Australia's Place in the British Commonwealth
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 Mar 1947, p. 256-268


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Forde, The Rt. Hon. Francis Michael, Speaker
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Speeches
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Australia's growth and development as a partner in the British Commonwealth. Australia's present constitutional position and relations with the other parts of the Empire. The basic factor of the relationship one where 98% of Australia is of British stock. Some history of the discovery of Australia by the Dutch in 1642, and the origins of the name from the Spaniards. Australia's constitutional history. Self Government obtained during the 1850s. Government prior to and after this. Federation. Some history of New Guinea and the effects of annexation of that and neighbouring islands by the Germans. Federation achieved in 1901, with much help from the United Kingdom. Australia's Federal system. The Balfour declaration of 1926. The place of the Dominions in international affairs since that time. Foreign affairs and trade commissions. The development of Australia's Department of External Affairs in the 1930s. The vital role played by Australia in the Pacific. Relations with the United Kingdom during the war. Some particular references to the New Year broadcast and the end of 1941 immediately after Pearl Harbour by the late Prime Minister, Mr. John Curtin. Australia's loyalty to the British Commonwealth. Her dollar contributions to Great Britain towards her war costs in and about the Pacific. Australia's relations with the other British countries, including Canada. The Canberra agreement providing for consultation for security and defence and for frequent meetings of ministers. Ireland as very much a Mother country as far as Australia is concerned. Australia proud of her membership in the British Commonwealth and believing that the British family of nations and the United States of America are the most potent factors operating today towards a just and lasting peace, based on the four freedoms, the Atlantic Charter and Enlightened Christian Civilization.
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13 Mar 1947
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English
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Full Text
AUSTRALIA'S PLACE IN THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH
AN ADDRESS BY THE RT. HON. FRANCIS MICHAEL FORDE, P.C.
Chairman: The President, Major F. L. Clouse
Thursday, March 13, 1947

MAJOR CLOUSE: On January. 13th we heard over the radio from Vancouver that the newly appointed High Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Australia to Canada had just arrived and we, therefore, immediately wired an invitation to him to be the guest of honour of the Empire Club on his first visit to Toronto which, in due course, he graciously accepted.

Our speaker was born and educated in Australia and after teaching school for a short time, qualified as an electrical engineer in the Postmaster-General's Department. In 1917 he won his first seat as Labour Representative to the State Parliament of Queensland and had the distinction of being the youngest member of Parliament. In 1922 he was nominated as Labour candidate for the federal electorate of Capricornia, holding this seat until 1943.

Our speaker has served on many committees and Royal Commissions and is a fully qualified and able administrator. In 1941 he became Deputy Prime Minister and, as Minister for the Army, was given the vital job of expanding Australia's military forces, taking office only two months before the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese. Australia then faced with the greatest crisis in her history had to build up and equip an army in the shortest possible time, and it became his task to plan and supervise this tremendous undertaking.

Our speaker visited Australian and American troops in the front line in New Guinea, Borneo and the Solomon Islands and later was chosen leader of the Australian delegation to the United Nations Security Conference at San Francisco in 1945.

The Empire Club of Canada welcomes today the Rt. Hon. Francis Michael Forde, P.C., High Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Australia to Canada, who will address us on the subject "AUSTRALIA'S PLACE IN THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH"

RT. Horn FRANCIS M. FORDE: Mr. President and Gentlemen: I thank you {or your kindness in inviting me to lunch with you today, and for giving me the opportunity to talk to you on the subject of Australia's place in the British Commonwealth. I shall speak briefly of our growth and development as a partner in that Commonwealth and deal with our present constitutional position and our relations with the other parts of the Empire.

I suppose that the basic factor of our relationship with the British Commonwealth is that we are 98% of British stock.

Our name came from the Spaniards. It was the Spanish navigator De Quiros, who discovered the New Hebrides and, thinking that he had found the great southern continent, gave us the name Tierra Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, "The Southern Land of the Holy Ghost". Long afterwards the name "Australia" was given to our country. It was however, the Dutch who first discovered the Australian continent in 1642 when, Van Diemen, the Governor of the Netherlands East Indies, organized a great expedition to the southern land which was led by Jan Abel Tasman. On the afternoon of 24th November, 1642, Tasman, according to his diary, saw land some ten miles away. His diary reads

"This land being the first land we have met with in the south sea and not known to any European nation, we have conferred on it the name of Anthoony Van Diemens Land in honour of the Honourable Governor-General, our illustrious master, who sent us to make the discovery".

