12 March 1936

14th Parliament · 1st Session

The President (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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Occupation by German Troops.

Minister for External Affairs · Western Australia · UAP

[3.2]. - by leave - The settlement of Germany’s boundaries at the Versailles Conference constituted one of the fundamental and one of the most difficult problems to be solved.

In the interests of international peace France advocated strongly the erection of a neutral State, to act as a buffer on the left bank of the Rhine. Unsuccessful in this, France did obtain, without essential difference of opinion, the demilitarization of the left bank, that is, the area between the Rhine and the French and Belgian frontier. Germany also agreed not to maintain fortifications to the east of the Rhine in a zone thirty miles wide, and not to assemble armed forces or conduct manoeuvres in the whole demilitarized region. Any violation of these provisions was to be regarded as a hostile act against the signatory powers and as calculated to disturb the peace of the world. Articles 42, 43 and 44 of the Versailles treaty embody these principles.

Germany, on various grounds, including injustice, a dictated peace, and selfdefence, has infringed several of the provisions of the Versailles Peace Treaty, notably those dealing with rearmament, but German spokesmen have, at various times, expressly stated that Germany had no intention of upsetting the status quo of the western frontiers as laid down in the treaty. Emphasis was given to this by the German Government freely and voluntarily negotiating the Locarno Pact, which stabilized, by guarantee, the frontiers inWestern Europe. This Pact was signed in December, 1925, and has been since regarded as the one clear and really valuable mutual treaty of security in Europe.

By this Pact, the contracting parties, namely, Great Britain, Belgium, France, Germany arid Italy guarantee to maintain the territorial status quo resulting from the revised frontiers between Germany and Belgium, and between Germany and France, the inviolability of those frontiers, and also the observance of stipulations concerning the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. This stabilization is the essence of the whole Pact, the rest of which is designed to effect this end. Germany, Franco and Belgium undertake to refrain from making war on each other except in selfdefence, and the violation of the demilitarized zone is expressly mentioned as entitling France and Belgium to resort to war in self-defence.

Article 4 especially affects Great Britain, because Great Britain and the other signatories agree, in the event of a violation of the Pact or a breach of tho demilitarization zone provision, to come immediately to the assistance of the State against which the act of aggression is committed. But it is to be noted that an alleged breach must be brought to the notice of the League Council, and the guarantee operates when the Council is satisfied that a breach or violation has been committed. In case of flagrant violation and where immediate defensive steps are necessary, assistance is to be given at once if the powers are satisfied that the violation constitutes an unprovoked act of aggression. The case, however, must still be referred to the Council, and the parties subsequently agree to act in accordance with the decision of the Council, provided that it is concurred in by all members other than representatives of the parties which have engaged in hostilities, No time limit is fixed for the period of the Pact, which also expressly states that it imposes no obligation on any of the British Dominions, unless a Dominion signifies its acceptance thereof. No Dominion has accepted tho obligation of Locarno.

Until 1935, there was no doubt as to Germany’s intention to adhere to tho Pact of Locarno. On the 30th January, 1934, Herr Hitler himself made a public and explicit declaration in the Reichstag in these words: -

The German Government is ready and determined, after the solution of the Saar ques- tion, to accept both the spirit and the letter of tlie Locarno Pact, for there will then exist no territorial question between France and Germany.

At the beginning of 1935 there was evidence that Germany was beginning to chafe at the continuation of the demilitarization of the Rhineland. On the 29th May, 1935, the German Government protested in a note to the guarantor powers, that the Franco-Soviet Pact, signed on the 2nd May, 1935, constituted an infringement of tho spirit of Locarno, mainly on the ground that, although not specifically stated, it was obviously directed against Germany. After protesting that, under the Pact, France or Russia could take action against Germany, even in a case where the League could not reach a decision on the alleged act of aggression, the note went on to say that the Locarno Pact could not be modified by a treaty concluded with a third party by one of the signatories.

