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ESSAY - THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE: Creating an independent Australian foreign policy 1901–1945

By Professor David Black, JCPML Historical Consultant

Copyright JCPML and David Black 2004

INTRODUCTION

Any analysis of Australia’s foreign relations in the 20th century has of necessity to focus to a very large extent on the so-called progression from ‘dependence’ to ‘independence’. Joan Beaumont has suggested that Australia’s need to resolve important tensions within strong alliance relationships provides the analytical framework within which this progression needs to be examined. One major tension she considers arises from Australia’s need as a small to middle power to find both security and its own active role in ‘an often unstable regional and international environment’. [J Beaumont, ‘Foreign relations’ in G Davison et al (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian History, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 260]. This in turn is rendered more complex and hazardous by the conflict between Australia’s historical and cultural links to its European heritage and its geographical position on the fringe of the Asia-Pacific region.

Even in the second half of the 19th century as the six Australian colonies were still acquiring internal self government and a significant measure of political democracy they sought ‘despite their lack of international status’ to influence such aspects of foreign relations as, for example, immigration policy with the avowed intention of preserving the racial homogeneity of the population mix. By the beginning of the 20th century this posed particular difficulties in their relationship with Great Britain, a problem which intensified when the British entered into the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902 and obviously wished to restrain potential racial slurs inherent in the so-called ‘White Australia policy’.

Similarly, the Australians had their own view as to the extent to which potentially hostile European powers could be excluded from the South-West Pacific and hence exerted pressure on Britain in the 1880s to annex the eastern half of New Guinea. This was only partly successful, for by the time the British in 1884 [Hank Nelson, ‘Papua New Guinea–Australia relations’ in Davison, Oxford Companion to Australian History, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 491] had ‘raised the flag in Port Moresby’ the Germans had claimed north-eastern New Guinea. In the last 20 years of the 19th century the Australian colonies also made their contribution in the form of expeditionary forces to assist the British in Sudan, South Africa (during the Boer War) and China (with the Boxer Rebellion).

The story of Australia’s foreign relations in the 20th century after federation centres initially on four decades during which there was a consistent attempt by Australian governments to pursue their objectives within the framework of the British Empire. The period between 1941 and 1945, and especially the failure of the Australian reliance on the British naval base at Singapore, marks a major turning point in this regard and by 1945 Australia was endeavouring to continue its search for security and harmony in the context of what was rapidly becoming a very different and more complex postwar world. In the remaining five and half decades of the century Australia endeavoured to enhance and expand the degree of independence achieved by 1945 but without ever abandoning the need to acquire and maintain harmonious relations with one or more ‘great and powerful friends’, [See A W Martin, ‘Sir Robert Gordon Menzies’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 15 1940–80, Carlton South: Melbourne University Press, 2000, p. 359] most obviously and consistently the United States of America. One must therefore place considerable stress on the wartime developments that came to a head with the establishment of the American alliance, the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Agreement. At the same time, it is important not to underestimate the extent to which specifically Australian objectives were being pursued before World War Two and traditional dependent relationships remained intact through the remainder of the century.

SECURITY WITHIN THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND COMMONWEALTH

From, and even before, federation the Australian colonies had been especially sensitive on issues of defence. For the most part the colonies sought to deal within these issues in terms of securing commitments from Britain, whether it be in annexing part of New Guinea while contributing towards the cost of administration or, as at the 1887 Colonial Conference, having Britain agree to their having the right to ensure that a squadron of the Royal Navy would be kept within Australian waters in return for an Australian annual subsidy towards the cost. [W J Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 2]. In 1902 this approach was modified with the decision to return to the British Admiralty the right of determining where the ships would be located even as the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia agreed to make a higher payment in return for relatively vague assurances about assistance in an emergency from British ships stationed in the China region. This situation was far from acceptable to Alfred Deakin—prime minister from 1903–04, 1905–08 and 1909–10— who has been described as a ‘colonial nationalist’ in pursuing a policy that defence arrangements reached with Britain needed at the same time to serve to advance Australia’s national status and its opportunity to participate in the making of empire diplomacy. [W J Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 3].

