13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 2 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present a petition from Edwin Lewis Purbrick, of 613 Canterburyroad, Surrey Hills, Melbourne, Associate of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants, licensed auditor under the Companies Act, and, formerly, special investigation officer of the Federal Department of Taxation, praying that a royal commission be appointed to inquire into the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. I am not competent to say whether the matter or the figures are correct, but I present the petition by request.
– Has the attention of the Acting Minister for Commerce been drawn to the following statement by the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes published in certain Melbourne newspapers : -
The Australian producers do not appreciate the difficulties of marketing goods in Great Britain. If a boycott had been declared against Australian goods throughout some partsof the Midlands and the north, the exclusion of those goods could hardly be more complete. This is due in no small degree to an organized campaign by foreign interests to decry Australian products.
In view of this statement, will the Government direct that an investigation be made to ascertain the facts ?
– by leave - Over eight years ago the Commonwealth Parliament, at the instance of the Bruce-Page Government, passed legislation which enabled producers to market abroad in an orderly manner butter, cheese, dried fruits, and canned fruits, and, at a later stage, wine. The marketing is carried out under the control of boards consisting of producers and business men, which has been of considerable benefit to producers and has enabled foreign competition to be met in the British market. The total value of the products embraced in these schemes is over £14,000,000 annually. Last year over 90,000 tons of butter were exported from Australia, over 90 per cent. of which was sold throughout the United Kingdom. At the present time Australian butter is going forward to Great Britain in even greater quantities and is finding a ready demand not only in London, but in Scotland, the Midlands, and the northern part of England.
On the publicity side more has been done by Australia than any other British dominion. Mr. A. E. Hyland, acting on behalf of the organized producers of Australia, has for some years past, by an extensive publicity campaign, made Australian butter, cheese, dried fruits, canned fruits, apples and eggs known throughout the United Kingdom, and has stimulated demand in every direction. In this campaign the press, the radio, and the cinema are used, and have brought about satisfactory results.
At the present time an effort is being made by the Department of Commerce to organize the meat interests in Australia for the purpose mainly of linking up Australian mutton, lamb, and other meats with the publicity campaign now so effectively carried on on behalf of other Australian products.
New South Wales Railways and Tramways
– Has the Prime Minister seen a statement inWednesday’s Sydney Morning Herald attributed to the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Stevens) in which the desire is expressed that the railway and tramway sendees be removed from the jurisdiction of either the Commonwealth or State Arbitration Court in order to prevent overlapping? In view of this statement, could not this subject be discussed at the forthcoming Premiers Conference with the object of introducing legislation to avoid unnecessary overlapping?
– Any representations made by the Premier of New South Wales on this subject will be carefully considered by the Commonwealth Government. Considerable thought has been given by previous Premiers conferences to the avoidance of overlapping, and the Commonwealth Government is quite prepared to consider any additional representations on the subject.
– In view of the statement published in to-day’s Canberra Times to the effect that the Australian Resident Minister in London will not return to Australia “just yet,” will the Prime Minister inform mo when that right honorable gentleman will return to this country, and what position he will occupy in the Cabinet when he does so?
-The interpretation placed on my remarks on this subject by a section of the press is entirely without justification. I said that Mr. Bruce was not returning to Australia “just yet,” and that is correct. When the date of his return is known, honorable members will be informed of it.
– Can the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs inform me whether it is a fact that the Australian Glass Manufacturing Company has ample supplies of quality sheet glass on hand, and that the only unfulfilled order for Western Australia, is one of 21 cases which is being shipped this week?
– The honorable member’s statement is quite correct. I am informed that the company has in hand a sufficient quantity of sheet glass of the required quality, and that its only unfulfilled order is the one referred to.
– I bring under the notice of the Minister in charge of War Service Homes the following extract from a letter that I have received from the secretary of the New South Wales Railway and Tramway Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Association : -
As you are no doubt aware, to be allowed to occupy War Service Homes as purchasers, the average rental, including interest, for the average house is normally about £1 a week, inclusive of private payment by occupier of rates and taxes.
I have also been informed that the Repatriation Department is offering an abandoned War Service Home to other than an ex-service man for 10s. a week. In view of the fact that the authorities are prepared to make homes available for rent to other than returned soldiers at a figure obviously below the rental value, will the Government give the same consideration to the returned soldier occupiers of these homes, and consider scaling down the value of the homes ?
– An ex-soldier is required to pay for the money advanced to him for the purchase of ahome an amount which, obviously, must be greater than any mere rental. If the honorable member will bring the specific case to which he refers under my notice, I shall give it special consideration.
The following papers were presented: -
Bankruptcy Act - Fourth Annual Report, for period 1st August, 1931, to 31st July, 1932.
Ordered to be printed.
Wheat Bounty Act - Statement, dated 20th September, 1932, regarding the operation of the Act.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Wednesday, the 12th October next, at 3 p.m.