The British Secretary for Foreign Affairs replied to this note on the 5th July, 1935, in the following words: -

I have the honour to refer to the memorandum which your Excellency was so good as to hand my predecessor on the 29th May, and in which were set forth various considerations regarding the manner in which the Treaty of Locarno was, in the view of the German Government, affected by the terms of the francoSoviet Pact, of 2nd May. Since then His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have bad cognizance of the note which the French Government communicated to tho German Government on the 25th June, in reply to this same memorandum.

His Majesty’s Government are in entire agreement with the views expressed and the arguments used by the French Government in this note, and after further consideration of the points made by the German Government they are satisfied that there is nothing in the Franco-Soviet Treaty which either conflicts with the Locarno Treaty or modifies its operations in any way. They likewise agree with the French and German Governments . in holding that the provisions of the Locarno Treaty cannot legally bc modified or defined by the fact that a treaty has been concluded with a third party by one of the signatories.

As this Franco-Russian treaty is regarded by Germany as the justification for the repudiation of the Locarno Pact, it is of interest to note its main features. By this treaty, Soviet Russia and France undertake, in the event of a threat of aggression by any European State, to consult as to common measures to be taken within the framework of the League

Covenant. In the event of an unprovokedaggression on the part of any European State, each shall come to the other’s aid and assistance. Further, in case of unprovoked aggression there is an obligation to lond each other aid and assistance in application of article 16 of the Covenant. It is this provision to which Germany particularly objects, as by it, if unanimity cannot be obtained in the Council under article 15, and members thereby are freed from the Covenant obligation, France and Russia are still bound to assist each other in implementing the sanctions under article 16.

The French Government, aware of possible objections, was particularly careful to work out a text within the principles of the League Covenant and in harmony with France’s international commitments, especially Locarno.

A non-aggression pact of mutual assistance, similar to the Franco-Soviet Treaty was also recently entered into between Soviet Russia and Czechoslovakia.

Although the Franco-Soviet Pact was signed in May, 1935, it was not to come into operation until ratifications were exchanged at Moscow. France has delayed ratification in the hope that the “ air pact “, known as the Aerial Locarno Pact, the Eastern Pact, and the Danubian Pact, as proposed in the London Declaration of February, 1935, would be negotiated, and thereby lead to a general allround pacification and settlement of outstanding differences. The intrusion of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, however, affected the whole situation, and added to the prevailing unrest and uncertainty in Europe. Despite repeated efforts on the part of Great Britain, it was found impossible to make any advance with the proposed pacts, as all States were unwilling to commit themselves to further international obligations until the Abyssinian conflict was ended and danger of a European conflagration had passed. Consequently, France, with a growing uneasiness in the face of German rearmament, felt it incumbent upon it to proceed with the ratification of the SovietTreaty. It had passed the Chamber of Deputies and appeared most likely to be approved by the Senate, when Germany announced its repudiation of the Locarno

Pact and moved armed forces into the demilitarized zone on the 9 th March.

Despite the fact that the terms of the Soviet Pact were known in May, 1935, and that Germany’s objections to it had not received support from the other Locarno guarantors, Germany subsequently re-affirmed its intention to observe the Locarno Pact. Herr Hitler; in his review of policy on the 2nd May, 1935, reiterated his assurance that in view of the settlement of the Saar issue, Germany would give no cause for French anxiety about the eastern frontier. On the 2Sth February, 1936, he again declared that, as there were no outstanding differences, he desired the friendship of France. The representatives of Great Britain were last week endeavouring to obtain some indication of Germany’s views on the proposed London Declaration Pacts, particularly in regard to the Air Pact - a proposal to supplement the Locarno Pact, by the rendering of mutual assistance in case of unprovoked air attack. The action of Germany on the 9th March consequently cut right across these conversations and created a situation which in gravity and importance overshadows all other international issues at the moment.