By 1909 Deakin was able to secure British agreement for Australia to form an Australasian squadron towards the maintenance of which Britain would pay a subsidy. In the lead-up to this decision he had placed pressure on Britain in 1908 by ‘improperly’ inviting the touring United States ‘Great White Fleet’ to visit Australian ports and in 1909 proposed (unsuccessfully) to the British that a Pacific pact be signed between the British Empire, France, China and the United States. Acting on the 1909 agreement the new Fisher Labor Government ordered the first ships for an Australian navy and in July 1911 the Commonwealth naval forces were designated as the Royal Australian Navy though still with an agreement that in wartime Australia’s ships would be placed at the disposal of the Admiralty for the duration of the hostilities. [C D Coulthard-Clark, ‘Formation of the Australian Armed Services 1901–14’ in M McKernan and M Browne (eds)., Australia, Two Centuries of War and Peace, Canberra: Australian War Memorial and Allen and Unwin, 1988, p. 135]

Dating from 1907 Britain had agreed to use the term ‘dominions’ when referring to self governing colonies such as Australia and Canada, and to restyle colonial conferences as imperial conferences. However, its leaders also made it quite clear that when making empire foreign policy ‘authority cannot be shared’. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 6] One problem in this regard for Deakin and other Australian leaders such as Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher in 1911was that other dominions such as Canada did not wish to have too much say in formulating the foreign policy of the Empire lest they also have to carry more responsibility for military commitments.

In the aftermath of his country’s active and costly participation in World War One, and his own participation in the Imperial War Conference held in Britain in 1918, Australian Prime Minister W M Hughes went to the Versailles Peace Conference determined to use the opportunity to advance Australia’s interests and advance its international status. One result of his activities was that Australia and other dominions at Versailles secured the status of independent ‘minor belligerents’ while still retaining the right to participate within the British delegation. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 10]. Among Hughes’ successes (albeit sometimes partial) at the conference was the securing of the former German New Guinea as a ‘C’ class mandate and in preventing the Japanese push to have a racial equality clause included in the covenant of the League of Nations. In the words of one commentator Australia’s participation in the 1914–1918 war meant that:

As never before an Australian leader had been able to take advantage of an unusual situation to assert Australia’s top policy-making level in London and, even more novel, in direct diplomatic dealings with leaders of the major powers outside the empire. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 14]

In the post 1918 period it was South Africa, Canada and Ireland which made the running in seeking to effect changes in imperial relationships. As a result of their efforts from 1923 onwards the dominions were granted the right ‘to appoint their own diplomatic representatives and conclude agreements with powers outside the empire’ [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 18; T B Millar, Australia in Peace and War, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978, p. 77). Then, at the 1926 and 1930 Imperial Conferences, the new concept of dominion status was defined more specifically through the Balfour Report in which dominions were described as

autonomous communities within the British Empire, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations’. [Millar, Australia in Peace and War, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978, p. 78]

This and other decisions were codified and legislative sanction with the Statute of Westminster passed through the Parliament in London in 1931 but Australia did not ratify this Act until 1942. Instead, the Lyons and Menzies Governments in the 1930s in many respects followed the approach adopted by Hughes and Bruce in the 1920s—and this despite Hughes’ decision in December 1921 to resurrect the ministerial portfolio of External Affairs which had lapsed five years earlier. [FOOTNOTE: From 1901 to 1916 there had been a separate Department of External Affairs with its own minister, sometimes the prime minister himself and on other occasions a separate minister. In November 1916 the department was abolished and its functions allocated in the Department of Home and Territories and in the Prime Minister’s Department; and when recreated by Hughes in December 1921 it was as an office within his own Department]. Thus the United Australia Party Governments in the first half of the 1930s continued for the most part to see the future in terms of Australian participation in formulating united imperial diplomacy. To quote future High Court Chief Justice and Australian Minister in Washington, John Latham, speaking as Attorney General in 1929

alone, Australia is weak . . . As a member of the British Commonwealth, Australia is strong. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 19]

It is in this context that one must view Prime Minister Bruce’s decision in 1924 to appoint young Melbourne businessman Richard Casey as political liaison officer in London, separate from the Australian High Commission and with an office in the cabinet secretariat providing ‘a confidential channel of communication between the Australian Cabinet and the Foreign Office’. The immediate catalyst for Casey’s appointment was the so-called ‘Chanak crisis’ when the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George ‘dramatically, publicly, and without prior consultation’ [E M Andrews, A History of Australian Foreign Policy. From Dependence to Independence, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1979, p. 50] sought Australia’s help in a confrontation with Turkey and a small British force at Chanak and along the Dardanelles defending Constantinople. Lloyd George’s reference to defending soil ‘which is hallowed by immortal memories of the Anzacs’ has been described as ‘emotional blackmail’ and the Casey appointment reflected Bruce’s determination to ensure there would be no participation without prior consultation. He himself was more than satisfied, claiming that from 1924 onwards

