of more than one or two days. Here again urgency is clearly ruled out. Surely it will not be contended that this is anything more than a purely formal matter, one that neither limits our powers nor hampers the administration of regulations. There is nothing that prevents the. King’s assent to bills reserved from being obtained as readily and as speedily as in the case of bills requiring only the assent of the Governor-General.
As Professor Keith has pointed out, this statute does not, of course, limit the sovereign powers of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The .British Parliament cannot bind its successors. What one has done another may undo. The statute does not apply to the States. This is another point that needs emphasis. The statute does not in any way affect the States. The Colonial Laws Validity Act and other Imperial statutes will continue to apply to them after the adoption of the statute, as it does now. Section S leaves the States in full possession of all their present powers.
I know, of course, that the right honorable member has introduced another measure which for all practical purposes reduces the States to subordinate bodies whose ambit of power will be determined from day to day as this Parliament may in its wisdom determine. But this nebulous state of affairs is as yet in the womb of things to come. Whether a majority of the people in a majority of the States will approve the proposed revolutionary changes remains to be seen. If they do not approve them, the restrictions upon the legislative powers of the States imposed by the Colonial Laws Validity Act and other British statutes will remain in force. I ought to point out to the right honorable gentleman that the limitations upon the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament by the Constitution which established it have during the last 42 years restricted the legislative powers of the Commonwealth Parliament far more seriously than have the Colonial Laws Validity Act and other British statutes. I speak feelingly on this point, for I know from bitter experience just what this has meant to this Parliament, which has, during the 42 years of its existence, been unable to deal effectively with great national questions that vitally affect, the lives of the people of the Commonwealth.
And now a concluding word. The Balfour Report was expansive and eloquent about the rights of the Dominions. but evasive or silent about their obligations. It declares that “ equality of status so far as the Dominions and Britain are concerned is the root principle governing inter-imperial relations That is quite true, but the vital principle upon which the very existence of the Empire and every one of the nations composing it depend i3 unity. And it is because it passes the wit of man to devise a formula that can at once express the right of every member of the British Commonwealth of Nations to go its own way and yet ensure that all shall stand together in the hour of danger that I have opposed every attempt to define inter-Empire relations in a formula.
I believe in full self-governing powers for the Dominions. I have done as much as any man to ensure their recognition, and have fought strenuously not only for their rights over their own international affairs, but ako for an effective voice in shaping foreign policy and on all matters affecting the welfare of the Empire as a whole. I believe that the Dominions are entitled to the same effective voice in shaping foreign policy as they would have if their representatives were in fact members of an Empire War Cabinet.
But I hold, too, that these dominion rights - equality of status, full autonomous powers over their own internal affairs, and an effective voice in shaping foreign affairs - carry with thom corresponding obligations. Since without unity the Empire must disintegrate, it follows that we must exercise our selfgoverning powers in such a way as will ensure that this unity, without which our autonomous powers are only empty words, will be preserved. And although I do not deny the technical right of a dominion to remain at peace when Britain and the loyal dominions are at war, I most emphatically do not believe that membership of the Empire entitles a dominion to protection from aggression and to all the benefits of Empire partnership, and at the same time leaves it free to remain aloof when the Empire is in danger.
In these days there is much talk about rights, but very little is heard about duties. This war has brought home to us that liberty is not to be had without money and without price> but that if men wish to remain free they must be prepared to fight and if needs be to die in defence of their freedom. And I remind the House and the country that everything that we value - spiritual and material - has come to us because, and only because, we have been throughout our history an integral part of the British Empire, and have in every war fought valiantly at Britain’s side when the Empire has been menaced by its enemies.
Without unity we perish, and membership of the Empire - the rights and privileges that membership confers - carries with it the obligation to maintain that unity in time of peril. Membership of the Empire ought not to. be granted to those nations which are not ready to pay this price. But General Hertzog and the Irish Free State, for whose benefit the statute was passed, have shown the world that while they were prepared to accept the rights, they refused to fulfil the corresponding obligations of membership of the Empire.
For the reasons that I have advanced, because, as I have shown, there is no urgency in the matter, and because this statute was enacted to serve the purposes of men and communities who have proved themselves disloyal, I move -
That all the words after the word “ bill “ be left out, with, a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “be referred to an all-party committee of the House for report as to the urgency of its passage under the present circumstances of war “.
– The proposal that this bill shall be referred to an all-party committee is, in the view of the Government, most unreasonable. Honorable members will, I think, appreciate that the responsibility for ensuring that the laws and regulations of the Commonwealth shall have been validly made when proceedings are being taken for their enforcement rests upon the Government of this country. In particular, it rests upon the law officers of the Crown, who in this instance are the Attorney-General as the political head, and the Solicitor-General as the permanent head, of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. In the monograph that I circulated, I made it clear that both the Solicitor-General and I are satisfied that the matter is of over-riding importance if we seek to enforce Commonwealth regulations, particularly in relation to shipping, without the proper backing of the law. The expression “ urgency “ is that of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). Let us suppose - as may happen at any moment - that a regulation has been challenged or set aside in the courts, or an action for damages has been brought in consequence of either the arrest of seamen or the seizure or requisitioning of a ship. The primary responsibility would rest upon the Government, and would then devolve upon the law officers of the Crown.
The basis of the amendment is that this bill has been brought in at the tail end of the present sessional period, and that the first intimation which the House had of it was when it was actually introduced. I shall refer to what has been done by the Government in order that the matter might bc fully considered by the House without party bias. Last August, I sent to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), the Leader of the United Australia party (Mr. Hughes), and the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) - because of his special knowledge of the subject - copies of a memorandum dealing with the legal position. This set out shortly what I set out at much greater length in the monograph. I submitted that, in the view of the Government, as the responsible authority for the administration of the law, especially in connexion with war regulations affecting shipping and other matters, it was desirable in order that the position should be placed beyond effective legal challenge, and very necessary that the Colonial Laws Validity Act should no longer operate in respect, of Commonwealth regulations. My object was to derive the benefit of positive suggestions by my learned friends opposite in respect of each of the five sections, and to enable them fully to inform themselves and the members of their respective parties as to the way in which the matter was viewed by the authorities, so that all discussions might be on a non-party basis. I did not stop there. On the 22nd September last, I wrote to the same three gentlemen, pointing out that the Govern ment was labouring under practical difficulties because of the non-adoption of the Statute of Westminster, and stating that in my view its adoption had become a matter of practical necessity. I stated that I was prepared to discuss the matter with them, and with any other members of their parties who were interested in it, in order that any particular or specific objection that might be raised might be met. I frankly admit that it was my special desire that the matter should be considered on an all-party basis, without heat and without the confusing and undesirable introduction of irrelevant issues into a highly technical subject, in which the main ‘responsibility rests upon the Government and the law officers of the Crown. It was not a case of urgency in the sense that sections 2 to 6 of the Statute of Westminster had to he adopted within 24 hours. But it was necessary to remove doubts regarding the validity of laws and regulations enforced by the Commonwealth. It is impossible to say that a single shipping regulation made since the outbreak of war is valid. We submitted that the case was an overwhelming, one, but to that letter I received no answer.
– No answer was necessary. The debate in this House is the answer. The Attorney-General wrote that letter when the House was not sitting.
– I did; but the right honorable member for North -Sydney said that I had brought the matter under notice at the tail end of the sittings, although I did so before the sittings commenced.
– The sittings were to have been concluded last Friday.
– That is a different point; I shall refer to it later. I hoped that the House, acting as a committee, would (proceed to look into this matter, so as to satisfy itself that what is recommended by the law officers of the Crown is reasonable. I felt it to be my duty to go further, and I therefore prepared for the information of honorable members and of honorable senators a monograph setting forth the effect of the adoption of sections 2 to 6 of the Statute of Westminster. It is a long monograph, but it has been in the hands of honorable members for a sufficient time to enable them to form their judgment on the matter. Their judgment is what the Government desires. I did not stop there. I made available to members of both branches of the Parliament the services of two able and distinguished experts in this difficult branch of law, so that they might consult them regarding any matters on which they were in doubt. That service was in fact availed of by members of both Houses.
Next came the debate in this chamber on Thursday, when I made application for leave to introduce this bill. Honorable members will recall what took place. The debate was completely unexpected by me, because I had previously arranged with the right honorable member for North Sydney, the Leader of the United Australia party, that we should proceed that day only to the first reading of the bill, the second reading to be moved next day.
– No arrangement was made with me.
– I said that I had made the arrangement with the Leader of the United Australia party. Therefore, in moving the first reading, I did not proceed to elaborate the reasons for the bill, as I expected that there would be no debate.
– I said, “ If you speak, I shall speak “.
– Certainly. I, therefore, arranged that I would not speak on the first reading unless the right honorable gentleman spoke. On Thursday, when I carried out my part of the bargain, not ‘having spoken, at all on the first reading, I was met with a barrage of attacks, not from the right honorable member for North Sydney but from other members of the House. My object has been to place the whole of the facts, as far as we see them in the department, before the members of both branches of the Parliament. Not one of the facts contained in the monograph has been disputed by the right honorable member for North Sydney, who has a light and airy way of dealing with these difficult questions of law. Despite what occurred on Thursday, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and I immediately gave an assurance that the Government had no desire or intention that this matter should not be debated to the fullest extent desired by honorable members. That is one of the main reasons why the House met again this week.
– How could a full debate have been intended, when the bill was introduced on Thursday and the sittings were to be concluded next day?
– I thought that, having circulated the monograph setting out the position from the departmental point of view, it was quite possible that the bill would be agreed to without debate. When I circulated the monograph I was not aware that the intention was to conclude the sittings on Friday or even that that was being suggested. It was news to me. There was never any intention to prevent the fullest, discussion on this matter. Then, on Friday, there was a full attendance of honorable members on both sides of the chamber. I dealt in detail with each of the matters involved. I stated frankly that in respect of some of the sections of the Statute of Westminster, the need for adoption was more urgent than in respect of others, but I submitted that a case had been made out for the adoption of all five. I thought that I had satisfied the great majority of honorable members on both sides that it was expedient that Commonwealth laws and regulations, particularly shipping regulations, should at once be removed from the category of illegality and uncertainty to that of legality and certainty.
– The Colonial Laws Validity Act has been in operation since 1865.
– I am aware of that. The British Parliament does not wish that statute to bind us any longer, but it is the duty of the Government to enforce only regulations that are known to be legal. Every regulation dealing with shipping that has been promulgated since the outbreak of war is now clouded in grave uncertainty.
– That is all nonsense.
– The right honorable member makes a ridiculous assertion when he has not studied the matter sufficiently. I am responsible for the administration of the law. not he. Although the invalidity of a Commonwealth law may be determined in one case only, that decision may affect hundreds, or even thousands, of other cases. I referred in my speech to the case of two naval ratings to whom the Colonial Laws Validity Act applied. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) and the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) admitted last week that a case had been made out in support of the bill, but contended that we should educate the public on the matter. How can the public be educated on it when the right honorable member for North Sydney cannot be educated to the need for the passage of this bill. I am hopeful that the measure shall go through without a division of the House, as the Statute of Westminster went through the House of Commons. It is true that several members of the House of Commons trotted out the old bogy that the statute might disturb the balance of the Empire. But common sense prevailed, and it was recognized that the measure was a reasonable one.
I quote the following extracts from a report to me by the Solicitor-General on this bill:-
Following on the debate which occurred in the House of Representatives last evening on the question of the granting of leave to bring in the above-named measure, I desire to submit to you the following report: - 1.I repeat the opinion and recommendation which . 1 expressed to you in connexion with the adoption of the statute - which report and recommendation are embodied in paragraph 94 of the monograph which you circulated.
Paragraph 94, to which the SolicitorGeneral refers, reads -
I am authorized by the Solicitor-General to say that he is seriously concerned at the practical drafting and administrative difficulties which have arisen, especially during the war. and which are sufficiently referred to in this monograph. I am also authorized to say that, in his opinion, the adoption of sections 2 to 0 of the Statute of Westminster would greatly facilitate the work of draftsmanship and remove most of the doubt and difficulties which have been elaborated.
The Solicitor-General goes on to say -
As has already been pointed out, the practical difficulties of the matter are even greater than the particular cases which can be mentioned. The war has made it necessary to pass Shipping Regulations and amendments, often at short notice. The position seems to be clear that three legal difficulties then arise -
Another relevant paragraph of the report is as follows : -
The Imperial Conference of 1929, which preceded the passage of the Statute of Westminster, was attended by some of the most prominent constitutional experts, and they, referring to the extra-territorial operation of dominion laws, made this statement -
The practical inconvenience of the doctrine is by no means to be measured by the number of cases in which legislation has been held to be invalid or inoperative. It introduces a general uncertainty which can be illustrated by questions raised concerning fisheries, taxation, shipping, air navigation, marriage, criminal law, deportation, and the enforcement of laws against smuggling and unlawful immigration.
Honorable members will see that our case for the passage of this legislation has been fully made out. As the SolicitorGeneral has stated, the urgency of the matter has not decreased, but increased. All that now really remains for discussion are a few dry, technical questions of law that have been thrashed out over a long period of years. The Government asks the House to act as a committee of the whole, to exercise its judgment, and to take into account the fact that the law officers of the Crown now desire the passage of this bill. The Government cannot accept the amendment of the right honorable gentleman, but I am prepared to place myself at the disposal of honorable members to explain, insofar as I can, any problem that may arise. We have done everything possible to avoid any suggestion of haste, and I now ask honorable members to decide the matter, and to accept the bill.
.- This problem of the Statute of Westminster seems to be one that lends itself to a great deal of heat, particularly, I think, in some of the more extreme partisans on both sides. It is the misfortune of this problem that it should be very widely misunderstood publicly. I advise the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), if I may, not to be too impatient. It is quite true that he has done just about everything that could be done to put honorable members in possession of relevant information. He forwarded letters to several of us who were thought to have some special concern with the matter. He wrote a long and valuable monograph on the subject, and he has placed competent authorities at the disposal of honorable members, able and respected lawyers, to whom they may apply for information. However, it remains true that things which may be clear enough to an experienced lawyer who is familiar with their background, are not necessarily clear to those who are not lawyers. Had a committee been appointed -to consider this bill, a limited number of members of this House, not lawyers, but men very much concerned with the matter, would have had a quiet discussion in private with the AttorneyGeneral, the Solicitor-General, and his advisers and officers, and this might have had a profound effect on their minds. Unfortunately, the moment this matter comes to be discussed in public, sparks fly. One spark just came from the Attorney-General.
– It was not a spark, but a sparkle.
– I thought it had more heat in it than that.
– When the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) introduced a similar bill he was given a good hearing.
– That is so. I have no complaint on that score. The point I am now making is that this is not a question of some indefinite postponement of a problem. There is no reason why the deliberations of the committee should take very long. I believe that there is all the good reason in the world why members of this House, or some members from each side of it, should have the opportunity, quietly and privately, to get to understand the reason for the urgency in relation to each of these matters. In saying that, I do not criticize anything that the Attorney-General has said, or anything that the Solicitor-General is reported to have said, or has written. At this stage I- should like to take the opportunity to say as one who for some years was Attorney-‘General of the Commonwealth, that Sir George Knowles is one of the most valued public servants of this country. He is a man of impeccable honesty, a man of expert alertness and good judgment. I have the most profound respect for his work and for his opinions. I am sure, for example, that if a committee sat, and the Solicitor-General had an opportunity to explain, in those simple terms which can be used conversationally, some of these matters, a great deal of this difficulty would disappear.
That is all that I wish to say on that preliminary point. On the question of substance, I approach this matter to-day as I approached it in 1937 when, as Attorney-General in the Lyons Administration, I introduced a bill identical with the present measure, except that the date of commencement was different. I refer to that because I want to make it quite clear that, because I am now sitting in Opposition, my approach to this subject is not different from what it was when I was on the treasury bench. The fact is that in 1938 it appeared to the then Government that it was desirable that a bill should be put through to adopt these particular sections of the Statute of Westminster. We brought it forward at that time because it seemed to us most desirable that this piece of legislation should be completed in circumstances of peace and at a time when no misunderstanding as to motive could arise. With that all honorable members will, I think, agree. We have only to look back on the debate to realize that there has been a lot of misunderstanding. It is a great pity that that legislation did not go through all stages at that time, in which event controversy in relation to it would be behind us.
That brings me to the point at which I started, namely that if this set of principles was good in 1937 it can be said by almost irresistible logic to be good in 1942. But the Government cannot fail to be aware of the fact that just as in 1937 and 1938 .there were many persons on the then government side of the House who were unhappy about this legislation, so there are among my colleagues to-day many men who honestly and. patriotically are troubled about this legislation in 1942. For all I know there are many thousands, or indeed hundreds of thousands, in the community outside who also are troubled. Many of them will say “ Why bring it up now?” The answer that is made to that question is, “ because practical circumstances make it urgent that it should be brought up now “. The best proof that practical circumstances do make it urgent would be a committee of all parties satisfied by the law authorities that there was a case of urgency and able to report in that sense to the House and fa> the people. That I believe would obviate much controversy that we may otherwise encounter.
– Is there any reason why the committee should not meet tomorrow ?
– I know of no good reason why it should not meet then. I say that to the AttorneyGeneral in all sincerity. I know that the right honorable gentleman wants to get this legislation through; I know what is in his mind about the various technical questions that have arisen; but I suggest that he would find his course much easier and quicker if he would adopt the proposal that has been made. There is no real reason why the committee should not meet to-morrow.
– Can not the right honorable gentleman say now what he would say before the committee ?
– It is not a matter of what I would say before the committee.
– ‘But the right honorable gentleman is specially acquainted with the subject. Are we to appeal to laymen on the legal aspects?
– I hope that we shall appeal to laymen. As the AttorneyGeneral knows, no person has a higher view than I have of the supreme value of lawyers; but I discovered years ago that in this House there is a very great majority of men who are not lawyers. And, believe me, if a Minister wishes to put a bill through .the House, attention must be paid to their views, whether the matter is a legal one or not. I turn from that to say - because I believe there is great confusion on this matter - that in my opinion a sharp distinction is to be drawn between those problems of status and Empire relations which were the subject of discussion in 1917, 1926 and 1930, and those matters which are left in the field of argument in sections 2 to 6 inclusive of the Statute of Westminster. I entirely agree with what the right honorable the Attorney-General said in his monograph that questions of status were finally determined at the conference and that that problem is not a problem which arises in relation to the bill now before the House. What happened in the Statute of Westminster was that the British Parliament had presented to it a bill to give legislative effect to the conference decisions of 1926 and 1930. In effect, what it was sought to do was to put into some statutory form the essential and material terms of the Balfour Declaration. Portion of that declaration has been referred to. I shall quote again the same portion as that mentioned by the Attorney-General. Speaking of the United Kingdom and the Dominions, the declaration said -
They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Those are the material terms of the Balfour declaration. When I say that the problem of status was disposed of by that declaration and the preamble to the Statute of Westminster, T am not to be understood to mean that no more discussion of the problem is possible. On the contrary, I have always believed that the language used was so political and so lacking in exactness that it means everything and nothing. Therefore, I was not surprised to hear the statement of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that Mr. Bruce waa able to say, on bis return to Australia, “ lt means nothing “, and that Mr. Mackenzie King was able to express the opposite view on bis return to Canada.
– On the contrary, Mr. Bruce said that it denned the relationship in very simple words.
– I was only quoting the words that fell from the lips of the right honorable member for North Sydney.
– That quotation has not been checked.
– I am not really concerned to have the exact words used by Mr. Bruce. Though this formula is well known and much quoted, it would pass the wit of man to get an interpretation of it which would satisfy twelve out >of twelve competent minds. It is essentially the language of inexactness, and, of course, it has given rise to entirely different conceptions in different minds.
– Mr. Bruce supported it.
– Undoubtedly. I say at once that I consider that this matter is removed from all party colour by the fact that in 1926 it was the Bruce Government that was represented at the Imperial Conference, and in .1930 it was the Scullin Government that was represented at the conference. Although they represented two entirely different domestic political views, the same philosophy was agreed to at those Imperial Conferences. This is not a party question; hut it is a matter upon which men may differ. I refer to this question of status not because it has anything to do with this bill - an that sense I am perhaps out of order - but in order to put it on one side. Whilst, the Attorney-General and I have extraordinarily similar views on sections 2 to 6, inclusive, of the Statute of Westminster, we have a fundamentally different view of the effect of the Balfour declaration.
– I thought that it was clear.
– I have an entirely different, view of the effect of the Balfour declaration from, that, which was entertained bv Mr. Mackenzie King, and from that which was most strongly entertained by General Hertzog. Despite the arena of dispute into which General Hertzog has entered naturally and in evitably in the last two or three years, he was a man of ability, and was well able to formulate and express his own ideas. What are the points that arose there? I have always believed that the autonomy of the Dominions had to be reconciled entirely with the complete indivisibility of the Crown. I do not understand how the Crown can be the nexus between the Dominions of the British Empire unless it is one Crown. I do not understand the theory, which has had great currency in some Dominions, that there are six kings, and that the King of Australia is advised by his Australian Ministers, and that the King of the United Kingdom is advised by his United Kingdom Ministers, and that in each of those capacities he is distinct. The right honorable member for North Sydney said that, this becomes metaphysical. I believe that it possesses an almost theological character. I believe in the indivisibility of the Throne and the Crown. It is true, as has been pointed out by the Attorney-General, that the King makes war and peace. Let us suppose that, the King makes war. I have never been able to understand how the King may make war as King of the United Kingdom, and remain at peace as King ‘of Australia. I do not begin to understand it.