I do not propose to review the proposals submitted by the German Government for a new settlement, as they were fully reported in the Press. It would be unwise, moreover, to offer any comment at the present juncture, as the issues raised therein are primarily the concern of the Locarno Powers, although the principle of the sanctity of treaties is one which profoundly affects the international relations of every State.

The French and Belgian governments, with the full knowledge and agreement of the United Kingdom Government, have asked that the Council of the League may be summoned as soon as possible to consider the situation, and it is understood that the Council will meet on Saturday, the 14th March, in London, instead of its usual venue, Geneva. The Treaty of Locarno lays down that, in the event of an alleged breach, this course shall be followed.

Three courses appear to be open to the council. It may deal with the question direct, and in this connexion it is to be noted that any opinion given by the council on the dispute must be unanimous. Secondly, the question may be referred to the committee which was appointed as a result of the special meeting of the Council on the 16th April, 1935, to consider the French petition regarding Germany’s initial violation of treaty obligations in the decree of the 16th March, 1935, announcing the introduction of compulsory military training, and in the establishment of an air force.

The Council, on its second day of sitting, the 17 th April, 1935, carried unanimously the following resolution : -

That as the scrupulous respect of all treaty obligations is essential for the maintenance of peace, and as it is an essential principle of the law of nations that the consent of other contracting States must be obtained for liberation from treaty obligations, and as the German military law of the16th March, 1935, conflicts with these principles, decides that such repudiation of treaties should call into play appropriate measures by League members, and requests a committee to propose what measures, particularly financial and economic, might be applied should any State in future endanger peace by unilateral repudiation of its international obligations.

Thirdly, the Council mayrefer the dispute to the Permanent Court of International Justice for a determination as to whether there has been a breach of the Locarno Pact, particularly in view of the German claim that the Franco-Soviet treaty was an infringement of the Pact. It should be noted, though, in this connexion, that no reason or justification has been advanced by Germany as to the violation of the Belgian section of the Rhineland zone.

Pending the receipt of a report as the result of the exchange of views which took place at Paris yesterday, the Commonwealth Government has no information as to what procedure or course of action will be adopted. This exchange of views will be continued in London to-day between the representatives of the four Locarno powers, other than Germany.

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Nineteenth Session

Minister for External Affairs · Western Australia · UAP

[3.17].- I lay on the table of the Senate the reports of the Australian delegates to the 19th Session of the

International Labour Conference which was held at Geneva in June, 1935, and ask for leave to make a statement thereon.

The Government delegate at the Conference was the Honorable Sir Frederick Stewart, M.P., and the two nonGovernment delegates were Mr. F. W. Kitchen and Mr. J. F. Walsh, representing respectively the employers and workers of Australia. Fifty-two countries were represented at the Conference, including the United States of America and Japan. The United States of America is a member of the International Labour Organization, but not of the League of Nations; and Japan, which has withdrawn from the League of Nations, has remained a member of the International Labour Organization.

The most important result of the Conference was the adoption of a draft general convention on the 40-hour week. A State which ratifies this Convention declares its approval of (a) the principle of a 40-hour week applied in such a manner that the standard of living is not reduced in consequence, and (b) the taking or facilitating of such measures as may be judged appropriate to secure this end. Such a State also undertakes to apply this principle to classes of employment in accordance with the detailed provisions to be prescribed by such separate conventions as are ratified by it. These conventions will come before the International Labour Conference from time to time, for adoption in respect of specific industries.

The first of these conventions applying the principle of reduced working hours was adopted at the Conference in connexion with the automatic manufacture of glass bottles, and it lays down that the hours of work in this industry shall not exceed an average of 42 hours a week on the basis of four shifts. The matter of the adoption of conventions applying the 40-hour week to public works, building and contracting, the iron and steel industry, coal mines and the textile industry, is now under consideration by the International Labour Office, and will be discussed at this year’s session of the Conference. Both of the aforementioned conventions adopted last year have been referred to the State governments for consideration. A resolution was also adopted- by the Conference to the effect that the application of the principle of the 40-hour week should not reduce the pay of the workers, or lower their standard of living. This reduction of working hours was discussed at the 1933 and 1934 Sessions of the Conference. The States were duly consulted by the Commonwealth Government on those occasions, and their views were communicated to the -Government delegate for his guidance at the Conference.

