AUSTRALIA AND HER RELATIONS TO THE BRITISH EMPIRE
An Address by the RIGHT HONOURABLE Six GEORGE H. REID, K.C.M.G., High Commissioner for Australia, before the Empire Club of Canada, September 5, 1912,
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--
I wish in the first place to express my indebtedness for the splendid compliment that you pay me by being here in such large and influential numbers at an entertainment in my honour as the representative of Australia in London. I shall have great pleasure in conveying to the people of Australia the exceedingly grateful warmth of this friendly, fraternal demonstration.
The subject that I have chosen for today is "Australia and her Relations to the British Empire," and in dealing with that subject I must also incidentally speak about the relations of Canada to the British Empire, Together they represent seven millions of square miles of British territory, seven twelfths of the whole area of the British Empire.
Now, I must cast a glance backwards in order to say a word or two about the early relations between Great Britain and Australia. For many years after the first white settlement in 1788, the affairs of the colonists were administered by a Governor whose acts were all subject to the control of the Secretary of State in London. In those days London was at an immense distance from Australia. The seas were comparatively unknown; the art of steam navigation had not yet been discovered. It took months to voyage to Australia; those who started on that voyage had no sort of certainty that they would ever reach that country, and they were very sure that they could never return. How different is the case with Canada. People may venture from the British Isles cherishing a secret hope that they can return afterwards, if they please, to their native land; but the pioneers of Australia had to leave their native land, facing a dark, forbidding, anxious future, and with the sad feeling of the exile who sees his native shores for the last time.
In 1855 one of those noble conceptions of British statesmanship which ought to make the British Empire immortal, was the gift of self-government to the people of Australia, and with it the gift of that magnificent continent to a few thousand Australian colonists. The Australians seemed to some to be severing their connection with Great Britain as each official tie disappeared, but the miraculous happened. As each chain dropped off, as each tie disappeared, the warmth of loyalty and affection marvellously increased. I can remember, when a boy in Australia, that there were quite a number of people who believed their connection with England was a source of danger, and who cherished republican ideas; but as the years went on a truer conception of the benefits of British connection penetrated the minds of the people. I think I may say in all truth now that vast as that continent is, scattered as the Australians are upon its face, there is only one feeling, only one sentiment, a sentiment of gratitude for the majestic power which has watched over the growth of Australia, a strong sense that that little bit of bunting which has come down through the centuries, enables us, young as our people are, rich and vast as our country is, enables us all to sleep peacefully at night knowing that the Union Jack flutters on all the oceans of the world and makes our present and, I believe, our future, safe.
Ten years ago the British fleets asserted an unchallengeable supremacy upon the oceans of the world. At that time I was one of the public men of Australia. Questions of defence never crossed my mind very seriously in those days because I knew the pre-eminence, the overwhelming supremacy of the British fleets, not upon one ocean,--because their supremacy does not rest in the North Sea or the South Sea or the eastern seas or the western seas,--but their task is to guard Britain's integrity and commerce on all the oceans of the globe.
Ten years have seen a marvellous change. Navies of great strength and efficiency, tested by the highest standards, are rising upon the face of the waters. There is a great people, sixty millions and more, one of the finest peoples the earth has today--I allude to the German, people, a people for whom I have the most unbounded a admiration. We are kith and kin with them. We go back to a common stock and, when I see them developing the glorious attributes of our common origin, I have no feeling of envy, I have no desire to see unfriendly or disastrous things happen to them. Don't let us talk of the Germans as if those sixty millions of people were all inspired with a hatred of our Empire, or a desire destroy it. In that country, as in every other country, there is a peace party, and there is a war party, and I honestly hope and believe that the peace-loving millions of Germany exceed in number, if not in official rank, the war-loving people of Germany.
But we must never forget the three great ideals which every high-spirited race possesses. First, the ideal of preserving against all comers our racial integrity; next, that of defending our territorial boundaries against all invasions; and next, and not least, the task of developing in an ever-increasing measure national health, wealth, strength, and greatness.
Now, these are the ideals before us, and looking in no unfriendly spirit at the other races which inhabit the earth in common with us, I think I can say that these ideals appeal, if anything, more strongly to the British race than to any other race looking up into the face of the sun.