.- Will the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) give honorable members some information as to whatisto be the number of sitting clays and the business to be dealt with when Parliament reassembles after the adjournment? I do not think honorable members are satisfied with the way in which the business of the House has been conducted during the last two or three weeks. In making this statement, I do not reflect upon the Government. It is not satisfactory for honorable members to have to spend so much time in travelling in order to occupy merely two and a half days a week with the business of Parliament. We cannot feel proud of the manner in which legislation has been rushed through this House recently. It is not fair to honorable members that the Government should table big sheafs of amendments to important legislation under conditions which make it absolutely impossible for honorable members even to read them. I sincerely hope that the consideration of the tariff will be completed before the end of the year; but unless the manner in which we have been discharging our business in the last two or three weeks is altered, there is not the slightest chance of this being done.
– Before the House adjourned at an early hour this morning, I informed honorable members that they would be asked to reassemble on Wednesday, the 12th October, and that thereafter, the House would meet on four days a week. The Government certainly hopes that the consideration of the tariff schedule will bc completed before Christmas.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Report of Geneva CONFERENCE
– I lay upon the table the Report presented to the Prime Minister by me on the “Disarmament Conference, Geneva, 1932, covering the period February-July “ and moves -
That the paper bc printed.
The subject of disarmament has engaged the attention of the world for many centuries as a possibility. In recent years, it has approached more nearly the realms of actuality, and, in particular, since the close of the Groat War, it has been a real and urgent problem in the minds of the people of nearly all the countries of the world.
The paper which I present, dealing with the proceedings of the conference still in progress at Geneva, is of necessity only a preliminary report, and concerns what happened up to the end of July; the final report will be presented at a later stage, and, I hope, will disclose some real results and consequences which, at the present time, cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty.
There must be, and doubtless there is, widespread disappointment with the result to date. I do not conceal the fact that I myself am disappointed with the progress so far made. But I think it my duty to submit to the House a report on the proceedings of the conference, stating what I, as the representative of Australia, was responsible for doing, and indicating the progress made.
Honorable members will remember that in the Covenant of the League of Nations there is an article dealing particularly with the subject of what, though commonly spoken of as disarmament, is more accurately described as the reduction and limitation of armament?. Article 8 of the Covenant contains this provision-
The members of the league recognize that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction nf national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and iiic enforcement by common action of international obligations.
The council, taking account of the geographical situation and circumstances of each Stale, shall formulate plans for such reduction for the consideration and action of the werai governments.
Such plans shall be subject to reconsideration and revision at least every tcn years
After these plans shall have been adopted by the several governments, the limits of armaments therein fixed shall not be exceed?;! without the concurrence of the council.
There are those who consider that Article 8 almost solves the problem of armaments merely by its own terms; but when examined it is seen only to state the problem, and rather to emphasize the difficulties than to provide any solution of them. It begins by referring to the necessity for the reduction of national armaments “ to the lowest point consistent with national safety”. If the matter is faced openly, it is obvious that every nation would bo prepared to agree to reduce its armaments to the level which it regards as sufficient for national safety. This provision, therefore, indicates the difficulty of the problem rather than provides a solution for it. No contribution is made to the discussion of the subject by saying, “ We, as a nation, will reduce our armament to what we consider to be sufficient for national safety “. One has to go behind that conception, and examine the factors upon which national safety depends. It is then seen that one of the first responsibilities of governments being the protection, of their people, considerations of national safety are necessarily determined in relation to estimates of national risks. Those national risks depend, as they’ are viewed in the minds of the peoples of the world, upon the policy of the nation concerned, and that of other nations, particularly that of its neighbours and those with whom it has economic, cultural, financial, and other relations.
Similarly, one may call attention to the task imposed upon the Council of the League of Nations in formulating, plans for disarmament. The phrase used is -
The council, taking account of the geographical situation and circumstances, of each State, shall formulate such plans.
It is the geographical situation of some States that leads them to consider, that they require more armaments, than would otherwise be the case, because their risks are. greater. The mere mention of geographical situation as an element in the consideration of this subject, indicates again the difficulties of the problem.
There is no easy formula for the solution of the problem of armaments. From time to time, a simple percentagereduction is proposed. I am sorry to confess that I believe that there are nations in the world which, in anticipation of some such action being taken, have increased their armaments in order that they shall, in fact, be unaffected by a percentage reduction. The application of any such simple rule would ignore the fact that some nations have gone in. the other direction, and have already made real and substantial contributions towards world disarmament. Among them I mention without hesitation the nations of the British Empire. The Covenant, I have said, rather states than helps to solve the problem.
The Treaty of Peace itself contains a most important provision, in Part V., which covers the military,’ naval, and air clauses of the treaty with Germany. It is in these terms -
In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations, Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military naval and air clauses which follow.
Then follow clauses which, impose upon Germany a. whole scheme of disarmament,, by regulating the naval, military, and air forces of that country almost to the last, detail. Those obligations though^ doubtless/ there may have been evasions,, have been substantially carried out by Germany. The moral force of the argument for Germany,, that tile rest of the nations of the world which were parties to that treaty are bound to proceed honorably and promptly with disarmament, is very great indeed. Germany was disarmed in order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations. Accordingly, all considerations of honour, as well as of self-interest, coincide in directing us towards a real reduction of armaments1. It should be known to- all that if the world proceeds upon a basis of competitive armament, we shall be confronted with the gravest of all risks, and if to the considerations of self-interest and direct human concern, we add the statement that the Allies gave to Germany, there is a very great obligation resting upon us and all other nations to- bring about an effective reduction .and limitation, of armaments.