Australia was invariably better informed on international affairs, and had far more influence on the U.K. Government and its policy, than all the rest of the Empire put together. [Millar, Australia in Peace and War, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978, p. 81]

The short-lived (1929 to 1931) Scullin Government was in no position to affect significantly the trends in Australian foreign policy other than Scullin’s insistence, against opposition from the King, on securing the appointment of the first Australian-born Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs. When Lyons came to office at the end of 1931 he appointed Latham as his External Affairs Minister, the first time the position had not been held by the prime minister since its revival in 1921. Latham in turn was succeeded in 1934 by Senator George Pearce, a veteran administrator of ‘considerable capacity’ [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 22] and the next three years before Pearce lost his parliamentary seat have been described as an ‘adventurous period in the early development of Australian diplomacy’.

TOWARDS SEPARATE DIPLOMATIC REPRESENTATION

The establishment of a separate Department of External Affairs by Australia in 1935 under its own permanent head, Lieutenant Colonel W R Hodgson, was undoubtedly ‘an important and overdue development’, [David Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 179] though the department’s budget allocations and staffing levels, mainly university graduates with some overseas experience, remained low for some time. However, factors pushing Australia slowly but inevitably towards the need for more active participation included the manifest failure of the League of Nations to deal with Japanese aggression in Manchuria in 1931 and the British emphasis on the mother country’s own interests during the Great Depression. Such developments increased the pressure for Australia to look beyond Britain and led, for example, to a tentative but unsuccessful Australian proposal from the Lyons Government in 1937 for a Pacific Pact involving Japan and the United States.

Despite these moves, and by contrast with Canada and South Africa, Australia as late as 1939 had still made no attempt to establish its own diplomatic representatives overseas and, in effect, still relied to a large extent on British diplomatic resources and the capacity for unified Commonwealth policies to be achieved. However, in an obvious pointer to the future, in 1937 Keith (later Sir Keith) Officer, an external affairs officer previously based in London, was appointed as Australian Counsellor attached to the staff of the British Ambassador in Washington. At the same time, the career Australian diplomatic officers who succeeded Casey in London after 1931 did continue to provide Australia with closer access to the councils in the UK and information to supplement that provided by the Australian High Commissioner in London.

Despite these developments, the lack of an independent foreign policy even into the late 1930s was vividly illustrated in a speech delivered to the House of Representatives by then Attorney General Robert Menzies in October 1938. Participating in a debate on the Munich (‘peace in our time’) Agreement which the Australian government strongly supported. [See Alan Watt, The Evolution of Australia’s Foreign Policy 1938–1965, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 20] Menzies told the House of Representatives that Australian influence in decision making would come from saying ‘useful things at the right time to the Government of the United Kingdom’. In his view it would be impossible for Australia to be neutral in a British War, and this approach underlay his announcement in September 1939 that Australia was at war because the UK was at war. At the same time, he did accept that even in these circumstances it was up to Australia to decide the extent to which, and the means by which, it would participate in such a British war, and, crucially, the decision as to whether Australian soldiers would fight on foreign soil.

In summary then, the main assumption underlying the making of Australian foreign policy throughout the 1920s and 1930s was that Australia’s role was to formulate ‘suggestions or comments on foreign policy for communication to the British Government’. [Watt, The Evolution of Australia’s Foreign Policy 1938–1965, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 22] Indeed, there is general agreement amongst historians writing on the appeasement years that the attitude of dominions such as Australia was ‘of great importance in explaining the rigidity of the British determination not to become involved in central Europe’. [Refer endnote 22 in Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 25] Even so, as early as March 1937 the External Affairs Department did prepare its own memorandum on the international situation for use by Australian delegates at the Imperial Conference that year. Even more striking was the important reassessment which came within three weeks of the death of Prime Minister Lyons on 7 April 1939, when Menzies, now prime minister, told the Australian people in a broadcast that:

What Great Britain calls the Far East is to us the near north . . . little given as I am to encouraging the exaggerated ideas of Dominion independence and separatism which exist in some minds, I have become convinced that in the Pacific Australia must regard herself as a principal providing herself with her own information and maintaining her own diplomatic contact with foreign powers. [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 24]

Menzies did qualify this statement by asserting that Australia should not act in the Pacific as if it were ‘a completely separate power’ but rather as ‘an integral part of the British Empire’. Nevertheless, former External Affairs head Alan Watt, writing in 1967, saw this speech as an ‘important step towards the creation of an Australian foreign policy’. [Watt, The Evolution of Australia’s Foreign Policy 1938–1965, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 25] Even the notion of automatic involvement of Australia in British wars was modified by External Affairs Minister Gullett in May when he suggested that such a guarantee should not be interpreted to cover ‘any and every set of circumstances’.