– Nor does any one else
– On this question, we have an honest difficulty of conception between entirely honest minds. I am not saying anything to the contrary. All I say for myself, and I believe for large numbers of honorable members on this side of the chamber, is that to me the essential ingredient, is an indivisible Crown. I do not believe that the King can be at peace and at war with one foreign country at the same time. That has far-reaching results.
– The right honorable gentleman is still dealing with the Balfour declaration and its meaning.
– I am. That declaration, in my opinion, -was the first thing to crystallize the underlying philosophy of this matter. I mentioned this question merely to clarify ray own position, and then I shall place the matter to one side. If the view be taken, as it is by many people, that the Crown is divisible and that from the time of the Balfour declaration onwards - certainly from the time of the Statute of Westminster onwards - the position was that the King may be advised, and be bound to accept, the advice of his Australian Ministers that Australia proposed to remain neutral in the war with Japan, although at the same time His Majesty would be advised by his United Kingdom Ministers that Britain would declare war on Japan. If that be the true position, every section of the British Empire may, of its own free will, elect to remain neutral in a war in which Britain is engaged, and still remain a part of the British Empire. That is beyond my understanding. I could understand a dominion saying, “We are equal in all things with the other portions of the British Empire, and we decide that we shall not go to war with Japan. So Ave shall leave the British Empire. But, we are not to imagine that we are to be inside this group of nations, united by a common Crown, with the King at war, and at the same time be at peace ourselves “.
– If a country did that, could anything be done about it?
– I shall not discuss what court could take up the matter, because no court could do so. But the position is that when we carry these fine theories about the divisibility of the Crown far enough, our enemies will divide and conquer us, and that will be the final arbitration. The doctrine of divisibility inevitably leads to the doctrine of neutrality; and to me, the doctrine of neutrality in the British Empire is notice of termination of membership. Let me test that statement with one single proposition. If our relationship in the British Empire, is not a relationship in which we are really bound to owe a. single allegiance to a single Crown, we are simply a friendly group of nations. We are not even allies, because if a. country makes a. military alliance with another country, it is bound to fight. There is no alliance of that kind between the members of the British Empire. If the theo-y of divisibility be right, then we are separate, independent people with no common allegiance, because each of us owes allegiance to his own King in his own right, and we are only friends. So long as that friendship lasts, we shall remain friends; so long as we are willing to fight, we shall fight.
– Does not the declaration state that the Dominions are united by a common allegiance?
– It does. Is it the contention of the Attorney-General that it does not mean that they are to be united by a. common allegiance?
– No; there is a common allegiance.
– A common allegiance to a common Crown.
– I prefer the word “King” to “Grown “.
– I accept the word “King” with pleasure, because it emphasizes my contention. If there is to be a common allegiance- to a king, there can be only one king. How one king - one person - can act in six different ways on one problem, because he gets six different sets of advice from six different lots of Ministers, I have never been able to understand. I am not saying these things because they, in my opinion, represent any objection whatever to the pasting of the bill. They do not. I have referred to them because this is an opportunity for putting one’s view’s on them on record. The present is a very great national, and international, moment and of great significance in the British Empire. I emphasize that insofar as the foundation for these arguments exists, it has existed for at least eleven years. The Balfour Declaration has been adopted. The Statute of Westminster has been passed: and it has been passed a: the request of every British dominion, including Australia. So I am looking at those problems retrospectively, but saying, by way of fair warning, that I am not abandoning my view of the Balfour declaration, or the Statute of Westminster; and, at the same time. I am not raising these matters in order to encumber the Attorney-General with new issues. I agree with what he says in his monograph - the question of status does not arise here. That is a past matter. It may have future implications; but it is a past matter. What we are concerned with here is a matter very largely of technical detail. I now mention that aspect briefly, but in no sense qualifying my remarks about the importance of having this quick and informal committee. With all the strength of my views on the general question to which I have been directing my mind, I find it impossible to understand what argument there is against terminating the application of the Colonial Laws Validity Act to the law of the Commonwealth. I confess that I just do not begin to understand that contention. The legislative powers of the Commonwealth are specific. Prima facie, the Commonwealth Parliament can pass laws at its own discretion in relation to them; and to say that some law passed in this country and for this country, by the Parliament of this country, within the powers of this country, should be invalidated because somebody passed some inconsistent statute in Great Britain before this Commonwealth came into existence, seems to me to be the height of absurdity. Section 3 of the statute says -
It is hereby declared and enacted that the parliament of a dominion has full power to make laws having extra-territorial operation.
It is true that there has been a movement of judicial opinion on this matter; and our powers of extraterritorial legislation are now seen to be much greater than they were thought to be some years ago. All I say on that - and I say this particularly to honorable members on this side - is that one thing section 3 will do will be to put beyond doubt the power of this Parliament to make laws for conscription for overseas service. No doubt, that is what the Attorney-General has in mind. Section 4 seems to me to be little more than a transcript of one paragraph of the preamble.
– Tes, but it puts the Parliament, instead of the Government, in the position of vetoing any request for legislation in Great Britain.
– I have no quarrel with that section, or with section 5 or section 6. It seems to me that section ‘6 is purely technical, and should have been cleared up long ago. As to section 5, some people may feel apprehensive about the effect on British shipping in Australia; but, at the same time, we, as a self-governing country, have a perfect right - if one is to talk in general principles - to control our own people and those who come within our own borders, and our own ships and those which come within our territorial waters. We have a perfect right within our charter, as divided between the Commonwealth and the States, to exercise the fullest possible jurisdiction over our own people and those matters within our physical control. That is a general principle, and it is acceptable.
In brief, I accept the proposition” that the big battle which might have been waged in 1930 or 1926, as to whether these great principles should be expressed, and as to how they should be expressed, has been fought, and won, or lost, according to the point of view of the contenders. We shall not fight that battle again any the better by going over the battlefield, exhuming the dead. We might just as well say that that is past; and turn to the future. And turning to the future we find that we have a small set of legislative propositions, ancillary and minor propositions, to put the final touch on the technical powers of Australia. Understanding them as I do, and sympathizing with the position of the law authority as I do, I once more suggest to the AttorneyGeneral that he will get his result much more easily if he will accept a quick and ready means of conveying to honorable members generally the outstanding facts which are, first, that there is here no great issue of Imperial relations ; and, secondly, there are here technical difficulties which the Commonwealth would be all the better to overcome.
.- I was interested to’ hear the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) upon the delicate and difficult subject of the relationship of the various Dominions to Great Britain, and their relationship inter se. I myself have yet to discover, although I have read fairly extensively on the matter, a legal nexus binding the various Dominions to each other, or to Great Britain, unless it be in the common allegiance, so frequently referred to, of each of the Dominions to the King. However, I content myself with the observation made by the right honorable gentleman himself that the consideration of these points in detail, and to a degree of refinement, is not necessary as a condition precedent to the passing of the bill. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) quoted the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), in the use of some words which might be thought to show that the right honorable member for Yarra was opposed to the whole proceeding. Of course, that was not the case. The right honorable member for Yarra was leader of the Government which put at least the final touches upon the Statute of Westminster, so far as it affected Australia, and was a member of a conference which unanimously agreed to request the British Government to pass that statute. In the speech from which the right honorable member for North Sydney quoted, intending the discomfiture of the right honorable member for Yarra, I find the following words used by the then Prime Minister : -
In order to keep pace with the logical evolution of Imperial relations it has become necessary for the old forms and technical limitations on our dominion sovereignty to be abolished, and some part of our time at this conference must be devoted to such considerations.
So far as this bill is an important measure - and I think that it has some importance - it is very largely a lawyer’s bill. So far as it has a .political flavour, it is a thrice-told tale. It is an old story of accomplished fact. It has, of course, historic interest, and, inasmuch as we have been invited by the Opposition, in the exercise of its undoubted rights, to come back this week and debate the bill at length, some words upon this historic instrument, some words upon the growth of the nation from its beginning with the commission that was handed to Governor Philip up to the stage when its adult development is challenged by a foreign aggressor, are justified. Some words are justified because it is a matter of historic interest, and also because the constitution of the House has largely changed since this matter was last before the Commonwealth Parliament nearly twelve years ago. Then, pursuant to agreement made between the various dominions and Great Britain, I moved a resolution in this House designed to make the two sections of the Commonwealth Parliament, the House of Representatives and the Senate, address a request to the British Government to pass the Statute of Westminster. It was, in fact, in 1930, at the Imperial Conference, that the Statute of Westminster first saw the light. At that conference the right honorable member for Yarra and some of his Ministers represented Australia, but, actually, we had not a great deal to do. In truth, we were soon occupied with the beginnings of very urgent matters of domestic affairs which in the following two or three years so grievously affected the well-being of the people of all the Dominions. We were concerned with the beginnings of the depression. Now, in 1930, the trend of growth of that organism which, as I have said, was really planted as a seedling in the commission handed to Governor Philip has been for many years towards its natural fulfilment. Nothing remained to be done at the 1930 conference but to draw in the loose ends and to complete the pattern of nationhood which had already been agreed upon. We did all that, and, in doing it, we made a further and almost final record of Australia’s nationhood. But dominion status was achieved long before that. Indeed, in 1930, it was already thirteen years old. Canada, Australia, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand were all then in the picture, and, as one writer has said, India was on the waiting list. But it was in the year 1917, not 1926, that the flower of dominion status first blossomed in Australia and in the other dominions. Here I make my first point against those who say that the passage of this bill should be indefinitely postponed, namely, that dominion status came into being at an Imperial Conference held in the very middle of the greatest war that, up to that time, had ever been fought in the world, and it makes no difference that dominion status had, as Professor Morgan says, no legal or constitutional meaning. It was a coming of age! The phrase gave expression to a feeling, indeed, a knowledge, that Australia was grown up. On that point L quote from the work, Ireland and the British Empire, these words -
Ja the hour of danger and of supreme effort it was realized that if the full forces of the Empire were to be concentrated on a common purpose it must be on a basis of voluntary action by the principal constituent units and not on any basis of constraint by Imperial authority. The British Government was in no position to demand, still less to enforce contributions of men, money or supplies from the principal colonies or dependencies, either in virtue of the Royal Prerogative exercised on the advice and at the instance of British Ministers or of the legislative authority of the Imperial Parliament which was responsible to the United Kingdom electorate alone.
A little later on, on the same page, the writer, after examining the fact that there was no compulsion upon any dominion to send troops to take part in the Avar, said -
On the other hand there was a strong consciousness, widespread throughout the Empire, of shared sympathies, of common interests, of identical aims, and the need for a combined method to enable all to participate unitedly in effecting a common purpose.
I have quoted those passages because they seem to me to answer admirably the plea of those who say that this is the wrong time to introduce a. measure for the adoption of these sections of the Statute of Westminster. I am tempted - and I succumb to the temptation - to say that there was a long period of years since 1930, and before this war, during which, at any time, in peace, non-Labour governments might have moved for the adoption of these sections, but failed to do so. I quote also some words regarding Australian development from a broadcast which I delivered on the 12th February, 1939. After examining the point that Imperial Conferences did not, could not, and were not qualified to make laws binding on the peoples of other dominions or their own or, indeed on anybody, I said -
In finding dominion nationhood as a fact, they found something as plain and natural as that a seedling had become a tree or that an infant had become a man. The growth of the Australian nation is an organic growth. Australia is not an edifice, it is a living thing. She has passed through infancy and adolescence, and to-day she is adult, and that is all there is to it.
At the conference in 1917 - and I think it is worth while just to review the position - Sir Robert Borden represented
Canada, and moved the resolution in which dominion status came into being. The conference acknowledged that the details - I presume the legal details were meant - necessary for working out dominion status were matters rather for a time of peace than a time of war. He admitted that, but he went on to say, speaking for the whole conference, that they deemed it their duty, however, to place on record their view that any such readjustment, while thoroughly preserving all existing powers of selfgovernment and complete control of domestic affairs, should be based upon a full recognition of the dominions as autonomous nations of an imperial commonwealth. Field Marshal Smuts, in supporting that motion, made a very important distinction between the two factors of legal theory and constitutional right. He said -
I think that, although in practice there is great freedom, yet in actual theory the status of the dominions is of a subject character.
When he spoke of theory, he was speaking of the dry bones of legal theory which we are now seeking to remove. Later he said -
The status of the dominions as equal nations of the Empire will have to be recognized.
Sir Robert Borden, who, in addition to being a statesman, was a lawyer and the author of a work on constitutional law. in replying emphasized the point that Field Marshal Smuts had made, and used these words of very great import, which I commend to the study of the right honorable member for North Sydney if he isdisposed to study the question dispassionately -
It is to be observed that constitutional writers draw a sharp distinction between legal power and constitutional right.
But he continued -
The British Parliament has technically the legal power to repeal the British North America Act-
Honorable members know that that act is the charter of the Canadian Constitution - taking our dominion as an illustration, but there is no constitutional right to do so without our assent, and therefore, while there is the theory of predominance, there is not the constitutional right of predominance in practice even at present.
That was in 1917. That is an elementary truth, but it is worth recording in this connexion, and it certainly has much significance in the light of the statement made by the right honorable member for North Sydney at the 1921 conference. At that conference Mr. Lloyd George presided, and Mr. Hughes was present. There was practically no agenda for the conference, and Mr. Lloyd George addressed himself rather to minor and consequential matters than to matters of major importance. The right honorable member for North Sydney, as he now is, recorded his well-known aversion from setting down in black and white inter-dominion status. I shall refer in a moment to that “ black and white”. He asked these questions: What new right, what extension of power can it give to us? What is there that we cannot do now? What could the Dominions do as independent nations that they cannot do now? What limitation is now imposed upon them? It was precisely those questions which the Attorney-General answered succinctly and in detail last Friday. The right honorable member for North Sydney also said at that conference -
In effect, we have all the rights of selfgovernment enjoyed by independent nations. That being the position, what is the Constitutional Conference going to do? . . . The difference between the status of the Dominions now and 25 years ago is very great. We were colonies, we became dominions. We have been accorded the status of nations. Our progress in material greatness has kept pace with our constitutional development. Let us leave well alone. That is my advice.
He also said -
We have now on the agenda paper matters which mark a new era in Empire government. We, the representatives of the Dominions, are met together to formulate a foreign policy for the Empire. What greater advance is conceivable? What remains to us? We are like so many Alexanders. What other world have we to conquer? I do not speak of Utopias nor of shadows, hut »f solid earth. I know of no power that the Prime Minister of Britain has, that General Smuts has not. Our presence here round this table, the agenda paper before us, the basis of equality on which we meet, these tilings speak in trumpet tones that this conference of free democratic nations is, as Mr. Lloyd George said yesterday, a living force.
The proper answer to the right honorable gentleman is that he was saying something that was incorrect. He spoke as a statesman perhaps, not as a lawyer. In this matter the ingredients of both statesmanship and law are involved and both are necessary. The right honorable gentleman spoke in similar terms on a motion which I made in this House on the 3rd July, 1931. He then asked what fetters were upon us and in what way our absolute freedom was limited. He spoke, apparently, without knowledge of the law or without regard to it - it must have been one or the other - but, in truth, he did have knowledge and he did have regard to the law, because he favored amendment in relation to both the Colonial Laws Validity Act and the Merchant Shipping Act. Those are not acts of this Parliament, and this Parliament cannot amend or repeal them. Of course he knows that, but it strikes me that what he said was legally absurd.
The conference held in 1926 under the chairmanship of Mr. Baldwin was, in fact, the one that was foreshadowed in 19l7. It was a constitutional conference, and it was held for the purpose of giving legal effect, if possible, to the decisions that were registered by the statesmen who attended the 1917 conference. The conference of 1926 carried the now famous resolution to the point that the Dominions are autonomous . members of the community of nations, equal in status with each other and with the United Kingdom, and in no way subordinate to Britain or to any other dominion in any respect of their domestic or external affairs. At that conference, some Alexanders were missing. The right honorable member for North Sydney, for example, had been replace.’! in 1923 by Mr. Bruce. But a few mere worlds were found to conquer, in spite of the earlier graceful allusion of the right honorable gentleman. The conference of 1926 was a representative body composed, for the most part, of representative gentlemen, with the purpose of bringing in a report on ways and means of giving legal effect to the generally accepted constitutional position - a position- which, in fact, had been accepted for many years by all parties concerned. The conference appointed a committee of eminent lawyers to consider what should be done. The chairman of the committee was the learned Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Melbourne University, Sir William Harrison Moore, under whose tuition I sat for some years. The object of the appointment of the committee was to elucidate, in still greater detail, and with fine precision, the nature and extent of the amendments of the law necessary to bring the legal situation, which had remained static, into conformity with the constitutional position which had developed with time and the change of circumstances. The conference of 1930 had before it the report of the lawyers which it accepted, I think, in its entirety and with unanimity. It is interesting to note, in looking over the list of members of that legal conference, that one who was not so distinguished then but who rose to distinction afterwards, was Mr. R. G. Casey, who afterwards represented Corio in this Parliament. If honorable members will keep in mind the fundamental truth uttered by Sir Robert Borden in 1917 that statute law remains static until it is altered by the authority which creates it, while constitutional status is a growing and changing thing, they will have no difficulties whatever in accepting the measure now belatedly put before them.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Throughout the various stages of constitutional development, the British Parliament has remained the source of legislative authority for the colonies, and later for the Dominions as indeed it is in strict legal theory today. The main object of this bill is to accept from Great Britain a. legislative assurance that the Parliaments of Australia and of the other Dominions are responsible to the peoples of Australia and of the other Dominions, and to nobody else. Great Britain does not desire to pass into law acts of Parliament binding any persons other than those who are responsible to the British Parliament. Great Britain is the head of a great democracy, and, as such, has graciously conceded to the Dominion Parliaments the democratic status which qualifies them to legislate without fear or favour for the people to whom they are responsible. That is the custom at present, and when this bill is passed into law, as I believe that it will be, it will become the law as well as the custom. Even those honorable members who are not students of law will know the differences between statute law and common law. Common law, like constitutional status, is a thing of growth and development, and statute law is a rigid thing which means to-day what it meant yesterday, and will mean to-morrow.
– Not at all! The court may alter its opinion. The honorable gentleman knows that perfectly well.