After the Treaty of Peace, was signed, the League of Nations was established, and in 1925 a Preparatory Commission was set up for the purpose of dealing with disarmament, and in November, 1930, a Draft- Convention for the reduction and limitation of armaments “was prepared. Before that - in 1922 at Washington, and in 1930 at London - a measure of reduction and limitation of armaments was effected in the naval sphere. The Draft Convention was accepted as the basis of the proceedings of the Disarmament Conference. It laid down certain principles, and distributed the work of the Conference under certain heads. I refer in the Report which I am presenting, at page 5, to the character of that Draft Convention.. Honorable members will see there that the Draft Convention comprises 60 articles dealing with personnel, materiel, budgetary expenditure, exchange of information, chemical arms, and certain miscellaneous provisions. I have set out on the same page for the purpose of convenience the principles of limitation proposed in the draft convention. In the case of personnel, those principles were -
In the case of land war materiel, there was to be a budgetary limitation, and in the case of naval war materiel a limitation by tonnages and categories as well as a budgetary limitation. As to air craft, there was to bc a limitation by numbers and horse-power. Regarding total expenditure on defence, there was to be a budgetary limitation of the total expenditure on each service - navy, army, and air force. That Draft Convention was the foundation of the work of the Conference.
The Conference began, on the 2nd February last, the representatives of Australia being Sir Granville Ryrie, then the High Commissioner, and Mr. V. C. Duffy, the officer of the External Affairs Department in London. At a later date I took over the work, and was assisted by Mr. F. G. Shedden, of the Defence Department, and my own private secretary, Mr.
Before I left Australia I outlined the policy which I proposed to advocate on behalf of the Government, and I shall repeat the words which I uttered in tin’s chamber on the 24th February last. They were -
The Commonwealth Government accepts the draft as generally satisfactory, and its delegation will endeavour to hai’e figures inserted in the tables contained in it which will secure, not only the limitation, but also the substantia] reduction of armaments. The delegation will support the abolition of submarines, the prohibition of gas and chemical warfare, reduction in the permissible size of ships of war and the calibre of naval guns, the prohibition of large land guns, and the limitation of conscription by agreement. At the same time it will bear in mind the interests of Australia, which necessitate that its very slender defensive provisions can be limited only if other nations agree to reduction.
That is the policy which I advocated at Geneva.
Regarding the organization of the conference, there was first a long preliminary discussion, in the course of which the representatives of every one of the 64 nations attending the conference spoke. Then committees were formed, described as special commissions. They are named on page 6 of the report - political, naval, laud, air and budgetary commissions; and the subjects of discussion are set out at the foot of that page. The discussions dealt with disarmament under two headings, quantitative disarmament, including budgetary disarmament, mid qualitative disarmament. I propose to say something with respect to each of those methods of disarmament.
– Were the discussions conducted in public?
– Yes. Quantitative disarmament means the limitation or reduction of the actual quantity or amount of the factors constituting armament power. It also includes the limitation of armaments by the method of limiting expenditure upon such factors. For example, if it were said that a country should have only a certain number of battleships and submarines, and that there should be only so many men in the navy, army and air force, that would be an example of quantitative limitation. . Or if it were provided that the expenditure on, say, land materiel for the use of the army, should be only so much a year, that also would be an example of quantitative disarmament. Many questions arise in relation to quantitative disarmament which are difficult to solve, and when I left Geneva the prospects of any achievement in the region of quantitative disarmament were not hopeful. The reason is to be found in the difficulties associated with the subject.
For example, is the limitation to he on a global basis, or by categories, applied, say to the navy? Are naval vessels to be limited by the total tonnage of the whole navy; or is there to be separate limitation of the tonnages of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, sloops and the like? Then, if figures are fixed under these categories or headings, is there to be interchange between the units? Again, take the position of the British Empire. Isthere to be interchange between, say, Australia and New Zealand, and the other parts of t he Empire, so that what may be described as a deficiency in one may be made up in the other?
Consider the other aspect of quantitativedisarmament - the budgetary limitation. At first sight it appears not a very difficult matter to provide that there shall be a fixed limit to the expenditure on armaments. Yet when the subject is examined it is found that the traction for an army, whether horse or mechanized, is, in some countries, not under the control of the Defence Department or War Office at all. In one important country in Europe traction is under the control of the Agricultural Department, because the . power employed can be used in time of peace more effectively by the Agricultural Department than by any other department.In order to arrive at a basis of limitation, there has to be a collection of expenditure - using a general term - defence expenditure as we would call it here - under one heading. This expenditure is now scattered all through the budgets of the nations of the world. It is often difficult to determine whether an experimental station is scientific, or really for war purposes. I could give almost innumerable illustrations of the difficulty of obtaining a basis for the application of the budgetary principle. These matters have been under examination continuously, before and since the Conference opened, and up to the present time the budgetary commission has not been able to present a report. When I left, it was still working on a model budget, which it was hoped that the nations would agree to adopt, so that their expenditure would be apparent. At present it is difficult to form an estimate of the actual expenditure in directions which may fairly be regarded as associated with the making of war or defence against war.
