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Against War

November 1, 1917 — Mechanics Institute, Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia


Our organization [the Women’s Political Association] was formed in 1902. We have always been opposed to war —  that is one of the planks of our program. Every time I stop for parliament I have always stood as an advocate of international arbitration. We do not think anything can be settled by the sword. We have gone right on until the present day. We have absolutely presented an unbroken front to those who support the war. In 1915 we decided to form a Women’s Peace Army of which you hear a good deal recently. We formed this little association to help the women and children.

There are a great many people who do not approve of our non-party policy, we have got nothing to do with the conservative section of politicians. We are in favor of international peace arbitration. I would like to refer to the disturbances that took place in the early part of the war. We were held up to public scorn. We were called pro-Germans, disloyalists and everything else because we held meetings on the Yarra Bank!

We have never caused any trouble on the Yarra Bank, there was once a little disturbance between some soldiers and civilians, but that was not due to us. As far as the soldiers are concerned, we respect those who have gone to fight for their country. We know that they have gone to do what they consider a sacred duty, and we respect them just as much as we expect those who differ from us to respect us. There were other disturbances that came into conflict with the soldiers. The soldiers know very well there are black sheep in eery flock, there were some of those black sheep who came along and tried to break up our meetings. I do not think they would have done it if they had not been inflamed by the press.

At the time of the Boer war, I was held up to public scorn as a pro-Boer, because I dared say what I believed to be correct. [Can] you tell me one war that has ever achieved anything, that has not left destruction, ruin and misery upon the people? As Lord Northcliffe said: there must be wars, it was inevitable, there must be a war between Germany and England. When we speak about trade wars we do not say this is whole a trade war, we say all wars are more roles trade wars. What brings the countries into conflict with one another is that the competition these days for markets is so keen, they look with jealous eyes to other countries. Germany, of course, was making tremendous headway commercially — she has wonderful business methods, some people thing we as a nation [should] copy her methods. Great Britain is going to be entirely run in the interests of the financiers and capitalists of Great Britain.

Well, friends, these are the things that are going to make other wards in the future. There are one hundred and one different things that cause war. You know if two men have a fight, it is extremely difficult to find out the right side: one says one thing, and one says another, so it is very hard to get the real facts as to who is right and who is wrong. Supposing the press were doing what we are trying to do wit this little body of ours, do you not think the press would be a mighty instrument? But no they make bitter startling head lines on what we are trying to do. After this war I hope the people will have learned a lesson and will have a press of their own, run in the interests of the people. 

You talk about fighting for democracy, fighting for the rights of the people. Well, friends, we maintain that if conscription is brought in the people are enslaved, because no man is free if he has to go away against his will. Friends, what has happened? For one hundred years the great glory of England was that no man need fight against his will. Australia is the only country of the world where there is liberty today, long may it be maintained.

Talking about peace, they say we fanatical women want peace at any price. Our price is a very high price, it is a peace with democratic principles. What we are striving for is true industrial democracy, what we mean by that is the control of industry in the interest of the people as a whole. The workers who produce things never get the full reward of their labour, that simply goes to the capitalistic section of society. In every country — in every belligerent country — these principles are making headway.

Talking of poverty and distress, there are to and three families living in some homes in different parts of Melbourne. That is not brought about by drinking or gambling. It is brought about by the salvery of the wage system, when men get out of work for a few weeks it is difficult for them to pull up again. When this strike occurred in Sydney we saw what was happening. And when the wharf laborers strike occurred here we saw what would happen. We made up our minds that we would not see the women and children punished in this industrial fight as they had been in the past. So at the Guild Hall we provided food for as many as five hundred women and children in one day. we also have two boot shops, and a barbers saloon where the men can get a free shave and hair cut.

We say the people have got the power in their hands if they choose to use it — if they do not choose to use it they must take the full consequences. Remember that the members of parliament are your servants, not your masters as they make themselves. They are the elected servants of the people. I do not blame them altogether for using that power, because the people allow them to do so. I say we must have a world run in the interests of the people. 

Before concluding I ask you to give as liberally as you can to the wives and children of those who are suffering in this present strike.



Source: Australian Archives (Melbourne), MP 16/1, Attorney General’s Department, Intelligence Section Records 1914-23, File No. 15/3/1371.


Also: Stirring Australian Speeches: The Definitive Collection from Botany to Bali, eds. Michael Cathcart, Kate Darian-Smith (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press) 2004, pp. 139-141.