r Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


In Parliament.- On 21st July, 1944, Mr. Curtin said -

“It is true that my statement left unsaid much of what members of Parliament would doubtless like to have been told. I make no apology for that; because it has not been practicable, in connexion with the problems that have been dealt with in the debate on the Address-in-Reply, or, indeed, in connexion with the matters with which I dealt while I was away, to do more than give a general indication of the trend of thought and activity.

"But I wish it to be particularly known that, while I was away, I did not enter into any secret commitment. I say that because I am not alone involved. I would have allowed the remark to pass, but for the fact that there might be an implication upon the Prime Ministers of the other Dominions as well as upon the British Prime Minister. We had consultations in order that we might inform the mind of each whether in regard to our respective points of view. We considered that we were interpreting the views of the counties which we represented, rather than out personal views, so that, in the formulation of policy, each government would be better equipped to act in concert with the other Dominions and, in particular, with Britain.

“There are three observations which I should like to make. The first is, that a world organization will be an invaluable contribution to the removal of the causes which lead to war. The nest is, that the British Commonwealth must present towards that world organization the spectacle of a unified entity in matters of the highest import. That does not mean that we have to integrate our governments, nor does it mean that we have to present the spectacle of an absolute Empire bloc against the rest of the world. The Dominions, rather than the Motherland, have the largest interest in authoritative declarations whereby the British Prime Minister may speak for the Empire as a whole.

"Time and time again, it has been pointed out that this country has so small a population that we have to take steps to increase it rapidly. I am quite in favour of the steps to that end that are being taken. But it would be false optimism to consider that there is likely to be a rapid increase. The shipping to bring it here, and the places whence it is to come, are considerations which have to be taken into account. The problem of our security would not be fundamentally changed by an increase of population from 7,000,000 to 10,000,000, or even 12,000,000, in a reasonably short space of time; we should still rest on the postulate that without friends, allies and associates we could be attacked by a superior force, and, perhaps, overrun. Therefore, whilst a world organization can do a great deal to remove the causes which lead to war, we have had the experience that nations have gone to war without what those governed by goodwill and reasonable intelligence would regard as adequate justification; that is to say, the causes which lead to war were not present. When the causes which lead to war, as they are understood, have been removed, it can be said that a contribution has been made to the peace of the world; but that in itself would not constitute a guarantee of peace. Therefore, a concert of nations of like mind must be maintained.

“In that connexion, the observations of the Leader of the Opposition were most pertinent. The very case that he put - that is to say, the indispensability in any conception of world organization of a real membership with entire goodwill, not a mere formal membership of certain great powers - appears to me to he beyond argument. We generally address our minds to that problem in there days by saying that the sort of association which war has evoked must be maintained in the period after the war. But we would humbug ourselves if we did not realize that the problem is one which requires careful management. All the time, it needs the most sober statement, and most certainly make it necessary that the smaller parts of the British Commonwealth, however much they can offer their own views, must offer them with discretion and in the light of such other discussions as are proceeding. There is nothing easier than for a Prime Minister to make a speech on foreign affairs which is bound to cause difficulty and misapprehension somewhere. Therefore, when heads of governments discuss the problem of the concert of nations, they cannot always put forward wide emphasis the particular views of their own countries, not because those views may not be justified but because the bald statement of them in another part of the world, speaking a different language and probably facing different problems, may be entirely misunderstood.

"Therefore, our view has to be developed. We would first impart it to the British Commonwealth, the members of which would impart it to their ambassadors, and these would endeavour to develop a friendly acceptability of this point of view. We cannot approach by a crude and blatant declaration the problem of getting other countries to see our point of view. All these considerations properly impose a certain degree of restraint upon the heads of governments. A similar difficulty has no doubt been experienced by my predecessors. I make no apology for my inability to be as candid in public places in regard to certain problems of government as one can be allow certain other problems of government.

“I shall do my best to promote the splendid suggestion of Mr. Spender, M.P., in regard to the youth of Europe. They, at least, are guiltless of any contribution to this frightful catastrophe. Animated by the impulse of humanity, as well as by the value which that impulse will be to ourselves, we can promote as far as possible the realization of the suggestion. The same is true, except that our impulse is stronger, in respect of the orphan children of Britain. Recently, a realization of their tribulations has been borne in on us even more poignantly than it was formerly. If one could add to the admiration which lovers of freedom everywhere in the world have for the people of Britain, it would appear that now is the appropriate time, in what looks like being the stage that is leading to the successful termination of the struggle, when they are being called upon to bear a specially heavy punishment. For that, we feel regret, and extend our sympathy; but our sympathy must he practical. That is why, in my statement, I indicated the nature of what will be a very great burden upon the people of Australia in the years to come. In addition to resolving our own problems, we have to share in resolving the problems of the world. We have accepted the obligation of making a very substantial contribution to the relief and rehabilitation of the countries that have suffered."