There is one other consideration which also makes the limitation by budgetary methods difficult at the present time. The purchasing power of money varies greatly in the countries of the world. A soldier in one country may be maintained for one-tenth of the cost of maintaining a soldier in some other country. The instability of currencies at the present time - the frequent changes in the value of the currencies of some countries in the course of a year - would make it difficult indeed to apply a financial standard to their war expenditure.
As to the comparison of forces on a quantitative basis, one nation may have an army of 100,000 and another an army of 500,000. But the 100,000 men may be permanent, professional soldiers, training and working for 365 days of the year, while the 500,000 men spend only a fortnight in camp each year. What is the proper basis of comparison of such forces? It is obviously not right to say . that the army of 500,000 is five times as powerful on a quantitative basis as the army of 100,000. What standard then is to. apply? The suggestion has been made that it might be worked, out upon a basis of men-days, or day-men, so that, for example, 100,000 men trained for six months would be regarded as equivalent to 200,000 men trained for three months. The logical and final application of this principle would mean that one man trained for 365 days would be equal to 365 men trained for one day. For my own part, if I had to fight, I woiild rather have the 365 men with me than the one man.
It is proper to bear these difficulties in mind when disappointment is expressed at the result of the Conference. There is no easy method of solving the problems, and they will be solved only as a result of stern pressure from outside, and by highly skilled and most disinterested work inside the Conference. I do not expect even now very early results in relation to some of these matters. Might I complete what I was saying as to the difficulty of applying the quantitative criteria by a few more words about effectives? What is to be the position of recruits in training? How is one to compare armies where the period of training is increasing as it wore from day to day. One country may have 10,000 men who have been trained for three months, and are continuing their training; another country may have an army of the same size which lias been trained only for one month, and intends to continue its training for a shorter period than the other. Honorable members can see the tremendous difficulty of obtaining a comparison of effective forces on a mathematical basis. Grave difficulties have arisen concerning athletic youth training in schools and in other organizations. Some countries say that this training is perfectly peaceful, but other countries, their near neighbours, may regard those who are being trained as almost armies in being. Then there are countries in Europe which have thousands of armed forest guards, armed customs guards on long land frontiers, and thousands of armed police. A question arises as to the weight or figure value to be attached to these in any quantitative system of reduction of armaments. I could continue to illustrate the difficulties at great’ length.
I do not wish to emphasize these difficulties for any other reason than that to got a true picture of the problem, it is necessary to know what the difficulties are; and it is proper that the people as a whole should understand that this is one of the most difficult problems that has ever confronted organized humanity; one that we cannot reasonably expect to be solved within a few weeks or oven within a few months.
I come now to the more hopeful side of the work of the conference - qualitative disarmament. Qualitative disarmament was approved by the conference on the 22nd April, 1932. The principle of qualitative disarmament - which will be found stated in the middle of page 7 of the Report - consists in the selection of certain classes or descriptions of weapons, the possession or use of which should be absolutely prohibited to all States, or internationalized by means of a general convention. The idea underlying qualitative disarmament is that armaments, should be dealt with in relation to their quality, not in reference to their numbers. Of course there can be both qualitative and quantitative disarmament, but qualitative disarmament is based solely upon the quality of the weapon. I can illustrate the distinction by referring to the clauses of the Peace Treaty dealing with Germany. There, for example, it is said that Germany should have an army of no more than 100,000 men. That is quantitative disarmament. It is also said that Germany shall have no tanks, aeroplanes, submarines, or battleships above 10,000 tons. That is a prohibition of certain forms of armaments by reference to their descriptions and qualities.
There are two schools of qualitative disarmament. One believes in the prohibition of certain weapons, and the other believes in internationalization. The French delegation made a proposal for qualitative disarmament by way of internationalization, and I have included in the appendix to my Report on page 16 and the following pages, its very interesting proposal. In the first place, it is proposed that civil aviation should be internationalized, and that all bombing aircraft should be placed at the disposal of the League of Nations. It is proposed that batteries of heavy and long-range artillery, capital ships above a certain tonnage, guns above a certain calibre, and submarines exceeding a certain tonnage, should also be placed at the disposal of the League of Nations. The object of this proposal is, first, to create an international police force for the prevention of war; and secondly, to provide a punitive force to suppress war and to bring immediate assistance to any State which may be the victim of aggression. This proposal has attracted support in many quarters. It did not come ut> as a subject of discussion during the debates which I attended, or with which I was associated at Geneva, and, therefore, no occasion arose for an expression of opinion on the matter. However, the nature of the proposal is very clearly set out in the French memorandum, and the following sentences express its true significance : -
The present conference offers the best opportunity Hint ‘has ever occurred to make n definite choice between a League of Nations possessing executive authority and a League of Nations paralysed by the uncompromising attitude of national sovereignity. France has made her choice. She suggests that the other nations should make theirs.
