Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Leader of the Opposition



MR. CURTIN (Fremantle) – by leave – The Labour party does not consider itself in an exceptional position when it declares that war is abhorrent; absolutely evil; and the germ of everything hateful to man's sensibilities, his best interests, and his true welfare.

The masses are the chief victims of war. It was for this reason that, last week, we deemed it the course of wisdom to help, as far as possible, the negotiations having for their purpose the settlement of the present European situation. Today we feel that nothing can be said or done in Australia that will prejudice negotiations or, on the other hand, increase whatever momentum there is towards war. As a democracy, we urge upon the Prime Minister today that this Parliament of a free people should no longer delay a full and frank statement of where Australia stands.

Although we are a party which adheres to the pursuit of high ideals, we claim to be realists. We face facts; and we make no apology for facing them from the viewpoint of the safety and security of this nation, having primary regard to the welfare and happiness of our own people. This is the simplicity of common sense. Our view, based upon an acute realization of all that has happened to Australia in the last 25 years, is that the wise policy for this dominion is that it should not be embroiled in the disputes of Europe.

Opposition Members. – Hear, hear!

MR. CURTIN – I have said before, and I say now, that we have not the power to solve or to appease them; and we should not risk the lives of our own people in an endeavour to achieve what appears to be doubtfully possible.

The wars of Europe are a quagmire, in which we should not allow our resources, our strength, our vitality, to be sunk almost, it may be, to the point of complete disappearance.

The present trouble in Europe is the outcome of the last world war. That war, it now is clear, did not determine the problems of Europe and we are firmly convinced that no decision emerging from conflict, should conflict again occur, will resolve the divergent aims and ambitions of European nationalism. Democracy, I am confident, has learned the futility of endeavouring to settle international grievance by force. I need not describe the price the world has already paid in this connexion.

It is not as though there are not active interests in the world whose ambitions lead to war. There are. The chief menace to peace is the failure of nations to make the welfare of their own people the paramount activity of their governments.

The condition of this world is such that it is always possible to find an apparently sufficient reason for war; and when this immediate issue has served its purpose, another will be manufactured as time goes on.

Chief among these war-making agencies are the armament makers. So long as these firms are profitable, they are as dangerous to peace as are those sections of the press which serve up war-scares as they are created and, in between, chant the praises of armed force as the only security for nations. The armament firms favour systems which will keep their works busy and their profits soaring. So long as these firms are permitted to carry on private profit-making, there will always be geographical danger-spots in civilization.

I need not emphasize how all this has a distracting effect on the workers and the masses of the people of all nations, diverting them from the problems of poverty and economic well-being to the contemplation of international crises. Intimidated by what is occurring far away, they are weakened in their social aims and in their aspirations.

Labour, therefore, in every country, seeks, and will continue to seek, peace by negotiation in international matters as representing the only sane solution – the only lasting agreement which can free the people from living constantly under the darkening shadow of the sword.

I remind Australia that we have already experienced a colossal waste of the flower of our manhood. We have around us much evidence of the terrible legacy of war. The lives lost; the maimed and the afflicted; the widows and the orphans; the grievous problems inherited; all of these testify to the awful price which this nation has already paid as the result of war in Europe.

I ask myself, and I ask Australia – what shall we do, having regard to the present situation? Answering this, I say that new vulnerabilities have developed. Our security may be more menaced than it was. I shall not particularize in this connexion other than to say that the Government's policy itself is a clear call to the nation; it is indicative of the new dangers to which we are exposed. Our first duty is to Australia. Our position is such that the total of our resources must be available for our own defence. This means, clearly and unequivocally, that whatever else we may do as a dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations, no men must be sent out of Australia to participate in another war overseas.

This is the positive and calmly-considered view of the Australian Labour party. We believe that the best and the most complete contribution we can make in the present position of the democracies of the world, is to concentrate ourselves on the maintenance of the integrity an the inviolability of this country and the safety of our own people.