It may be pointed out that the Commonwealth Government has no power to legislate generally with respect to hours of work, which is a matter that comes mainly within the control of the State parliaments and industrial tribunals. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court can deal with working hours only when the matter i.s raised in an interstate industrial dispute.

In view of the importance of this matter of the reduction of hours of work, the Commonwealth Government is now in communication with the State governments and the various interests concerned with a view to convening a conference to inquire whether any general reduction of working hours in Australia is desirable and practicable, having regard to the social, economic and national interests of Australia as a whole.

Another important matter dealt with by the Conference was unemployment among young persons. This, as honorable senators will agree, is one of the most urgent and difficult social problems of the day. The Conference adopted a recommendation based on the experience gained in a number of countries, and embodying measures which are regarded as the most effective means of remedying this form of unemployment. The main points of this recommendation are that the age for leaving school and admission to employment should be fixed at not less than fifteen years, and that juveniles - persons under eighteen years - who are over the schoolleaving age and are unable to find suitable employment should, where the organization of the school allows, be required to continue full-time attendance at school until suitable employment is available, or to attend continuation courses providing for both general and vocational education.

Maintenance allowances should, if necessary, be granted to parents during the additional period of education. Vocational training centres should be organized for employment of persons between the ages of 18 and 25 in cooperation with employers’ and workers’ organizations.

The Conference adopted a draft convention to establish an international scheme for the maintenance of rights under compulsory invalidity, old-age, and widows’ and orphans’ insurance on behalf of workers who transfer their residence from one country to another. This is of scarcely any importance to Australia.

Another convention adopted prohibits night work by women underground in mines.

The convention of 1931 limiting the hours of work in coal-mines was revised in respect of a number of technical points in order to facilitate its ratification.

International regulations were prepared for final consideration at this year’s conference relating to various systems of recruiting labour in colonies. The object of these proposed regulations, following on the earlier convention for the suppression of forced or compulsory labour - which the Commonwealth has ratified - is to take a further step towards the complete disappearance of compulsion, and its replacement by the free offer of workers’ services. In the meantime, abuse is to be prevented by means of regulations and supervision.

Similar preparatory work was done with a view to generalizing the institution of annual holidays with pay for workers. This does not apply to seamen or agricultural workers, whose cases will be considered at subsequent conferences.

Sir Frederick Stewart raised the subject of the nutrition .of workers, and pointed out that an increase in the consumption of agricultural foodstuffs would help to raise standards of life and relieve the existing depression in agriculture. The conference adopted a motion submitted by him requesting the International Labour Office to continue its investigation of the problem, particularly in its social aspects, in collaboration with the League of Nations, the International Institute of Agriculture, and other bodies capable of contributing to its solution, with a view to presenting a report on the subject to tho 1936 Session of the conference. Mr. Bruce also drew attention to this problem at the Assembly of the League of Nations later in the year. This matter will be referred to by me in greater detail in connexion with the report of the Australian delegation to the Assembly. For further information concerning the work of the conference I refer honorable senators to the reports which are now being presented. These contain, as appendices, the texts of the draft conventions and recommendations adopted by the conference.

I take advantage of the present occasion to make some observations generally as to the attitude of the Commonwealth Government towards the International Labour Office and the conventions adopted at the annual conferences of members thereof. The International Labour Office appears to be carrying out in quite a satisfactory manner its important function of bringing about the improvement of labour conditions throughout the world. It is generally admitted that Australia has much to gain by the universal adoption of international labour conventions, and that it is advantageous to co-operate as far as practicable in this direction, thus assisting the movement for the improvement of industrial conditions in other parts of the world and at the same time indirectly enabling the maintenance and even the improvement of Australian standards, and thereby removing some of the consequences of competition from countries with lower standards of living.