I have very grave doubts concerning the proposal to give the League of Nations executive power, and to create an international force. I do not envy the commander of an international force made up of mixed contingents, supplied from the various countries of the world. How could such a force be assembled at a given rendezvous in the event of its services being required? Most of us who have studied defence matters are aware of the importance of plans of operations being made in advance, and realize that the preparatory work of the general staff is the very essence of successful action. If an internationalforce is to be of any value at all, it must prepare plans for potential action against the leading countries of the world, and it is inconceivable that these plans could be prepared by an international general staff without becoming known. It was a saying of Frederick the Great: “If you know beforehand the plans of the enemy, you will beat him. every time, even with an inferior force.” It would be quite impossible for the general staff of an international force successfully to devise plans for dealing with, say, Great Britain, France, Germany or Belgium. If the plans were known beforehand, they would lose their value. It appears to me that such a proposal is impracticable.
– Would such a force be in the nature of a standing army?
– Yes. It would have to be efficient, and it would have to have all the big guns, aeroplanes, capital ships and submarines. But where could these be kept? Although the idea may appeal to one at first glance, it is found, on examination, to be impracticable. I admit, having this degree of mistrust in human nature, that I am not anxious to see such a force ready to hand for a possible Napoleon. No instrument could more speedily bring about a universal dictatorship in the world than great naval, military and air power, in more or less one place, and under one hand. Although there might be advantages in having what is called an international police force, it seems to me that the idea is impracticable, and any proposal to give the League of Nations executive power, power of action, in the different countries in the world, would almost from the beginning result in the paralysis of the League itself.
I admit that the League is hampered by what the French Delegation described as the “ uncompromising attitude of national sovereignty”. If there is to be such an attitude, there is not much hope for the League of Nations, or for the future of the world, under present conditions. There must not be an uncompromising attitude of national sovereignty. Every effort must be made to reach practical agreement, in order to remove the conditions that have obtained in the past. The uncompromising attitude to which I have already referred has gone too far in the direction of paralysing international action. Just as individuals in a. civilized society, by surrendering some of their freedom, are able to attain to greater freedom and security for themselves and others, so nations must realize that in the long run they can best obtain self-rule and security by imposing limits upon the licence which would be exercised in a barbarian community. To use a. phrase that I have employed before, it is a matter of brains and goodwill; both are needed.
– It means economic security, too.
– It may mean everything to humanity. That is why I feel strongly on this matter. As I have indicated, Iam not in favour of an uncompromising attitude of national sovereignty. But it. would, nevertheless, be one of the gravest of mistakes to give a body at Geneva power to take executive action with regard to Australia. It would be wiser to realize at the outset that such a proposal would not work, than to pursue a will of the wisp dancing towards most miry and dangerous ground.
The other aspect of qualitative disarmament consists in the prohibition of certain forms of armaments by a reference to their quality. Germany has been prohibited from arming herself with tanks, battleships, and large guns beyond a certain size. It has been suggested that that is a criterion for the other nations to measure up to; that the powers have already selected the classes of weapons which ought to be prohibited, and, therefore, these nations themselves should refrain from using them. A resolution was accordingly passed with the object of trying to give effect to a fundamental idea based on this principle of qualitative disarmament; that we should increase the power of defence against attack, if possible; that we should increase the power of defence, and decrease the power of attack. The resolution was passed in accordance with that principle, directing the commissions to examine the position with a view to selecting those weapons whose character is most specifically offensive, most efficacious against national defence, or most threatening to civilization. That was an attempt to distinguish between offensive and defensive weapons. The mere statement of the nature of the endeavour indicates its difficulties. A bayonet in your hand is offensive against me, and a bayonet in my hand is defensive against you. However, the attempt was made on the basis of the resolution that I have read. I submitted a special memorandum to the Conference on the matter, the text of which will be found on page 10 of the Report. It is there stated -
Any form of naval armament may be used offensively or defensively, and may, according to circumstances, be efficacious against national defence and also threatening to civilians, in the sense of producing actual danger or reasonable apprehension of danger to them.
The question submitted for inquiry, however, was “which forms of armament are most specifically offensive?” The reports on this subject I have summarized in my own report on pages 8, 9, and 10. These are the discussions which were principally reported in the press, and they led to a good deal of disappointment throughout the world, partly because it was not understood what the precise question was. For example, the question was not whether a particular form of armament could be offensive, but which forms were the most offensive. No question arose in these discussions by the technical commissions of prohibiting or removing particular forms of armaments. Consideration was directed to those kinds of armaments which are most efficacious against national defence, and most threatening to civilization. Although so much time was taken up in arriving at these reports, I am not proposing to go into the details. These commissions were largely composed of technicians, that is to say, persons representing the three defence services. It was essential that this work should be done in order that there, might be material for governments to make decisions on; but this matter will never be settled by bodies representing the services.It is important that these bodies should examine the position, but the decisions must be reached by governments. They must be political decisions, and governments must take the responsibility upon the basis and in the light of the material supplied.
– They must be the decisions of the representatives of the people at the time. [Leave to continue given.]