Peace is another ideal. What a sad prospect humanity would have if it were doomed to an everlasting race of military and naval preparation! I am not one of those who want to denaturalize human nature. I know that, as long as we possess the feelings, the ambitions of human nature, our combative instincts can never be destroyed; but my hope is that at no distant time those invaluable motive powers which in the past history of mankind called for so much bloodshed, so much oppression, so great wrongs, will be gloriously diverted into channels unstained by human blood; in which our desire to excel, to gain supremacy, to occupy the van in the march of nations, will be sought, not by these modern methods of slaughter by machinery, but by the peaceful and noble emulations which belong to paths of industry, commerce, enterprise, and science. Why, gentlemen, the combative instincts of mankind even now seem to have no scope in these enormous developments. Battleship after battleship is added to do what? To aim at sham targets, to cripple the strength, the financial prosperity of the peace-loving nations; but although we love peace, whilst the danger of war and conquest is still in the air, we must fight for peace, fight for our own peace, fight for the peace of the world, and show that the Flag which stands for peace and righteousness and human friendship all over the world is the flag of an Empire which is prepared, if some difficulty causes some great nation to cross our track, to emulate the deeds of our noble ancestors who gave us these glorious possessions. The glory of the conquests by which we annexed country after country, was one of brute force. For what does the Flag stand today in all these conquered territories, from the strongest down to the weakest race all over the British Empire? Does it not stand for justice, for the protection of life and liberty, for the protection of things dearer than life-the virtue of the homes of the British Empire? (Applause) In the farthest territory, in the darkest forest, an act of oppression may sometimes be committed by a representative of British power; but there is a "whispering gallery" in that glorious house at Westminster, there is a whispering gallery in which the faintest cry of the weakest can be heard, in which the whole life and conscience of the British nation can be successfully invoked in order to do justice against even the highest in the land. (Applause)
Now, this is the Empire to which we belong. If there is one worth fighting for, is it not this? I don't appeal to the people of Australia on sentimental grounds, nor do they act on these altogether. I justify our standing .by the Empire as an act of the plainest self-interest and advantage. I know that here I am addressing men of position, men who may have risen from the masses, but are now perhaps becoming more and more identified with the wealthiest classes of the community; but I have in mind the masses of British Canada and the masses of French Canada, down to the poorest and humblest, and I say the masses of Canada and the masses of Australia cannot have a dearer, better interest than that of seeing the flag of our own race flying. If there are people in the world who should stand by the British flag, it is the people who belong to a different race, and who find beneath the British flag a sublime generosity which they never felt at home. I raise no point of delicacy in referring to this; I speak with no bated breath. If there is a man in the Empire who should stand by it, it is the French-Canadian and the Dutch-Boer of South Africa. What Empire ever allowed a nationality within its Imperial nationality to exist and flourish? No other Empire but that of Great Britain? (Applause)
Now, we can all talk of the spread of education. There as a time when Englishmen could talk, while battles were being fought, and could gradually become licked into shape in the course of ten or twenty years by their enemies. That was an anxious time for Providence. Providence has had to take us in hand always, in our times of emergency, and save us from our own mistakes and our own quarrels. Now, the time has come to give Providence a rest. (Laughter) The time has come to divert the eye of faith, noble as it is, from the contemplation of the beauties of the heavens down to the solid earnestness of honest work. We have done that in Australia. Our first line of defence, there as here, our last line of defence, too, is on the seas, the seas that used to divide nations but now unite them as no railway system ever could. You can send goods from London to Sydney, twelve thousand miles, at half the rate that you would pay from London to Inverness by rail. When you get on the canals, don't you find it a little easier than when you are on the railway line? Well, in a night the basis of this Empire might be destroyed never to be restored. One overwhelming disaster in one sharp engagement, twenty-four hours after war was declared, might destroy our magnificent naval power never to be restored again. If those fleets of England disappeared from the earth, do you think we would be allowed to build any more fleets afterwards? It is now or never if we wish to guarantee the defence of our Empire. We hope the ships will never fire a shot in anger; we hope the ambition of foreign nations will never cause us to shed blood; and we know it is cheaper to make the flag supreme on the outskirts of the world than it is to build battleships when they are no longer of any use. There is one advantage about this mad race of armaments, and it is this, that the nations that are spending so much money in preparing for sham fights have nothing left for a real war.