Tasman landed near Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, our island state on 2nd December, 1642. Three weeks later he discovered New Zealand and before long he sailed along the northern coast of Australia.

In the 18th century the French arrived. Most of the French expeditions were of a scientific nature and our traditional friendly relations with the French have been maintained ever since. Indeed, one French scientific expedition arrived while the Napoleonic War was at its height but the Governor of New South Wales, acting under Admiralty instructions, warmly welcomed the French, an act which the Leader of the expedition, Baudin, did not fail to appreciate.

However, despite the Spanish, the Dutch and the French, we are as I said earlier, almost entirely of British stock. We have some minorities, the largest consisting of Italians who, prior to the war, constituted a majority of the people in a sugar producing district in North Queensland, and the Germans, who are mainly descendants of German Liberals, who came to Australia after the 1848 revolution and have done much to build up the wine industry in south Australia. We have also a fair number of Chinese who originally came to Australia during the gold rush days. Many refugees from central Europe came to Australia from 1935 onwards, although alien immigration was stopped during the war years.

I come now to a brief account of our constitutional history. As you know, Australia consists of six States (or Provinces as you call them). These States, prior to Federation (which occurred in 1901) were already in existence as independent British colonies each of which had been settled and had grown up in its own way. The first settlement was made on 26th January, 1788, when Captain Arthur Philip established the colony of New South Wales at Sydney, our largest and oldest city. The colony of New South Wales was roughly defined and covered the whole of the eastern part of the continent. In 1828 the island of Van Diemens Land was separated from New South Wales and this Island, the name of which was changed in 1853 to that of Tasmania, has remained separated ever since. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, had been founded about 1836 but the State of Victoria was not formally separated from that of New South Wales until some time later. A further diminution in the eastern province of New South Wales was made when Queensland was separated in 1859. In the meantime Western Australia and Southern Australia had been established in 1829 and 1836. Thus by 1900 there were six separate colonies in existence.

Self Government was obtained during the fifties. Prior to this, in 1823 and 1828, Imperial Statutes had set up a nominee Legislative Council to assist the Governor in the administration of New South Wales, while a Council of 7 comprising 4 nominees and 3 officials had been established in South Australia and the other colonies. The elective principle was introduced in 1842 for New South Wales. The Legislative Council was to consist of 36 members, 12 nominees and 24 elected members. The Council was empowered to increase its membership provided that it retained the proportion between nominee and elected members. An important and significant provision of this legislation was that it gave to the residents of what was to become the State of Victoria, a special position in relation to New South Wales. It was provided that at least five members were to be returned by that district to the council. This did not satisfy the local population and in 1848 the electors returned as the member for Melbourne the Colonial Secretary, Lord Grey, who could obviously never take his seat. This step brought to a head the question of Representative Government as a whole. It should be remembered that Lord Durham had in 1839 written his famous report on Canada, that the Reform Bill in England had been carried in 1832 and that the Chartist movement and the general tendencies of the times had opened the way for Self Government. So in 1850 the Australian Colonies Government was passed. It established the separate colony of Victoria and gave it a two thirds elected legislative council. Similar councils were established in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. What was more important was that this Act empowered these Colonies to alter their own constitutions. This was an entirely new departure for it represented a surrender by the Imperial Parliament of its complete powers in regard to the colonial constitution. This provision for amendment was still not possessed by New South Wales, but, following protests by the Legislative Council there, it was empowered to draft a new constitution. As far as possible, the Committee appointed in 1852 modelled the new draft of the British system establishing two Houses, a nominee Legislative Council holding office for life and an Assembly to be elected by persons with a certain property qualification. The new Constitution for New South Wales was finally enacted in 1855. This constitution introduced the principle of responsible Government that is, the system under which the Cabinet is required to possess the confidence of Parliament. A similar plan was established, subsequently, by the other Colonies. Another important provision of the Australian Colonies Government Act was that it enabled the colonies to impose customs duties on imported goods whatever their origin. Their powers were thus virtually unlimited.

The colonies soon began to exercise their powers in regard to alteration of the constitution. It should be remembered that the gold rush had brought in many liberal-minded men from Britain, as well as a mixed European population who immigrated to Australia after the revolutions of 1848. The opportunities for securing action along liberal lines soon led to such things as voting by ballot, payment of members of Parliament, universal suffrage and abolition of property qualifications. Indeed, voting by ballot was adopted by the Australian colonies before it was applied anywhere else within the British Empire. It did not gain acceptance in England until 1872. The franchise was conferred on women by South Australia in 1894. The two Colonies which had had nominee upper houses, namely New South Wales and Queensland retained that system until 1922 in Queensland, when the second chamber was completely abolished and 1934 in New South Wales when a new system was introduced, the members of the Council being elected by the council and the Assembly jointly and holding office for 12 years.

