[Editor: This article by Earle Page was published in The Sydney Mail (Sydney, NSW), 14 November 1928.]
“We want Australia first!” shouted an interrupting crowd at one of the Prime Minister’s meetings recently. Certainly. All will endorse that Australia as a branch of the Empire has a splendid destiny. Without the backing of the British Empire the situation would be, to say the least of it, difficult and dangerous. A bit overburdened with national egotism and conceit, as perhaps we are, there is no denying the fact that we can only survive and prosper as a country of people of our particular standards by being part of that great Empire.
Yet the noisy interjectors at Mr. Bruce’s meetings, encouraged by Mr. Scullin, Mr. Theodore, and Mr. John Garden, deride and scoff at the question of our Empire relationship being put forward as a question for the electors to vote upon. Labour leaders have been in a quandary, forced upon them by circumstances. Against their wishes the control of the Australian Labour party has gone over to the Philistines.
Mr. Lang was the first victim when, at the decisive split in the party caused by the attack of the Communists, he was forced to accept the support of that section, and he formed his makeshift Cabinet with which to carry on until the general elections, when the voters put them out. The section of which Mr. Garden of the Sydney Trades and Labour Council is the high apostle became the dominating power, and when Mr. Lang was appointed dictator and his former Ministry broke up he had the alternative of going out with his colleagues or carrying on, trusting to the weight of the organisation to see him over the political Styx. He was defeated, and now Labour as “officially” constituted exists with the better type of politicians out of office, only those who are willing to accept the official organisation and the domination of the high-handed wire-pullers remaining. Federal Labour leaders and candidates are in the same boat, part and parcel of what is set down as “Labour,” whatever may be its aims and principles.
“From every point of view, Australia’s interests and safety are wrapped up with the strength and unity of the Empire. The Government stands whole-heartedly for the promotion of that principle as a fundamental axiom of its policy,” said Mr. Bruce. What does the other contending side stand for? Why cannot it say, “So do we?” It does not. It dare not. Quite a simple matter for Australians, people who are with no tinge of any blood mixture. If there is any better alliance possible for the Commonwealth than with the British Empire, what is it? Is any other required? Why, therefore, cannot the Labour leaders say to Mr. Bruce’s emphatic declaration, “We are solidly with you on that”?
Labour candidates in this campaign have had more than enough of extremely vexatious points upon which to touch warily or to avoid. They must sigh for the old times when Labour was really Labour and had a platform of ideals and aspirations for the improvement of the conditions of the workers. It was then an organisation that framed its policy yearly according to its constitution, and its representatives went to the country with copies of the platform, shouted it from the hustings, and fought on a solid basis. Now all is furtive whispering and conspiracy. What the policy is cannot be set down in print. The machine has become massive, and the rank and file find that they are unable to speak about much that is done in their name. So it happened that the change was made, and now the humble members of the party outside discover that in the name of the working man Australia has become allied with, above all people, the Russians and the Chinese!
That White Australia policy which the populace used to cheer so vociferously in the earlier days of the movement has been swept away, and the extremist leaders who have visited Moscow and Shanghai in pursuance of this affiliation with other than British blood are urging that the “racial barriers of Australia” should be broken down. Mr. Garden of the Trades and Labour Council, editor of the “Pan-Pacific Worker,” delegate to Moscow, has revealed the affiliation of Labour in Australia with the Russian and Chinese workers and the adoption of the policy of “breaking down the racial barriers.” Imagine a political candidate’s feelings with such a policy behind him! How do the Labour candidates prophesy to the working men and women here about the times to come when there shall be unrestricted immigration of all colours and races, of people of poorest standards whose habits of life are widely different from ours? Were this mere imaginative election bluff it might be passed over, but as it is in print uncontradicted it must be set down as part of the issue of the elections, in conjunction with the positive statement of the Prime Minister that Australia’s interests and safety are wrapped up with the strength and unity of the Empire.
Mr. Scullin, Labour’s leader, and Mr. Theodore, campaign director, cut sorry figures. This Communistic alliance is an extraordinary handicap. Mr. Theodore endeavoured to deny Mr. Garden’s hand in the Labour campaign, but he and his followers are even disowned by the Australian Workers’ Union because of these shady relations. Mr. Garden and others are actually appointed to the Moscow Red Executive, and Mr. Garden in the journal he edits says: “We propose to break down all barriers — national, racial, and religious — which hinder the internationalisation of the working-class movement.” Can such an intention do any good to Australian working men?
In the face of such facts as these the evasions of Mr. Theodore and his friends on the scoffing retort that the Empire is not an issue cannot be allowed to pass. If men high up in control at the Sydney Trades Hall propose to “break down all barriers,” what do they propose for the Australian workers when the country is filled with coloured people who would flood the labour markets?
As a question for the elections Mr. Scullin has put forward unemployment, blaming the Nationalist Governments for the sins of their predecessors, particularly in New South Wales. The inconsistency is too glaring to be admitted by an intelligent community, and, as the interjector previously referred to said all unwittingly, the people want Australia first. Without the British Empire behind us we would be anywhere but first, perhaps not even a good second. In the present juncture the Empire as an issue seems, if not paramount, one of the most important to be borne in mind by the electors next Saturday.
Australia is at present with a strong Government, a Ministry of businesslike methods and sound sense. There has been a conspicuous absence of that political finesse and general atmosphere of artful trickery of many former contesting parties. Honesty has had a better deal in politics during the last six years than for any similar period within recollection, and, while there is detail upon which some may disagree, the citizens of the Commonwealth have reason to believe they are being treated candidly by their rulers.
The record of the Bruce-Page period bears examination satisfactorily on the figures. Direct per capita taxation has been lowered from £4 to £2/9/-, and the man of small means has benefited by reductions in rates and other alterations. Adding the indirect taxation through Customs and Excise, the total has increased since 1922 from £9/0/4 to £9/4/4, but the Commonwealth payments to the States out of the money so received have increased and extra taxation has therefore been saved in the States, apart from which the total would show as £8/11/8.
Good government administers the affairs of a country by taking as little from the people as possible, and on that sound axiom the record of the Federal Government stands well.
The Sydney Mail (Sydney, NSW), 14 November 1928, p. 6
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]