Mr.BRENNAN. - The right honorable gentleman is attempting to make a feature of an accidental circumstance, which is chiefly applicable to very recent history, namely, that in some cases the High Court of Australia does overrule itself. But the general principle, which is sufficient for our purposes, is that the meaning of a statute remains as it is declared to be by the courts. I do not believe that the right honorable gentleman will deny that. I have already said that common law, as constitutional law, is largely a matter of custom and development, and I understand that the right honorable gentleman accepts that view. However, where common law conflicts with the clear words of a statute, the statute prevails. That position operates to-day. A British statute, however ancient it may be, whether it be the Colonial Laws Validity Act, the Merchant Shipping Act, or any other law that the British Parliament passed with the intention that it should run in any dominion, does run in that dominion, or, at any rate, it did run until Great Britain recognized that this was an anachronism and that the position ought to be altered in accordance with settled practice. Therefore, there are ancient and apparently obsolete statutes running in Australia, which are, in fact, operative. When I submitted a motion in this House in July, 1931, in relation to the Statute of Westminster, I quoted a number of cases in which laws passed by the British Parliament ran in this country, and it was admitted that they ran against the settled view of the Australian people, as expressed through their Parliament. The present Attorney-General, with his greater knowledge and wider experience, has brought this matter up to date by quoting a large number of further examples of conflict and possible conflict, and by pointing out, in answer to the right honorable gentleman, for North Sydney, that once a settled principle is laid down by the law, people naturally steer clear of a breach of that principle, however much they may desire to have it altered. Both Great Britain and the Dominions desire to end the absurdity of the present situation. The decisions of the courts, which are, in fact, the living law of our time, have been made pursuant to statutes which are anachronisms and which, at any time in the future if the position remains as it is to-day, may work injustices, as they have undoubtedly done in the past. I recall that when I was speaking on this subject in 1931, the then honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) was disposed to blame the courts for this position. He took the view that the courts should recognize the actual and practical constitutional status of Australia and decide accordingly. That is rather a curious doctrine for a member of the Labour movement to urge - that the courts should disregard the clearly expressed letter of a statute. I, and most other honorable members, whether they be members of the Labour party or any other party, would resent such action by the courts. Furthermore,. when this matter came before the Parliament in 1931, the Parliament declared, with the utmost deliberation that sections 2 to 6, inclusive, of the Statute of Westminster should not apply to Australia until Australia had, by some legislative act or declaration of the Parliament, adopted them. Is it to be said that the courts should run against that deliberate declaration? To me it is unthinkable that they should. The right honorable member for North Sydney has more than once objected to our constitutional relations being set out in what he calls “ black and white “. My answer to that is that the statutes which bind us are set out in black and white. They are definite and clear. They are subject to judicial interpretation only as to their meanings, and, their meanings being ascertained, they must be obeyed. When the ‘Statute of Westminster has been adopted, when we have accepted this gift graciously offered to us by the Mother of Parliaments in accordance with the true constitutional position, there will not be a shred of black and white left determining the position between the Dominions, amongst themselves, and the relationship of the Dominions to the Imperial Parliament. All that will remain will be the goodwill arising from common kinship, a common language, and the natural affection of son and daughter for father and mother. [Extension of time granted.] One would suppose, from the speeches of some honorable gentlemen that a revolution would be effected by the passing of this bill. I ask honorable members opposite to recall the names of those who have been associated with the development of our constitutional standing. I do not want to revert to ancient history, but recalling that conference of 1917 we think of Sir Robert Borden, a conservative lawyer and constitutionalist of intense British sympathies, and of Field Marshal Smuts, for 40 years a trusted, deeply respected and beloved friend of Great Britain. We also think of Lord Balfour, who presided over the 1926 committee, and of Earl Baldwin, the conservative Prime Minister who has always been regarded as being typical of the very heart and soul of sober British opinion. I am a little sad to think that there is scarcely a Labour man amongst them. There are one or two ex-Labour men, and I give the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) credit where credit is due, because in the de facto development of the constitutional status of Australia, he has always played a sincere and creditable part. By his forceful representation of Australia at the Versailles Conference, and at other international meetings of interest, he placed this country upon the map in a position of reality, and at all times asserted and maintained our independence of action and thought. ] am satisfied that had his life not been devoted mainly to the broader field of politics, but rather to the narrower and less important field of pure law - had he been more of a lawyer and less of a constitution maker - he would not have been found in opposition to the passage of this measure. In 1931, the right honorable gentleman suggested - quite unworthily, I consider - that the resolution of 1926 arose out of the pettiness of some of those present, and he mentioned specifically the Canadian representative, Mr. Mackenzie King. But I point out that in 1930, when the coping stone was placed upon the Statute of Westminster and the final acts necessary to ensure its passage were effected, it was not Mr. Mackenzie King, but the conservative Prime Minister, the right honorable R. B. Bennett, then Premier of Canada, who spoke for his country. The fact remains that this long list of statesmen, representing all shades of political thought, were all agreed on this matter. Disagreement did not arise until this chamber reduced the question to a mere party discussion. I am sorry to think that we cannot yet do anything in this Parliament without descending to party politics. I arn satisfied that the former right honorable member for Kooyong, Sir John Latham, moved his amendment to my resolution, deferring the adoption of these sections, because his party had a majority in the Senate, and because he had supporters on his own side of the chamber, who were in opposition to the proposal for no higher motives than pure prejudice. Had we carried out our agreement with Great Britain, this matter would have been settled eleven years ago by the carrying of a resolution in this chamber and in the Senate, requesting Britain to pass the Statute of Westminster in accordance with the arrangement agreed to unanimously at Westminster by all representatives of the Dominions, and of Great Britain itself. I cannot help thinking that the speech made by the right honorable member for Kooyong to-day would never have been made were it not for the fact that he is in association with persons on the other side of the chamber, whose views he does not approve, and whose attitude on this subject he deplores. He should not be in opposition to this measure because on a. former occasion he introduced precisely the same bill. I conclude with this pious hope : The Parliament of Great Britain - the mother of parliaments and the head of a great democracy - has passed this measure by agreement with all the Dominions, at their request, and in conformity with its own views of what the law should be, and what the constitutional status is. Britain passed the mea- sure in recognition of the fact that dominion status came into being in the middle of the greatest war which up to that time - 1917 - had ever shaken the world ; Britain passed it in the firm belief that the countries freely associated with the Motherland as dependencies should be no longer dependant, and that the ties of kinship and blood, would create a loyalty and cement a cohesion which could never grow out of any policy which retained in one of the partners in this commonwealth of friendly nations, the power to dominate another.
In my view this measure is one which should have received the assent of this House without very much discussion. Ispeak on this matter, not merely as a lawyer, but as one who has a deep regard for the future of this country as a nation. When the motion for leave to introduce the measure was under discussion, I indicated that in my opinion its only vice, if there was one at all, was the misunderstanding which existed throughout the country, and in this Parliament, in regard to it. Some honorable members apparently thought that the measure broke new ground, but it is quite clear from the discussion that no new ground is being broken. For over ten years, this has been the statute law of Britain, passed at the request of the Dominions, including Australia. Therefore, the issue is one of exceedingly limited compass, namely, has a case been made out for the adoption of certain sections of the Statute of Westminster, or has it not? Honorable members are indebted to the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) for the exceedingly useful monograph which he prepared on this matter. Whatever views I may hold in regard to introducing a measure such as this at the present time, and so invoking party discussion and misunderstandings, nevertheless, I pay a tribute to the great work which the Attorney-General has done in an endeavour to make the issues clear, and I venture to suggest that had all members taken the trouble to read the monograph prior to this discussion, there would not have been so many words wasted in this chamber. I do not propose to waste many words.
– The honorable member is doing so now.
– I am not. I believe that I have a faculty for speaking to the point. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) told me a few moments ago that the best speeches in this House were those which were made upon an issue which was not raised by the measure under discussion. I shall not make any effort to deliver what may he termed a good speech on this matter, since I propose to address my remarks solely to the issue before the House, but I hope to be able to express views upon it which will carry the conviction that there can be no objection whatever to the bill. Although I agree with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) that to-morrow morning should be devoted to a discussion between party representatives in an endeavour to clear up whatever misunderstanding may still exist, I claim that this measure, considered entirely upon its merits, can receive no opposition from any one who directs himself to the fundamental issues.
It is not my purpose to go back as some speakers have done to the conferences of 1926 and 1930. What good purpose can. be served now by re-hashing history? My own view is that there was no need whatever to reduce to a formula the constitutional relationships between the Dominions and between the Crown and the Dominions, in order to achieve a working basis. A mistake was made in endeavouring in four years to place in formal language what had been a matter of historical and constitutional growth for more than four centuries. I have no penchant for the reduction of constitutional relationships to a formula, but it has been done and nothing we can do can alter it. Therefore, the only question before us to-day is: Is the House satisfied that these five sections should be adopted?
Looking back over the growth of this country from the time when it was a convict settlement, through its stages of military government, to the struggle for self-government and the final establishment of self-government, one finds that many of the same argu ments which have been used in this chamber to-day, were used then. Apparently, we do not sufficiently realize that when we claim nationhood, we should take the road to nationhood, particularly when we are acting with the complete accord of Great Britain. That being so. little can be gained by discussing a matter which, in point of fact, is not the real issue. I cannot believe that the ties that bind us to the Mother Country depend upon any particular act of Parliament. If .British people throughout the world do not stand together because they are British, as history reveals they always do, they will not stand together because of some legal formula. Therefore, it seems to me that the whole issue is : Has a basis been established for the adoption of these sections of the Statute of Westminster?
Prom the commencement of the present century, Australia has been a federation. All of us know - some move than others, I probably less than most - the steps that were taken before ultimately the federation was inaugurated. Locking at the Constitution, one finds in it powers that are expressed in the widest terms. Those powers having been granted, one would expect them to be exercised. It appears to me that the bill can best be discussed if one directs oneself to section 2 of the Statute of Westminster. If the proposition that it contains be answered affirmatively, little is left for argument. I have no desire to recapitulate what has been excellently put by more than one honorable member; but I cannot conceive that a country that claims to be a nation, that has been fostered in its nationhood and assisted at every stage of its national growth, by the Mother Country, can resist the removal of fetters that were imposed upon it before it became a federation. That is the simple issue. I do not know of any issue having been raised in respect of the Colonial Laws Validity Act as between the British Government, and ourselves; but that enactment has been taken as a basis of argument for legal decision. No justification can exist for the maintenance of a fetter upon the exercise of our constitutional powers, when the exercise of any one of the powers granted by the
Constitution may be abrogated or defeated if it happens to be inconsistent with the Colonial Laws Validity Act, even though that legislation was passed at a time when conditions were entirely different from those that now exist, when nationhood had not yet arrived, and Australia had not become a federation. Therefore, -the case for the adoption of that particular section has in my view been conclusively established.
On the motion for leave to introduce the bill, I expressed myself completely in favour of it. I then said that, had it been introduced before the outbreak of war, my approach to it would have been entirely different. On the merits, I have never held views contrary to those that I am now expressing. The only matter that concerned me, was the degree of misunderstanding concerning it that might exist throughout the country. If this debate has served any useful purpose, it will have rendered the best service hy making the issues clear to the people.
Section 3 of the statute gives to this Parliament the power to legislate extraterritorially. Not as a lawyer, but as a man, looking to the future as well as to the present control of my country, I cannot see what objection there can be to that. The views expressed prior to 1926 were designed to limit, by legal definition, the exercise of the powers of this country - powers that were regarded as sovereign within the Constitution - so as to confine them within the territorial limits of the Commonwealth. If I may say so, I have never been satisfied as to what really are the territorial limits of the Commonwealth; but they are certainly close to the littoral of Australia.
– The honorable gentleman will remember the case of the Japanese luggers, which took weeks to argue.
– In point of fact, a vital matter was at stake in respect of those luggers. Much time has been devoted to establishing that the point or place at which they were discovered was beyond the territorial limits of the Commonwealth, and that, consequently, the Commonwealth had no power to deal with them. Nothing could be more absurd. Lengthy argument was heard. Navigators were summoned in order to determine whether or not they were within certain limits that might be said to be purely estuaries, or were beyond them. The argument whether or not this country had the power to deal with those vessels in those waters was interminable. Little by little, the courts have realized how untenable is such a position in the development of a country, and have recognized the increasing responsibility, as well as the growth of Australia since the commencement of the present century.
Section 3 of the statute, in substance, does little more than confirm the views that have been expressed by judicial authorities. There is a point with which the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) may, however, deal when he is replying to the debate. In a paper that he prepared upon this matter, His Honour Mr. Justice Dixon expressed the opinion, if my recollection is not at fault, that section 3 conferred on the Commonwealth powers additional to those contained in the Constitution, in respect of matters having extra-territorial operation, except insofar as they fell within the express powers of the States.
– His Honour raised the point, and finally adopted the view expressed by the honorable member - extra-territorial operation, but only in respect of matters over which the Commonwealth Parliament has jurisdiction.
– Whatever doubts may be cast on this or any other section of the statute, I do not consider that any document likely to affect the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth would ever be free from argument, however it might he framed. It seems to me, therefore, that this particular section must be a necessary corollary of the powers that should be attached to a national Parliament.
Section 4 of the statute, in my opinion, is purely declaratory of an already existing condition.
– It is a safeguard in this case.
– It safeguards the position. Sections 5 and 6 of the statute deal with matters that have more technical substance than real constitutional foundation.
For the reasons that I have stated, the bill must ultimately receive the approval of this Parliament. I again say to the Attorney-General that two or three hours spent along the lines suggested by the right honorable member for Kooyong this afternoon would completely remove any doubts that may exist.
– What doubts can remain after the speeches of the right honorable member for Kooyong and the honorable member himself? There is not a lawyer in the chamber who has any douhts.
– It is not a matter solely for lawyers. In respect of background, a lawyer is peculiarly at an advantage, because he has had the opportunity to watch the growth of these matters and to know the issues that are really involved. But the important point is to convey conviction to the public. It would be very wrong indeed if, as the result of the discussion in this Parliament, it should be thought by the people that there is involved in this legislation any question that affects the relations between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, or between the Dominions inter se. I believe that the debate, so far as it has proceeded, will go a long way towards removing any such impression. “We are a nation, and must assert our rights as such. Those rights have at all points been willingly conceded to us by the British Government. The act that we are asked to adopt is an Imperial act; it is on the statute-book of the Imperial Parliament. The only reservation it contained was that these particular sections were not to affect Australia, New Zealand or Newfoundland unless they had first been adopted by the Parliaments of those countries. But in South Africa and Canada they operated instanter. Two Dominions, having had this legislation in operation for more than ten years, without a suggestion - I hope -that in consequence there has been any weakening of the ties that bind one to another, it would be unfortunate if there should go out from this House the impression that any discussion or opposition to thebill would be likely to result in any lessening of those ties. My approach to the matter is very simple. We have been given the right to adopt these sections. If, having adopted them, we find that wrongs flow from them, we shall have equally the power to abrogate what we have done; we shall be able to revoke the adoption, as the Imperial Parliament could to-morrow technically revoke the Statute of Westminster itself.
– We have been given express power to revoke.
– Exactly. The strength of our Empire will depend, as must every great nation and people, not only upon the indissoluble ties of blood, tradition and common interest, but also upon the ability of one section of the community to attract and understand other sections; it will depend upon the goodwill of British people throughout the world, upon those ties that have bound us throughout the centuries and will continue to bind us in the future.
.- There has been a curious dissonance of argument between the right honorable members for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and Kooyong (Mr. Menzies). The right honorable member for North Sydney, who moved the amendment, agreed with the principles laid down in the preamble, but made his attack upon the sections proposed to , be adopted. I was astonished at his having ended his speech with an amendment that the bill be referred to a committee ; because he devoted the whole of his arguments to demonstrating to his own satisfaction that nobody could possibly regard the adoption of the sections as urgent. If the right honorable gentleman’s argument was right, then it would be a waste of time to refer the bill to a committee, because a committee could not possibly regard the matter as urgent. The chain of his argument had that tendency. The right honorable member for Kooyong, on the other hand, agreed that the sections proposed to be adopted are desirable, but made his attack more or less directly on the principles set out in the preamble. Because he did so, it is reasonable that honorable members should have something to say about that matter. But the principles set out in the preamble are the law of Australia. They operate in Australia by virtue of the fact that they are that part of the Statute of Westminster, which is already in force in this country. Those principles have not been enunciated “out of the blue “ ; they took a long time to build up. The right honorable member for North Sydney was one of their sponsors. It cannot be said that he was their only begetter, but he co-operated in bringing about the position that exists. In 1917, the Imperial “War Conference carried a number of resolutions. Resolution 9 read as follows: -
The Imperial War Conference are of opinion that the re-adjustment of the constitutional relations of the component parts of the Empire is too important and intricate a subject to be dealt with during the war, and that it should form the subject of a special Imperial conference to be summoned as soon as possible after the cessation of hostilities.
The conference there referred to was held in 1926. Another matter to which the right honorable member for Kooyong directed attention was a principle laid down and ‘accepted by several writers that, whilst the King is the supreme executive, he acts on the advice of different Ministries within different constitutional units. That principle was laid clown in a memorandum circulated in 1919 by Sir Robert Borden, then Prime Minister of Canada, on behalf of himself and other Dominion Prime Ministers, one of whom was the right honorable member for North Sydney. Paragraph 2 of his memorandum states -
The procedure is in consonance with the principles of constitutional government that obtain throughout the Empire. The Crown is the supreme executive in the United Kingdom and in all the dominions, but it acts on the advice of different Ministries within different constitutional units; and under Resolution IX. of the Imperial War Conference 1917, the organization of the Empire is to be based upon equality of nationhood.
Mr. Bruce, when he laid on the table of this House the agenda of that Imperial Conference on the 3rd August, 1926, said -
The war made it necessary for the selfgoverning dominions to consider their position, and many changes were made which have affected their relations with each other, and in particular, with Great Britain. During the war an Imperial War Cabinet was established; but no thinking man would suggest that such a body could be of use except in a time of dire national crisis. It would not be acceptable in times of peace; the self-governing parts of the Empire would not tolerate an Imperial Cabinet whose existence must diminish the rights and privileges which they now enjoy under their own constitutions. The Treaty of Versailles was separately signed on behalf of Great Britain, of the self-governing dominions, and of India; there is a separate membership of the different parts of the Empire of the League of Nations; and the right of diplomatic representation of the self-governing parts of the Empire in foreign countries, in relation to those matters with which they are particularly concerned, has been recognized. Further, a resolution passed at the Imperial Conference of 1923 recognized the right of the self-governing parts of the Empire to negotiate separate treaties. All these things have been done in recognition of the full partnership of the peoples which constitute the British Empire, and are part of the beneficent evolution which has resulted from the genius for self-government possessed by those of British stock. “When Mr. Bruce came back from the conference in the following year he made a speech in this House in which he quoted the Balfour formula that has been so much criticized by the right honorable member for Kooyong. I repeat the words of the formula. Great Britain and the Dominions were to be - autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Then Mr. Bruce went on to say -
That is the definition that one would give of the relations of the various parts of the Empire if he were asked to state it in a few simple words.
There is. no doubt that Mr. Bruce approved the Balfour declaration. I cite his views, because he was for many years the leader of the party which is supported by honorable members now in opposition. It was not until a very late stage that members of the party now in office came to play an active part in this matter. Those things were done by members of the party now in opposition. It is their teaching which was adopted by Great Britain, by the Imperial conferences, and by other dominions.
Now I pass to the actual sections of the Statute of “Westminster which this Parliament is now asked to adopt. My task has been lightened by the admirable and generous speech of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). His testimony was that the bill should be adopted without further discussion, but he suggested that, as a concession to public opinion, it. might be referred to a committee. I fail to understand how the fears of the public are to be allayed by the deliberations of a committee which, after deliberating behind closed doors, might say, “ The bill is desirable. Our fears are unfounded.” We have the statement of the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt), with the authority of the Solicitor-General, that the bill is necessary and that ought to satisfy us. I approach the consideration of this measure from a rather different point of view from that of other speakers. Australia has had experiences very different from those of other dominions. In establishing the selfgoverning rights of Canada, men have gone to the scaffold as William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis Riel died. But Australia has had no such experience as that. In order to create an atmosphere of conflict, we have had to magnify the affair of the Eureka Stockade - our own little rebellion - into a battle. We in Australia have been treated with the utmost indulgence by the people and Parliament of Great Britain. Measures of self-government have been conceded to us, and some of the laws we have now to repeal were, in their time, charters of liberty. Later they became fetters on the free movement of the people. Take the doctrine that a colonial parliament cannot, make a law repugnant to the laws of Great Britain. In the early days of Australia, that was one of the thing? which patriotic Australians relied upon. For a long time it was uncertain whether Australia was to be governed as a prison or as a free settlement. When Sir Francis Forbes - a famous and venerable name - came as Chief Justice to New South Wales, he bore instructions, given as a concession to public opinion, that he should not certify acts of the Legislative Council unless he thought them consistent with the laws of Great Britain. He refused to certify laws which interfered with the freedom of the press. There was a time when the doctrine that laws could not be passed in Australia inconsistent with the laws of Great Britain was to be regarded as a guarantee of greater freedom to the Australian people. But circumstances changed. Our colonies obtained a measure of self-government and the doctrine of repugnancy became a fetter on colonial freedom. A. judge in South Australia who bore the name of the constituency represented by the honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price), strictly applied the doctrine that no colonial parliament could possibly do anything which conflicted with the laws of Great Britain. lt could not alter its own Constitution. It could not set up courts of justice. It could not introduce the Torrens system of land transactions, because that was different from the English way of doing things.
After some years of patience an act was passed called the Colonial Laws Validity Act, which has been described as having been the charter of liberty, because it gave to the parliaments of Australia the right to alter their own constitutions. It gave them the right to set up courts and make laws for the administration of justice. It provided that they were not bound by any law of Great Britain, unless that law was intended to apply to the colonies. But we still had the position that the legislatures of the colonies were subordinate legislatures. The Parliament of Great Britain was sovereign and could make laws, not only for British territory, but also for British people everywhere. The parliaments of each colony could pass laws only for the territory in which it sat, and only so long as those laws did not conflict with the laws of Britain intended to apply to that colony. That is important, in that it teaches us why the various sections were inserted in the Statute of Westminster. Each section has its particular meaning. One sub-section provides that the Colonial Laws Validity Act shall not apply to dominions, but can apply to States, because the States apparently want it. Possibly that sub-section might have revived the old doctrine of repugnancy, so a section was inserted providing that no act of a dominion parliament shall be invalid on any plea that it is repugnant to the laws of Britain. Having said that, I proceed to clause 4 of the bill, which provides not only that we are not bound by acts passed by the Parliament of Great Britain in the past, but also that we shall not be bound by any acts which it may pass in future, unless they be passed with the consent of the Dominions. That, in relation to us, means with the consent of, not only our Government, but also our Parliament. The result of our Parliament having power only in our own territories was that our laws could not be enforced outside those territories. As the honorable member for W arringah has pointed out, the courts in recent years have been struggling to give to the Dominion parliaments the power to make laws which shall apply beyond territorial waters. The clauses now under consideration are designed to carry us a step further, though possibly not the final step, in the development that has occurred. We have seen the principle of government and self-government broadened from precedent to precedent and from statute to statute.
– Even misgovernment!
– If misgovernment has occurred, the responsibility is our own. It is better to have freedom to make mistakes than not to have freedom at all.