In line with the implications of Menzies’ speech in April 1939, though only after nearly a year’s delay, Richard Casey presented his credentials as Australian Minister in Washington on 5 March 1940 at which time Keith Officer, who since 1937 had been involved mainly in trade negotiations, was appointed to the staff of Casey's legation. Casey, who had been an unsuccessful candidate to succeed Lyons, was first elected to Parliament in 1931 and was Treasurer from 1935 to 1939. He remained in Washington until Churchill‘s Government in the UK offered him the post of UK Minister of State in the Middle East and then at the end of 1943 appointed him as Governor of Bengal.

Australia’s second diplomatic appointment overseas came with the arrival in Tokyo late in 1940 of Sir John Latham, a former federal politician and Chief Justice of the High Court, as Australian Minister to Japan. Latham’s appointment was followed by sending lawyer and Commonwealth Grants Commission Chairman Sir Frederic Eggleston as the first Australian minister to China, based in the wartime capital Chungking. Latham’s role in Japan was severely restricted by Japan’s decision to join the Axis pact and he was at home recuperating from illness when the Pacific War began. Eggleston, described by his biographer as ‘a natural diplomat’, stayed in the China post until 1944 and then served for a time as temporary Australian Minister to the USA before retiring from active diplomacy in 1946. According to Alan Watt all three senior Australian overseas representatives ‘showed no lack of initiative in reporting or comment’. [Watt, The Evolution of Australia’s Foreign Policy 1938–1965, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 31]

Another first before Pearl Harbour came with the appointment (at the suggestion of the Canadian government) in March 1940 of Major–General Sir William Glasgow as Australian High Commissioner to Canada in Ottawa and subsequently during the war high commissioners were sent to India and New Zealand and representation was established in the Soviet Union, Noumea and (briefly) in Singapore. [See Lowe ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, pp. 179 and 186] By 1945 there were 26 Australian diplomatic staff based in Canberra and 25 overseas and in 1943 Evatt commenced a cadet scheme involving selection for training prior to appointment. Other developments included the establishment of a Postwar Reconstruction Section in the Department in 1944 and a Post Hostilities Division to deal with issues arising from decolonisation.

WAR IN EUROPE

While all the portents were there by September 1939 one can still argue that World War Two was ‘the catalyst and crucible for the creation of a genuinely Australian foreign policy’. [Millar, Australia in War and Peace, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978, p. 132] Certainly the ‘automatic involvement’ in the war against Germany was ‘no token gesture by a government remote from the conflict, for it implied not only an active participation on far-flung battlefields as in the Great War but carried with it this time the

pervasive fear, soon to be realised, that the homeland itself and the homes within it might be in danger of attack. [Millar, Australia in War and Peace, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978, p. 135]

By 1941

Geography caught up with Australia . . . Japan’s sweep southward while Britain was militarily extended in Europe brought to an end the London-centred years of the British Commonwealth’s Pacific components. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 28]

In the early stages of the war, planning still took place within the context of imperial planning: this included the sending of an expeditionary force to help the mother country and in December 1939 the inauguration of the Empire Air Training Scheme with crews trained in Australia, Canada and Rhodesia for service with the RAF in Britain and Europe. Despite the growing threat of Japanese expansion during 1940 Australia sent a second division to the Middle East, made plans for a third and then, reluctantly, sent ground forces to Singapore and Malaya when it became increasingly obvious that Britain would not be able to live up to its prewar commitments to reinforce their defence. Heavy Australian losses in brief campaigns in Greece and Crete led to pressure for Australian command of their own forces at Tobruk and their eventual withdrawal. By the time that geography fully caught up with Australia in December 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour the Curtin Government had come to power.

‘WITHOUT ANY INHIBITIONS OF ANY KIND’

Australia under John Curtin had two major preoccupations in the closing weeks of 1941. In the first place, the government felt that ‘it was receiving less understanding, and sympathy and support than it deserved from Britain and the United States’. It was now apparent that ‘it had been consistently misled about Britain’s strength in the Far East’ while the USA to that point had refused to guarantee armed support if sanctions against Japan failed. [Millar, Australia in War and Peace, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978, p. 145]

Secondly, the Australians wanted ‘a greater say in the direction of the war’ and in many respects the concern that Australians would be sidelined in the process of decision-making both during and after the war was to be the major factor determining Australian foreign policy all the way through to 1945.

