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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 3557

UNITED KINGDOM - SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER AT MANSION HOUSE, LONDON, ON 19 DECEMBER 1974

Photo of Whitlam, Gough

Whitlam, Gough

Period of Service: 05/12/1972 to 11/11/1975

More information about Whitlam, Gough on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 19/12/1974

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 3557

United Kingdom
Speech by the Prime Minister at the Mansion House, London, on
19 December 1974
I suppose I would be less than human if I did not
feel some sense of awe-even some slight
trepidation-at the prospect of addressing this
august gathering in this historic hall. An Australian
Prime Minister who comes to London is
made very much aware of his country's British
origins and its place in the scheme of things. He
is subtly reminded of the actions and reputations
of his predecessors, of the rich and
intricate fabric of history, law and tradition that
has shaped his country and the very nature of
his office. For an Australian Prime Minister,
London can never be just another city or Britain
just another country-however much a proud
and self-assertive people would like to think
them so.
I must confess that by past standards my
present visit to London has been somewhat
brash and unorthodox. It is more than two years
since a Labor Government was elected in
Australia, yet this is the first time I have spoken
to a British audience. My coming out in London
has been unconscionably delayed. A generation
ago no Australian Prime Minister would have
engaged in talks with Robin Day and David
Frost before talking to the Secretary of State for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. No
Australian Prime Minister would have visited
Brussels before visiting London. Very likely, no
Australian Prime Minister would have visited
Brussels at all. There was a time when
Australia's main involvement with Europe was
on the battlefield. The real decisions on
Australia's trade, on her economic and financial
policies, on her foreign policies, on the very
borders of her States and Territories, were taken
in London. We were the creation of a great trading
empire at the height of its influence and prestige. We were the last frontier of European
colonial might. When Australia was settled
there was literally nowhere further for the
European to go. To me it is strikingly symbolic of
the link between British political and mercantile
power that the word ' corporation'--the very
name of this ancient assembly-has come to
denote both the municipal government of London
and the great network of financial institutions
that for so long influenced the destinies of
the Australian people.
Mr Wilson, the British Prime Minister,
welcomes Mr Whitlam.

It is a commonplace to say that the world is rapidly
changing. Yet never has the truth of that
statement been more manifest than today. Little
that we have taken for granted, little to which
we are accustomed, little even that we hold
dear, has remained unaffected by the events of
the past thirty years, and especially by the pace
and scope of change in the 19 70' s. I do not
need to tell you of the difficulty and complexity
of the economic problems that confront every
western trading nation -Australia and Britain
among them. In Australia's case, not only has it
been necessary to accept changes in our thinking
and national life: it has been necessary to
welcome and promote changes. Since my
Government was elected it has pursued a new
course in its foreign affairs. We have sought a
more distinctive and independent role for
Australia, especially in our own region. We
have established new friendships and contacts
with other nations. While this has meant some
reappraisal of our traditional arrangements, the
changes we have made have not been at the
expense of old and proven friends. I want to
emphasise this; our policies were a response to a growing spirit of self-confidence and selfreliance
in Australian society. We have
developed a keener sense of national independence.
And I must say, in all frankness, it was
high time we did.
Some people-more in Australia than in
Britain-have regarded Australia's foreign poli
cies in recent years as some sort of aff ront to Bri
tamn; an insult to the Mother Country. Let me be
personal for a moment. I don't suppose there is
anyone in Australia, certainly no one else who is
still in public life, who has a greater love for
Britain than I have. Against very strong advice,
from friend and foe alike, I insisted on coming
here for Christmas. What better proof could
there be of my British sympathies. Not many of
my countrymen have a greater respect for
Britain's institutions and traditions than I do-a
greater knowledge of your history, a greater
affection for your language, your laws, your
literature, your unique intellectual traditions of
moderation, detachment, tolerance and liberty.
In saying this I don't want to sound boastful or
ingratiating. I want to dispel the impression that
A luncheon at the Mansion House giyen by the Lord Mayor of London in honour of the Prime Minister.