The minds of some people are affected by the view that if these sections of the Statute of Westminster are adopted, the Commonwealth Parliament may take the same course as the Parliament of the Free State of Ireland. That, I submit, is rendered impossible by the fact that there is one Imperial act, which, notwithstanding this statute, we cannot alter without the concurrence of the Australian people. That is the Commonwealth Constitution. There are provisions in the covering sections of that act which possibly affect this matter, and which cannot be altered even with the consent of the Australian people, but will have to be altered, if at all, by the Imperial Parliament at the request of this Parliament. The most important things which prevent us from taking that course are the provisions of the Constitution, which state that the Parliament consists of the King and the two Houses of the Parliament, and that the executive power is vested in the King. Those are provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution which cannot be repealed without the consent of the majority of the Australian people. Those provisions cannot : be repealed without the consent of a majority of the Australian people, in a majority of the States. Apart from that, there is a preamble in the Constitution to the effect that we are united under the Crown, and there is no power in this Parliament to repeal that provision. In the theory of British law, all power resides in theCrown. The King is an integral (part of Parliament, and the Parliament of Great Britain makes laws in the name of the Crown, and the Commonwealth. Parliament, and the Parliaments of the various States, adhere to the same practice. Moreover, the laws are executed by the King, who, in doing so, acts on the advice of his Ministers here. The King is an integral part of the legislature.
– But the King, before accepting the advice of his Ministers in Australia, must seek the advice of his Ministers in Great Britain.
-BURN.- No, I do not agree with that. I know that Sir John Latham suggested in his book on the British Commonwealth that in some cases that might be so. Honorable members will recall that there are constitutional provisions which give power to reserve certain measures, and to disallow certain acts of theCommonwealth Parliament within one year. Sir John Latham suggested that the power to disallow or forbid legislation under those sections might possibly be exercised on the advice of Ministers other than Australian Ministers, but I believe that the true position is that, in regard to legislation affecting Australia only, the King acts on the advice of his Australian Ministers only.
– That is the constitutional position.
– The word “ constitution” is used in two senses. The most important rules governing the relations between Australia and Great Britain are not set out in acts of Parliament; they are constitutional understandings which have developed in the course of time, just as the relations between the King and Parliament in Great Britain are the subject of constitutional understandings. William III., without consulting any one, refused his assent to certain statutes, but no sovereign since 1707 has refused to assent to a statute passed by Parliament. That is in accordance with a constitutional understanding which, though not reduced to statute form, is as imperative as if it had been. In the same way, it is nowhere set forth in any statute that the King must act on the advice of his Ministers, but constitutional practice lays it down, and it has almost the imperative force of a statute. So also, the evolutionary changes in the relationship between the Dominion of Australia and the United Kingdom are largely the result of a development of understandings. What we are doing to-day, important as it is, has not had as great an effect on the relationship between the Commonwealth of Australia and the powers of the United Kingdom as has the constitutional practice which developed in the nineteenth century, and which wa3 brought to its climacteric by the enactment of the preamble of the Statute of Westminster.
– This is a measure which we should approach in a calm and dispassionate manner. At the same time, I regret that the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) has seen fit to bring it before the House at this juncture. The Statute of Westminster is not new, nor are the implications which lie behind it. We cannot understand a measure like this unless we have some regard to the circumstances in which it saw the light of day. We must go back to the period of the last war, when there grew up in certain of the King’s dominions a feeling that all was not well with the internal management of the Empire; that it was about time that some of the Dominions grew up constitutionally; while in others, the feeling, developed that they might be better off outside the Empire. An Imperial Conference was held in 19£6, followed by another in 1930. At those two conferences there were present representatives of British dominions who believed that it would be a good thing for their countries to withdraw from the Empire. The Statute of Westminster was evolved, not from any desire on the part of the majority of the Dominions to re-define the relationship between Great Britain and the Dominions, but as a compromise between the majority of the Dominions, and two of the Dominions in particular, which wished for a redefinition of constitutional relations which would enable them to do certain things which they wanted to do.
– Which dominions were they?
– Ireland was one, and South Africa was the other. Legislation similar to this has been introduced in the Commonwealth Parliament on two occasions since I have been a member of it. It was introduced by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), and at no stage of the proceedings did I ever agree to its passage, nor do I agree now. The passage of this measure would not add one iota to the constitutional status of Australia nor, having regard to the issues with which we are faced to-day, would, it arm one man or produce one gun or shell to assist in the prosecution of the war. This is a matter about which we might appropriately argue in time of peace, but at this time it is well that we should ask ourselves - Quo vadis, domine ?
The constitutional development of the British Empire is in marked contrast to that of certain other great democratic states. The French colonies have never tended to develop into self-governing dominions. They were given direct representation in the Parliament at Paris, which made laws to govern every part of the French Empire, and governors were sent out from Paris to the various colonies to administer those laws. The 48 States of the United States of America have associated themselves in a different constitutional pattern. They have formed themselves into a federation over which one man, the President, who is elected every four years, exercises supreme executive authority. Neither in the French Empire nor in the United States of America would it be possible for a problem to arise such as that which we are now considering. The contrast between the two methods of constitutional association can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman times. The constitution of the British Empire tends to follow the Greek methods under which the various Greek city states formed colonies on the coast of Asia Minor, in southern Italy, Sicily, &c, and each colony took its customs and laws from its parent city. As opposed to that, there was the Roman system under which there was but one method of settlement, that directed from Rome itself, and there was one form of law which ran throughout the whole of the Roman Empire. The one system made for uniformity of legislation, of rights and of obligations; the other, which the British have followed, was lax, incoherent and non-cohesive. It is not for me to criticize the constitutional development of the British Empire. We know something of the history of Canada, with its various local problems, and of South Africa, with various other problems. The problem of Ireland remains unsolved, and is, apparently, insoluble.
At this stage, when we are involved in the greatest conflict in our history, it is not right that the Government should bring before Parliament a measure of this kind. There have been great constitutional developments in the British Empire since the days of the Boston Tea Party. All constitutions are things of growth. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), in the first part of his speech, told us that once a thing was fixed, it was settled for good and all; but towards the end of his speech he suggested that even this legislation would come up for review sooner or later. No necessity whatever exists for the passing of this bill. It is true that certain very important developments have taken place since the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and. 1930, and the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
– And they are not happy developments.
– No. I shall refer to a few of their implications. All that remains to-day of the mantle of Empire so far as this country is concerned is the common allegiance which we owe to the King. The right honorable member for Kooyong made a very good analytical speech this afternoon upon the impossibility of the King dividing himself into half a dozen portions in order to administer laws, or to perform acts, on the advice of governments which are in disagreement. Out of statutes such as this, sooner or later, disagreement must arise between the Dominions themselves, or between one or more of the Dominions and Great Britain itself, the solution of which will tax the ingenuity of Empire statesmen.
– That might arise in any case.
– Yes ; but now, with our eyes open, we are passing a measure which will virtually make that state of affairs inevitable. It is said that common allegiance is all that binds us together to-day. What is the implication in the Balfour Declaration? It is only this : That any of the Dominions has the right to walk out of the Empire at any time it chooses to do so. In other words, no distinction exists in the Imperial viewpoint between secession and selfishness. The only object a dominion can have in walking out of the Empire to-day is downright selfishness.
We also have the problem of a common law throughout the Empire.I recognize that to-day the British Empire contains many people who are not of our own stock, and some who are not even of European stock. I am confining my remaks to those ofour people who are of European stock. It is true that justice, in theory, is dispensed by the King; and the King’s justice will be dispensed through the courts in a peculiar fashion should anything be done to break entirely the Australian citizen’s right of appeal to the King in Council, which still exists under very restricted conditions. The Commonwealth itself has passed laws on this matter. Incidentally, of the honorable members who have so far spoken in this debate, I am the only one who is not a lawyer. I may be a little off the track; but I contend that if we owe allegiance to the one King, certain things must accompany that allegiance, and a common law, or, at any rate, the right of appeal from any citizen in any dominion to the King in Council on a matter of justice, is one of them.
– This bill will not affect the right of appeal to the Privy Council in any way whatsoever. That is governed by section 74 of the Constitution which gives the right of appeal from the High Court under certain conditions. The right of appeal from the State Supreme Courts, under the usual conditions, will also remain.
– Appeals from the State Supreme Courts to the Privy Council are now almost nonexistent.
– The law provides for an appeal where £500 or more is involved ; and in the case of an appeal from the High Court special leave must be obtained.
– That is exercising the minds of a lot of people in this country.
– Honorable members who are members of the legal profession will agree that this bill will not affect that matter one iota. That right is given in section 74 of the Constitution. This Parliament could have abolished it, but has noi, done so. Provision i3 also made for an appeal from the State courts under the terms laid down in the Imperial act.
– We must also bear in mind the aspect of common citizenship throughout the Empire. St. Paul once said, “I am a Roman citizen “. By that he meant that he had the right of appeal from a far-flung part of the Roman Empire to Rome itself. Unless something of a common nature be given throughout the Empire, the time will come when we shall have some difficulty in determining what the Empire is all about. Another matter which is concerning the people of this country is the changed relationship between the Dominions and Great Britain, particularly with regard to the appointment of Governors-General since the passage of the Statute of Westminster.
– The Statute of Westminster does not bear on that matter one iota. That is a matter of constitutional practice.
– We need to clear it up. Many of us do not accept the contention that a dominion government has the right, practically, to nominate its own Governor-General. If the King be the sole link which binds the Dominions to Great Britain, even greater necessity exists for the Governor-General to be the personal representative of the King, and not the nominee of any party government in one of the King’s Dominions.
– All of us understand the honorable member’s point; but this bill has no relation to that rule of constitutional practice.
– The fippointment of a Governor-General is one of the matters which is agitating the minds of the people to-day. Some of us are still a little inclined towards the old Jacobites. We recognize that the Crown could, and should, play a very important part in the constitutional life of our community. We do not desire to see the passage of any legislation which will weaken that position. However, to-day, the position of the Crown in relation to the Dominions is very tenuous. I am surprised that this Parliament does not pay one penny towards the upkeep of the King, or the Royal Family. Since I have been a member of this House this Parliament has paid about £65,000 a year to the League of Nations, and it continues to make that payment notwithstanding the fact that that horrible thing has been buried and no one has thought fit to put a tombstone over it. Another £65,000 was voted by this Parliament for the League of Nations last week. It is rather remarkable that we should consider it to be profitable and beneficial to pay £65,000 annually of good Australian money into a sink like Geneva, when, at the same time, we do not provide one farthing for the maintenance of the King, “although we say that the King is now the only link which connects us with the Empire. Honorable members opposite might ponder over that point. This afternoon the right honorable member for Kooyong spoke of the impossibility of the King dividing himself into six portions in order to give six different decisions on the one matter. I think that the right honorable gentleman is a little behind the times. Generally, he is not. However, two newspapers owned by the same gentleman, one of which is published in Adelaide and the other in Melbourne, take opposite views with respect to the passage of this measure. The first newspaper considers such action to be outrageous, whilst the second says that the measure should have been passed years ago. If it be possible for the owner of those newspapers to divide himself like that, we might, with some little practice, be able to manage a similar feat in another sphere. I have read the Attorney-General’s monograph. If any justification existed for the passage of this measure, the case he put up in his monograph in that direction condemns it outright. From paragraph 44 onwards the monograph is one of the most far-fetched I have ever read in Parliament. I have had experience of legislation in respect of starting-price bookmakers and tin hares, but I have never previously known a gentleman with the reputation of the Attorney-General to put up a case so weak as that which he advanced in respect of the two Australian naval ratings. If he thinks that he is going to get a case like that accepted, he has another think coming.
– The honorable member is just making an assertion; I have given the facts.
– If the case which the Attorney-General set out be correct, then, in effect, he tells this House that the British Government can do something with regard to two prisoners who are held in an Australian gaol which may conflict with the wishes of the Australian people.
– I certainly said so ; and I repeat that statement.
– I am not concerned about the legal position in any of these matters; and the Statute of Westminster is nothing but undiluted law. Therefore, I say that the Attorney-General in his monograph from section 44 onwards has put up a case which Parliament cannot be expected to accept, because it is ridiculous to assert that the British Government in such circumstances, because it has a certain right, will naturally exercise it.
– That is a different point.
– What is the right honorable gentleman’s purpose in quoting that case?
– It was actually decided in that case that discipline, courts martial and sentences were to be governed entirely by the Imperial act, and that .the section of our Defence Act which give3 to the Governor-General power of remission could not be applied to those naval ratings. Therefore, their sentences of death were commuted, not in Australia by the Governor-General on our advice, but in London.
– The argument still holds that the King is the only link which binds the Dominions to the Empire. Therefore, I do not see any terrible danger in His Majesty commuting those sentences on the recommenda tion of the British Government instead of on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Government. If that is the best argument that can be advanced in. favour of this legislation it is lamentably weak. Since I have been a member of this Parliament it has been my responsibility at times to administer the laws relating to the mercantile marine and the Royal Australian Navy, but not once during my term of office did any of the difficulties mentioned by the Attorney-General arise. Such difficulties have no existence other than in the imagination. There has been some mention of extra-territorial rights. I should like to know what will happen when the extra-territorial laws passed by this Parliament come into conflict with the extra-territorial laws of some other British parliament. The question of extra-territoriality is bound up with that of foreign relations. The Commonwealth Government is appointing Ministers to various countries - a policy which I have never favoured.
– The Government in which the honorable member was a Minister favoured that policy.
– I imagine that the present Government has done some things of which the AttorneyGeneral has not approved.
– That may be so, but I cannot recall any specific instance.
– I should be interested to know that the right honorable gentleman’s colleagues are enthusiastic about the appointment to Moscow.
– The honorable member has always been opposed to Russian policy.
– What about the appointment to Chungking made by the Government of which the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was a member?
– These are matters which are likely to come up for serious consideration before long. I regret that the Government has not seen fit to accept the generous suggestion of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that the bill be referred to a committee. There are so many committees in existence that the appointment of one more would not matter. Under existing conditions, I am strongly opposed to the passage of this legislation. Even in a time of peace, I should oppose it. Its passing will not be worth a “ tinker’s benediction “ in arming this country for the prosecution of the war. The Government has told us time after, time that its one concern is to organize this country for war, yet, we have a measure of this description thrown on the table, and we are asked to put it through as quickly as possible. The Attorney-General was disappointed that he did not get it through last Friday. Probably he thought that its passing would have been a fitting achievement with which to celebrate the completion of the Government’s first year of office. If the passing of this bill can be regarded as ji fitting culmination to one year of office, ir would be interesting to know what the Attorney-General would regard as a worth-while achievement in the Government’s second year of office. When 1 meet him privately, I shall tell him my views on the subject,
.- Already, the House has referred two bills to committees - a Commonwealth Bank Bill under which it is proposed to establish a mortgage’ bank, and a measure to authorize the taking of a referendum for au alteration of the Constitution. I compliment the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) on his clear, simple and carefully prepared statement to the House, and I express my astonishment at the way in which the bill was received by honorable members opposite, especially their attempt last Thursday to prevent its introduction. Some members of the Opposition, took up what I can only describe as a most discreditable attitude. Either they had not read the bill or they did not understand it.
Epithets, like “ un-British “ were hurled across the chamber. Some honorable members opposite seem to think that they have a monopoly of loyalty. They charged honorable members on this side with being un-British because the Government which they support had the temerity to bring in a bill for an act “ to remove doubts as to the validity of certain Commonwealth legislation, to obviate delays occurring in its passage, and to effect certain related purposes, by adopting, certain sections of. the Statute of Westminster, 1931, as from the commencement of the war between His Majesty the King and Germany.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) threw out his arms like Sergeant Buz-fuz and asked in a sepulchral voice, “What will the Axis powers think of it?” I imagine that the increasing force being thrown against the Axis powers will prevent them from giving the matter much consideration. 1 remind those five or six honorable members opposite who were chiefly responsible for the disorder which took place last Thursday of the Chinese aphorism “ He who throws dirt loses ground “. It may be that honorable members opposite think that by appealing to prejudice they will receive the support of the electors at the next election. The electors are too intelligent to be caught in that way. Honorable members who indulge in such practices have not rightly judged the temperament of the people. Their remarks, like a boomerang, will return, heaping confusion and contumely upon them. Even the newspapers which consistently support the Opposition and have no affiliation with the Labour party gave them a good trouncing. I cannot help thinking that some honorable members opposite are still playing at the diabolical game of party politics. They talk a good deal of the need for co-operation and co-ordination, but they do not give any evidence of co-operation. At the present time, Britain, like Atlas, is carrying a heavy load; the Mother Country is fighting the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of the Democracies, and as the result, it is weary. Rather than be troubled with petty trifles, Great Britain offered to Australia a gift in the Statute of Westminster. I agree with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) that that statute is a gift freely offered to us by the Imperial Government. Canada and South Africa have already accepted the gift, and Australia would be ungraciousindeed to .reject it. Yet, we on this sid’e are charged, with being un-British because we would accept a gift so graciously offered! Dr. Johnson once described -a certain type of patriotism as “ the last refuge of scoundrels “. I was reminded of his remark as I listened to the debate in this chamber last Thursday. I could not help contrasting the behaviour of some honorable members opposite with the attitude of the Attorney-General who set forth his views dispassionately and clearly as he gave to the House a simple exposition of the statute. Our loyalty to the British Empire is not a matter of legal entanglements. It, goes deeper than that, its roots go back a thousand years. It is a matter of blood, speech, literature, affection and love. The more we loosen the legal bonds, the closer we are drawn to one another. We may be 10,000 miles across the sea from the Motherland, but love and affection annihilate time and distance. Let each of us look to the rock whence we are hewn. Let us look gladly to the Old Land from which we have drawn these things, which are so precious that thousands of our young men are fighting for their retention. We are charged with being un-British because we want to implement the Statute of Westminster. What an astounding attitude for honorable members opposite to adopt!
I was delighted to hear the AttorneyGeneral repeat the words of Mr. Churchill that “the better the Australian, the better the Britisher”. We cannot be good Australians unless we are good Britishers. Australia is as much a part of Britain as is Piccadilly, Tower Hill, Oxford, or Stratford-on-Avon. I oppose the amendment.
– We have heard this evening a galaxy of Segal talent discuss the Statute of “Westminster, and have noticed the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) rather , resent any intrusion upon the subject by the lay mind. I should like to quote a. statement by an eminent jurist, the Prime Minister of one of our sister dominions. I refer to Field Marshal Smuts, who, speaking of the Statute of Westminster, said that it was not desirable to allow the Empire to get. into the hands of lawyers, who insist upon expressing Empire relations in legal formulae.
– It has got into the hands of lawyers.
– That is quite true, but Field Marshal Smuts said that it was certainly not desirable. The British Constitution has not been wrapped up in legal formulae. As a matter of fact, its flexibility has been its success. When one examines its history, one finds that it has met the various crises as they have arisen, come through the whole of its difficulties, and overcome the problems that have presented themselves at the time, by statesmanship and by virtue of the fact that it is flexible and unwritten. To my mind that is the constitution which should bind the great British Commonwealth of Nations. It should be flexible, and not restricted or tied up in legal terms. In the words of Field Marshal .Smuts, it is not desirable to allow the Empire to get into the hands of lawyers, who insist upon expressing Empire relations in legal formulae. I therefore make no apology for mentioning some of the doubts that assail my mind. I am endeavouring to express thoughtfully those matters that are affecting the non-legal section of the community, those who are in doubt as to the advisability of the implementation of this statute, and who have been called ignorant with regard to the statute itself. They encompass a very wide range. It is for their sake that it has been suggested that a committee should study the measure, not only to determine its urgency, but also because the inquiry may educate the public, especially those who, it is claimed by certain wouldbe authorities, are ignorant. One of the leading newspapers in Sydney drew attention to this matter several days ago. As an instance of how in both high and low circles this ignorance persists, I propose to quote from the leading article of one journal. It is headed, “ Not a Knife for the Painter “, and is as follows : -
Ignorance of the purport and effect of the Statute of Westminster is not confined to the man in the street. Several members of Parliament have exposed the fact that they are .profoundly unaware of the statute and its meaning.
One would immediately assume that the newspaper was fully aware of the statute and its meaning, and that it had a profound knowledge in regard to these matters, knowledge that was tolerant because it could bear with the ignorance of others ; but, reading on, I find this -
Its effect is to give validity to dominion acts, which, under colonial laws, were subject to overriding by British statutes wherever they conflicted. The other dominions promptly ratified the Statute of Westminster, while the Australian governments neglected to do so.
That is certainly not the case, because, when the statute was passed by the British Parliament, it automatically applied to Ireland, South Africa, and Canada, and it had not been ratified or adopted by Australia, New Zealand, and, at that time, Newfoundland, so that the fact that the newspaper suggested that Australia was the only dominion that did not ratify it places the writer of the article also in the category of the uninformed or the ignorant. If we find this ignorance in high circles, and also in the man in the street, with regard to a statute such as this, surely some consideration must be given by the AttorneyGeneral to the appointment of a committee. The first matter to be considered is the urgency of the measure, because, I understood the Attorney-General to say, by way of interjection, that there was no immediate necessity for the introduction of the measure.
– That is not corrcet.I said that there was no urgency in the sense that some little time might be allowed to elapse. That is why we adjourned the debate until this week.
– I accept the explanation. I believe that a committee should be appointed to study the bill to determine its urgency, and also to act as a medium to educate the people, so that it may not be misunderstood. Honorable members cannot ignore that danger. It. does not matter so much what is said in this House or outside, because the interpretation that will be placed upon it will not be the interpretation that has been placed upon it by the AttorneyGeneral.
