AUSTRALIA'S POINT OF .VIEW
Commonwealth and Foreign [To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.] life:bourne, July.
Sin,—One should not be surprised if the attitude of Australians towards international affairs, and particularly towards European problems of the moment, is rather different from that of English people or of other Europeans. For Australians, On account of their distance from Europe, do not feel them- selves menaced by the explosive situation in Europe today to anything like the same extent as do the people of England and 'France. In this Australia's position today is not unlike that of the United States during the Great War. Australians may feel that their interest, or even the general interest of main- taining an international order, demand that they should assume certain responsibilities, such as standing.by the League of Nation's, or even more the British Commonwealth ; but they hardly feel that they are in danger of air-raids and gas- attacks; or of an invasion—at any rate, not from Europe. they may feel some apprehension about aggression from their neighbours to the north, but in general though there may be some fears of " a Japanese menace it is not felt to be an immediate or pressing one, and we are not even sure whether there is a menace or not.
In speaking of Australia, of course, one cannot in reality say that " Australia " thinks this, or " Australia feels that, any more than one can assume that the people of Britain or of any other co entry is unanimous in its attitude towards international or internal problems. Feelings and thoughts on these questions vary according to political leanings, or economic or social groupings ; and there are remarkably few questions on which the people of Australia hold any views unanimously. Probably they are most unanimous in their support of the " White Australia " policy ; they are fairly- unanimous in their support of a policy of Protection, though here there are numerous dissidents. But even these dissidents, though they may reject the tariff weapon as a method of economic development, might heartily endorse the policy of development by Government subsidies of another kind.
The English visitor to Australia, or the Australian interested in world affairs who returns from a stay in Europe. is imme- diately struck by the fact that Australians in general feel that international, and particularly European; problems do not concern them very much. When Germany reoccupies the Rhineland, the independence of Austria is threatened, or the status of Danzig is in danger, they are inclined to ask Does it matter ? Is it worth risking a war about ? " They certainly do not think it is worth risking Australia's being involved in a war over these questions, though there has been a growing support in recent years for a system of collective security through the League of .Nations. Australia participates in the *work of the League—she is a member of the International Postal Union, and she sends her representatiVes to the Inter- national Labour Office Conferencesbut apart from these she adheres to few international 'organisations. Even towards the I.L.O. her attitude until quite recently was one of patronis- ing superiority—" Such an organisation may be useful for ' backward ' countries, but conditions are so good in Australia, that it is not much use to us here." The years of depression, and the slow realisation that Australia is beginning to lag behind other, countries in social provision and legislation, promise to cause a change of attitude towards the I.L.O. before long, but Australians have by no means lost the tendency to think that for them a policy of isolation is not only possible but desirable too: This tendency is well illustrated by Australian reactions towards the Italo-Abyssiniiii war, the doctrine of collective security; and the League of Nations as an instrument' of collective security. It is probably quite just to say that Australia has never taken an independent attitude in the councils of the League, and that she .has always, shaped her attitude in accordance with the wishes of Great. Britain, or at least of the British Commonwealth as a whole. Consequently the Nationalist Commonwealth Government did its duty as a member of the League in enforcing sanctions, but showed that it was primarily acting in concert with the British Goverrunent by sending two Australian battle-cruiSers tothe Mediterranean. One may be forgiven for thinking-that Australia's support for
the League and the doctrine of collective security was sub- ordinate to the belief of the present Commonwealth Govern- ment that Australia's best interest lies in preserving the solidarity of the British Commonwealth, and particularly our solidarity with Great Britain. Within the country, and even among the supporters of the Government there was little enthusiasm for the League or collective security. Some were ,even openly hostile to both the doctrine and the imposition of sanctions against Italy, including Mr. W. M. Hughes, a member of the Cabinet itself ; Mr. Hughes, however, recanted rather than, lose his position in the Cabinet. On the other hand, the Labour movement strongly opposed the imposition of sanctions on the ground that it was likely to involve Australia in war, and it advocated a policy of strict isolation.
One is tempted to think that Australian Labour opposed sanctions because its political opponents supported them, but this hardly seems to account satisfactorily for its attitude. It is necessary to remember that the Australian Labour movement has always been one of " socialism without doc- trines" ; guided by empirical considerations and giving little but lip-service to .Socialist principles. Even more than Australia as a whole, the Labour movement in Australia is distinguished by its lack of international affiliations. The Labour Party does not adhere to the Second International, the Australian Council of Trade Unions does not belong to the International Federation of Trade Unions. Socialist members of the Labour movement are very concerned at this attitude, and realise what a task it will be to change it. It is true once again that in theory the Labour Party supports the League of Nations and the building up of an international order, but in practice it believes that Australia's interests are best served by avoiding international entanglements. Its theory and practice are reconciled by insisting that the dispute between the League and Italy is an imperialist matter," an that Australia does not want to be involved in Imperialist wars. Labour leaders hold, however, that though they do not support sanctions on this occasion they may do so on another ; each case must be decided on its merits. This is evidently intended to embrace the possibility of demanding sanctions against Japan if she should attack Australia. It is strange that the Labour Party, usually so " realist " (to use the much abused term) in internal matters, should be so lacking in realism as to believe that it could appeal for protection in such circumstances with any chance of success. It is to be regretted that the 4kustralian Labour Party has not thought out clearly what should be its attitude towards either foreign policy or national defence. Nothing could be more striking than the contrast between the attitude of Australian Labour towards sanctions, collective security, and Italy, and that of the British or French Labour movement.
The Nationalist (Conservative) Government is at least fairly consistent in its attitude towards foreign affairs. It is pre- pared to stick to Great Britain and the British Commonwealth right or wrong, for apparently it believes that this is its best insurance against the Japanese or any other foreign menace. Though it supported sanctions against Italy it showed au indecent haste to drop them as soon as Italy. had taken Addis Ababa, and plainly it had never thought much of the doctrine 9f collective security through the League. Practically all the present Government's recent political moves can be explained by this attitude ; the recent changes in tariff policy are part Of it, so is the apparent willingness to resume migration, and our policy with regard to defence. In spite of the arguments in favour of Australia eoncentrating on 'a highly-mechanised and efficient, even if small, army,• together with a strong air force, the present Government gives primacy to naval building as part of the scheme of Imperial defence. The greater part of the expenditure on defence, which has been increasing steadily over recent years, has been for naval purposes. Rightly or wrongly Australia under its present Government evidently intends to stick to the Empire in its own interest. Whether the risks and costs associated with this policy are worth while is a question too big to discuss in this letter.—I am, Sir, &c., Yotn AUSTRALIAN CORRESPONDENT.