While Dr H V Evatt, as Minister for External Affairs for the entire duration of the Curtin Government, was to be the key figure in Australia’s moves towards an independent foreign policy, it was Curtin himself who set the scene with his famous newspaper article in the form of a New Year’s message published in the Melbourne press towards the end of December 1941.

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom. We know the problems that the United Kingdom faces . . . But we know that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on. [Melbourne Herald, 27 December 1941]

Most commentators agree that this statement ‘had an adverse effect on both Roosevelt and Churchill’ and even that ‘it smacked of panic and disloyalty’. [Millar, Australia in War and Peace, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978, p. 147] Another described it as ‘an amateurish and unbecoming attempt to curry favour’. [W J Hudson, ‘Strategy for Survival’ in M McKernan and M Browne (eds) Australia Two Centuries of War and Peace, Canberra: Australia War Memorial and Allen and Unwin’, 1988, p. 35] While Curtin had declared that ‘we refuse to accept the dictum that the Pacific struggle must be treated as a subordinate segment of the general conflict’ [Andrews, A History of Australian Foreign Policy. From Dependence to Independence, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1979, p. 98] in fact this was what did occur. Churchill and Roosevelt in effect constituted a joint War Cabinet and they set up Combined Chiefs of Staff to direct the Allied conduct of the war outside Russia. Australia was not consulted on the appointment in December 1941 (on the insistence of the US and against the wishes of the British Chiefs of Staff) of General Wavell as Allied Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific nor was she informed of the Hitler First strategy adopted in May 1942 and earlier Curtin had been ignored when he protested against Churchill’s appointment of Casey in March as UK Minister of State in the Middle East.

In the fullness of time, however, Curtin’s New Year message is seen as one of the most important turning points in Australia’s relations with the world since the advent of white settlement in 1788. It is no secret that the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour, described by one commentator as ‘an Australian disaster as it was an American disaster’ [C Hartley Grattan, The United States and the Southwest Pacific, Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard University Press, 1961, p. 177 cited in Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 33] nevertheless produced what one minister described as a ‘feeling of profound relief’ because it effectively forced the United States ‘to join in the containment and defeat of Japan’. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 33] Thus, the early months of 1942 were marked by constant disputes and recriminations between Churchill and Curtin on the one hand and the welcome with open arms to General Douglas MacArthur when he arrived in Australia in March 1942 and became (at Roosevelt’s suggestion and to the delight of the Australian Government) Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific. Curtin’s New Year message did not end Australian hopes of conducting aspects of foreign policy through the British Commonwealth but it foreshadowed an increasing reliance on the United States as Australia’s most important ‘great and powerful’ friend and Australia’s determination to play a leading role in territory it regarded as the prime responsibility of itself and New Zealand.

Even Prime Minister Menzies had commented on Churchill’s ‘unsatisfactory attitude of mind’ towards questions in which dominion interests were involved. [Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939–1941, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 347) Similarly, Curtin was only following the policy of his predecessor, Fadden, when he insisted on the relief of the Australian garrison at Tobruk, though eventually the siege was lifted before the last Australian troops had departed. [See Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939–1941, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, Appendix 10; and Day, The politics of War, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, pp. 180-181] In January 1942 Curtin clashed with Churchill who in turn successfully enlisted Roosevelt’s support over the issue of whether a war council involving Australia was to be located in London or Washington (as Curtin wished). Most well known of course is the exchange of cables in February between Churchill and Curtin in which the latter refused to allow Churchill to divert the Australian forces returning from the Middle East to the defence of Burma and one outcome of this dispute was the return to Australia of former Deputy Prime Minister Earle Page who, as Australia’s representative on the Pacific War Council in London, had supported Churchill on this issue. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 34]

The Curtin–Churchill cablegram war centred on the proposals for the return of the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions from the Middle East [The account which follows is based largely on the accounts in Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, pp. 73ff.; and in Judith Marsh. ‘Churchill versus Curtin February 1942’, Army Journal: A Periodical Review, Jan. 1971, pp. 27–34] initially with the intention they should both go to the Netherlands East Indies. The troops left in several ‘flights’ commencing on 30 January at a time when the fall of Singapore was not foreseen. By 15 February, but before he was aware of the fall of Singapore, Curtin in telegrams to Churchill urged the return of the troops to Australia which he now considered as the main base for the campaign in the East Indies. In the telegrams he argued that at the time the troops were originally sent to the Middle East Japan was not then an enemy. Curtin’s general line of argument also received support in a separate paper by Lieutenant General Sturdee, Chief of the Australian General Staff.

