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ADELAIDE: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 4, 1926.
THE EMPIRE 'AT THE CROSS ROADS.'
Mr. Bruce's claims to be considered a statesman of vision, courage and sin cerity, are never more apparent than when he is discussing Imperial topics.
In domestic politics he may occasionally blunder through inexperience, or be led into error by associates less disinte rested or less moderate than himself; jut in Empire affairs his instinct is sound and true, his speeches rise to an exalted plane, and his policies bear he imprint of a statesmanship at once elevated and practical. When it is said that his Empire instinct is sound, it is lot suggested that the Prime Minister s content to enunciate the tenets of a nerely conventional patriotism, or of a strictly orthodox Imperialism. He is ilive to the changes constantly being s-orked in the 'British Commonwealth'1 jy the developing aspirations and ideala -f 'young nations newly come to a con sciousness of their own strength,' but lie adheres tenaciously to the principle 3f the essential unity of the Empire— to the conception of the Empire &s a zigantic, beneficent, and impregnable partnership. And, as every thinking Australian must be. he is acutely aware of the vital importance to this country, Economically and defensively, of the maintenance . of the connection with Great Britain. Mr. Bruce finds no dif ficulty in reconciling the claims of tho Commonwealth and its sister Dominions to the recognition of their nationhood with the preservation of the Empire as a unit in international affairs, and he well states the aim of Australia in Im perial relations as 'a closer linking to gether of the self-governing portions oi the Empire, with as full a recognition of the independent status of the self governing parts as is compatible with the recognition of our universal British nationality.' The Prime Minister's speech on the agenda of the Imperial Conference yes terday was in his best, style. His ex position of what - is locj'aly called the 'new status of the' Dominions' was lucid and convincing, and he treated thG House to a master^ analysis of the im plications -of tha. international indepen dence' which .impressed for in some quarters in behalf of the Dominions. Mr. Bruce discerns in this claim the be ginnings of a separatist * movement which, if persisted in, must eventually lead to the break-up of the Empire. 'Could any one;'^ he asked, 'maintain that the preservation of genuine Impe rial unity was compatible with the pos sibility of one part of the Empire stand ing aside when the rest was engaged in * lifp-nnrl-rleath strmrele? If such a
possibility was not contemplated by the new proposals, then he failed to see what was contemplated; and if that waa the position which the advocates of change had in mind, then it meant the disintegration of the Empire, and Aus tralia could have no part in it.'' Per haps it is possible to make too much of the movement, if movement it can be called, towards 'international indepen dence.' The possibility of one por tion of the Empire remaining neutral while the rest fights for its life, is so re mote as to be hardly worth envisaging. Although the more 'advanced'' Do minions may coquet with the idea of in dependence, such theorizings would do instantly forgotten in the moment ,? of danger, and British communities every where would rally, as they rallied in 1914, to the support of an imperilled Motherland. There was sound sense in the remark of Lord Balfour in thp House of Lords last week, that little was to be gained by discussing and defininc the degree of responsibility of each British Sti\te to the others. 'He would say that this country was bound to go to war to defend any part of the Em pire which might be endangered. He Dersonally thought that the duties of other parts of the Empire to Great Bri tain were not less than were her duties to them; but. in regard to the particu lar conditions under which that great duty sliould be exercised, nothing would be gained by inventing hard cases be forehand.' The genius of the British Empire does'not lie in written guaran tees and paper .constitutions. The less the Imperial Conference troubles itself with definitions of status, and the more vigorously it sets about the practical tasks of developing and strengthening the Empire, the better it will be for ali concerned.
There was no more interesting point in Mr. Bruce's speech than his. reference! to the success which had attended the experiment in Empire consultation on foreign affairs inaugurated by his Government several years ago. The machinery, consisting of- a liaison secre tariat in London, is 'working excel lently,'' and the Prime Minister of Aus tralia, if he so desires, can keep himseif better informed of developments in foreign policy than the average British Cabinet Minister! While the Empire was lamenting the obstacles in the wav of constant consultation. Mr. Bruce quietly instituted a system which has since served all reasonable requirements Consultation, however, ' carries with it liabilities- as well as privileges. It .is now disclosed that the Bruce Govern ment was fully advised and tacitly ap proved of the negotiations which led to the signing of the Locarno Treaty, thus virtually committing Australia in ad vance to the endorsement of the pact. Mr. Bruce indicated very cleaTly the awkward position in which Australia and the other dominions find them
selves in relation to the agreement, from which they ' have been specifically ex 3luded until they elect to assume the sbligations. Although they may da jide^, not* to^sj^ti, their, membership °f. :he; 'Empire woiifd mvolve'-them 'in any Tar undertaken by Great Britain in ulfilment of her guarantees. The Prime Minister is convineed that Australia ihould join the Mother Country in the jffort at European stabilization, but ho :an hardly expect to arouse any en husiasm in the_House or the country or participation in a pact pledging the Commonwealth, in certain eventualities, ;o engage in a war on the other side o! ,he world. Australians are naturally nore interested in the provision being nade for the protection of this conti lent, and Mr. Brace's statements on :his head were not altogether satisfac :ory. The table showing the relative Jefence expenditures of Britain and the Dominions is enlightening, but nothing practical is to be gained by researches into 'the lore of nicely calculated less sr more' in regard to defence. Each Dominion is disposed to base its pre :autionary measures on the amount of ?isk which it runs, and it is useless to ;xpect Canada, sheltering under the ring of the American eagle, to spend is much on defence as this isolated Commonwealth. No neglect on the part of other Dominions can justify Australia in relaxing its national safe guards, and, notwithstanding the naval programme upon which the Government has embarked, Mr. Bruce ought to an jounce at the Imperial Conference that Australia is ready to make a handsome contribution to the cost of the Singa pore Base.