The subject of the ratification of these conventions was formally discussed at a conference between Commonwealth and State Ministers in 1929. On that occasion the Commonwealth Government intimated that it would be prepared to ratify any such conventions to the provisions of which the States had given effect under their domestic legislation, and in respect of which the States had given an assurance that they would not modify such legislation so as to make it inconsistent with the provisions of the conventions without previous consultation with the Commonwealth. It was pointed out on that occasion that it would be necessary for all the States, and not some of them only, to give legislative effect to the pro visions of a convention before the Commonwealth could proceed with ratification. I may mention that the great majority of the conventions deal with matters which fall mainly within the jurisdiction of the State governments, and affect the Commonwealth only so far as its territories are concerned. All except one of the conventions that mainly concern the Commonwealth, such as those relating to maritime matters, have been ratified by the Commonwealth Government. The convention referred to is that relating to the repatriation of seamen, the provisions of which are covered by existing legislation and practice in Australia ; it is now under consideration with a view to early ratification.

No substantial progress was made as the result of the discussion with the States in 1929. Consequently, in March, 1932, the matter was again taken up ‘with the States, when it was pointed out that in view of the advanced state of industrial and social legislation in Australia, the Commonwealth was sometimes criticized at home and abroad for delay in ratifying these international conventions. It was suggested that the States might be disposed to give further consideration to the matter, and they were asked whether they would be agreeable to ratification of any of the conventions, particularly those whose provisions were already substantially covered by existing State legislation. Only four of the States replied, and it eventually became clear that this method of approach was not likely to lead to any advance. Consequently, the Government recently reviewed the whole of these conventions and now proposes to make definite recommendations to the States as to what conventions can reasonably be ratified without further delay. The subject has been listed for consideration at the next conference between Commonwealth and State Ministers, and a list of the conventions which are fully or substantially covered by existing legislation or practice will be submitted with an invitation to the States to agree to the Commonwealth proceeding with the ratification of such conventions. A second list will be submitted for immediate examination and consideration by the States. This list consists of conventions which are more or less covered by existing State legislation and practice, and which only require minor legislative or other changes on the part of the States.

Irrespective of the conventions adopted last year, which are at present under consideration, the position is that the Commonwealth has ratified 10 of the 41 conventions open for ratification.

I also lay on the table of the Senate -

International Labour Organization of the

League of Nations - Nineteenth Conference, held at Geneva, June, 1935 - Draft Conventions and Recommendations adopted at Conference.

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SenatorFOLL. - Can the Minister representing the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) state if the negotiationsbetween the British Govern-, ment and the Commonwealth Government regarding an improvement in the air mail service between Great Britain and Australia by the use of flying boats over a portion of the route have ‘been broken off by the Commonwealth Government? If negotiations are still proceeding, can the Minister state the actual position in order to remove apparent misapprehension?

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Motion (by Senator Foll) agreed to -

That one month’s leave of absence be granted to Senator Grant on account of absence overseas.

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The following papers were presented : -

Arbitration (Public Service) Act- Deter minations by the Arbitrator, &c. -

No. 23 of 1935 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.

No. 24 of 1935- Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association of Australia.

No. 25 of 1935 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.

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Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) agreed to-

That leave he given to introduce a bill for an act to amend sections6 and 8 of the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Act 1935.

Bill brought up and read a first time.

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Motion (by Senator Brennan) agreed to-

That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Acts Interpretation Act 1901-1932, to repeal the Acts Interpretation Act 1904-1934, and for other purposes.

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Motion (by Senator Bren nan) agreed to-

That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Meat Export Control Act 1935.

Bill brought up and read a first time.

Senate adjourned at 3.37 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 12 March 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.