When news of the surrender in Singapore came through, Curtin, acting on the advice of his Chiefs of Staff, sent a telegram on 17 February asking for the 6th and 7th Divisions to be returned to Australia and also for the return of the 9th Division ‘at an early date’. Churchill on 19 February, the day of the first bombing raid on Darwin, asked for the leading division to be diverted to Burma. Page and also Bruce from London supported the request urging the government to allow those members of the 7th Division already at sea to be diverted for the defence of Burma. However, despite objections from Opposition members of the Advisory War Council, Curtin instructed Page that he could not agree to the proposal. Amidst some confusion as to which messages had been received when, both Churchill and Roosevelt sent personal messages to Curtin on 21 February asking for the decision not to allow the diversion to be reconsidered. In a detailed response to Churchill on 22 February (and with a copy sent to Roosevelt) Curtin insisted on the troops’ return to Australia and ‘that we have every right to expect them to be returned as soon as possible with adequate escorts to ensure their safe arrival’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 83] Thus when Curtin learned that afternoon that Churchill had already given the order for the ‘temporary’ diversion of the convoy he was ‘astounded’ and ‘of course furious’. [Marsh, ‘Churchill versus Curtin February 1942’, Army Journal: A Periodical Review, Jan. 1971, p. 270] His response was swift and decisive:

We feel a primary obligation to save Australia not only for itself, but to preserve it as base for the war against Japan. In the circumstances it is quite impossible to reverse a decision which we made with the utmost care, and which we have affirmed and reaffirmed. [Curtin to Churchill, 23 February 1942 in Lloyd Ross, John Curtin a Biography, South Melbourne: Sun Books, 1977, p. 262]

Churchill gave way and, after refuelling at Colombo, the convoy sailed on to Australia. Subsequently, after ongoing negotiation the Australian War Cabinet did agree on 2 March that the two brigade groups of the 6th Division which had not yet embarked could be used temporarily to reinforce the garrison at Colombo in Ceylon.

From Page’s point of view [See Earle Page, Truant Surgeon: the inside story of forty years of political life, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1963, p. 333] the conflict over whether the troops should be sent to Burma had ’profound implications both for the conduct of the war and the future of empire relationships’. Essentially the conflict arose from the very different standpoints commencing from the fact that the main dispute arose in the immediate wake of the first bombing of Darwin and arguably Curtin’s actions could be considered the only course open to a man ‘whose country was facing what he considered mortal peril from a ruthless foe.’ [Marsh, ‘Curtin versus Churchill February 1942’ in Army Journal: A Periodical Review, Jan. 1971, p. 340] In similar vein, historian W J Hudson [Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 34] considers that

…if a particular period may be seen as witnessing the utter demise of colonial nationalism in Australian government, it would be the first six months of the Pacific War. In the location of a war council, in the return of troops to Australia, in Australia’s refusal to see herself as a temporarily expendable antipodean outpost, Anglo-Australian interests clashed.

The issue was ‘sealed’ with the division in March 1942 of the war into three zones, with Australia ‘in a Pacific zone under United States leadership’. [Marsh, ‘Curtin versus Churchill February 1942’ in Army Journal: A Periodical Review, Jan. 1971, p. 340] When Page returned to Australia he had secured agreement to the proposition that Australia should have a full member of the British war cabinet but he was not replaced and High Commissioner Bruce had also to take on the new role. The real issue now was ‘how to interest Washington in Australia’s fate’ and ‘how to involve Australia in Washington’s decision-making’. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 35]

Australia’s relations with the US in the following two to three years need to be considered at these two levels. Within Australia MacArthur’s appointment had been in line with the government’s request and relations between MacArthur and Curtin were highly successful notwithstanding strong personality differences and concerns that too much Australian sovereignty was being traded for the purposes of security. On 17 April Curtin, in a letter to MacArthur, assigned to his command ‘all combat sections of the Australian defence forces’ and notified commanders that ‘all orders he issued would be considered as emanating from the Australian Commonwealth’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 113] Essentially, the benefit for Australia was that ‘in fighting her war, the United States was fighting Australia’s’ and Australia was her base in the South Pacific ‘for the drive against Japan’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 113]