I spoke of a mad race of armaments. May I suggest to you that that is not the way in which you can describe the preparations of the British Empire for defence. Just look for the moment at the position of those forty-five millions of men, women, and children in our ancestral home. If the command of the sea were taken from them, one hundred thousand of the veteran soldiers defending the British Isles, instead of being a source of strength, instead of insuring the integrity of the Empire, would add to the horrible anxieties of those who had to find food for the people of the United Kingdom. It is for the purpose of fighting for bread, fighting for a safe market to feed possible starving millions in a time of war, that these battleships are wanted.
And may I suggest that British commerce is a commerce which does not belong altogether to itself. How much does Canada, how much does Australia, owe to the markets of England and Scotland? Even that is not a question that I want to dilate on. I cannot tell you how much I admire the noble generosity of Canada in being the first to establish a splendid system of preference to the Mother Country. We have followed your example. You know I cannot help thinking that there is a short cut to the blessings of preference and reciprocity and buying and selling within the Empire. There is a very short cut if you will only try it. You may try to persuade the British people to pass tariffs, or you may never persuade them, but there is one thing we can all do in Britain and Canada and Australia and South Africa and New Zealand, and we need not wait for an Act of Parliament to compel us,-we can in our own daily purchases across the shop counters of the world have preference and have reciprocity, and are we of that stuff that we have got to compel ourselves to do it? (Applause) That is why I believe in an Empire trade mark-a mark showing outside, made in the British Empire, made in Canada, or Australia, or New Zealand, or British South Africa, and then inside the trade mark of the individual firm whose production it is. I am a fiscal heretic here; but always, when in Australia, I pay twice as much for an Australian article as for an English one; I can afford it. It is a grand thing to be patriotic when you can afford it; but I say give a preference, first to the village in which you live; next, to your Province; next, to your Dominion; and next, to the Old Country. Let us put it wider; next, to the rest of the British Empire. I do hope that politicians can be relieved of the everlasting agitation for reciprocity and preference for the whole of the loyal British units of the Empire.
It takes two years to build a battleship. I don't know how many years you have been talking about it. (Laughter) It takes two years to build one after you flash the order across the seas, and if I were a citizen of Canada instead of a stranger, I tell you what I would like to see done as a loyal Canadian, as a lover of my race and of my Empire, and as a man who sees the storm signals in the sky. I will tell you what I would do. I would flash an order that would thrill the world and arouse every Britisher wherever he is, an order for several battleships, and during the two years they were building, I would find out where I was going to put them. (Loud applause)
There is one thing that I admire more than another about the people of the British Isles-and mind you we Canadians and Australians can say something for the people of the Mother Land which they cannot well say for themselves. Did you ever see a grander spectacle of generosity, self respect, and justifiable pride than the people of Great Britain display, staggering under the weight of this gigantic Empire? Do they come to you for help? (Voices-No, no) Do they come to Australia for help? No. They despise an appeal to your charity. If help is to come to them, it must come from the sons of the old home who want to stand by the blood that runs in the veins of Britishers and Canadians. (Applause)
I won't refer to what we in Australia have done. We are only twelve years old as a federation. I believe you are forty-five. I won't dwell upon what we have done. I think you know what it is. We may be right or wrong in having our ships as an Australian fleet unit. You are much nearer England. If you had your ships in your own waters, and if young Canadians were called on to listen to that call of the sea which is in the blood and has made us what we are-but it is not for me to decide your action, that is for you. What I want to say is this, I know the people of Canada well enough to believe that once they see the gravity of the situation, they will act with a spirit worthy of their own high character. You know these great young countries have passed through the periods of infancy and childhood. The people in the old land have stood by the cradle, they have stood by our years of youth. They have protected us, and they have given us these magnificent lands to begin with. They have given us that right to manage our own affairs which was born in England centuries ago. They have treated us in a way that no Imperial power ever treated a weaker dependency. We have heard some talk of Rome, as if the destiny of Great Britain were to describe a decline like the decline and fall of Rome; but I would like to point this out, that the power of Rome was founded upon oppression, upon the trampling down of conquered races. The highest ideal of an Imperial triumph in the days of Rome was to drag the conquered chieftains at the chariot wheels to be exposed to the jibes and sneers of the populace in the streets. That is not the spirit in which the British Empire rules. If a referendum were taken in any part of the British Dominions tomorrow, whether the people there would rather belong to Great Britain or some other power, you know that right through the Empire one universal reply, would come. We may want this or we may want that from the British Government, but we don't want to change our flag.