I come now to Federation. Australia's position in the Pacific was primarily responsible for this step. You have all heard of New Guinea which is less than 100 miles from our northern shores and the largest island in the world after Australia itself. New Guinea would be roughly about the size of the Canadian Province of British Columbia. The western end of the island had been occupied by the Dutch for a considerable time prior to 1870 when the colonies of New South Wales and Queensland had urged the annexation of the eastern portion. The home authorities refused to take any action and the Premier of Queensland, who foresaw German annexation sent a magistrate to annex the eastern portion in the name of the Queen. The United Kingdom Government was indignant and repudiated the annexation declaring that they were convinced that Germany had no designs on New Guinea. No less than a year later however, a German ship proceeded to New Guinea and its captain annexed the island together with the adjoining islands of New Britain and New Ireland. The Australians were extremely angry but the episode had two good affects. In the first place, it did much to crystallize their decision to become a united nation speaking with a united voice. In the second place, they were awakened to their interest in foreign affairs. Moreover, the New Guinea episode had its effect in Whitehall. The home authorities saw that, in the words of Lord Rosebery who visited Australia shortly after the incident,--"the connection of loyalty between Australia and the mother country--would survive--as long as the home country and the daughter country are allowed to preserve their position of mutual independence and mutual self-respect".

The United Kingdom did much to help the cause of federation which was achieved in 1901.

A few words about our Federal system. While basically similar in its retention of British institutions, the Australian system differs in some respects from that which was adopted in Canada. The framers of the Australian constitution had before them both the Canadian model and the American model. In the allocation of powers between the central Government and Provincial (or State Governments as we call them) they followed the American system, under which there is only one list of powers namely those which may be exercised by the Federal Parliament and Government. Everything else remains with the States. This is the chief difference between our systems. There are others, such as the rather more complete independence of the State Governments who still appoint their own respective governors and judges, and the differences in the composition of our Federal Parliament. This consists of two Houses, the House of Representatives, which corresponds to your House of Commons, and the Senate. In regard to our Senate, we again followed the American precedent in setting it up as a "States" House. Its members are elected by the people on a basis of universal suffrage for a term of six years, half of them retiring every three. It is provided in our Federal constitution that each State, regardless of its size, shall return the same number of Senators which, at the moment, is six, making a total of 36. The people in each State vote for the purpose of electing Senators as one electorate. Our Senate thus differs from yours in a very fundamental respect. Our House of Representatives consists of as nearly as possible twice the number of Senators and at the moment numbers 75 members. We have thus not nearly as many members in our Federal Parliament as you have, but recently there leas been some suggestion of an increase.

The Commonwealth of Australia, having been established as late as 1900 had, of course, always been self governing and has incorporated the principle of responsible Government but as I have already said, the battle for these principles had long since been fought and won. One thing however, was lacking as early as 1900. At this stage in the history of the British Commonwealth the principle of Dominion Status had not been established and it is in the field of foreign relations that this principle finds its highest expression. It was originally Canada which led the way but I shall not weary you with the details of the evolution of our present status. It is enough to say that the British Dominions, by the part which they played in the Great War earned for themselves a place in the Councils of the world. In 1926 came the Balfour declaration setting out that the United Kingdom and the Dominions were coequal partners in the British Commonwealth and later in 1931 the Statute of Westminster which gave effect to the complete autonomy of the Dominions in respect of their external as well as their internal affairs. Since that time the place of the Dominions in international affairs has become accepted and the exchange of diplomatic representatives with other countries is a recognized practice.

Australia had no very definite line in foreign affairs during the twenties when the accent was on trade notably in the countries bordering the Pacific. From 1929 onwards we appointed a series of Trade Commissioners starting with Canada and including the United States, China, Japan and the Netherlands East Indies. Canada had already appointed a Trade Commissioner to Australia in 1907, the first appointment in your Trade Commissioner service, a service which I understand Canada pioneered.

With the thirties came the development of Australia's Department of External Affairs. Canada had already had a good start.