Becoming involved in US decision-making by contrast was quite another matter. A war council was established in Washington but it was ‘largely a showpiece’ [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 35] with real decisions made elsewhere. Thus, for example, Curtin’s attempts in August 1942 to bargain for greater air strength in the Australian zone in return for delaying the return of the 9th Division were unsuccessful with Roosevelt insisting that he had been assured that

Australia’s present armed forces . . . were sufficient to defeat the present Japanese force in New Guinea and to provide for the security of Australia against an invasion on the scale that the Japanese were capable of launching at present or in the immediate future. [Telegram from Washington 16 September 1942, in Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 181]

Essentially, the Curtin Government’s problem was that Roosevelt and Churchill were working to their own framework for the higher direction of the war, including the ‘beat Hitler first’ strategy and the concept of war in the South-West Pacific described by Evatt as of a ‘defensive or holding character, the defensive to be followed by offensive action at a later stage’. [CPD (House of Representatives), 172, 3 September 1942, pp. 78–84]. Deviations from the plan, Bruce advised the government in mid-September, would only be to the extent that they ‘were necessary for the defence of Australia. It is contended that there is no such necessity’ [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 187]

Significantly, too in arguing for his controversial but ultimately successful moves commencing in November 1942 to have the ALP agree to a measure of military conscription for service outside Australian territories Curtin focussed to a considerable degree on Australian obligations to the United States:

The U.S. had saved Australia, and the government had had a desperate fight to get aid for Australia. He did not want to live those months again . . . Because of the debt of gratitude owed to the United States, Australians should be able to say that Australian resources would go with them and maintain supplies and bases to them from islands close to Australia which, if not held, could be bases for the enemy to attack the United States forces. [Official Report of Proceedings of Special Commonwealth Conferences held at Melbourne, November 16 1942 . . . p. 28 cited in Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 337]

Reviewing the decision Paul Hasluck has concluded that there was little military significance in the move for Australia’s war effort as a whole. Essentially, Curtin’s move was in accord with the likely and preferred Allied strategy for the rest of the war and the territorial limitations such that conscripted troops could only be used south of the Equator confirmed that Australia’s role in the rest of the war would be ‘to relieve American troops in bases and reoccupied territory when the Americans moved forward’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 348] Hasluck found no evidence that Curtin’s move to conscription was ‘forced on him by any Allied request’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1965, p. 349]

STATUTE OF WESTMINSTER

The Statute of Westminster, passed through the British Parliament in 1931, has been described as the legislative declaration by the British that

the self-governing Dominions of the Empire were fully independent states, free from any British control, and able to form their own defence and foreign policies. [John Hirst, ‘Statute of Westminster’ in Oxford Companion to Australian History, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 609]

In this context, the decision of the Curtin Government and External Affairs Minister Evatt in the second half of 1942 to legislate for the parliamentary ratification of the Statute of Westminster, eleven years after the passage of the imperial act, is generally seen as a major step forward in Australia’s preparedness to forge its own legal identity in the international arena as distinct from seeking consultation before participation within an imperial foreign policy. However, it is important to emphasise that the stated primary motivation for the ratification was to remove what Evatt and others saw as important legal impediments to the legal powers of the dominions. Furthermore, there remains considerable contention as to when Australia truly became an independent state in the international context, perhaps only after the passage of the Australia Acts in 1985 and 1986.

With the United Australia Party in power for the first ten years after the UK Statute was passed, Australia, unlike Canada and South Africa, had reacted coolly to the document and made no attempt to ratify the five key sections of the Act which required separate Australian action: this proviso had been inserted at the earlier insistence of the Bruce–Page Government. According to Menzies (who was still using the term British Empire as late as 1938) the Balfour Report of 1926 itself had been a mistake—‘a misguided attempt to reduce to written terms something which was a matter of spirit and not of the letter’. [Andrews, A History of Australian Foreign Policy. From Dependence to Independence, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1979, p. 64] Now, however, according to one of Evatt’s biographers the ratification of the Statute of Westminster

affirmed the full international sovereignty of Australia and swept away the repugnancy provisions of the Colonial Laws Validity Act (1865) where Imperial legislation was supreme in the event of conflict with dominion legislation. [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 180]

By contrast, another historian has suggested that essentially the government adopted the Statute

with a mind for the sweeping powers needed for Labor’s management of the war effort and commitment to social reforms in the postwar years, rather than as a formal statement of the Dominion–British relationship. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 166]

