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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 1392


Photo of Holt, Harold

Holt, Harold

Period of Service: 26/01/1966 to 19/12/1967

More information about Holt, Harold on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/09/1966

Release Type: Press Conference

Transcript ID: 1392

16th September. 1966.
We've i: ust concluded~ a remarkable Conference perhaps an
historic one. To take the brightest view of it one could even speculate that
this marks another milestone in man's long search for peaceful collaboration on
a basis of multi-racialism but that is. i repeat taking the optimistic view of
things, and this could only be confirmned by subsequent expe'~ iences in which the
lessons of this cjDnference had been learned and some of the more unsatisfactory
features of it removed, There were some unsatisfactory features. Most of these were
evident enough. The practice which had develop d, I think it showed itself at
Lagos. but this was the first time I'd experienced a process of regular Caucus
meetings on what was blatantly a racial basis of membership and we would be
most critical of the continuance of this kind of practice on any sort of regular
basis at any future meetings.
The concentration of attention on Rhodesia occupying more than
six days of the discussion necessarily limited opportunities for consideration of
the very many other important matters before us and in the result consideration
of such important areas of discussion as the world political situation and the
world economic situation tended to be disjointed and inadequate as to the total
time available and on some aspects of subsequent subject matters there was scope
for little more than a perfunctory treatment. I think that although delegates had
opportunity to speak. the fact that there was limited time had the effect of
reducing the contribution which many would otherwise have made and, in some
instances. I think discouraged delegates from making any contribution at all.
In the result the discussions were unsatisfying in these two important fields,
containing as they did these matters of considerable impor-tance and concern for
Australia. I made a statement myself on the world political situation
concentrating my own remarks on the Asian scene and Vietnam in particular, and
when we came to the communique I registered at that point my concern that we had
not had an adequate and satisfying discussion on Vietnam and gave notice that if
this issue was still a current topic. th!? t we would expect a very mnuch mnore compkle
discussion on Vietnam at the next C,-nf eriance.
On the world economic situation I was given ie role of leading
the discussion there and, although there were some other speakers it didn't
secure a very widespread discussion not that any great significance should be
a\ 1tbt awcheerde vtoe rtyh amt ucith wina sa gnoret eam ceonnt traosv teor stihael gfieenlde rafol rc oCuormsemso nthwaet aslthho uPldri mbee foMllionwisetde. rs
The communique reflects to a considerable degree the Australian contribution and
we were not challenged on any of the more positive points that I put forward in the
course of my own presentation.
I said at the outset that taking an optimistic view of things, one
could regard this Conference as having brought the Commonwealth successfully
through a critically testing period, not only was it an issue of great difficulty.
complexity and delicacy involving as it did aspects of race, aspects of minority
rule. historic association between Great Britain and Rhodesia the evolution of
new nations on the continent of Africa itself these were only some of the facets
of this most absorbing but typical question and although the communique reflected
the differences of view that were held at some stages of the Conference it seemed
most unlikely that any communique reflecting at least that degree of agreement
could have been produced and there were even expectations that there would be
walk-outs from the Onference, -erhaps on a quite considerable scale. And s

to have come through all these swirling currents and landed the Commonwealth
safely on the other shore is something of an achi avement.
It has left problems unsolved, including the Rhodesian issue
itself., It has merely pointed two directions in which action may follow but even'
the most optimistic would not imagine that we had satisfactorily settled the
Rhodesian issue. But have in mind that of all the situations in the world that could
present difficulties for us this is the only one on which any pow erful disagreements
were voiced; there were other matters on which differences of view, of course,
are held. There is no uniformity of view, for example, on ~, ietnam but I think
itf s worth commenting that there was so much agreement on so many other issues
and the communique reflects a good deal of constructive, positive work at less
controversial levels which mark an organisation capable of doing a job of work for
its member countries. I think that the Secretariat has provided some valuable strengthening
on the organisation side. We're still feeling our way with the operation of the
Secretariat, I think several members would be reluctant to see it build itself into
an organisation that was attempting to influence policy thinking of its members, but
it can do a very useful job at the administrative level and in maintaining closer
co-ordination between Commonwealth countries making the affairs of each more
widely known to the others, and these things can be counted as credits which have
emerged from this particular Co) nference.
So that weighing the experiences of the last two weeks on a scale of
balance, I would feel that on balance the conference has demonstrated some succesSE.
It has also revealed dangers in relation to our future conduct which if allowed to go
unchecked, could themselves lead to a weakening of the Commonwealth Association.
Would you like to put any queries, Gentlemen, on any of these
aspects Q. Was the Common Market discussed at all?
A. Yes, but Mr Wilson made it clear that there was no early move in
contemplatiou that Britain did want to enter the Common Market.
The terms of entry had not been made any easier for it as the
recent visit of M. Pompidou revealed, but he repeated the assurance
that he's given on other occasions that the United Kingdom would not
enter the Common Market without giving full consideration to the
views and situation of dher Commonwealth countries.
Q. Mr Holt, from the tone of your speech this morning it seems that
you would examine rather carefully coming to a Commonwealth
Meeting again if Rhodesia was going to be dominating the conference
to such a degree with the African Caucus.
A. Well I wouldn't be serving ultimatums up myself but I think that
when the agenda for the next meeting is proposed we would want
to be assured that there would be reasonable opportunities for
discussion of the wide variety of matters which interest so many
other members of the Commonwealth, as I found it necessary to
point out on the sixth day, or was it the seventh day that we had for
six days of the conference been discussing the affairs of, or leaving
untouched the affairs of nine-tenths of mankind. and in resisting the
move that was bei ng made then for another adjournment so that the
Caucus could go into action and this is so with three-fifths of the
world's population east of Suez, and we hadn't got within a week's
sailing of that area after the first six days.
I see some paper this morning has a reference as to how I came to
be in the chair perhaps I can clear that little point because I / 3