-What interpretation will be placed on it ?
– The honorable member should not try, by way of interjection, to engender heat in this debate, because I have here one or two quotations which I could make from the honorable member’s speeches with regard to the evil nature of the British navy, which, if introduced into the debate at a-time like this, might cause heat.
– I never said anything about the British navy being evil. I said that our association with it as a matter of policy was evil.
– This is what the honorable member for Batman said on the 5th November, 1936, as reported in Hansard, page 1564-
Our association with the British navy is entirely an evil one. . . . The navy, in truth, can no longer serve any useful purpose, as far as Australia is concerned. I know of no more inveterate fallacy than that which is constantly being reiterated, ad nauscam, that we in Australia are dependent for our safety on the British navy.
If the honorable member does not want to engender heat in this debate, he should allow me to go my own way. I spoke with some heat on this subject a few days ago, and I do not want to add anything to the remarks I made on that occasion with respect to certain aspects of this legislation. I should like the Attorney-General to give me some information that I feel that other nonlegal people outside this Parliament are desirous of having. With other honorable members, I have sought to get an appreciation of how this statute is likely to affect Australian law. I know there is a great difference of opinion amongst jurists and constitutional lawyers outside, but there does not seem to be a great difference of opinion amongst them here. I had occasion to seek the advice of a very eminent constitutionalist, Mr. David Maughan, K.C., who submitted to the Fourth Convention of the Law Council of Australia in July, 1939, a paper in which he dealt with the Statute of Westminster. After reading his paper, some doubts were awakened in my mind which, I think, are also in the minds of others who do not understand what the statute means. I know that the intention of the Attorney-General is to resolve certain legal difficulties. That is the way he puts it; but one is constrained to ask what those legal difficulties are as a matter of actual fact. As I have said, there is a grave difference of opinion on this matter; but it will be generally conceded that the British Government never has exercised, and never would exercise, power contrary to our will. If that is so, I fail to see where a real legal difficulty arises. Successive Imperial Conferences have laid it down that the dominions are equal in status to Great Britain; in short, that we are entitled to all the rights, privileges and determinations that are the right of Great Britain. In that form, the relations between the Dominions and Great Britain are not disturbed ; but I am afraid, as I have said before, that if we try to tie by legal tape the sentiments of the Empire, our difficulties will begin. If we really believe that Great Britain has not exercised powers contrary to our will, then no real difficulty exists; but it has been contended by eminent constitutionalists that by the adoption of these sections we may create difficulties. Unlike other dominions, we can legislate only on a defined number of subjects. There are in Australia State parliaments with constitutions giving them definite powers. “We have also a Commonwealth Parliament with . a Constitution that defines the limits of its powers, all of which are Imperial statues. There are two points to which I should like to draw the attention of the Attorney-General, because they are of importance. They have been raised by an able constitutional lawyer, Mr. Maughan.
– I think I know the points to which the honorable member proposes to refer, and I shall deal with them in reply.
– Mr. Maughan said he thought that section 9 of the statute preserved the power of Great Britain to legislate for citizens of Australia upon subjects within the powers of the States, but not within the authority of the Commonwealth. He contends that, if sections 2 to 6 were adopted, Great Britain could pass legislation if the Commonwealth requested that such legislation should be passed, but without a request from the citizens of the States. This, he claims, raises rather an important point. He contends that if the Imperial Parliament were to legislate for the Commonwealth, at the request of the ‘Commonwealth, such legislation may run foul of State powers. If the Commonwealth wished to avoid that position it should seek extra power under section 128 of the Commonwealth Constitution. But even if we obtained such power under section 128, what would be the position in regard to Imperial legislation vis-a-vis the States? He draws attention to the fact that if this bill be passed the Colonial Laws Validity Act would cease to affect Commonwealth legislation but would not become inoperative with regard to the States. He then asks the pointed question whether State rights under British legislation would prevail over the Commonwealth act.
– ‘Clearly not. The point is covered in this bill. I shall deal with it when I reply.
– On page 21 of his book Mr. Maughan discusses the situation that might arise if another abdication of the Sovereign should occur and if action taken in London were not .acceptable to, or accepted by, the Commonwealth. The point affects the Royal assent to bills. His observations on this point are as follows : -
Thus, in case there were another abdication and the individual chosen in London to be King of England were not acceptable to and accepted by the Commonwealth of Australia the power of giving the royal assent to a reserved bill would in the case of a bill proceeding from the Commonwealth Parliament still be exercisable by the abdicating sovereign but the power of assenting to a similar reserved bill proceeding from the Parliament of the State of Queensland would be exercisable by the new sovereign.
This theme is worthy of being pursued a little further. When the Imperial Parliament ‘provided that no act should extend to a dominion unless it is expressly declared in the act that that dominion had - requested and consented to the enactment thereof, did it intend to give the authorities of a dominion a right to request legislation on subjects outside the legislative competence of that dominion, and in particular did it intend to give the authorities of the Australian Commonwealth a right to request legislation on those subjects within the exclusive competence of the Parliaments of the States? (So far as Canada is concerned this point is partly dealt with by sub-section 3 of section 7 of the act.)
Also, if the Commonwealth authorities did forward such a request would the Imperial authorities grant tile request or refuse it or refer it to the Governments of the different States in order to ascertain their wishes with regard to the proposed legislation; and if any State opposed the proposed legislation would that he a sufficient ground to justify the Imperial authorities in refusing to proceed in accordance with the request of the Commonwealth authorities?
He then deals with section 4 of the Statute of Westminster, which reads -
No act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a dominion as part of the law of that dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that act that that dominion lias requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof.
In discussing the effect that our adoption of the Statute of Westminster would have if another abdication should occur, he says, on page 17, by way of summary -
The different actions taken by the different overseas Dominions with regard to the abdication illustrate the complications that have arisen from the passing of the Statute of Westminster and the difficulties that may arise in the future with respect to the operation of the statute. These actions have raised the controversy as to whether there are now seven kings in the British Commonwealth of Nations or only one King and a speculation as to what would happen if in the event of another abdication the individual proposed by the Imperial Government in London was not acceptable to some one or more of the overseas Dominions.
Dealing with the Regency Act, Mr. Maughan says that it is couched in general terms; it mentions Overseas Dominions in section 2, but he questions whether it applies to all dominions. In any case he is of the opinion that the complications are not of importance to Australia, New Zealand or Newfoundland so long as they do not adopt sections 2 to 6 of the Statute of Westminster. If this Parliament should adopt section 4 of the Statute of Westminster, the Imperial Parliament would no longer be able to legislate for Australia on certain subjects. At the same time he points out that the adoption of section 4 does not confer power upon Australia to legislate for Australia on many subjects on which the Government of Great Britain has legislated. Here again he mentions the occupancy of the throne and says, in effect, that if we did not request the Imperial Government to legislate for tis on the question of succession, we, in turn1, could not act, as we- have no power to do so, and the
Commonwealth Parliament would need to seek power to legislate on that subject under section ‘128 of the Constitution. It might have to obtain that power by referendum and it might not be desirable at such a time to seek power by referendum.
On page 19 of his book he sums up the position as follows :< -
Unless the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act is amended either by the Im perial Parliament or by the procedure laid down in section 128 so as to give the Parliament of the Commonwealth power to legislate on the subject of a regency we must still depend upon the Imperial Parliament to legislate on this subject for us: and it is interesting to draw attention to the fact that, if Australia did adopt sections 2 to 6 of the statute and the Imperial Parliament did pass another Regency Act without waiting for the request and consent of Australia, the statute would not be complied with by Australia subsequently assenting to or ratifying such a Regency Act, for Australia if it desired to comply with the statute would have to request the Imperial Parliament to pass a Regency Act extending to the Commonwealth of Australia.
Such are some of the complications that may arise as a result of withdrawing from the Imperial Parliament the power to legislate for all the Dominions without first obtaining their request and consent.
What I have said gives some indication to’ honorable members of the difficulties which assail not only the legal mind, but also the minds of some honorable members and citizens generally concerning the possible effect of our adoption of the Statute of Westminster. These doubts have been expressed in letters to the press and in the comment of well-informed citizens. The general view may be expressed in this way : “ There are doubts with regard to these matters. Why then should they be introduced at a time like this? Seeing that we have managed quite satisfactorily since 1930, and have passed through three years of war with the position as it is, why should we worry about the matter at the moment? There does not appear to be in the minds of eminent legal authorities any urgency about the subject “. I cannot see any need for this bill. As other honorable members have said, the Statute of Westminster was brought into being at the request of some disgruntled and dissatisfied dominions, in which conditions are entirely different from those prevailing in Australia. These proposals were not sought by us. We have none of the problems that confront our sister dominions, and, in my view, this bill should not be a part of the active legislation of the Commonwealth. The partners in the Empire must trust each other; that has been the basis of our strength in the past. The remarkable progress that Great Britain has made in empire building has been due to the flexibility of its Constitution. There are three questions relating to matters which vitally affect the general public which I should like to ask the Attorney-General. If sections 2 to 6 inclusive of the Statute of Westminster be adopted by this Parliament, what will be the resultant effect upon our citizenship status? Shall we have the right to refuse citizenship to citizens of other dominions? Shall we be placed in the same position in that connexion as the United States of America? If so, we shall be reduced, in the eyes of other dominions, to the status of aliens, and we in turn can treat the peoples of our sister dominions as aliens.
– Our national status would not be affected one iota.
– I should also like to know the effect of this legislation upon our merchant navy. If this bill be passed, we shall step outside of the protective influence of the British Empire. We shall become an independent nation bound to the rest of the Empire only by the tie of allegiance to the throne, which, after all, is merely a sentimental tie. Would the protective influence of the British flag be removed from our merchant navy in other parts of the world t
– If the British Parliament should pass legislation at the request of this Parliament, could any subsequent Commonwealth parliament withdraw its consent to that legislation?
– Yes. There is a special section in the Statute of Westminster giving such power to the Commonwealth Parliament.
– I accept those assurances. These questions exercise the minds of every person who seeks to understand this bill, and I am glad to have the points elucidated by the AttorneyGeneral. As I said when a similar bil] was introduced by the AttorneyGeneral in a government of which I was a supporter, I believe that the passage of such legislation would bring disunity in the place of the unity that now exists within the Empire.
– The honorable member dared to disagree.
– Yes, I did, like the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). There was a group of honorable members at that time who made their views felt in this House. I can see no reason why the opinion which 1 formed on that occasion should be altered now. Many objections to this bill have been raised by constitutionalists whose standing is equal to that of any member of thi3 Parliament. Those are legal objections, but there is a greater objection underlying all of them which relates to the feeling in the hearts and minds of those who love the British Empire and all that it means. The Empire should speak with one voice, because its fundamental strength is its unity. If we split the Empire by adopting the Statute of Westminster - and from the general trend of this debate I gather that such a course is approved - we may cause disruption such as that which has already been caused by the Irish Free State separating itself from the Empire. Such action by one section of the Empire might well destroy the whole, and Australia might break from the British Commonwealth of Nations at some stage of its development under some extraordinary stress of circumstance. The Empire should have a common means of legislative unity. The adoption of the Statute of Westminster will not make for the establishment of such a means. The tie of allegiance to the throne is not sufficient in itself. The bonds of empire should consist of something more than sentiment, and continuance of unity should not be at the discretion of the several parts of the Empire. The elasticity of the British Constitution has been the cause of its success. The whole history of the Empire shows conclusively that various differences affecting its parts have been determined as they have arisen. These things have been determined without resorting to formulae. The mighty changes which have occurred within the structure of the Empire, and which have been responsible for placing the Empire in the great place which it occupies to-day, were accomplished without the assistance of rigid constitution. Self-government, which probably is the most precious of all the fundamental principles of our Empire, has been possible only because of its unity and strength. It cannot be denied that we would not have been able to maintain self-government in Australia had it not been for the protective influence of Great Britain. Therefore, I believe that it is far better to have sufficient flexibility to enable Empire statesmen to determine Imperial questions as the occasion warrants, than to have them determined by lawyers in accordance with rigid legal formulae. My view is contained in an expression used by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) when he was Prime Minister in 1930. Obviously the right honorable gentleman saw that there was nothing to be gained by adopting the statute.
– I do not think that the right honorable member for Yarra took that view.
– I shall quote what he said -
To my mind there is nothing to be gained and a great deal to be lost by attempting to crystallize our relationship too closely within the confines of any formal document.
– That is so, but the right honorable member was dealing with constitutional usage and practice and not with legal enactments.
– I contend that he was dealing with the statute in its broad sense. It may be that the interpretation placed upon that statement by some honorable members is not the same as mine, but it expresses my own thoughts in regard to this matter. I agree that there is nothing to be gained by closely confining our relationships within a formal document, and for that reason I shall oppose this measure. I invite the Attorney-General to endeavour to resolve some of the doubts which exist in the minds of many people, including some who have given quite a. lot, of consideration to the subject, but, however successful he may be in dispelling whatever doubts are entertained by his legal friends outside Parliament, I am afraid that he will be unable to alter the strong opinions which I hold in regard to this matter. Although the difficulties which beset us may appear to be overcome by legal argument, I maintain that this measure cuts right across the unity of the Empire at a time when disunity should not be tolerated within the boundaries of any dominion.
.- The issue arising from this measure is very simple indeed. Despite the catch-cries, slogans, and smoke-screens resorted to by honorable members opposite in an endeavour to cause confusion, and despite their citation of the views of constitutional lawyers, eminent and otherwise, the issue is stated very clearly in the following terms : -
To remove doubts as to the validity of certain Commonwealth legislation, to obviate delays occurring in its passage, and to effect certain related purposes, by adopting certain sections of the Statute of Westminster, 1031, as from the commencement of the war between His Majesty the King and Germany.
The preamble of the measure states -
Whereas certain legal difficulties exist which have created doubts and caused delays in relation to certain Commonwealth legislation, and to certain regulations made thereunder, particularly in relation to the legislation enacted, and regulations made, for securing the public safety and defence of the Commonwealth of Australia, and for the more effectual prosecution of the war in which His Majesty the King is engaged.
That is the issue in simple terms. This country was granted complete selfgoverning powers many years ago, and the object of this bill is to remove any doubts or legal barriers that may appear to exist in the achievement of selfgovernment. Therefore, why all the storm and fuss that has been raised by honorable members opposite, and the violent attempt to oppose even the introduction of this measure last week? This matter has been in the public eye on many occasions. It was the subject of Imperial conferences so far back as 1917 and 1926. It was enacted by the British Parliament in 1931 and since then it, has been adopted by two dominions. Furthermore, in 1931 the then Attorney-General, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), brought the matter before this House, and in 1937 a bill similar to this measure was introduced by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), who was then Attorney-General. In 1931 the bill lapsed because, unfortunately for this country, the Scullin Government went out of office, and in 1937, after the measure had been introduced, Parliament was prorogued and it was not proceeded with in the following session. In peacetime there was ample opportunity for honorable members opposite to introduce n measure such as this had they so desired. In order to inform honorable members fully on this question the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) has gone to considerable trouble to provide them with all the necessary information. He has had circulated a monograph of 22 pages setting out in detail the reason why this measure has been brought down. Accompanying the monograph, each honorable member received a letter stating that the services of two eminent Crown Law officers had been made available to explain the details of the bill to any honorable member who entertained doubts about it. In addition, the AttorneyGeneral had a copy of his second-reading speech sent to the Leader of the Opposition so that he could be informed before hand as to the purport of the bill. From time to time, various bodies have propagated the adoption of the statute. These have included such organizations as the Australian Natives Association. Many articles have appeared in the press. Consequently, I cannot see why any honorable member should still have doubts. The Sydney Morning Herald, which cannot be accused of being anti-British, and certainly has not been pro-Labour - although, judging by its leading article this morning, in which it eulogized the Government for its very fine record during the last twelve months, it may be “ seeing the light “ even in that connexion - put the matter very clearly in its lead* ing article of the 3rd October, headed “ Westminster and Canberra “. It said -
Mature consideration can hardly fail to convince critics of the -wisdom of the. Commonwealth Government’s action in moving the adoption of sections two to six of the Statute of Westminster. Parliament gave a more dis- passionate hearing yesterday to the AttorneyGeneral’s explanation of the position, and it is most unfortunate that an atmosphere of controversy should ever have developed, for the change involved is purely a legal one, designed to clear up the validity of our own domestic legislation. Powers which the Commonwealth appears clearly to possess under the Constitution such as those applying to shipping are found to be modified profoundly by the operation of the British Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865. Even the defence power of the Commonwealth is insufficient to overcome the limitation thus imposed - surely not by the wish of any person either in Great Britain or Australia - on war-time control of shipping. The fact that the Imperial Parliament had to pass legislation before Commonwealth laws for control and discipline of the fighting forces could be extended to cover those forces when they went overseas would in itself justify the Government’s decision to dispel the “ cloud of doubt and uncertainty “ now surrounding much of our war legislation.
As the print is small and the light not good, I ask that permission be granted for the incorporation in Hansard of the remaining marked portions of the article.
-It has lately become the practice to incorporate long statements in Hansard without reading them, with the result that Hansard is becoming very bulky. I warn the House that it is not a good practice. It is for the House to decide whether or not the request of the honorable member shall be granted.
– The remainder of the quotation is as follows: -
It is a curious argument which maintains that Empire ties are strengthened by the retention of these archaic legal restrictions upon the legislative competency of the Commonwealth Parliament - restrictions which the Imperial Parliament has renounced its right to impose, and which all Australians would resent if they were to be actively exercised. The ties which bind the Empire together are ties of blood and sentiment, of common tradition and a common loyalty to a common Crown. They will not be weakened in the slightest degree by a change in legal forms. No service is done to the cause of Empire unity by preserving the legal title of one partner in a Commonwealth of equals to an outmoded paramountcy, which has long since ceased to exist in practice.
It is utterly erroneous to regard the adoption of these sections as being a move to modify our relations with Great Britain. The Statute of Westminster already has the full force of law so far as the Imperial Parliament is concerned. Ratification of the sections in question is merely a matter for ourselves. The practical need for such action has been clearly and unanswerably set out by the AttorneyGeneral. It was recognized by Mr. Menzies in 1937, when lie twice introduced a bill to adopt the relevant sections. If it be deemed a pity that the matter must he taken up in time of war, when all possible stress should be laid upon the unity of the British Commonwealth, the fault lies not with the present Government but in the failure of previous governments, to bring our legal status into line with constitutional changes which have never been challenged or denied. Australians can find legitimate cause lor pride in this evolution of a responsible dominion, prepared of its own free choice to share fully and equally in the trials and burdens of the British Commonwealth.
Seeing that since the statute was passed, eleven years have elapsed .in which the matter could have been considered, I could not understand the storm that arose when leave was sought to introduce the bill last Thursday. Only when I read the monograph “ circulated by the Attorney-General did I discover the “ nigger in the woodpile “. Paragraph 27 of the monograph reads -
It cannot be disputed that the power to enact the particular legislation was conferred on this Parliament by the Constitution, but the provisions were invalidated solely because of their repugnancy to legislation which was first enacted to meet the conditions existing in the British Empire way back in 1854.
Paragraph 28 reads’ -
Having regard to the above decision, there are a large number of provisions in the Navigation Act which, by reason of the combined operation of the Merchant Shipping Act and the Colonial Laws Validity Act, must be considered of doubtful validity.
Paragraph 29 reads -
Without attempting to refer to aLl the provisions of the extremely lengthy Navigation Act, it is well to notice the following examples of provisions which apply to all ships, including ships not registered in Australia or not engaged in the coasting trade: -
Sections 28-33. - Engagement of seamen ;
Sections 34-38. - Indentures of apprenticeship made in Australia;
Section 40a. - Minimum age for employment at sca;
Section 40b. - Medical examination of persons mdeT age of eighteen years.
Sections 4C-C0. - Agreement relating to engagement of seamen in Australia;
Sections 61-08. - Discharge of seamen in Australia ;
Sections 91-94. - Actions by seamen to recover wages;
Sections 99-1.15. - Offences by seamen (e.g. relating to discipline, desertion, inciting breach of agreement, assaults, stowaways) ;
Section 127. - Liability of owner for medical attendance to crew;
Section 139. - Rights of seamen to go ashore for purpose of making complaints, taking legal proceedings, or consulting superintendent;
Part IV. - Provisions relating to safety of ships (other than certain provisions expressly restricted to ships registered in Australia).
The validity of all these provisions must therefore be considered doubtful insofar as they apply to ships not registered in Australia or not engaged in the coasting trade.
That statement of the position .throws a very strong light on the situation that ha3 arisen in this House. One can readily discern the influence of the ship-owners behind the various moves to prevent this legislation from becoming law. The voice may be the voice of ‘the Opposition, but the hand is that of the ship-owners. It ill behoves the ship-owners, or any persons who may voice their opinions, to indulge in suggestions of anti-British conduct, because the influence they have wielded has not been in the best interests of Australia. This is proved by their record during the last war, their attempts to prevent the purchase of, and subsequently in the post-war period to sabotage, the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and their attitude even during this war. After Norway had been conquered by Hitler, certain vessels which had escaped from that country were taken over by what is known as the Norwegian Shipping Mission. An Australian firm of shipping agents made arrangements with that mission to charter the vessels for the duration of the war. One ship was actually brought to Australia, but owing to the influence of the overseas shipowners was not able to obtain cargoes of certain of our primary products for conveyance to the other side of the world. Pressure was also brought to bear on the agents of the mission in New York, with the result that all the ships were kept out of the Australian trade, and have since been carrying on in other parts of the world. Our ties with Great Britain would be made even stronger by the adoption of the Statute of “Westminster, part of the preamble of which states -
And whereas it is meet and proper to set out by way of preamble to this act that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all the members of the Commonwealth in relation to one another that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Under that statute, which is the charter 0f unity and common kinship of the British Commonwealth of Nations under the British Crown, no dominion could break away from the British Commonwealth of Nations without the consent of all the other dominions.
