Going to war
|Opening titles read "Going to War"|
|Title reads "Parliament and the Decision to go to War"|
|Interview||In July-August 1914, Australia was in a rather unusual situation in that it was having a federal election, and it was having an election for both houses of parliament – a 'double dissolution'. So, when the news from Europe started to become particularly serious, towards the end of July, Parliament had just been prorogued and the politicians had scattered throughout the country on election campaigning. And, at that time, the government had been a Liberal government, under the leadership of Joseph Cook, and the Labor Party was in opposition.|
Overlay: Crisis of our fate, The Argus, 3 August 1914, State Library of Victoria
"Crisis of our fate/Australia's call/Practical help to Britain./Appeal to Mr Cook and Mr Fisher"
Overlay: extract from Crisis of our fate
"Cook said:- 'Whatever happens, Australia is a part of the Empire right to the full. Remember that when the Empire is at war, so is Australia at war … So far as the defences go here and now in Australia, I want to make it quite clear that all our resources in Australia are in the Empire and for the Empire, and for the preservation and the security of the Empire'"
|The Australian Parliament had no role in Australia's decision to go to war, not only was it not sitting or in operation at the time that the war broke out in Europe, Australia actually had no formal role in the decision to go to war. This may seem extremely strange today, but at that time Australia was what was called a 'dominion' – it was a white, self-governing unit of the British Empire. And, although it had powers over many of the matters to do with internal governance in Australia, and had those powers since federation in 1901, it had been agreed or it was understood that the conduct of foreign policy remained with the British government in London. So, when the British Government declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914, it did so on behalf of the whole of the British Empire. So, really the decision that confronted the Australian politicians in early August 1914, was not whether they'd go to war, but rather what support they would give to Britain.|
|Interview||So when Parliament actually met after the election, in October 1914, Australia was already committed to the war and their debate was much more about, well, what do we do now that we are at war, rather than whether we should go to war. And, of course, it is worth remembering that even today Parliament does not discuss the question of whether Australia should commit defence forces to a conflict overseas, that decision still remains with the executive branch of government.|
|Interview Overlay: Federal Parliament House, Melbourne, Australian Enamellers, c1913, State Library of Victoria||So when Parliament actually met after the election, in October 1914, Australia was already committed to the war and their debate was much more about, well, what do we do now that we are at war, rather than whether we should go to war. And, of course, it is worth remembering that even today Parliament does not discuss the question of whether Australia should commit defence forces to a conflict overseas, that decision still remains with the executive branch of government.|
|Title reads "Parliamentary support for the War" 2 minutes 25 seconds|
|Interview||There was not really much serious reservation about Australia's decision to support Britain in the war and to support Britain very generously. There were one or two politicians who expressed some concerns, particularly Frank Anstey, a Labor politician, but the sense in Australia of identification with Britain's interests was so strong, on both sides of politics, that there was no major opposition to the decision to support Britain. Now that decision had been taken by the Cabinet on the 3rd August and it was a decision that had been shaped by all previous discussions about Australia's defence. I think it is important to realise that the decision to, first of all, send the Royal Navy, sorry, the Royal Australian Navy to be part of the Royal Navy's operations, and to offer Britain a force of 20,000 men, and those were the decisions that were made on the 3rd August, these were very much part of agreed defence policies.|
|Interview Overlay: Our Pledge, c1914, World War 1 recruitment and patriotic posters: and some relating to the 1916 conscription referendum, State Library of New South Wales 'Our Pledge/ "I ask the people of Australia, so far as my knowledge goes, to steel themselves to the view that this matter may only just be beginning. But whether we are just beginning or whether we are in the middle of it or nearing the end, the policy of the Government will be the same as communicated to the then Prime Minister when I had the honor of leading the Opposition. We shall pledge our last man and our last shilling to the see the War brought to a successful issue." [Mr Fisher, October 14, 1914.]'||So far as we can tell there was considerable support within the Australian population for the decision to support Britain in the war. This was an election time and both of the leaders of the political parties came out with very strong statements in support of Britain. Indeed, the Labor leader, the leader of the Opposition, coined that very famous phrase that Australia would support Britain, "to the last man and the last shilling". And it's reasonable, I think, to assume that he would not, Andrew Fisher would not, have said that had he not thought that that resonated with the mood of the electorate.|
|Interview||There were a number of reasons why the Australian government, and the Australian population, really had very little hesitation in supporting Britain. And the first, and perhaps most important, was that it was taken as axiomatic, as given at that time, that Australia could not defend itself. It had to rely on a broad, global system of imperial defence for its support. So, if the Royal Navy were not dominant in the world, Australians feared that they would be vulnerable to whoever might want to attack them in the Asia-Pacific region. So, there was a very strong sense that Australia's interests and Britain's interests were not necessarily identical, but very closely aligned. And the other major reason was that the majority of the Australian population in 1914, and let's remember there were only four and half million of them, the majority of that population had either emigrated from Britain or who had parents or grandparents who had. So it was essentially an Anglo-Celtic population, radically different from the population of today.|