– I shall deal only with the decisions relating to the air force. Honorable members can read for themselves what was done on the other commissions, but, speaking generally, they agreed upon nothing, and the reports consisted of statements of different points of view, except in the case of chemical and bacteriological warfare. With reference to naval and military air craft - machines used for fighting, bombing, reconnaissance work, and troop carrying - there was a great difference of opinion. Opinions varied in accordance with the precise needs of the situation in the countries involved. The problem is a tremendous one. Nobody who had recently been in Europe, and had been dealing with such subjects as those which I had to consider, could come back to a country like Australia without realizing the threat of horror and terror that the warfare of the future containswithin itself. This is one reason why I am speaking particularly of the air. It is the great problem that overhangs the whole subject. More bombs could now be dropped in London in 24 hours from a neighbouring country than were dropped during the whole of the last war. It would be impossible, in such a case, to deal with the direct casualties, leaving out of account altogether the casualties due to gas. There are cities in Europe to-day which hold regular drills against air attacks. In others the authorities have prepared plans for complete evacuation if war should occur. The threat of war from the air is so tremendous and so full of horror that it constitutes the greatest problem that confronted the Conference.
It is impossible to obtain general agreement to prohibit aviation. There appear to be only three methods of dealing with the situation. The first would be to prohibit the use of bombing aeroplanes. No objection is offered to fighting aeroplanes, which would fight other aeroplanes, or to reconnoitreing planes, or, in certain circumstances, to large planes for the carrying of troops. It is the bombing plane which constitutes the difficulty. A definition of a bombing plane could be prescribed, but the difficulty would be in guarding against improvization. Civil planes can very quickly be turned into military planes for bombing purposes. In this connexion I refer honorable members to a book in the library, entitled What would be the Character of a New War, in which they will find the whole problem clearly stated. Some time ago the British Air Ministry obtained a report on this subject, in which the following statement appears: -
Large commercial planes for the transport - of passengers can be usefully employed, after certain relatively slight alterations, for night bombardments, or for day bombardments when visibility is moderate.
The great air services in operation on the Continent are highly efficient. They save both time and money, and I used them frequently. There have been really wonderful developments in civil aviation. Many companies own numerous powerful aeroplanes that could be readily changed into bombing machines. If the material were available, the conversion could be made in an hour or two. Accordingly, when one speaks of the prohibition of bombing aeroplanes, he mentions a subject surrounded with very great difficulty. The second method of dealing with the situation would be to prohibit the act of bombing, and to make it an offence to use aeroplanes for bombing purposes. The real difficulty in doing that is that every nation wonders whether it can trust the other nations. The third method would be to prohibit bombing within certain areas, to permit it on battle-fields, and to define battle-fields. I remember discussing one day at Geneva how far behind the front lines a battle-field extended. I forget whether the argument was 12½ or 25 miles on each side of the line, but it is obviously impossible to put up a fence, and say that there is a battle-field on one side of it, and not on the other. There is also a difficulty in defining legitimate objectives. One of the fundamental considerations involved in the war problems of to-day is that any future war must be a war of nation against nation, and not merely of professional soldiers against professional soldiers, as has been the case until comparatively recent years. In these circumstances food depots and factories are as legitimate objects of attack in cities and elsewhere as aerodromes and munition dumps.
The proposals made by the United Kingdom, and supported by Australia, to meet this situation, appear on page 11 of my Report, from which I quote the following : -
On 7th July, after consultation with the dominions, His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom issued a statement proposing that the contracting parties should agree between themselves in respect of their air forces that there should be -
The complete prohibition of all bombing from the air, save within limits to be laid down as precisely as possible by an international convention. Attacks upon the civilian population would be entirely prohibited.
A strict limitation on, the unladen weight of all military and naval aircraft (troop-carriers and flyingboats excepted).
A restriction on the numbers of all kinds of military and naval aircraft.
The Government of the United Kingdom stated that they are prepared to go to any length in agreement with other powers to nchieve the protection of the civil population against air bombardment, and, if more drastic measures are proposed from any other quarter and are shown to be practicable, they will examine them with the utmost sympathy. The Australian Delegation is in full accord with the proposals of the United Kingdom Government.
An agreement was reached in regard to the prohibition of chemical and bacteriological warfare, the particulars of which appear on pages 19 and 20 of my report. But - and I find it necessary to use many “ buts “ in discussing this subject - the carrying out of it depends upon the control of industrial establishments, because many industrial processes are directly concerned in the wholesale manufacture of gas which could be used for warlike purposes. Still, there has been a general agreement on this subject.
The public discussion of the Conference at Geneva proceeded for several weeks and then an adjournment took place. In April conversations were proceeding, of the nature of which I was kept informed by the leaders of the principal delegations, but, unfortunately, progress was hindered by political instability. Changes of government in France and Germany, and the looming presidential election in the United States of America prevented the conversations from being as fruitful as was hoped.
