Section 41 [The Foundations of Culture in Australia, by P. R. Stephensen, 1936]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) by P. R. Stephensen.]

§ 41

“Equal status”

This unbearable dilemma, of divided loyalty as between English and Australian interests, wherever these happen to conflict, may be solved quite easily by anyone who considers that, within the Empire, England is paramount, and will remain so for all time. In fact, for a person who takes this stand, there is no dilemma. The policy of Britain First, within the Empire, is one which commends itself particularly to British Islanders. To such people it is natural to think that places like Australia exist for the permanent convenience of the British people who live in Britain. If I were an Englishman, as I am an Australian (to parody a famous statement in the House of Commons), I would never lay down my loans, never, never, while one Australian borrower remained willing to pay interest.

The dilemma of divided loyalty does not exist, either, for those British people who, within Australia, take the prone view that Australia is destined to be permanently a junior or inferior partner in the firm of John Bull & Co. — a concern in which the Senior Partner is immortal and can never, by virtue of his immortality, vacate the Managing Director’s chair through senility or death. Neither is there any dilemma of divided loyalty in those who, varying the metaphor, believe that Britannia is a “mother” with a large number of “children” who can never grow up, while the Old Lady equally can never die. Alternately, if John Bull is a Lion, or a Bulldog, with a number of “cubs” or “whelps” as the case may be, this metaphor, too, implies an immortality in the sire and a permanent juvenescence in the offspring which is contrary to the facts of nature.

The metaphor has not been mouthed which can define Australia’s permanent juniority in a manner which does not outrage the logic of time, growth, and change.

Imperial Federation, as defined in the Statute of Westminster, was an attempt to bring logic to bear upon a situation which metaphors were making ridiculous. Under this Statute, each of the self-governing Dominions, including presumably Britain herself, was declared to be a Sovereign Nation, with all sovereign rights, up to and including the right of secession from the Empire — the only “legal” links being the Crown and the right of appeal to the Privy Council. By the Statute of Westminster, the British Empire became a “Commonwealth of Nations.”

This arrangement, insofar as it was not merely another metaphor or a device to secure heavy British representation at Geneva, has satisfied the jurists and purists who previously were unconvinced by the metaphors about Lion’s cubs and Bulldog’s whelps.

Theoretically, then, Australia is already a Nation. Politically, the British Empire is a Federation, at least of its white, or “self-governing” Dominions. India, with four hundred million people, comprising by far the biggest portion of the British Empire, is, however, by this reasoning, not yet a member of the “Federation” and has not “Dominion Status.” Nor is India a Lion’s cub, a Bulldog’s whelp, or a daughter of Britannia (unless it be a dusky daughter — but this metaphor is embarrassing).

Very well, then. Let us abandon metaphors altogether, and admit frankly that the British Empire, or Commonwealth, or Federation, is an illogical historical growth, but none the less coherent — a fact of nature rather than a fact of deliberate intent. If it is admitted that, under the Statute of Westminster, Australia has political autonomy, including the right to secede from the Empire, would it be seditious or disloyal for an Australian to advocate such a secession? Seditious to what or to whom? Disloyal to what or to whom?

Under the Statute of Westminster, Australia has equal status with Britain. Let us, for the moment, take this very seriously. Let us propose, in all seriousness, that the Throne and Person of His Majesty the King should be transferred to Canberra, or to Alice Springs.

Australia could then send a Governor-General to England. This suggestion may be made without sarcasm under the present constitution of the British Commonwealth, as defined in the Statute of Westminster, which affords Australia an “equal status” with Britain within the alleged Federation of the Empire.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 143-145

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