I shall not refer to all of the matters mentioned by the Attorney-General in his monograph. He gave many instances of legal doubts and delays that have arisen as a result of the non-adoption of sections 2 to 6 of the Statute of Westminster. He cited the case of Australian naval ratings who had been temporarily transferred to the British navy, and were under the jurisdiction of the British Government. Although several of them were incarcerated in this country, and were Australian citizens, the Government had not authority to order their reprieve without the consent of the King. Where the liberty of the subject is concerned, that power should reside in the Commonwealth. Even the validity of national security regulations is left in doubt where they relate to shipping in war-time. As the war activities in the Pacific increase, the subject of Commonwealth extra-territorial jurisdiction will become increasingly important. The Japanese will not wait for us to send to the other side of the world to obtain authority to do that which may be necessary for our self-preservation. Great powers have been granted to the United States of America over persons and property in the Commonwealth, and some doubt has been raised as to the validity of the action taken. All doubts as to the validity of the powers of the Commonwealth should be removed. The complete powers of self-government, which have been granted to the Commonwealth under the Constitution, should be ensured to it. I deprecate the remarks made on Thursday last by certain members of the Opposition, and their attempt to create an atmosphere of discord. Such an atmosphere would merely assist the enemy/because it would be suggested that Australia was prepared to cut itself adrift from Great Britain. The suggestion that there is disunity in our own ranks should be resisted. The Attorney-General has been over-generous in the way in which he has placed this matter before honorable members, and I hope that he will not accept the amendment, which would merely have the effect of delaying the passage of the measure. I trust that the bill will be passed before the conclusion of the present sittings of the Parliament.
– I have neither the inclination nor the qualifications to add to the many legal dissertations to which we have already listened during this debate. Even to a layman, the language of this bill is plain. One of its provisions is that the Commonwealth, after the passage of the measure, will be competent to enact laws even though they may be somewhat repugnant to the laws of the United Kingdom, and shall have the right to revoke or repeal those laws. An honorable member does not need to have an astute legal mind to enable him to understand a provision of that kind. The bill further sets out that no act of the British Parliament shall in future apply to the Dominions, unless by their expressed will, and that the British Merchant Shipping Act shall no longer be dominant over dominion shipping laws. Having administered the navigation and shipping laws of this country, I can appreciate the desire of the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) to have that section of the Statute of Westminster brought into full operation, as far as Commonwealth laws are concerned. Many illustrations have been afforded in this Parliament recently of the beneficient effect of preliminary consideration of proposed legislation by committees representative of all political parties. Such measures have been discussed in this House without party rancour because committees have previously considered them. Therefore, 1 appeal to the Attorney-General to give serious consideration to the proposal implicit in the amendment, so that action may be taken, not necessarily exactly on the lines suggested by the amendment, to let the people of Australia and the world at large know that we in this Parliament are completely unanimous as to the necessity for the passage of this bill. If we do not remove all disagreement over the matter in this chamber, there will be disputation on a much larger scale amongst the people. The Attorney-General has said - and I accept his assurance - that there is no motive behind the Government’s action other than to remove doubts as to validity of certain Australian laws, and to remove serious difficulties under which the legal officers of his department have been labouring in the drafting of legislation. However, I remind him that we recall the unfortunate misunderstanding which occurred in Australia a month or two ago in connexion with certain speeches made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and some other Ministers. I am sure that both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General would be the first to say that there was no reason for such misunderstanding; but the fact remains that there were very definite misgivings among the community, and I do not wish there to be a repetition of them now. When this subject was being discussed last week, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) said that, in his opinion, the issue was one in which it was necessary to weigh the convenience and facilities for work of the Solicitor-General and his staff against the possibility of misunderstandings that might be generated in the community. I suggest that it is possible to avoid the misunderstandings, while at the same time granting to the legal officers of the Crown all the facilities they require for the performance of their duties, nor do I believe that any undue delay need be occasioned. Within an hour or two, all difficulties could be resolved, and it would be possible foi- this House of 74 members to speak unanimously as to the desirability of passing the bill. Therefore, I make this further appeal to the AttorneyGeneral, either to accept the amendment before the House as it now stands, or to offer some proposal of his own along the same lines, so that we may assure the people that this legislation is designed only to remove certain doubts and difficulties.
– I am opposed to the amendment moved by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), because it Wouk achieve no useful purpose. It would merely delay the passage of legislation which, on the case presented by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), is necessary. I remind honorable members opposite, who are opposed to the ratification of the Statute of Westminster, that those newspapers which usually support their point of view in politics, and are hostile to the opinions of honorable members on this side of the House, are unanimous, so far as I can learn, in support of the Government’s attitude on this bill. This is what the Melbourne Argus had to say on Friday last, the day after the Attorney-General made his secondreading speech -
Opponents of the ratification claim that at this particular time it would be likely to disrupt the Empire. If this objection U the only one, or the best one, it must be said that the case against ratification is very weak.
That is the editorial comment of a newspaper which has been regarded since its foundation as the mouthpiece of the forces of conservatism in Australia. In the old days, when there were Conservative and Liberal parties in Australia, the Melbourne Argus supported the Conservative party. When the fusion took place under the late Mr. Deakin and the then Mr. Joseph Cook, the Argus supported the fusion against the Labour party. It has certainly never been known ro support the Labour party in any election, Federal or State. The Sydney Morning Herald, which, like the Melbourne Argus, is the voice of reaction, had this to say on the 3rd October -
Mature consideration can hardly fail to convince critics of the wisdom of the Commonwealth Government’s action in moving the adoption of sections two to six of the Statute of Westminster. . . . No service is done to the cause of Empire unity by preserving the legal title of one partner in a Commonwealth of equals to an outmoded paramountcy which has long since ceased to exist in practice.
– Surely the honorable member does not endorse the opinion’s of the Sydney Morning Herald !
– Ordinarily, I do not, any more than I ordinarily endorse the opinion of the Melbourne Argus. I merely point out that, usually, those newspapers are the most faithful supportei-3 of honorable members opposite; but the case of the
Opposition in connexion with the Statute of Westminster is so poor that even its most faithful newspaper supporters have deserted it. The rump of reaction is to be found only in this Parliament, and those interests outside which usually identify themselves with the Opposition have found it both wise and expedient to have nothing to do with it on this issue. The Sydney Daily Telegraph, under date the 5th October, stated -
The truth is, as Dr. Louat points out, that not a , line or .phrase in Dr. Evatts bill will alter or affect the status of the Commonwealth iis a British dominion under the King. Its only object is to clear away out-dated legal procedures.
The Melbourne Herald, in its issue of the 6th October, said -
It is only by a polite accident or neglect that the Australian Parliament has not long since passed legislation ratifying the Statute of Westminster. … It is inconceivable that there can be any difference of opinion in Australia over the endorsement of the Westminster Statute. . . . The formal adoption of the statute is necessary in order that the law should be brought into line with established practice and intention and for the removal of practical drafting and administrative difficulties.
The foregoing editorial comments could not have expressed in clearer language the views which the Attorney-General put forward a few days ago. Honorable members opposite are putting up a smokescreen. They know that the AttorneyGeneral has given an honest description of the facts, and that it is highly desirable that certain sections of the Statute of Westminster be adopted^
– Apparently, the capitalist press is all right when it agrees with the honorable member.
– I am not commending the capitalist press as such; I am using certain quotations to confound the critics of this bill. They are both confounded and confused. The amendment has been moved in order to establish some sort of unity in their ranks. Without it, we should have one section of the Opposition crossing over to vote with the Government, another section walking, out, and a small intransigent section voting against the adoption of the statute. Some honorable members opposite indulged in a wild screaming denunciation of the Labour party and described this measure as an attempt to disrupt the Empire. All the things which are usually said about the Labour party at election time were either said or insinuated in the course of the debate. In order that there shall be no doubt where the Labour party stands on this subject, I shall quote from the platform of the Labour party. The Labour party stands for -
It is there laid down in clear language that the Labour party stands for the maintenance of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Any person who would destroy our association with the British Commonwealth of Nations is either a fool or a traitor; any one who would take Australia out of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and make it stand alone against the teeming millions in the north, ought to be in a lunatic asylum or an internment camp. It is inconceivable that any section of the Australian public should favour Australia’s withdrawal from the British Commonwealth of Nations. These cheap gibes which are still thrown at the Labour party by people who have never voted for its candidates are bitterly resented. I do not know whether the United Australia party has a platform but the platform of the Federal Country party provides for -
The encouragement of a national spirit among the Australian people, the maintenance of a White Australia, and the preservation of the British Empire.
I have no objection to the sentiment expressed in that paragraph, but I say to honorable members of that party that some of the views which have been expressed to-night do not coincide with the -first plank of that platform which reads, “ The encouragement of a national spirit among the Australian people”. There is nothing inconsistent in a strong Australian national spirit and membership of the British
Commonwealth of Nations. I remind honorable members that in the Australian flag the Union Jack is included. Those honorable members who at election time try to stampede the people into voting against the Labour party by raising specious issues are not friends of Australia ; they are enemies of national unity and of Australian nationalism.
– They are not friends of the Empire.
– They cannot be friends of the British Commonwealth of Nations if they are the enemies of Australian nationalism. Many of those who are enemies of the Australian Labour party cannot be said to be good friends of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Many persons in Britain who, both before the war and since it began are enemies of the Labour party, are not good friends of Great Britain. The Duke of Bedford is one of them as is Captain Ramsay, a conservative member of the British House of Commons, whose present address is the Tower of London. So also are Admiral Sir Barry Domville, Sir Oswald Mosley, and Lady Astor and the Cliveden set. Members of the organization known as The Link were bitter enemies of the Labour party in Great Britain. They are also enemies of the British people.
– What about Mr. Thornton?
– I do not concern myself with his views. The Australian Labour party is probably the only really Australian party that has ever had representation in any Federal or State Parliament. It has always been an upholder of Australian sentiment and has promoted the progress of this country. It was not the Labour party which, at the last election, attempted to steal a victory by placing false issues before the people. That was the work of an organization known as the Sane Democracy League. That body, by advertisement in numerous newspapers, urged the electors to oppose Labour candidates not because that party’s attitude towards current politics was wrong, but because the then Government had no real policy on which to appeal to the people and, therefore, decided to try to win on spurious issues.
-The honorable member is departing from the subjectmatter of the bill.
– The charge that the Labour party is anti-British is not new, but it is just as false in regard to that party’s attitude towards the Statute of Westminster as it was in regard to the domestic policy of the Labour party when it was in Opposition in 1940. I have here a full-page advertisement which appeared in most newspapers published in Australia in the election campaign of 1940. It is -headed, “Labour fiddles while London burns “. Propaganda of that kind is in keeping with sentiments expressed by some honorable members of the Opposition during the course of this debate. Many newspapers also published another advertisement in which the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), had the temerity to liken himself to the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
– The honorable member must not proceed on those lines.
– I am just as capable as is any other honorable member of ascertaining the opinion of the public on the Statute of Westminster. On Sunday last I had the very great honour of addressing a meeting in the Sydney Domain. It was a big and important meeting. The people who attended it unanimously supported the Government’s decision to ratify the Statute of Westminster. They were just as unanimous on the subject as was this Parliament in 1931 when it carried a resolution urging the British Parliament to pass the Statute of Westminster. No political difficulties existed in 1931, and no sound reason has been given why all of the difficulties mentioned by honorable members opposite should exist in 1942. Honorable members opposite have sought to make a. political issue out of this measure. They have been casting around for such an issue for some time past. However, they now find that their friends outside of Parliament are not prepared to support them on this matter. Therefore, they have decided to make as glorious a retreat as is possible, and for that reason the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has moved an amendment upon which honorable members opposite will be enabled to record a united vote. If the amendment be not agreed to, probably they will not challenge the second reading of this measure ; and I anticipate that the bill will be passed by the Senate without a division. Thus all the forebodings and prophecies of honorable members opposite are not likely to eventuate. This country will continue to act as an equal, and loyal, partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is impossible to put back the clock, or to bring about the state of affairs envisaged by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), who does not express the sentiments of the great Australian whose name has been given to the electorate which the honorable member represents in this Parliament. It would be impossible for the state of affairs which he envisages to arise. The Empire has developed into a British Commonwealth of Nations, and any one who wishes to alter that state of affairs is not a friend, but an enemy of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I remind honorable members opposite that responsible Government was granted to this country as far back as 1S56, when the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria established representative houses of Parliament. It is thus almost 100 years since certain portions of Australia obtained responsible government, and consequently, it is idle for any honorable member to try to halt the evolutionary march of events which will make for our greater unity, happiness and strength. As in Great Britain, and in every other country, we have die-bards among our people who are opposed to any change. This bill which does not propose to make any change has as its purpose to simplify the procedure by which certain acts of this Parliament can be enacted, and certain administrative acts can be carried on to the satisfaction of the sturdy common sense of the great majority of the Australian people. I am so certain of the support, that the electors would give to thi.a measure that I believe that should the Senate be so foolish as to reject it, the Government could with absolute confidence appeal to the people upon it; and there would be no doubt of the result of that appeal. I hope that later, when the referendum proposals are brought forward, the Government will win as great a victory on those issues, as I anticipate it will achieve on this measure.
.- I regret that this controversial subject has been raised in a time of war. Although x am not a lawyer, I feel that I should mention a few points which are causing doubt, and which are very good reasons why the Government should give to honorable members an opportunity to consider the measure more fully. The immediate problem that confronts the House is whether or not this legislation is of little or no importance, as the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), and other lawyers, have asserted. I have the greatest respect for the ability and knowledge of members of the legal profession, but I feel sure that even my legal friends themselves will admit that constitutional lawyers do not always agree on a given subject, that they are sometimes inconsistent, and that, on occasions, have been known, not in Australia, but in other countries, to interpret the Constitution of the country according to their own persona] viewpoint. This country has, unfortunately, witnessed several instances of disagreements amongst lawyers on constitutional matters. With respect to the inconsistency of our lawyers on some subjects, a. second generation of High Court judges in the engineers’ case completely upset the principle upon which their predecessors had based their decisions. My legal friends inform me that it might be difficult for the AttorneyGeneral to reconcile his opinion on the system of uniform taxation with some decisions given by him when a member of the High Court Bench. I do not suggest that lawyers in Australia have allowed personal objectives to influence their interpretation of constitutional law. On this point, however, I recall the historic fact that the great Mr. John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States of America, deliberately interpreted the American Constitution according to his own viewpoint. It is true that his motives were most noble and unselfish, and that the result - he wished to preserve the union - was admirable. But he interpreted the Constitution of the United States of America to fit circumstances. . Thus, eminent lawyers can differ; and, sometimes, they are inconsistent. That fact is a very good reason why the Government should grant the Opposition’s request not to rush this legislation. I look at the matter simply as a layman, and like many other laymen am very anxious about this measure. I feel that the matters we are now asked to consider are not the mere legal frillies and scanties which the Attorney-General has so thoroughly washed and hung up in front, of us. They are much more substantial garments. J should not presume to join in the legal arguments on this bill. However, such outstanding lawyers as Sir Owen Dixon. Mr. David Maughan, K.C., Professor K. H. Bailey and Mr. E. T. E. Latham, none of whom is a politician, have shown how these provisions may affect fundamental questions, such as the rights of the Crown and the rights nf the States, and have given examples of what has happened in every dominion which has adopted them, and I become a little anxious, particularly as we are now at war. I agree with the statement of Mr. David Maughan, which was published in the Law Journal of August, 1939. in which he set out a number of reasons why the Statute of Westminster should not be adopted, and the complications which might arise if we did adopt it. He ended by sayang -
Personally I hope that we shall hear nothing mure about its adoption.
The more one looks into the history of this matter, the more one begins to realize why the late Mr. Charles Hawker, who with his great ability and judgment studied this question in most careful detail in 1937, thought it so serious that he used his private influence with various groups and parties, with the result that the Lyons Government dropped the bill like a hot cake. What are some of the matters which eminent lawyers consider of importance? The first and minor question concerns State rights. The Attorney-General said in his secondreading speech -
This bill will not in any way disturb the balance of power between thu Commonwealth and tins States
Professor K. H. Bailey, who is, I understand, advising the Government on this matter, wrote, however, in 1934 -
The bearing of the statute on the position of the States is. incidentally, a matter which should be given some further expert consideration in the event of the adoption of the statute by the Commonwealth.
That is a very different opinion from that expressed by the Attorney-General. One of the ‘State matters in respect of which legal- doubts arise is that of appeals to the Privy Council. The Attorney-General says that such appeals are protected, but Mr. B. T. E. Latham, a young and brilliant Australian lawyer, who contributed the legal section to Professor Hancock.? great book, *Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, wrote the following: - lt might not appear at first sight that the adaption of the statute would confer any additional powers to abolish or restrict Privy Council appeal, since the Commonwealth Parliament has already, under the Constitution, power to limit appeal from the High Court and from the State courts in matters nf federal jurisdiction, and the statute does not apply to, and cannot bc adopted by the States. It is probable, however, that, in view of the decision in British Coal Corporation- v. Res, and the narrow terms of section 9(1) of the statute it will give power to the Commonwealth Parliament to abolish appeals as of right and by special leave from State courts in matters of Slate jurisdiction.
Those questions of State rights are of much less importance and arouse far less anxiety than the vital question of the position of the Crown if we adopt this statute. The Attorney-General says that so far as the Crown is concerned these sections are unimportant. Yet Mr. Latham writes -
It seems that in relation to federal matters, the Australian Commonwealth Parliament would have, on adopting the statute, as full power to minimize the royal ellice as the Irish and South African Legislatures have.
Again, we find Mr. Maughan stating that the South African Parliament has already used section 4 “ to cut out the right of the Imperial Parliament to legislate in the Union at the request of the Union Parliament”. I do not for one moment present these opinions in order to wave flags or beat drums, nor do I infer that such events would ever happen in Australia, but I do state that it is absolutely essential that this Parliament and the people of Australia should realize the position and know that eminent lawyers, supported by the facts of history, disagree with the AttorneyGeneral’s contention that this legislation is trivial in character. I propose to conclude with a few non-controversial words on the question of status. I am one of those who agree with the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) and other speakers that the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster have done grave harm to the British Commonwealth. I shall not use the arguments that the right honorable member for Kooyong used so brilliantly in his speech in 1937, but remind the House of a striking quotation made by the then honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) in the 1931 debate in reference to the Balfour Declaration. That quotation, from Robert Stokes’ New Imperial Ideals, was as follows: -
In practice the result (of Westminster) must inevitably be to leave the Empire without any effective constitutiona<l means of maintaining any kind of legislative unity. It would be reduced in fact to a mere league or community of nations, united by a moral tie and by allegiance to the person of the King . . . going far to justify the suggestion that it may be steadily dissolving into a precarious alliance.
Already that quotation has proved a remarkably accurate forecast of the path which certain portions of the British Commonwealth were about to tread. It has in fact given further proof of the great historical truth, which God help this country if we ever forget, that throughout history the only unions that have stood are Organic unions, and that an inorganic union, alliance or league has never lasted, for any time. The British Empire, or the British Commonwealth of Nations, or by whatever name it may be known, has lasted for centuries as an organic union, and it has survived “Westminster because the Imperial statesmen in London have kept the rights of peace and war in their own hands-, and because the British Navy, although allowed to degenerate from the three-power standard to the two-power standard, and then to the one-power standard, was in the last war, and at the outbreak of this war, sufficiently strong to assist defend the whole Commonwealth of Nations. The lesson of history is that if we are to survive it must be as an organic union. We are an isolated people of limited numbers living in the Pacific on the borders of the teeming millions of Asia. What chance have we to maintain our national status except by the help of organic unions? Our hope is in closer unity, not in the tearing down of legal connexions. After the war, we will need, first, the alliance that we now have in the British Commonwealth of Nations; then, perhaps, a wider alliance with other English speaking peoples, and then, it may be, the even wider alliance with like-minded democracies. In view of our remote situation, these are our only hope of survival. We must develop this organic union. This bill will not do anything to contribute to that end and I am sorry that the Government has introduced it. I am sorry, too, that the measure should have been introduced in war-time. I wish that even now the Government would drop the bill and lead us towards the closer organic unity which we should seek within the British Commonwealth, and towards the still wider unity that I have suggested. Our clarion call in the future must not be division but unity.