At this stage I formulated certain proposals which I discussed at length with the delegates from the United Kingdom and other dominions and the President of the Conference, and which I subsequently outlined in a letter which I addressed to the President on the 23rd June, a copy of which appears in Appendix No. 3 to the Report. The Conference appeared to me to be following a very uncertain course. It was divided between a desire to conform with the plan of the Draft Convention and the plan of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The question to which I refer was whether any limitation of armaments agreed upon should bc binding for all time, and be subject to variation only by universal consent, or whether any reduction agreed upon should be for a limited period before the expiry of which another conference should be held - no nation to be bound beyond that period unless it made another agreement. Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations provides a method for the reduction of armaments which involves the adoption of plans to remain operative for all time. 17nder its provisions armaments could only be varied by the consent of the League of Nations Council, which would mean unanimous consent. The early proceedings of the conference centred on schemes based upon that Article. This involved a specific statement by each delegation of what wore regarded as the ultimate minimum forces which would be required to ensure the safety of its people. In my opinion, the adoption of this proposal would lead to rearma111011 t rather than disarmament. It appeared to- me to be a very great mistake to ask the nations of the world to specify, in accordance with the Covenant of the League, the armaments that were regarded as necessary for national safety for the indefinite future. The adoption of this principle would in fact lead to the maintenance of the maximum rather than the minimum armaments, and it is useless for us to shut our eyes to this obvious fact. One thing that struck rae forcibly at Geneva was that the requirements of any single country were unknown except to its own representatives. One of the reasons for this is easily explained. We have all met with small boys who say “ I will, if you will “. That is exactly the position at Geneva. No nation could possibly publish its requirements until it knew what its neighbour’s plans were. Accordingly, there was no way to start the ball rolling. Another reason why no progress was made was that the nations were not prepared to specify what they regarded as the maximum necessary for their national safety and work from that basis. In my opinion, it would be a profound mistake to act upon the principle of Article 8 of the Covenant, and the nations have not been prepared to do so because they have felt that they cannot take the risk. No nation is really prepared to publish what it regards as its maximum requirement, because to do so would, in many cases, horrify the world. The adoption of this principle cannot bring about any real result in qualitative disarmament. [Further extension, of time granted.] The proposal which I made to the representatives of the nations was that they should specify the armaments with which they would be content for, say, the next five, seven, or ten years. I am interested in the principle and not in a particular period. If an agreement of that kind could he reached, it would be reviewed prior to the expiry of the period with the object of reaching a new agreement. It would be far better to adopt that principle than to attempt to make an agreement covering the indefinite future. I believe that something possible and practicable could be achieved in this direction, but that any attempt to cover the indefinite future is doomed to failure. I have been informed from various quarters that my proposal has received a considerable measure of support. The proposal is supported by the
British Delegation, and, for the information of honorable members, I have had incorporated in the Report a letter from the Polish Delegation which also supports it. I confess to a certain amount of personal regret that I was unable to remain at Geneva in order to press the suggestion by my own argument, but Sir John Simon has undertaken to do his best to see that it is accepted.
An important proposal was made by the Delegation of the United States, which appears at pages 22 to 24 of the Report. It is that land forces should be divided into a police and a defence component, the former to consist of those forces necessary for internal security. The Peace Treaty fixed the number at 100,000 for Germany’s population of some 62,000,000. All other land forces are to be regarded as defence components, and reduced by one-third. The friendly comments of the British Government on that proposal are to be found at pages 24 to 26 of the Report. In some respects Great Britain is prepared to go further than the United States in the matter.
The results of the Conference to date, to which I promised to refer, are to be found in the general commission’s resolution, appearing at page 13 of the Report. It will be seen that this degree of agreement has been reached -
That condition hides some very thorny problems. Concerning land armaments, it is agreed that -
The difficulty is that there is no agreement as to what shall constitute a minimum and maximum. Each nation agrees that large laud guns shall be limited in number, but the degree of limitation is not defined. However, I have not abandoned hope in that regard. There is a special agreement concerning coastal guns. It is impossible, of course, to determine the size of coastal guns without also determining the size of naval guns, and, consequently, the tonnage of warships. That indicates how these problems are inter-related. Provision is also made concerning frontier fortress and mobile land guns. It. was further agreed that the maximum unit tonnage of tanks shall be limited. There again a difference of opinion exists as . to the fixation of the maximum. These decisions, and others concerning chemical, bacteriological and incendiary warfare are to be found at pages 14 and 15, together with plans for the future work of the Conference.
This resolution is by no means satisfactory, but it represents the maximum agreement possible at present. It must be remembered that no member of the league has the power of dictating a policy to another. In order to make effective any proposals ultimately adopted the important thing is to bring about a maximum agreement. The fact that determinations are arrived at on a basis of agreement and not of an affirmative majority, causes grave difficulty in arriving at international decisions. I refer to that subject on page 15, and have indicated that it was better to agree to this resolution than to be superior and say “It is not enough. We shall stand out and not agree to anything.” I assure honorable members that the amount of agreement obtained is much more than would have been possible a few months earlier.
Undoubtedly, matters have been complicated by the re-enunciation by Germany of the equality thesis. Declaring that she is one of the great nations of the world, and is entitled to equality, Germany demands that the other States shall disarm to a level corresponding in some measure to that imposed on her by the Treaty of Versailles. Germany says that she does not demand absolute parity of armaments with other countries, but demands the right to such a parity; also, that she will accept the prohibition of any weapon only if it is prohibited to all States. This illustrates the fact that behind all these differences concerning calibres of guns, numbers of aeroplanes and the like, are the great outstanding political problems of the world, and more particularly those of Europe.
I could not but be struck by the contrast between the position of Europe and Australia. Here we have a continent, surrounded by sea, containing a homogeneous andunilingual population, whose nearest potential enemy is thousands of miles away. We hardly know what national risk is compared with the difficulties which beset the other nations of the world. I compared the position of Australia, free from any air attack on a large scale - because such attacks must necessarily be sea borne - with that of European countries whose frontiers are merely imaginary lines dividing them from the countries of their hereditary enemies. No conference, whether held at Geneva or elsewhere, can, by pious resolutions, remove the suspicions engendered by centuries of wrong and hate.