Australia's attitude to Britain has been churlish
or nit-picking. What we seek is a more mature
and contemporary relationship with Britain-a
relationship based on a growing sense of
national pride and purpose.
For more than twenty years successive Australian
Governments saw our continent as a
small and insignificant country, an outpost of
European civilisation, exposed to the tides of
communism which threatened to engulf the
region, and prey to the covetous attentions of
our neighbours. These feelings were heightened
by a sense of geographical isolation, racial
and cultural, which established the main directions
of Australia's foreign relations from 1950
onwards. They ultimately led us to commit
Australian forces to the Viet-Nam War. They
led us to tolerate the increasing overseas ownership
and control of our industries and
resources. By December 1972 the external
environment and Australia's Government had
changed. Our perceptions of Australia's place
and role in international affairs had changed.
We never were small and insignificant. Our
economy is a good deal larger than the econom
ies of many European nations. We have ended
our military involvement in Viet-Nam. We have
recognised and established diplomatic relations
with all the countries in Asia and with many
other countries which were formerly ignored by
Australia. We have been a helpful and cooperative
neighbour in our region. In the United
Nations we have given steadfast support to the
causes of self-determination, disarmament and
anti-colonialism.
To a great extent the new directions in our
foreign policy have been influenced by Britain's
example. In 1972 we established formal relations
with the People's Republic of China:
Britain had done so in 1949. We withdrew our
forces from Indo-China: Britain had never committed
such forces. I doubt if anyone in this
country would take it amiss if I declared that
Australia's involvement in Viet-Nam had been
a mistake. It was a mistake, and only now are
we repairing the damage. Britain herself was in
the forefront of the great post-war movement
which brought self-determination and
independence to a host of former colonial states.
Once when Australians travelled to Europe,
every port and stop-over was ruled from London-
Singapore, Colombo, Aden, Suez, Malta, Port Said, Gibraltar. One of the triumphs of
British foreign policy has been the peaceful and
orderly transfer of power to the new selfgoverning
nations.
In the light of these changes, it was inevitable
and natural that Britain's relationship with
Australia would change too. The impetus for
change did not come from Australia alone.
Britain's historic move towards Europe meant a
change in her attitude to her Commonwealth
partners. Australia did not oppose or resent
Britain's involvement in Europe. Enlightened
opinion in my country welcomed and
encouraged it, just as the great financial institutions
of this city welcomed and encouraged it.
True enough, Britain's entry into Europe meant
some adjustment, a difficult adjustment, in
Australia's pattern of trade, but this process of
adjustment had begun with Britain's first
attempt to join the European Community in the
early 1960' s. Since that time Australia has
sought to diversify its trade in an effort to reduce
our dependence on the British market. In
1961-62, some 20 per cent of our exports
were directed to Britain. Britain was our principal
export market. Now, nearly two years after
Britain's entry into the European Community,
we sell only 6.5 per cent of our exports to
Britain. Many of our new markets are among the nations
of the Commonwealth, the great majority of the
members of the Commonwealth now lie in and
around the Indian and South Pacific Oceans. In
a geographical sense, Australia is much closer
to the new Commonwealth than Britain herself.
Far from being on the periphery we are much
nearer the centre. It is Britain, if I may say so,
that has become the outpost of European civilisation
in an organisation essentially oriented
toward Asian, Pacific, Indian Ocean and Caribbean
States. You hear a lot of disparagement of
the Commonwealth but you will never hear it
from Australia. The Commonwealth today provides
the world's largest regular forum for
meetings of Heads of Government. In this
respect it has no parallel, and Australia has
given the Commonwealth its fullest and most
active support.
It is against this background of economic and
political change that Australia has looked afresh
at her traditional relationship with Britain. There
are some things we have changed. Many of the