.- I congratulate the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) upon having introduced this bill and also upon having adopted such novel and effective ways to educate honorable members oh the need for the measure. The distribution of the right honorable gentleman’s monograph with its numerous reasons for supporting the bill should have had better results than have been observed among honorable members opposite. The action of the Government in making available to advise honorable members a legal gentleman of the highest constitutional attainments, is also commendable. It is evident, however, that the seed sown by the Attorney-General has fallen upon stony ground in respect of honorable members opposite. The amendment now before us is the aftermath of their childish exhibition on Thursday last. I call that exhibition childish” because, after two and a half hours of bitter discussion not one member of the Opposition voted against the motion. The events of Thursday last should give us food for ‘ thought. We opened our proceedings as usual, with prayers for divine guidance. Then the Opposition monopolized two and a half hours discussing the situation. Their arguments met with a devastating reply from the Attorney-General. I am still wondering whether the position in which we find ourselves to-night is the result of divine guidance, of the inept arguments of the Opposition, or of the effective reply of the Attorney-General. Since their childish exhibition on that occasion honorable gentlemen opposite have been soundly thrashed by the whole press of the Commonwealth, including many newspapers which are rarely to be found supporting measures which emanate from a Labour government. The press of Australia, as a rule, finds many occasions to gloss over the imperfections of the Opposition and to apologize for its ineffectiveness; but in editorials and otherwise, it has, since last Thursday, castigated the Opposition most thoroughly, notwithstanding that it was largely responsible for the election of many Opposition members to this Parliament. The Opposition has also been thrashed over the week-end by an organization which supports it. I refer to the ‘Constitutional Association of New South Wales. The president of that body, Dr. “Frank Louat, has sent to honorable members a letter from which I abstract the following: -
The executive of my association has asked me to tell you that it is gratified to learn that Parliament is about to deal with the adoption of the Statute of Westminster. In our opinion this step is one which is long overdue and is an important necessity for ensuring the smooth working of the Empire’s legal system under modern conditions. The Statute of Westminster does no more than give formal recognition to the accepted practice of Empire relationships over the past twenty yea.rs.
The Constitutional Association of New South Wales is an unofficial pillar of the United Australia party in that State.
The tactics adopted by the members of the Opposition in relation to this bill have not in any way disturbed public opinion, hut have directed public ridicule towards them. The Opposition has expressed the fear that this legislation will tend to create controversy and divide the people at a time when they should he united. Who has provoked controversy so far? Have not honorable gentlemen opposite been responsible, solely, for the remarkable allegations that have been made against the bill? Even the Sydney Morning Herald, which does not usually support the Labour party, had some caustic remarks to make on the ridiculous and unwarranted attack that the Opposition has made on this bill. In its leading article of the 3rd October, that newspaper stated -
Mature consideration can hardly fail to convince critics of the wisdom of the Commonwealth Government’s action in moving th adoption of sections two to six of the Statute of Westminster. It is most unfortunate that an atmosphere of controversy should ever have developed, for the change involved is purely a legal one, designed to clear up the validity of our own domestic legislation. It is a curious argument which maintains that Empire ties are strengthened by the retention of these archaic legal restrictions upon the legislative competency of the Commonwealth Parliament - restrictions which the Imperial Parliament has renounced its right to impose? and which all Australians would resent if they were to be actively exercised. The consequences which these members fear could only arise through the purpose and significance of that ratification being distorted by misplaced sentiment in this country. Herein lies the irony of their objections.
In spite of such criticism the Opposition has persisted in its attempt to ridicule this bill ; but its face-saving efforts are not likely to be successful. It has been alleged by some honorable gentlemen opposite that the introduction of this measure will tend to sever the bonds of Empire. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) spoke about the silken threads of Empire, and another honorable gentleman opposite referred to the links that bind us together. The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) has said that the Empire is in danger of breaking up. Where is any evidence to be found to justify such a statement? ‘Canada and South Africa have already adopted the Statute of Westminster. Since the outbreak of the war we have had substantial evidence that the Empire is sound and that the various parts of it are co-operating in a most remarkable way. Can any honorable gentleman deny that South Africa has taken a prominent part in the war? All the evidence shows that it intends to continue to do so. The same is true of Canada. The fact is that we have been invited by the Mother of Parliaments to adopt the Statute of Westminster. The efforts of the various parts of the Empire in this war give the lie direct to that particular argument.
– A similar bill was twice introduced by the right honorable member for Kooyong.
– Why was it not proceeded with?
– I suppose that a section of the party did not understand it.
– Honorable members opposite have been consistent. The right honorable member for Kooyong advanced a very sound argument in favour of the adoption of the Statute of Westminster; but the malcontents in his own party at that time frustrated his efforts ; and the malcontents in his own party to-day have been responsible for the exhibition that we witnessed last week and have witnessed again to-day. Dr. Frank Louat, president of theConstitutional Association of New South Wales, also said -
Ultra-loyalists who are now at grip with the fear that the bondsof Empire are about tobe cut can be referred to the solid fact that the statute we are adopting was promulgated from the heart of the Empire.
The Sydney Sun published the following : -
Several members of Parliament have exposed the factthat they are profoundly unaware of the statute and its meaning. Some re-assurauce may be taken by timid and not very well informed Imperialists when they consider that Canada and South Africa, which were the first to adopt the British act, are still fighting with all their strength alongside Great Britain.
That is the best evidence that could be afforded of the futility of the argument advanced by honorable members opposite.
Much has been said about the Balfour Declaration. It appeared to me to-night that the right honorable member for Kooyong discussed this matter very thoroughly, but with very little relationship to the Statute of Westminster. While he was speaking, I had the impression that he was merely attempting to bolster up the argument in favour of the amendment, which very badly needed such support. It has been said that this is not a party question. I concede that it is not. It is more an outward and visible sign of the dissension that exists in the ranks of the Opposition to-day. It isa move to save the face of the Opposition from those superimperialists who, although only a noisy minority, hang about the neck of the Opposition like an “ old man of the sea “. All the arguments adduced to-day against this progressive piece of legislation have been advanced from time immemorial. In the early colonial days, when officers of the type of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who to-night produced one of his really reactionary efforts, were provoking what was known as the rum rebellion, and there was advocacy of popular control of some sort, there was resistance from the same class as that from which it comes to-day. When responsible government was introduced, when the franchise was given to every person, and when an attempt was made to effectuate the federation in order that Australia might develop into a really worth-while nation, exactly the same platitudes and humbug were trotted out in this and other parliaments, as well as in other public places, by people who held the views that are now voiced by honorable members opposite.
Sitting suspended from 11.45 p.m. to 12.15 a.m. (Thursday).
Thursday, S October 191,2.
– Some honorable members opposite, particularly the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), seem to have a Crown colony intellect. The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) has stated that the time is not opportune for the adoption of the Statute of Westminster. The occasion was said to be inopportune when, in a time of peace, his own party introduced a similar proposal. The suggestion has been made by the Opposition that the adoption of the statute would sever the bonds of Empire, and the honorable member for Boothby has declared that it would destroy the organic union of the Empire. Some honorable members have told us that it would break up the Commonwealth of Nations, and others again, have said that this bill would divide the people of Australia against themselves. Despite that strong condemnation of the measure, the Opposition still wishes the people to believe that, if a committee of all parties had a discussion on the matter, all objection to the bill would be removed. The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), both last week and to-day, advocated the passage of the bill, but, although the Attorney-General, in his monograph, proved conclusively the necessity for the bill, and although he also made available the services of eminent legal men in order that all doubts might be removed, the right honorable member for Kooyong still stated that a committee should be appointed to consider the bill. A favorable report from such a committee, he said, would be unanimously accepted by the people. Although the Opposition has already roundly condemned it, this measure could be made acceptable as a result of consideration by a hand-picked committee! If it be not acceptable now, it would not be acceptable after consideration by a committee.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) admitted that, even if all difficulties over the matter could be overcome, he would still vote against the bill. Therefore, if a committee supported it, he would still oppose it.
– Yes. The Opposition is divided into three groups. One is led by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who is irreconcilable and ready for a fight at any time. Then the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) does not know which side he is on among the divided members of the Opposition. He realizes the futility of the action of his supporters, and he is playing the part of an appeaser between those who support the right honorable member for North Sydney and those who follow the right honorable member for Kooyong. The attitude of the latter is understandable, in a sense, because he spoke strongly in favour of the bill. He introduced the original proposal for the adoption of the Statute of “Westminster, and suddenly dropped it, because he was playing up to the coterie in his own party, which makes it difficult for that party to co-operate with the Government in the war effort. The present attitude of the right honorable member for Kooyong is remarkable, in. view of his unsuccessful attempt to push this legislation through the Parliament.I believe that the people will agree that the amendment represents an attempt to save the face of the recalcitrant members of the Opposition. The real test will fake place in the voting, not on the amendment, but on the adoption of the bill itself. I challenge the Opposition to call a division on the motion for the second reading of the bill.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has completely misrepresented the attitude of the Opposition to the bill, particularly the fact that after having apposed the granting of leave for the introduction of the measure, the Opposition then granted the leave without a division. There was no division because of an arrangement entered into between the AttorneyGeneral and the Leader of the Opposition, that full opportunity would be provided for debate on the bill.
– That was never in doubt.
– As soon as that doubt was removed, the Leader of the Opposition withdrew his objection to the granting of leave for the introduction of the measure. The honorable member for Dalley characterized the amendment as a face-saver, and said that the proposed committee would automatically recommend that the bill be passed immediately. That is not at all certain, because the evidence which the committee would be asked to secure would have relation to the urgency or otherwise of the proposal. The controversy is mostly as to the wisdom of introducing such a measure during the war, and the necessity for doing it at this particular juncture. The honorable member for Dalley has, as usual, completely misrepresented the attitude of the Opposition on both those points. If one felt any misgiving about supporting this bill, it would be because of the enthusiasm for it displayed by such persons as the honorable member for Dalley, that champion of the British Empire! In order to appreciate the underlying reason for the misgivings of honorable members on this side of the House, and of many people outside it, regarding the real purpose of the honorable member for Dalley and others like him in supporting this measure, it is necessary to study, not their speeches, but their interjections while others were speaking. To-night, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron, said that the link with the Crown was a tenuous one, and the honorable member for Dalley interjected, “ Hear ! Hear ! “ which shows what he thinks of the link with the Crown.
– Evidently I feel the same way about it as does the honorable member for Barker.
– The honorable member for Barker was regretting that the link was tenuous, but the honorable member for Dalley was, apparently, rejoicing in the fact. Again, when it was elicited from the Attorney-General that an appeal would still lie from the High Court to the Privy Council even after this bill was passed, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) interjected that that was a pity. That was indicative of the same mental attitude as was displayed by the honorable member for Dalley. It has been claimed that this is an innocuous measure which does no more than give legal effect to what has, in substance, been in force for years, and that it will do nothing to alter our relations with Great Britain. However, the fact remains that in this bill it is proposed to adopt certain sections of that same Statute of “Westminster of which Eire took advantage to cut itself adrift from the Empire, so that Great Britain is now denied the use of the Irish Atlantic ports. There is nothing innocuous about that!
The House has to consider the advisability or otherwise of the amendment moved by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and I can see no reason why the amendment should’ not be accepted. Only a few days ago, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) agreed to the appointment of a committee to report on the Commonwealth Bank Bill providing for the establishment of a mortgage branch. This measure is even more important than that one; yet the Government refuses to co-operate with the Opposition in the consideration of what ought to be a non-party matter which will vitally affect the relations of Australia with the Empire. I agree with the Attorney-General that, so far as the merits of the bill are concerned, there can be no real objection to it. The trouble is that there has been considerable public misunderstanding of the proposal, and it arose before ever the bill was discussed in this House. Last Thursday, before the Attorney-General made his speech on the measure, the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) read a telegram from the returned soldiers organization in Perth, which had passed a resolution vigorously opposing the Statute of Westminster Adoption Bill. I do not suggest that the reasons which prompted the returned soldiers to pass the resolution were sound, but I do say that those- men were sincere in their opposition, which might well have been occasioned by a misunderstanding of the purpose of the bill. The AttorneyGeneral has now been urged to agree to the appointment of a committee of members of this House to consider the bill. If such a committee were to present a unanimous report in favour of the measure - as it well might - the public would then be assured that this was no attempt to cut Australia adrift from the Empire. We have heard the opinions of several lawyers during the course of the debate, and I now propose to quote the opinions of some legal men who are not members of this House. I shall read from volume 13 of the Australian Law Journal of the loth August, 1939, the views expressed by Mr. Hannan, K.C., of South Australia -
Mr. Hannan, K.C., South Australia, said that Mr. Maughan had left upon the minds of everybody present a very clear impression of the difficulties and of the history of its enactment. He had gathered that the main object of the statute was to enable any dominion - may be South Africa - if it so desired to secede from the Empire in the form of law. It seemed to him a pity that the matter was not delayed until it could be ascertained whether the proposal by the Hertzog party represented the views of the rebellious people of South Africa. It seemed to him that so long as that statute remained it was an invitation to a government elected on a wave of popular resentment to adopt sections 2 to 6 and thereby secure the legal right to enact itself by its own statute, out of the Empire. It is firmly believed that this legislation is entirely mischievous.
That opinion by an eminent lawyer ki South Australia indicates that legal men of high standing outside this Parliament have views which differ from those expressed by legal men in this Parliament. Many persons in the community suspect that there is an underlying motive which explains the enthusiasm for the adoption of this statute on the part of many of its sponsors. I do not say whether or not that suspicion is justified, but I am concerned to remove the ground for it. In my opinion, that can best be done by the appointment of an all-party committee of this House to go into the subject and make a recommendation. If there is nothing to fear, what is the object of resisting the appointment of a committee? Should the passage of this legislation be as urgent as the Attorney-General has stated, the committee can be depended upon to submit its report without delay. In the event of the committee’s report being in agreement with the views expressed by the AttorneyGeneral, we could confidently expect the House to adopt the committee’s recommendation. If, however, the committee came to the -conclusion that the matter is not so urgent as has been stated, the bill would then become “ a horse of another colour The urgency of this measure has not been established. Should the bill pass Only after the House has divided on it, there will be a big volume of opinion that all is not well in connexion with this matter. There is every reason why we should present a united front and avoid division among the people at this time. We can do that by removing any grounds for suspicion. It is not in the interests of Australia and the war effort that suspicion should exist. If the Government refuses to meet the Opposition in this matter, it will appear that the Government is so anxious to have this legislation on the statute-book that it is prepared to risk the consequences. The AttorneyGeneral has admitted that the situation in respect of the Colonial Laws Validity Act and the Merchant Shipping Act has continued for many years. There is no reason to believe that any difficulties which may arise during the next few months cannot be overcome as well as they have been during the last 42 years.
Practical men would find some way to overcome them. Let us consider for a moment how Great Britain has respected Australia’s nationhood.
– Is that in dispute?
– Australia has everything that it has asked for in connexion with the determination of war policy, even to the degree of being ‘represented on the British War Cabinet. Similarly, in respect, of Australian primary industries, we have free access to the British market. The proposal of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was made in good faith, and there is no real reason why the amendment should not be accepted.
– in reply - I apologize for speaking at this hour after the measure has been fully debated, but I have given an undertaking to deal with several matters that have arisen during the debate. I speak mainly in fulfilment of that undertaking. First, it is right that I should say that the subject has been discussed to-day in a non-party spirit. I am pleased that the tone which characterized the debate on Thursday last has been entirely absent from the debate to-day. In other words, we have had the benefit of a free and full discussion among honorable members of the House - something that we would not get from a discussion behind closed doors.
– That is a poor argument for keeping other committees going.
– I am not defending or attacking any other committee. My submission is that whatever cause for misunderstanding existed on Thursday last - and I assume it was honest misunderstanding - it has now been removed by the discussion which has taken place in this House. The objects and purposes of this bill are now clear. We have had consideration of the matter, not only in this House but also in the public press which has been practically unanimous in support of the bill. The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) argued that the matter is not trivial. I did not say that it is trivial. It is not .a trivial matter that our legislation should be put beyond doubt; it is vital. What I did say was that it is mainly a technical matter involving difficult questions of law and practice in connexion with the administration and passing of Commonwealth laws; and, on that, I submit, we have made out our case. Both the SolicitorGeneral and I, speaking with a full sense of responsibility, have asked Parliament to adopt our view on the matter; and in support of it we can point to the speech of every honorable member who is a member of the legal profession.
– Why put the onus on the Solicitor-General?
– I am citing the view of the Solicitor-General in order to show that this bill is asked for by not only the political head, but also of the permanent head, of the Law Department, The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) dealt seriatim with the five sections of the statute under consideration He is in favour of all of them. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who expressed himself with great clearness, indicated that there was no answer to our case for the adoption of each of these five sections. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), dealt with this important subject in the only way in which it should be tackled, partly from the point of view of its background and history, and mainly because of the practical necessity for the measure. Therefore, we are in this position that we have carefully considered the subject on an allparty basis; and honorable members on both sides have agreed that the measure i? necessary. In those circumstances, talk about referring the bill to another committee is of no practical assistance. That course might have been useful at the commencement. That was my idea when I communicated some weeks ago with honorable members opposite. I then thought that such a course was practicable, but, for reasons which I need not repeat, I submit that the course we are now taking is the real one.
The honorable member for Barker’ (Mr. Archie Cameron) asked whether the right of appeal from the High Court to the Privy Council will lapse by reason of the adoption of the Statute of Westminster. By way of interjection, I informed him that it will not be affected at all. The Constitution now gives power to this Parliament to modify, or abolish, the appeal to the Privy Council. That power does not rest in any way upon the Statute of Westminster. The introduction of this bill has nothing to do with appeals from the High Court to the Privy Council, and still less with appeals from State courts to the Privy Council. How the honorable gentleman got that idea into his head I do not know. He also raised the matter of nationality, and asked whether this measure would affect the nationality and statu.? of British citizens throughout the Empire. It has no effect in that direction.
Other honorable members also asked whether the passage of this measure will affect State rights. The statute contains special provisions to ensure that State rights shall not be affected. The adoption of the statute, therefore, does not alter the Constitutional distribution of powers between this Parliament and the State Parliaments, and it does not affect constitutional practice between the States and the Imperial authorities. No ground whatever exists for the fear voiced by honorable members in that respect. That fear seems to have been conjured up by persons with very subtle minds. Such minds often depart from the viewpoint of common sense. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), for instance, asked what was to be done in respect of succession to the Throne, should one of the Dominions want A to be King, and other Dominions want B to be King. I answer that by saying this: I am certain that any problem affecting the Throne, if it ever arose, would be solved in a practical, common-sense, yet just way, as was the case in respect of the last, abdication. As the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) reminds me, the preamble shows that the kingship is one throughout, the Empire. Several honorable members opposite quoted an eminent member of the bar, Mr. Maughan, K.C. I wish that they would take the advice which Mr. Maughan gave in a letter to the
Sydney Morning Herald on the 1st October last : -
Sir. - -Now that it is obvious that the bill for the application to Australia of the Statute of Westminster will be passed by both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament, it would be wrong for those patriotic Australians who arc opposed to this adoption to continue their opposition and criticism any further, and it is their duty to do what they can to assist the Government in the practical working of the new method of legislation necessitated by the adoption, and to point out difficulties which arise from that ado]) t ion.
He then pointed out two difficulties to which the honorable member for Wentworth referred in his speech. By contrast with his previous effort, that speech was cool, calm, collected and useful. I assure him that the points raised by Mr. Maughan will be taken into consideration.
– At the close of the paper which he read to the Law Institute, he pointed to certain possibilities, and said that Parliament must take them into consideration.
– He said that some years ago ; but I have just read what be said a few weeks ago. The case for the adoption of this bill here and now was put some years ago by the statesman who is now Leader of the House of Commons, Sir Stafford Cripps. Supporting the Statute of Westminster Bill in 1931 in the House of Commons, he said - lt has been doubted, as the right honorable gentleman has already said, whether it is not better to leave things as they are, to allow the common sense of the British people to permit that flexibility which has characterized our Imperial relationships in the past to continue to guide our policy in the future. This state of affairs would not, in our opinion, be satisfactory. Bonds such as the Colonial Laws Validity Act still exist not only in theory but in practice. .Even in quite recent times Dominion legislation has been held to be ultra vires because of this statute, and the continued existence of what is out-of-date legislation is always a danger in any country, and more particularly in Imperial matters. We believe it is far wiser to face the facts, and make the legislative provisions fit in with those facts, than to leave the law in a state which does not accord with either the desires of the people of the Empire or the stage of evolution which the Empire has reached. Universal agreement can never be reached on a matter of this complication, but for this statute the agreement of the majority of the peoples of all the Dominions has been obtained, and we are glad to voice the agreement of those whom we represent with that majority view.
The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) suggested that the changes in the constitutional relationships of the Dominions inter se affected the solidarity of the Empire in times of crisis. That is a pretty theory; but it is not based on fact. In a very interesting speech, the honorable member said that the fault was that we are seeking to substitute some inorganic relationship for an organic relationship. What is the assumption? It is that the legal tie of common kingship and common allegiance to the Throne is illusory. I deny it. I say it is real. But we have added to that something equally important, and that is the kinship which now binds the peoples together, and binds them together for ever so that in the greatest crisis of history, the people of Australia are as one with the people of Great Britain. These things are not dependent at all upon phrases like organic union or inorganic union. The honorable member’s argument, if carried to its logical conclusion, would lead us right back to the 90’s, when sections of the people of this country and other countries were advocating Imperial federation.