An Australian Department of External Affairs had been established in 1901, but its scope was very limited, covering such subjects as the Government of Papua, Pacific Islands mail services and research in tropical diseases. During the Great War the Department became merged in the Prime Minister's Department but after the war a special Branch of that Department, called the Pacific Branch, was constituted and after the 1923 Imperial Conference, Mr. Allan Leeper, an Australian-born member of the United Kingdom foreign service was loaned to the Australian Government for six months. He recommended .the establishment of an Australian External Affairs office in London. That office continues today although we have had a High Commissioner in London since 1912.

In 1934 a Department of External Affairs was reconstituted at Canberra and the portfolio was separated from that of the Prime Minister. The first Australian foreign mission was sent abroad very shortly afterwards the Minister, Sir John Latham, visiting Japan, China and other countries of eastern Asia.

At the Imperial Conference in London in 1937 the Lyons Government proposed the constitution of a Pacific Pact, but this received no encouragement.

At the beginning of 1939, Australia's only permanent political representation abroad consisted of the High Commissioner in London, the External Affairs Officer in London and an Australian Counsellor attached to the British Embassy in Washington. Shortly before the outbreak of war, Mr. Menzies, on assuming the Premiership of the country, broadcast that,

"Australia must regard herself as a principal in providing herself with her own, information and maintaining her own diplomatic contacts with foreign powers". The following day, plans for Australian Legations in Washington and Tokyo were announced but before these posts were opened up the High Commission in Canada had been established. Not long afterwards exchanges of diplomatic representatives were made with China, the Soviet Union and the Netherlands. Later still came New Zealand, India, Ireland and South Africa, so that now we have High Commissioners in the United Kingdom and all of the Dominions. We have also exchanged diplomatic representatives with France, Brazil and Chile. We have a Commissioner in Malaya and political representatives in the Netherlands East Indies and Germany. We have also our Trade Commissioner Service which has expanded and we have recently established a Consular Service.

I will not recapitulate the vital role played by Australia in the Pacific. The establishment of the Pacific War Council in Washington was largely the result of a request by Australia and New Zealand. We had a seat on the Far Eastern Commission which met in Washington and the British Commonwealth is represented on the Allied Control Council in Tokyo. This last mentioned development is significant, marking as it does the highest point in British Commonwealth relations for it is a manifestation of a position where one of the Dominions is representing not only other Dominions but also the United Kingdom.

I come now to our relations with the United Kingdom during the war and in particular would refer to the New Year broadcast at the end of 1941 immediately after Pearl Harbour, by the late Prime Minister, Mr. John Curtin, whose words have often been quoted out of their context. Mr. Curtin, after pointing out that the Australian Government regarded the Pacific struggle as primarily one in which the United States and Australia must have the fullest say went on--

"Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom." "We know the problems that the United Kingdom faces. We know the constant threat of invasion. We know the dangers 'of dispersal of strength, but we know, too, that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on. We are, therefore, determined that Australia shall not go, and we shall exert all our energies towards the shaping of a plan, with the United States as its keystone, which will give to our country some confidence of being able to hold out until the tide of battle swings against the enemy." "Summed up, Australian external policy will be shaped towards obtaining Russian aid, and working out, with the United States as the major factor, a plan of Pacific strategy along with British, Chinese and Dutch forces". On the following day Mr. Curtin spoke again saying: "Our loyalty to His Majesty the King goes to the very core of our national life. It is part of our being. I do not consider Australia a segment of the British Empire. It is an organic part of the whole structure. Australia, as an integral part of the British Commonwealth faces the problem of its own defence with sheer realism. We want to preserve Australia as a part of the British Commonwealth. We intend to do so."

No one who knew Mr. Curtin, no one who for example heard his most moving speech on the abdication in 1936, could ever doubt for a moment his fervent belief in the British Commonwealth or, as he still often called it, the British Empire.

Mr. Curtins' successor, Mr. Chifley shares his views to the full. Indeed the Australian Government with the full support of the Australian people has decided to make a gift of $81,000,000.00 to Great Britain as a contribution towards her war costs in and about the Pacific.

I would like now to speak of Australia's relations with the other British countries.

As regards Canada, we sent our first trade commissioner to you as you sent your first to us. We share the same ocean, which you can cross now in thirty-six hours. Australia has always taken a deep interest in Canada as an older brother who has been out longer in the world. Australia and Canada are each a representative of the British Commonwealth in important quarters of the globe. Each is in close relation with the United States and acts to some extent. as an interpreter between America and the other British countries. Above all each is a security power.