things we have changed have been essentially
symbolic, but no less important for that. Many
of the changes would have been made whichever
government was in power in Australia;
indeed some of them had their origins in decisions
taken by my predecessors. One of our
first acts as a government was to amend Her
Majesty's Royal Style and Titles in Australia.
That change had the warm personal approval of
the Queen and the overwhelming endorsement
of the Australian people. The result is that
Queen Elizabeth II is now properly, proudly and
officially designated ' Queen of Australia'. She
has always been Queen of Australia; now she
bears the title, I am proud of it. It is an entirely
contemporary and appropriate title. It takes
account of popular feeling. It makes the
monarchy a closer and more relevant institution
for Australians.
We decided it was time Australia had a distinctive
national anthem and abandoned knighthoods
and other awards conferred in the name
of the British Empire. Other nations like Canada
had taken this course and public opinion in
Australia was fully in sympathy with such
changes. We no longer confer knighthoods in
the name of an empire that has ceased to exist.
We retain God Save The Queen on occasions
when Her Majesty is present or when it is
especially important to emphasise our links with
the Crown, but our official anthem, the only
anthem recognised by the Australian Government,
is Advance Australia Fair. All the evidence
suggests that Australians want an
anthem of their own. There is nothing particularly
surprising about this; it would be more
surprising if they didn't. Yet there are Australians
who see the choice of an anthem and
the rejection of Imperial Titles as an insult to the
Crown. I regard our preference for an Australian
anthem as a perfectly natural reflection of Australian
maturity and I am convinced that the Bri
tish people do likewise.
I give you another example. Six years ago an
earlier Australian Government-a conservative
government-abolished appeals to the Privy
Council in London from judgments of the Australian
High Court. That decision was accepted
in Australia without dissent. In the same way,
for the same reasons, my Government has
sought to abolish appeals to the Privy Council
from the Supreme Courts of the States. Our proposal has been resisted by the States. I
merely say this: no people with an ounce of selfrespect
would allow decisions made by their
own judges, appointed by their own governments
and sitting in their own courts, to be
overruled by judges sitting in another country
and appointed by the Government of another
country. We still retain procedures by which the
Governors of the States are commissioned by
the Queen-not as Queen of Australia but as
Queen of the United Kingdom. The commissions
are countersigned not by the Premier
of the State but by the British Secretary of State
for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I do not
think it unduly chauvinistic of Australians to
object to such a procedure. I do not think I am
alone in seeing something absurd in the proposal
to have a Queen of Queensland. Is there to
be a Queen of Alberta and a Queen of Prince
Edward Island? These are matters affecting
Australia's standing and reputation as a contemporary
independent nation.
Two of the great things we have inherited from
Britain are our tradition of judicial independence
and our parliamentary democracy. For a variety
of reasons, including the present strains on the
world economy, our democratic system has
come under challenge and in many countries is
afflicted by instability and frequent changes of
government. It is imperative that countries like
Australia and Britain ensure the survival of robust
democracy and individual liberty. I look
forward to discussions with your Prime Minister
on how the fabric of our democratic society can
be stengthened during the present economic
crisis. In saying this I do not want to adopt the
mantle of a prophet of doom. In Australia, as in
Britain, governments face serious problems of
inflation, a slowing down of growth and, for us,
a high level of unemployment. But these temporary
factors, unfortunate as they are, should
not obscure the fundamental long-term
strength of our economies. Must we admit that
only the Soviet Union among industrial and
trading nations can avoid unemployment and
inflation?
There has never been a time when the institutions
of government, the parliaments, the
courts-not only in Australia but in all
democracies-were more in need of strengthening.
There has never been a time when the
problems of society posed a greater challenge to

the ingenuity and skill of governments. There
has never been a time when democratic institutions
have been so sternly challenged. In my
own country this year we saw the Upper House
in the national Parliament for the first time
refuse Supply to the elected government and
force a general election. It was a gross breach of
a hitherto unchallenged convention. Moreover,
so complex and cumbersome are Australia's
electoral laws that the new Parliament could not
convene for three months. Where else could a
Parliamentary democracy be without a Parliament
for so long?
Many in Britain may be aware that some of
Australia's State Governments have resented
some of the initiatives of my Government.
Indeed, after my visit in April last year Premiers
and State Attorneys-General flocked to London
to beseech the British Government to save them
from the Australian Government. The point in
issue can be solved within the Australian judicial
system established by the Australian
Constitution. There is no possible advantage to
Britain in embroiling the Queen, the Government
or the Courts of Britain in such Australian
domestic disputes. I shall not go into such matters
here, except to say this: The great lesson of
the Australian federal system, as in the
American, Canadian and West German federal
systems since the War, has been the need for
greater involvement, greater responsibility, on
the part of the national government. I give two
illustrations. In the two Australian States with
the largest populations it had become obvious
for a decade that only through the involvement
of the national government could the people in
new areas secure access to essential public services
such as health, higher education and public
transport. In the two States with the largest
areas, it had become obvious that only the
national government could safeguard Australian
control of the vast new natural resources
discovered in the past ten years. I believe the
federal system can be made to work, as it has
worked in other democracies, if the States
accept that Australians are one people, with
national interests and legitimate national aspirations,
and that there are some government
services and responsibilities that can only be
adequately provided and exercised if the Federal
Government is involved.
Those who see in some of our recent actions concerning Britain a manifestation of some strident
new nationalism or anti-British feeling
have completely misread our intentions and
mistaken the mood of our people. What
Australia istrying todoisestablish an independent
indentity in the world and especially in our
own region. We have grown up. Our actions are
in no way anti-British. They are simply pro-
Australian. I speak to you frankly because I
know there can never be any questions about
the enduring strength of Australia's ties with
Britain and the British people. The vast majority
of our people are of British stock. We wish to
build on British institutions. I believe that our
understanding and affection will deepen, rather
than diminish, as Australia assumes her rightful
place as a proud and independent nation, with a
distinctive role and a distinctive voice in her
region and in the world at large.

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The Prime Minister speaks to the press in Dublin.
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Transcript 3557