I do not believe that the problem can be dealt with upon the basis for which France so urgently contends, that we must first adopt a universal system of arbitration which will result in security, and only when security has been attained can there be any real disarmament. That may be the logical order in which to proceed, but I do not think that the world can wait for that logical order. At present the difficulties are, perhaps, more acute than they have been for a long time. No one can ignore the war cloud in the far east. People ask “ What is the League of Nations going to do?” The League of Nations, consists of no more than the governments which compose it, with opportunities for consultation and conference. The only forces that the League can have at its disposal are the forces of those governments, if they are prepared to use them. I confess to considerable doubt of the wisdom and humanity of the proposition which commends itself to so many, that every war should be made a world war ; that there should be no neutrals, that if there is a quarrel anywhere, the rest of the nations should join in to prevent it from spreading.. I am afraid that a great deal of the thought in relation to intervention by the League rests on such an idea. While that is not the intention of those who advocate intervention, I very much fear that itmight be the result.
Honorable members may think that I have been outlining only difficulties. I assure them that that is not my intention. I have sought to state the difficulties in order that honorable members as national representatives may realize the true nature of the problem. I conclude by speaking of the necessity for doing. something. If there is risk in doing anything, there is, in my view, far greater risk in doing nothing. The continuance of a competitive system of armaments threatens not only the future of western civilization but also the future of humanity itself. Some means must be found to put an end to that system. I admit that that may not be speedily possible, but, in the interests of humanity, there must be a real definite contribution to the solution of the problem. I believe that this will result in some measure from Geneva. It may not satisfy me, or many others, but, if we are to make any progress, we should be thankful for a beginning. There rests upon the governments of the nations of the world a very high responsibility in this regard, for in the last resort the decisions to be made are political. I found at Geneva that the political representatives of the various governments were impressed by the weight and reality of human thought, human feeling, and human sentiment behind the movement for disarmament. These elements are not without their effect in other quarters. I believe that, although not much has yet been achieved, the weight of human pressure is so great that we shall see ultimately, some real results from the conference at Geneva.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
South Australia Grant Bill-, 1932.
Western Australia Grant Bill, 1932.
Tasmania Grant Bill, 1932.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
– I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the message covers an amendment which may be regarded as coming in conflict with, section53 of the Constitution, but as it will be dealt with in committee, it is not necessary for me to give a ruling on it.
In committee: (Consideration of Sen a te’s amendmen t ) .
– The amendment inserted in this bill by the Senate concerns the clause dealing with the gold bounty. It adds to that clause that provision that the period of payment of the bounty is to be extended beyond the period proposed in the bill as it left this House. The amendment reads - 83b. Sub-section (1.) of section five of the Gold Bounty Act 1930-1931 is amended by addingat t he end thereof the words “ and thereafter for such further period as is equivalent in the aggregate to the period or periods during which, by virtue of section fifty-three a of this act, no amount of bounty payable under the Gold Bounty Act 1930-1931 is distributed.”
The amendment provides that the period during which the bounty is not payable by virtue of this bill is to be added at the end of the period if the bounty ever becomes payable again, so that its effect is to increase the period during which the bounty may become payable. Section 53 of the Constitution provides that the Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people. I submit that this amendment extending the period during which the bounty may become payable beyond what was agreed to by this House, does increase the charge or burden on the people. It must necessarily have that effect. On that ground, apart from any other, I move -
That the amendment be disagreed to.
Motion agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
That Mr. Lyons, Mr. Fenton, and Mr. Latham be appointed a committee to draw up a reason for the House of Representatives disagreeing to the amendment.
– The committee submits the following reason for dissent: -
That the amendment madeby the Senate increases a proposed charge or burden on the people, and, accordingly, is an infringement of section 53 of the Constitution.
I move -
That the reason be adopted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Silting suspended from 3.37 to4.50 p.m.
(Nos. 1 to8) 1932.
Bills returned from the Senate with amendments, which were agreed to in committee, reported and adopted.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
Bill returned from the Senate with the following message: -
The Senate acquaints the House that whilst in the opinion ofthe Senate it is not clear the amendment would have the effect of increasing thecharge or burden upon the people, the Senate refrains at this stage from any determination of its rights under the Constitution and does not insist on its amendment disagreed to by the House of Representatives.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
Unless something unforeseen occurs, honorable members will be asked to resume the discussion of the budget when they reassemble on Wednesday, 12th October. On the following day the statement relating to the Ottawa Conference will be presented.
Question resolved in the affirmative. House adjourned at 5.5 p.m.
The following answers to questions on notice were circulated: -
Australian Commonwealth Link of Steamers
Public Service Salaries.
What are the names of all officers of the Commonwealth Public Service, and the official positions occupied by each, who are in receipt of a salary of £1,000 or more per annum, having regard to the reductions made under the Financial Emergency Act?
The information has now been prepared, and is set out in the statement appended -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 September 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19320930_reps_13_135/>.