New Zealand is, of course, our closest neighbour. At one time it seemed possible that New Zealand would join with the Australian colonies in federation and there is in fact a rather wistful clause in the Commonwealth Constitution providing that New Zealand may still come in if she wishes.

Increased shipping, air and telephone services have brought the two countries very close together and the war in the Pacific brought home to them the vital nature of the link between them.

At the beginning of 1944 after a conference at Canberra, the two governments signed a treaty, the first of its kind between two British countries. The Canberra agreement provides for consultation for security and defence and for frequent meetings of ministers. On the welfare side it envisaged a Regional South Seas Commission consisting of Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, the United States and France, an advisory commission directed to the social, economic and welfare development of the islands and their native peoples. At a recent conference in Canberra effect was given to this provision of the Agreement.

Furthermore, the treaty set up a permanent secretariat linking Canberra and Wellington, the first machinery of its kind between two British countries. This joint secretariat established in the two capitals ensures day to day collaboration, facilitates the exchange of information, hammers out views between the two governments and assists them to make their joint contribution not only to the solution of the problems of the Pacific but to all questions of foreign affairs. Over and over again the Australian and New Zealand Governments have presented joint views to Washington or London. As Dr. Evatt recently described it "This agreement is, in effect, a permanent understanding between two States which are completely autonomous and at the same time united by a common allegiance to the King and also trustees for British Commonwealth interests and British civilization in the Pacific." The agreement is a reality: it works. South Africa, like Australia and Canada, is a two-ocean country and she shares with Australia the Indian Ocean. There is much else that the two countries have in common. Our first trade agreement shortly after federation was with South Africa and before the first world war we had interchanges of test cricket. We have recently established a High Commissioner's office in South Africa.

I come now to Ireland. Along with Great Britain Ireland is very much a Mother country as far as Australia is concerned. Perhaps as many as twenty-five percent of our population comes from one part or another of Ireland. In Victoria in particular the links with Ireland are very close; to take one instance, the first four Chief Justices of the State covering a span of about eighty years were all from Ireland--whether Ulster, Dublin or Cork. One of the early, Attorneys-General in Victoria, Sir Bryan O'Loghlen, had the unique distinction of sittting for West Melbourne in the Victorian Assembly and West Clare in the House of Commons at one and the same time.

The Irish in Australia were deeply interested in the Home Rule movement and in the eighties John and William Redmond, then young men of twenty-four and twenty-one respectively, made long tours in Australia raising large sums of money for the cause. Incidentally they both married Australian girls.

While the younger generation of Australians of Irish descent have ceased to take a direct interest in Irish politics, nevertheless the old ties are strong and Australia must always view Ireland's general position with regard the British Commonwealth as a matter of interest. We exchanged High Commissioners with Ireland in 1946.

In conclusion, I wish to stress that Australia is proud of her membership of the British Commonwealth and jointly believes that the British family of nations and the United States of America are the most potent factors operating today towards a just and lasting peace, based on the four freedoms, the Atlantic Charter and Enlightened Christian Civilization.

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Australia's Place in the British Commonwealth


Australia's growth and development as a partner in the British Commonwealth. Australia's present constitutional position and relations with the other parts of the Empire. The basic factor of the relationship one where 98% of Australia is of British stock. Some history of the discovery of Australia by the Dutch in 1642, and the origins of the name from the Spaniards. Australia's constitutional history. Self Government obtained during the 1850s. Government prior to and after this. Federation. Some history of New Guinea and the effects of annexation of that and neighbouring islands by the Germans. Federation achieved in 1901, with much help from the United Kingdom. Australia's Federal system. The Balfour declaration of 1926. The place of the Dominions in international affairs since that time. Foreign affairs and trade commissions. The development of Australia's Department of External Affairs in the 1930s. The vital role played by Australia in the Pacific. Relations with the United Kingdom during the war. Some particular references to the New Year broadcast and the end of 1941 immediately after Pearl Harbour by the late Prime Minister, Mr. John Curtin. Australia's loyalty to the British Commonwealth. Her dollar contributions to Great Britain towards her war costs in and about the Pacific. Australia's relations with the other British countries, including Canada. The Canberra agreement providing for consultation for security and defence and for frequent meetings of ministers. Ireland as very much a Mother country as far as Australia is concerned. Australia proud of her membership in the British Commonwealth and believing that the British family of nations and the United States of America are the most potent factors operating today towards a just and lasting peace, based on the four freedoms, the Atlantic Charter and Enlightened Christian Civilization.