– Is not Ireland the logical conclusion now?
– Not at all. The situation with regard to Ireland is quite different, and, so far as the Statute of Westminster was concerned, was complicated by the existence of a special treaty, to which I need not refer any further. The tie which binds this country to Great Britain is a firm tie, which will be firmer and more enduring if it is not based in any way upon outmoded Imperial statutes. They add nothing to the tie. The people of Great Britain are not interested in preserving that legal tie which interferes with the practical administration of our war-time laws. I submit that we have made out our case for the immediate adoption of this statute.
Question put -
That the words proposed to he left out stand part of the question (Mr. Hughes’ amendment ) .
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. W. M. Nairn.)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. W. M. Nairn.)
Majority . . . . 40
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Threatened Tramways Strike in Brisbane - AC2Falstein : Record of Squadron Leader A. R. Gorrie - Volunteer Defence Corps - Members of Parliament in Defence Services - Hirings Administration.
Motion (by Mr. Curtin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I bring to the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr.Curtin) a very grave position that has arisen in Brisbane in consequence of a threatened tramways strike. Unless immediate action be taken to avert this calamity, I fear that the strike will occur at a later hour this day. I understand that the steps so far taken to effect a settlement of the dispute have failed, and that a critical situation now faces the city. If the men strike, the main transport services of Brisbane will be involved to the great inconvenience of the general public and with partial dislocation of the war effort. I therefore suggest to the Prime Minister that the Commonwealth Government should intervene at once with the object of averting the trouble.
– I wish to inform the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) that since last Monday I have been in constant touch with the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) and also with the union officers in Brisbane. The Minister for Labour and National Service also has been in constant touch with the officials of the Arbitration Court in Brisbane. To-night he has been in communication with the Queensland Minister for Labour (Mr. Foley). Negotiations will be continued later this morning,- and I have every confidence that, with the assistance of the Commonwealth and State Ministers, in whom I have every confidence, a strike will be averted.
– I stress the importance of every effort being made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) to avert this threatened catastrophe. The principal munitions establishments in Brisbane are entirely dependent on the tramways service. There is not the slightest doubt that if that service be dislocated the munitions works- at Rocklea, in my electorate, will not be able to function as is desired. The matter is vital and urgent. If necessary, the Minister for Labour and National Service should proceed to Queensland in order to be ready to act on the spot. Negotiations by telegraph and telephone may have some effect, but may not be sufficient. The matter ought to be tackled even more determinedly than apparently it has been, judging by the observations of the last speaker. No stone should be left unturned. The Prime Minister should use his persuasive eloquence in order to ensure that the strike shall not take place.
– When the case of AC2 Falstein was first mentioned in this House some little time ago, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) and I submitted the request that an inquiry be held into the antecedents of the Squadron Leader in charge of the Royal Australian Air Force station at Bradfield Park. Senator Amour, in the Senate, asked for the production of certain papers, but his request was refused. In justice to the Royal Australian Air Force and the Government, an investigation should be made immediately into the personal record of Alfred Roy Gorrie, Officer Commanding the Royal Australian Air Force at Bradfield Park. According to information in my possession, this gentleman was a very close business associate of a man named Milton Orr, in 1933 or thereabouts. Milton Orr and two other persons were charged with conspiracy and other serious offences relative to an attempted blowing up of a Purr-pull depot at Glebe or Balmain in 1931. Cutting instruments, and evidence of experiments that had been conducted in the explosion of oil, were found by the police, and these subsequently led to the conviction of two of the men ; but Orr was acquitted.
– Was Gorrie so charged?
– In 1933, Gorrie and Milton Orr commenced a chain of petrol depots dispensing “ Live-wire “ petrol in competition with other leading oil companies. They were, subsequently proceeded against by the manager of thu Vacuum Oil Company, Sydney, on the charge of having falsely applied registered trade marks with unlawful intent. The summonses were heard at the Campsie Police Court, but Gorrie failed to appear. A first instance warrant was issued for his arrest, and it is thought that this was later executed, because on the 8th March, 1940, Gorrie appeared before the Central Police Court, New South Wales, on these charges ; but it was found that no evidence had then to be offered because the Purr-pull Company had gone out of business.
– Was Gorrie so charged?
– None other than that charge, so far as I can at present ascertain. He was, however, a close associate of a man who was convicted. As a matter of fact, Orr was convicted on. a charge of having in his possession three unlicensed pistols. Other convictions also were recorded against him. But whether convicted 01 not, Gorrie’s antecedents are such that he is obviously not a fit and proper person to be Officer Commanding a Royal Australian Air Force station. There is in New South Wales and Victoria, a law that forbids consorting with convicted persons. Orr was certainly a convicted person, and was generally regarded as a most unsavoury type of individual. To my knowledge, young men have been refused entry to the Royal Australian Navy because of some prank in their youth. I took up the case of a young man who, at the age of thirteen or fourteen years, had been charged in a Children’s Court in Victoria with having stolen a bicycle. When, at the age of about 25 years, he endeavoured to join the Royal Australian Navy, he was told that he was not wanted because he had a police record. Persons who have unsavoury reputations or associations should not occupy commanding positions in the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force. That Gorrie was a close business associate of a convicted person, and stood trial with him, is in itself sufficient to disqualify him from occupying the position that he now holds. I am convinced that he provoked AC2 Falstein in the first instance; yet that gentleman has suffered whilst this man is allowed to go free. According to AC2 Falstein, who is a truthful person, Gorrie said to him, “It is like your hide making an illegal request. Just because you are a member of Parliament, you need not think you can do everything “. That aggressive attitude provoked a reply. 1 am convinced that, had it not been for that act AC2 Falstein would not have found himself in trouble. The case should not, end with AC2 Falstein having served his sentence. An investigation ought to be made of the means whereby Gorrie obtained the position that he now holds in the Royal Australian Air Force. There is other evidence concerning him, which indicates that he is at least temperamentally unfit to command.
– He served in the last war, did he not?
– I am not concerned with what he did in the last war. All that I am concerned with are his record and antecedents.
– His service in the last war would be a part of his record.
– Precisely. But quite a number of persons who served in the last war are not regarded as socially very desirable; nor are they men whom the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) would have appointed to commanding positions in the Royal Australian Air Force while he was Minister ‘ for Air. As evidence of Gorrie’s temperamental unsuitability, I mention that in 1934 he caused a warrant to be issued against another man. When the case came on, it was struck out. Gorrie then wrote to the Police Department of New South Wales a most damaging statement against the detective in the case, alleging that that officer bad called him “ a dirty, stinking, greasy pig”. This statement was not believed by the department. The same sort of allegation was made by Gorrie against AC2 Falstein, namely, that. Falstein had said of him that he was the most hated man on the station. The court martial had no hesitation in disbelieving Gorrie, and dismissing that allegation unanimously. For all these reasons, the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) should produce whatever records may be available in the department, in response to the request of Senator Amour. If Gorrie is not a desirable person, or is not. temperamentally fitted to command, he should not be allowed to continue in his present, position.
I bring to the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) the allegation by certain persons that some members of the Volunteer Defence Corps are wrongfully availing themselves of the privilege of wearing the uniform that has been given »o them. I have been informed that permanent public servants, some of whom are employed in the General Post Office, Sydney, attend parade on two or three nights a fortnight, but wear their uniforms at other times for the purpose of obtaining entry to horse-race meetings, claiming concessions in trams and trains, obtaining free meals at buffets and cafes, and securing free entry to picture shows. They even wear them while on holidays. They thus deprive genuine soldiers of privileges that are granted as a reward for sacrifice. I ask that a check shall be made of those who are misusing their positions in this matter, because, whatever privileges may be provided for soldiers by comforts funds and in other respects should be reserved for those who are genuine soldiers, aud should not be shared by those who use their uniforms in order to obtain something for nothing. I refer particularly to those who are permanent public servants. Some of them are in receipt of substantial wages, and therefore are not making sacrifices so great as soldiers who enlist at 6s. a day. If this abuse is increasing, it should be checked, and those who are practising it should be informed that their services are no longer required.
.- I cannot allow the speech of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) to pass without voicing my protest. If A;C2 Falstein has been arraigned on a disciplinary charge, he has no doubt received a fair trial. I know nothing of the circumstances of the case. He received a fair trial before a court martial. He has exercised his right to lodge an appeal and state bis case, and he could have had assistance in doing that. His appeal has been dismissed, and I consider that that disciplinary incident within the Royal Australian Air Force might well be allowed to drop. It seems disgraceful - and I use the term advisedly - that discipline within the Air Force should be undermined by dragging an incident relating to discipline into the National Parliament. It seems even more disgraceful to me that a man who has volunteered to give his services, which might have involved him in being posted for duties in combat with the enemy, should have been traduced as he has been in this Parliament on this and other occasions because of having been brought into conflict with the honorable member for Watson. The honorable member for Melbourne attempted to belittle Squadron
Leader Gorrie in this Parliament by mispronouncing his name, sometimes referring to him as Goering and sometimes as Goebbels. I am compelled to say that I think that we have been involved this evening, and on former occasions, in a disgraceful attack upon the character of a man who wears the proud uniform of the Royal Australian Air Force, and, in my opinion, is discharging his duties properly. No man is accepted, either for enlistment in the Air Force or for appointment to commissioned rank in that force, except after careful scrutiny of his character and antecedents. No man- can attain the uniform of that force if he has a police record, and I have no doubt that this man’s character was found to be clear before his appointment to commissioned rank. I hope that we have heard the last of incidents of this kind. in this Parliament.
– A paragraph published in the press to-day sets out that the Air Board is about to frame regulations under which it will control the actions of members of the Royal Australian Air Force who may be members of this Parliament while they are attending this House. That is one thing about which the Air Force ought to be told to mind its own business.
– The Minister has denied that there is any truth in it.
– I am mentioning it because it has appeared in the press. This Parliament is the supreme authority in this country. The position would be intolerable if any board controlling one of the armed forces could lay down regulations stating what members of this Parliament must do while attending to their duties here. This matter was settled in the United Kingdom by the Sandys case. Sandys, a son-in-law of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Mr. Churchill, was a member of the House of Commons, and a royal commission was appointed to investigate statements alleged to have been made by him in the House about a lack of anti-aircraft defences. It was laid down by the commission that it was not only the right but also the duty of a member of Parliament to acquaint the House of any deficiency in the defence services. Whilst believing that, it should also he laid down that the Parliament is not a place where any member should air his private grievances or treatment that he has received. I say that particularly for the benefit of the honorable member who is expected to be present in this chamber at a later hour to-day. He has had his trial, and if he is a man, he will say nothing about it. If he tries to use his position in this House in order to get square with somebody in the Air Force under whom he is serving there is only one conclusion to which I can come, namely, that he was looking for his ticket. That is the mark he will put upon himself. It is as well for the honorable member to know the position before he refers to the matter. I am not acquainted with the merits of his case. I have had some experience of military courts; but not such a close acquaintance with one as the honorable member has bad. Those courts are notorious for fair treatment or even leniency towards accused persons. I do not regard a member in uniform as having the privilege of airing in this chamber his private grievances or those of his friends, but if he has anything to say on matters of policy, he is entitled to say it. Neither the Air Board nor any other outside authority should attempt to dictate to this Parliament.
– I bring to the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) a matter relating to the hirings branch of the Defence Department which I have raised previously in this House. It is difficult, perhaps, to get the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) to act in this matter, because of the fact that the hirings branch apparently operates in respect of not only his department, but the whole of the services. The Government is never short of cash, and through the hirings branch, it should be able to settle its accounts promptly. As a member of the Joint Committee on Man Power, I am aware that discouragement was caused to people who owned factories, because their accounts were not settled promptly. I now refer particularly to payments due to people whose blocks of land have been taken over by the defence authorities. I know of a case in which a block of land was acquired by the Royal Australian Air Force at Bradfield Park for the purpose of a recreation ground. That transaction would have had a higher priority had the land been acquired for a runway or an aerodrome. A property of two home allotments was taken over in April, 1940, but the owner’s claim for compensation has not yet been settled. At first, the matter was in the hands of a solicitor, who asked for a payment of 5s. a week. After a good deal of negotiation, the amount was cut down to 3s. a week. The owner very rightly said that, if the Air Force took possession of his land, it should pay the rates. Ultimately, the matter was withdrawn from the solicitor, and the owner negotiated directly with the chief of the hirings branch in New South Wales. The final basis of settlement was that the owner would let the land go on condition that the hirings branch paid rates and taxes amounting to £1 a year. That was some months ago, but nothing further has been heard from the hirings branch, and the owner has been prosecuted for the second time by the Kuringgai Shire Council for unpaid rates. Surely civilians have not lost all rights in their property. I suggest that immediate action be taken to ensure that the hirings branch shall promptly settle all outstanding claims.
– in reply - The Government has been active in respect of the tramways trouble in Brisbane, that -was mentioned by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly), and I hope that a strike will be averted. The best of plans can go wrong, but the Government is mindful of the importance of the matter, and has taken all steps open to it to prevent a stoppage of the service.
I remind the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) that AC2 Falstein was tried by a court martial, and the decision of the court was subsequently upheld on appeal by a higher body in the Air Force. The honorable member said that a part of Squadron Leader Gorrie’s evidence was not believed by the court martial. Well, that merely goes to emphasize the complete impartiality of the court.
– It shows the complete worthlessness of Gorrie’s evidence.
– The worth of any witness’s evidence before a court martial is a matter for the court to decide. The court did decide the matter, and if it decided wrongly, I have every confidence that the appeal tribunal would have reversed the decision, but in this case it did not do so. For my part, I should hesitate to make statements such as the honorable member for Melbourne made to-night about Squadron-Leader Gorrie, and then ask that an inquiry be instituted. I should have made my own inquiries, and have been so satisfied regarding the truth of the accusation that no further inquiry would be necessary.
– I am satisfied, but 1 press for an inquiry so that Parliament may be convinced of the truth.
– I am not suggesting that Parliament should evade its responsibility should there be a miscarriage of justice in the administration of any department, but from my knowledge of the departments of Air and of the Navy, I am convinced that it would be only by accident that a man with a police record could obtain entry into either the Navy or the Air Force, let alone obtain an important command. While I was a private member, and while I was Leader of the Opposition, I made repeated representations on behalf of citizens who desired to volunteer for the Air Force or the Navy, and who had been debarred because of some past indiscretion. I believe that such persons ought to be forgiven, particularly if the offence was committed ten or twelve years ago. The machinery for the maintenance of discipline in the fighting forces has been well considered and carefully worked out and, so far as I know, operates fairly and efficiently. It is not asserted that Squadron-Leader Gorrie was convicted of an offence, but only that he was a business associate of some one who had been convicted. That could easily apply to the lot of us. I submit that we cannot very well exonerate one person by calumniating another.
– Produce the papers.
– I shall not do so. I have not heard of anything to show that there has been in this instance a grave abuse of the system of courts martial sufficient to warrant an inquiry. The statement is that Squadron Leader Gorrie’s evidence was worthless because he was the business associate of some one who had been convicted of an offence years ago. The adjudication as to the worthlessness of his evidence devolved on the court martial, and later on the court of appeal. According to the judgment of those two tribunals, the evidence was not worthless. I regret that the episode has been mentioned in this Parliament at all.
– I do not.
– The case mentioned by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) is one with which the Government has done its best to deal. We have set up local committees in all areas to deal with hirings. In respect of No. 2 Lines of Communication Area, Mr. K. A. Ferguson, a barrister, has been appointed chairman of the local committee. The committee which consists of an accountant, a chairman, and a representative of the Treasury, has power to settle compensation matters without reference to the department. If the claimant is not satisfied with the decision of the committee, a right . of appeal lies to a magistrate.
– How do claims get to the committees?
– They get lists of all claims that have not been settled.
– Although the amount in this instance was only £1 a year, the case is not yet settled.
– If the department agreed to pay fi a year and the claimant accepted that undertaking, that should have been the end of the matter.
– The money has not been paid.
– There have been hundreds of these cases all over Australia. Most of them have been contentious because the claims have been exorbitant. That is the reason why it has been necessary to set up machinery to determine what is reasonable. Arrangements have been made to decentralize all functions of thehirings administration so that decisions may be madeon the spot. I hope later to furnish the House with a list of these committees and their personnel.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Judiciary Act - Rule of Court, dated8th September, 1942 (Statutory Rules 1942, No. 409).
National Security Act -
National Security (Emergency Control) Regulations - Order - Military powers during emergency.
National Security (General) Regulations -Orders-
Bread Control (South Australia).
Bread Industry (New South Wales).
Control of retail delivery of commodities.
Milk vendors (South Australia).
Prohibiting work on land (2).
Taking possession of land; &c. (132).
Use of land (9).
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1942 - Nos
395,396, 397, 398,399, 400, 401, 402 403, 404, 405, 406, 407, 408, 410, 411, 412.
Science and Industry Endowment ActReport by the Auditor-General on the accounts of the Science and Industry Endowment Fund for year 1941-42.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Regulations - 1942 - No. 8 (Weights and Measures Ordinance).
War Service Homes Act - Report of War Service Homes Commission for year 1941-42, together with statements and balance-sheet.
House adjourned at 1.50 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: - “ De Facto “ Wives.
asked the Minister for
Supply and Development, upon notice - for the first 200 feet of the concrete-lined shaft to be sunk at Lakes Entrance oil-field?
asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
What leave are Air Force personnel entitled to after serving at a battle station at -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Sydney, 23rd September, 1942.
National Service Officers.
Subject: (a) Employment of Non-Unionists - Direction from Minister for Labour and National Service.
I am informed by the Director-General of Man Power that the Minister for Labour and National Service has asked that immediate inquiries be made to ascertain whether there are non-unionists employed in any National Service Office and should such be the case, he desires that a direction be issued that all employees of the Department of Labour and National Service must be financial members of a bona fide trade union organization covering their employment. Please advise whether there are any non-unionists employed in your office.
Chas. J. Bellemore,
n asked the Minister for Supply and Development, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the Minister for Supply and Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honable member’s questions are as follows: -
l asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
What is the number of the statutory rule under which persons called up for work with the Allied Works Council have the same right to approach a court for the determination of a claim for exemption on the grounds of Hardship as is possessed by another person called up for military service.
– There is no statutory rule or regulation specifying the right of a person called up for work with the Allied Works Council to approach a court for the determination of a claim for exemption on the grounds of hardship. The Director-General of Allied Works has, by an administrative process, established the practice of allowing any person called up for service with the Allied Works Council to appeal on the grounds of hardship. Such appeals are dealt with by magistrates who have been appointed for this purpose. The decision of the magistrate is accepted as final.
Australian Army:PublicRelations office-non-commissionedofficers Released for Seasonal Work - Life Assurance of Personnel - Magazine “Salt”.
s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
With reference to the question asked by the honorable member for Moreton on the 2nd June regarding the Public Relations Section of his department, will he now furnish a reply giving the desired information as at (a) the 30th June, and (b) the 30th August?
– A Directorate of Public Relations has been set up. The only new activities engaged in by the Directorate of Public Relations are the following: - (a)Co-operation, with Public Relations Section, General Headquarters, South-westPacific Area, in all appropriate matters;
For these duties the following staff have been engaged : - Land Headquarters, Director-General of Public Relations, Mir. Enrol G. Knox, who performs his duties in an honorary capacity; one captain and seven other ranks (including six members of the Australian Women’s Army Service) ; and Advanced Land Head-quarters, one lieutenantcolonel.
Other duties performed by the Directorate of Public Relations are as follows : -
These activities were performed by different branches of the Army before the creation of the Directorate of Public Relations. These activities have now been co-ordinated under one authority. This was done at the request of the British War Office and General Head-quarters, South-west Pacific Area. The staffs taken over consists of seventeen officers and 28 other ranks and is distributed as follows: - Head-quarters, one lieutenantcolonel, one captain; General Headquarters, South-west Pacific Area, one major, one other rank; First Australian Army, one captain, four other ranks; Armoured Troops, one major; Townsville, one major, one lieutenant, eight other ranks ; New Guinea, one lieutenantcolonel, one captain, six other ranks; Northern Territory, one major, one lieutenant, eight other ranks; Sydney, one major, one lieutenant; Brisbane, one captain, one other rank; Hobart, one lieutenant; and Western Australia, one captain, one lieutenant.
In connexion with the new activity the following estimated expenditure will be incurred :- The amount for pay and allowances in the nature of pay is approximately £2,652 per annum; Maintenance expenditure, that is rations, clothing and equipment, is estimated at £100 per annum ; Bent of premises is approximately £360 per annum. The only other expenditure made is on account of minor incidental expenses such as stationery, electricity and travelling expenses, &c.
The above information discloses the position as at the 30th August, 1942, and the position at the 30th June, 194*2, was materially the same.
s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Government does not cover by insurance, either direct or in co-operation with the State governments, members of the Australian Military Forces who have been or are serving either in Australia or overseas. The method by which provision is made in the case of death or disability of any member of the forces is tinder the Repatriation Act. Pensions are granted to incapacitated members, and provision is also made for pensions to wife and children and any other dependants.
y asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 October 1942, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1942/19421007_reps_16_172/>.