Will you pardon me for having taken up so much of your time. There is one most important point which I ask you to allow me to refer to. The Ministers of Canada have recently visited, as you know, the Mother Country. I had the privilege of being in England at the time they were there, and I cannot express to you fully the magnificent reception which the Canadian Ministers received. I cannot adequately express to you the favourable impression which they made in the hour of their triumph. But also I cannot forget Sir Wilfrid Laurier. I think in public life we are too apt to forget the old public servants. I had the honour of being associated with him, and I say Canada is happy in having such a Prime Minister as Mr. Borden, and she is happy in having another great leader, Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
The Ministers attracted great attention by suggestions as to a change, a radical change, in the constitution of the British Empire. Well, it will take years to make a change, if a change is advisable, and I know that it is too serious a task to be rushed. The object is to promote the harmony and the strength of the British Empire. I wait, with due respect, for the revelation of the more than mortal wisdom which will be displayed when some of our friends submit a scheme for a new Imperial Parliament for our kind consideration. Let us remember what the British Empire is. Canada is not the British Empire, Australia is not the British Empire, Great Britain is not the British Empire, nor New Zealand, nor the British in South Africa. When you have counted them all you are three hundred and sixty million short of the people who with you constitute the British Empire. When you re-cast your Parliament, a truly Imperial Parliament, is there to be no one there to represent the interests of these three hundred and sixty million of His Majesty's subjects? Are we who, for good reasons, are anxious to preserve our racial integrity, to discourage the millions of India from coming here or coming to Australia? Would we sit happily in an Imperial Parliament dealing with them, dealing with their concerns?
Then, if it is to be a Parliament it will soon have party fights. One of the grandest things about these dependencies is that we are so busy quarrelling among ourselves that we have no time to abuse the Mother Country. Your Federal Parliament is the safety valve for the Empire. I don't know what the Imperial Parliament would be like. I hope some day some grand devices will be arrived at. You know the people over the border--I don't know how many years ago-were taxed by the British Parliament in a way which they did not like, with results which we did not like. Let us suppose that in the Imperial Parliament you have sixty members, one for each million of the British race. You would have six, or seven, or eight; we would have four or five. Supposing the six or seven were enamoured with a system of taxation which might not perhaps commend itself to Australia, and suppose the five Australians, with the whole Australian people behind them, were strongly opposed to that system, would it promote the harmony of the British Empire, if the Imperial tax-gatherer enforced upon Australia that tax? Would not we get dangerously near the disasters from which the Empire has already escaped? I have only mentioned these little things; these are the little conundrums I want you to consider.
You know in the heavens, where there are no Acts of Parliament, you see from age to age majestic orbs revolving around the central sun peacefully, harmoniously, each describing its own appointed orbit with marvellous certainty. I cannot say what the law of gravitation is, which binds us in the Imperial Governments to the central sun, the British Nation, and I cannot very well say what it is that makes this marvellous peace and order among all these nations and races and creeds and countries; but I can not help recalling that one of the American poets said something about hitching a wagon to a -star! If you could do it, I would like you to tell me what would become of the wagon. Now, if some one can describe a system by which, when these majestic orbs of the British Empire are all together, they will be more harmonious and more devoted to each other than they now are, I will give them my apostolic blessing. But, whilst we are prepared to listen to the proposals of high and patriotic men of great intelligence who think we can do better in the future for the Empire, do not let us forget the pressing necessities of today. Do not let us forget that first we have to maintain intact this Empire before we can reform its political constitution, and I feel sure that just as the children of the old home in distant Australia have loyally and generously responded, not to the begging petition of the parent, but to their own sense of right and filial affection in what they have done, so this great people of Canada will show to the world that they are determined to stand, as they always have, the darker the clouds the more firmly determined to stand, shoulder to shoulder when the King calls. (Applause)