thought it was not without and I don't want to make overmuch of
it my temporary occupancy of the chair actually arose as the
result of a proposal by Mr Lee Kuan Yew it wasn't Mr Wilson's
nomination. He was away at the time and they wanted to get on
with the business, so having occupied the chair at that session I
think on occasions when he was absent subsequently Mr Wilson
thought it convenient that I should carry on and did so. but
somebody I see in the paper mentioned that it was because I just
happened to be across the table from him so did Mike Pearson
and a few other people buL I think we can say that Australia found
a friendly atmosphere among the delegates.
We talked quite frankly and realistically on matters involving
questions of race. There was no disposition on our part to either
retreat from the Australian point of view or to conceal its light
behind the curtain, and f feel that there has been a gain for me
personally in relationships which have strengthened with the heads
of delegations. I've come to know a lot of them much more
personally aad had many opportunities for formal discussion with
them which was helpful.
I gather that some of the Asian delegations in their comments to the
Press have expressed appreciation that Australia was showing such
an interest in Asian affairs and playing an active part so that too
is useful India, in particular, commented a lot on it.
Q. Mr Holt, do you think our relationships with Africa have been harmed
at all by our close stand with Britain on this Rhodesian issue?
A. Well no, I think that follows from what I have just been saying. I
don't think so because Atrstralia made it clear throughout that we
regarded the Rhodesian issue as primarily a matter between Great
Britain and her Colony and while we welcomed the opportunity
which Great Britain had provided to other Commonwealth countries
to offer their views about the situation, we still felt that in the
final resort it was a British responsibility to decide how it was goinag
to deal with the situation and so we were anxious to avoid adopting
courses which were not acceptable to the United Kingdom and which
would merely serve to complicate its task. We were therefore against
the use of force, and we feel that so far as the aspect of sanctions are
concerned, again the United Kingdom will have to be selective in the
application of sanctions if difficulties are to be avoided and dangers
escalate in the southern part of Africa.
Q. There would be no doubt about your support of Britain in the TJi~ ted
Nations for these sanctions if she chose to apply them
A. I don't contemplate any difficulty for Australia in that coursl but I've
not yet. of course, had an opportunity to go over the work of the
Conference fully with my own colleagues or, for that matter with
Parliament, but this is a consistent course that Australia has been
following. We've applied sanctions to imports from Rhodesia covering about
96 percent of our trade from that Country and the particular matters on
which further sanctions might be applied don't affect Australia oil,
for example, if they decide to intensify oil sanctions. I would just
emphasise that Australia remains a free agent in the course that it
is to adopt. We're not committed to any line of action but you asked
whether I thought there would be any difficulty about it, I don't
foresee it. but we're able to decide our own course on that.
You say you'll want assurances when the next agenda is drawn up

that Rhodesia won't dominate it and that you'll have an opportunity
to discuss other matters. Say if these assurances aren't forthcoming.
A. I'm not talking about formal assurances, I think there's general
agreement that there was a quite disproportionate amount of time
even coniceding the importance of the subject and the highly
argumentative content of so many of the contributions but we felt,
several of us, that the Commonwealth was suffering in the eyes of
outside observers from what would appear to them to be a failure
to manage its business in a practical and sensible way.
Q. There wasn't a move to have the next Conference other than in
A. Yes Well, when you say there was a move, that matter was
discussed and we all agreed that it was not a question of a
principle involved. One suggestion had been that because Britain
had formerly been regarded as Head of the Commonwealth whereas
now we were all equal members at least in a juridical sense
that we shouldr't come reptatedly to London. I took up the commenton
this myself pointir. g out that it was a matter of convenience for,' most
of us to meet in London, that most of us had bi-lateral arrangements
with Great Britain on a variety of matters and we were able to deal
with these at the same time as coping with the affairs of the Prime
Ministers.' Conference. Most of us had larger official establishments
in Londoni than any other part of the Commonwealth. It is the
headquarters of the Secretariat so that it would be rather more of
an operation to move all the officials around, and most of us. if it
were held somcwhere else, would still find it necessary to come on
to London to take up discussions with Ministers here. But where we
came out on it was that we agreed that we wouldn't adopt any hardand-
fast rule that as a matter of practice meetings would be held
mostly in London, but we didn't exclude the possibility of going to
another Capital either to mark some historic occasion or
( interj ection such as the Centerrary of Canada) well such
as the Centenary of Canada, well I don't know how Mr Pearson would
respond to that, but I rather got the impression that he thought
London was a pretty good place to hold Conferences.
However, there was no lengthy discussion or any substantial
argument about it it was accepted generally as a statement of
how things might operate in the future.
Q. Mr Holt, you mentioned your concern that so little time was spent
in discussing Vietnam. Do you think the Commonwealth could
really do anything useful in this regard?
A. Well, I think it's important that the Commonwealth be better
inf * ormed and more knowledgeable about Vietnam than it is.
it seems to me to mark an inadequacy of attention when I point
out that I'm the only Head of Government, so far as I'm aware,
certainly from within the Commonwealth and for the last twelve
months anyhow outside it, to have visited Vietnam and a lot of
people make very powerful speeches about what ou ght to be done
in Vietnam without really having very much direct knowledge of
what is occurring there. But if we can't have visitations well at
1k. ast let's have some really searching di scussion and I would
like to find my fellow Commonwealth colleagues declaring where
they stand on it, if they take exception to Australia' s stand
Indicating why th~ ydo so. At the moment I think we've got, as do
most of our members, a fairly wishy-washy attitude on Vietnam, full
8ae~ V? ns but not a vw pactical contribution to what ou~ ght t o be

Transcript 1392