Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


"First of all I should say that today will be in many respects the commencing day of the official association of the chairman (the Duke of Gloucester) with the Government of Australia. When His Royal Highness comes to Australia as Governor-General he will find on the part of everybody who is there not only the desire to give to him the most cordial welcome to Australia, but their feeling that in welcoming him they make plain to all the world the loyalty by which the people of Australia feel bound in humble duty, and at the same time bound with every instinct of their nature, to the King as the unifying symbol in every British Commonwealth and Empire - an association which the people of Australia regard as their heritage, and to them the most priceless link in the greatest association and confraternity the history of the world has known.

We have a feeling out there that the King is the King of Australia, the King of Canada, the King of India, the King of the United Kingdom. The people of Australia look to him as King of every part of the British Commonwealth and in view of all that has happened in the past and in view of all that can happen in the future that is of the utmost significance. It is at once an affirmation and a challenge - an affirmation of the complete integrity of the people of Australia in their purpose of continuing as an integral part of this great Empire, and a challenge to all those who would assume that because in the course of the war certain things have happened and spheres of responsibility were allocated that that carries with it an implication or involves a re-allocation of relationships.

I think it is very important that the world should know that Australia's interest in the war which barbarity had forced on civilization is twofold. It is the real interest of lovers of freedom, but there is more in it than that. In this war against aggression, Australia has found itself bound to share in the responsibility, and to participate in the pledged word of the Government of Britain. For the Government of Britain, having regard to the free association which the Dominions have with it, does not give its word without knowing that it has become in fact, without any written arrangement, the spokesman of governments which know what is to be said when words are uttered.

May I say that in any association, however organized, whether formalized or merely associated together because of common origin and purpose and instincts there are times when it is inevitable that somebody must be the spokesman for the whole. We cannot have half-a-dozen people say, ‘this is the voice of the British Commonwealth’. For myself, I should regard it as an impertinence for the Prime Minister of Australia to speak for the whole Empire. But at certain crises in the history of the world it is not only desirable, but it is necessary that there should be a spokesman, and that he should know that what he says has attached to it not only the knowledge of the Governments of the Empire but also the concurrence of the people for whom the government would speak if they were to speak separately. It is no extraordinary thing that on these occasions when the Prime Minister of Britain has spoken for the British Commonwealth of Nations, almost as though they were echoes from the seven seas and the various, parts of the globe have come the immediate responses and declarations of the Prime Ministers of the Dominions in which they said the same thing. It would be an extraordinary thing if the Prime Ministers of the Dominions did not say the same thing, for we are the same people, separated by distance but united by things that distance can never completely divide.

If any historian in the future should review all that has taken place in the last 40 years, more particularly within the last five or ten years, the obvious conclusion he must reach is that while each of these peoples and their governments are completely self-governing, it is also the truth that these autonomous governments and their people who have their distinctive points of view, are none the less firmly agreed on the important positive things that must be done. The degree of their unanimity is always approximately complete in matters of the greatest moment, and the points of distinction which divide them are those which are in themselves certainly subordinate, and in any event relate to a particular locality or place.

It is perfectly true that the people of Australia do not say ‘Yes’ to everything that the people of Britain would say, but they say ‘Yes’ to all the vital things that the people of Britain are concerned with, and I venture to say that the people of Britain would say ‘Yes’ to all the things that the people of Australia hold to be vital to Australia. We are indeed a rather strange association and we would be considered strange by people other than ourselves. But we consider that it is perfectly rational that a Britisher at Cooktown should have as much to say for himself as a Britisher in Liverpool. We consider it ludicrous to regard a discussion as evidence of antagonism; on the contrary we consider discussion is necessary to elicit what is the truth that is going to lie at the very core of our policy. In the correspondence between Mr. Churchill and myself the points of view which each of us have expressed freely, candidly, were expressed with the utmost complete frankness, because we know that one friend is expressing himself to the other for their mutual benefit.

I can say that the dominant point of view in Australia - and I know it to be the dominant point of view here in Britain - is that we are one people. We are not only kith and kin, we have the same cultural heritage, we speak the same language; we claim that all the struggles for liberty that have been waged in this land, the motherland and cradle of the rights of the people, were just as much the history of the people of Australia as they were the history of the people of Britain. Because we have freedom ourselves we acknowledge it to be the right of others. We claim to have taken part in the struggle for liberty and for the development of the right of men to govern themselves and we claim that to be the background of our development. That is why we feel that this struggle is a global struggle, not only of free peoples to govern themselves, but the acknowledgement of the right of other people to enjoy the same amount of freedom as ourselves.

Very humbly I would say to this gathering, that however much we were beset, however sorely pressed we were when we did not have sufficient means of meeting the formidable and ruthless foe that we had then, yet even in the darkest of our hours we never for one single moment shut our eyes to the consequences if things should have gone wrong here. All through the struggle there had been Australians fighting for freedom, in the Battle of Britain, and in the war for Europe.

I put it to those who are inclined to criticize what they regard as the slow-moving machinery of democracy, whether or not the present state of the war was not a conclusive answer to them? There is an executive capacity in democracy just as much as there is a consultative capacity. We are right to deliberate and confer, because we desire that democracies should do the right thing - the thing that appeals to man's reason, and at the same time appeals to his heart.

We are not engaged in the wanton killing of civilians in our bombing operations over Europe or any other part of the world. Every act of war carried out by the Allies is an act of war, dictated by military strategy and military necessity. The United Nations entered the war because they were attacked. They entered it unprepared because they did not believe that at this stage in the history of the world men were so barbaric as to assume that war was an instrument of justice. They engaged in war in self-defence against whose who waged war as the only and primary principle of human existence. In fact the summary of universal experience is that nobody can be expected to lie down when somebody advances towards him in order to put his foot upon his brow.

Having entered the struggle to defend the basic principles of freedom in the world, to resist the right of men to resort to forms of barbarity, we now say to all those who have been the victims of that barbarism that having saved ourselves we shall stay in the struggle until they have been rescued also. So we say to the people of all the occupied countries that having entered this struggle for principles which we regard as idealistic, seeking no advantage at the expense of anybody else, we shall not leave the burglars in possession of their loot. We should seek whatever means are open to us to secure the true rights of human beings as human beings. I know of no way in which that can be done by individual men and I do not believe that any nation of itself, by itself, is strong enough to do that. I believe that nations have to be associated with others.

When I look at the practical problem of the association of nations, I know of no model which can serve the world as an example greater or better than the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is for the Prime Ministers to ascertain the facts, to confer with those who are the heads of the other governments, and to agree, in so far as the circumstances of the war make agreement necessary, on what may be deduced as a simple plan of co-operation. We have achieved such a result. We are now able to conserve the whole of our resources and we know what is the total amount that is in the pool and how best to allocate it. Having. regard to all these facts, we bring to the aid of all the nations this immense core of experienced association. We are willing to use all our resources, not only to promote our own welfare, as citizens to assist in freeing ourselves, but to assist all the occupied countries in freeing themselves from bondage.

Having done all that, this great commonwealth which has done so much, can feel that it can stand up, not only in respect of other nations, but even against its own mistakes - if there are mistakes which divide it - and substitute a better government for it whenever it is necessary that should be done. It can bring to the common council of nations not only high ideals, but also a rich experience and much wisdom. Those are the grand qualities which have served the British-speaking world through the ages, and which have been so great a contribution to the welfare of mankind in the past and the greatest factors for good that civilization possesses."