Given the tenuous parliamentary position of the Curtin Government in 1942 Evatt himself, in the course of parliamentary debate in October on the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act, endeavoured to allay Opposition fears that the war crises were being used

to weaken the relation of Australia to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth…[by] stressing the technical legal reasons why Australia should acquire an extension of legislative competence already obtained by Canada and South Africa. [Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1929–1949, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, p. 137]

Evatt argued that Australia’s international status was already fully recognised by Britain and ‘throughout the world’ [CPD (House of Representatives), Vol. 172, 2 October 1942, p. 1388] and that the adoption was only necessary for very ‘practical reasons’, in particular restrictions relating to (a) Australia’s capacity to legislate within its own territory whenever such acts were in conflict with imperial legislation particularly in relation to merchant shipping and (b) Australia’s capacity to make laws with extra-territorial operation, that is to legislate on matters affecting its own affairs but which took place outside Australia’s territorial limits, for example concerning whaling and fishing .

The act also provided that in future the imperial government could only legislate for Australia at the latter’s specific request. Interestingly, the Lyons Government had made some moves to ratify the relevant sections of the Statute as early as 1937 but ‘backed off’ due to opposition from some States and from within their own ranks. [Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament. A narrative history of the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, Burwood: Melbourne University Press, 1988, p. 353] According to Evatt in 1942, far from acting in this way to take advantage of the war situation, the government was legislating because existing restrictions were proving to be ‘even more irksome in war-time than in peace-time’. [Souter, Acts of Parliament. A narrative history of the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, Burwood: Melbourne University Press, 1988, p. 1398] It should also be noted that the act applied only to the Commonwealth and did not remove the capacity of the States in Australia on certain issues to relate directly to the Imperial Government and vice versa.

ANZAC AGREEMENT (PACT)

The Australia–New Zealand Agreement or Pact is said by one of Evatt’s biographers to have

encapsulated Evatt’s security, status and constitutional concerns…It reflected a fear that Australia’s defence requirements were being sacrificed to global security and big-power considerations. The agreement was his most comprehensive, nationalistic statement of regional security demands, and was also the first formal arrangement to be reached by Australia without British involvement. [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 204]

Evatt considered Australia and New Zealand were ‘natural allies with similar backgrounds, attitudes, cultures and geographical proximity, bonded by adversity and common assumptions about the future’. [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 204] With this in mind, historians generally agree that the idea for the Australia–New Zealand Agreement signed in 1944 arose directly out of the Australian Government’s reaction to the Cairo Conference held from 22 to 26 November 1943 attended by the leaders of the UK, USA and China. Evatt and other Australian leaders took particular umbrage at a number of important decisions made without wider consultation relating to such matters as the future administration and disposal of the Japanese Mandated Territories, the return of Formosa (Taiwan) and the future of Korea after the end of the war. As expressed by Alan Watt the

. . . failure to consult fostered fear that post-war settlements would be determined by the Great Powers exclusively, despite the contributions to the general war effort made by smaller powers, and despite the special interests of the two Dominions in the Pacific area. [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 73]

While New Zealand shared Australia’s concern at the lack of consultation, Australia took the initiative. This was both in terms of arranging for a conference between the two nations to be held in Canberra (while delaying notifying Britain about the conference) and then, shortly after the conference began on 17 January 1944, putting forward the suggestion that ‘items of the agreement should be embodied in a treaty’.

Evatt’s first hint of the direction in which he was moving came in the immediate wake of an important speech he made to the House of Representatives in Australia in October 1943 during which he had stressed that Australia’s ‘predominant interest’ was in the Pacific Regions and that Australia had a ‘leading part’ to play in those regions because of ‘our special geographical position, and our growing responsibility and power’. [Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, pp. 478-9; Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), Vol. 179, pp. 39–40] To this end, he contended, ‘permanent collaboration’ between Australia and New Zealand was ‘pivotal to a sound post-war Pacific policy’. A week later he wrote to the New Zealand High Commissioner suggesting an ‘early exchange of views between Ministers’ and, after various delays, agreement was reached by the end of the year for the conference to proceed. Hasluck suggests [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 480] that the proceedings of the conference were considerably expedited by the preparatory work done by the Australian Department of External Affairs and by the annotated agenda circulated by Evatt, and out of the conference discussions emerged the Australia–New Zealand Agreement or Anzac Agreement (also referred to as the Anzac Pact) dated 21 January 1944. In addition, accompanying the agreement were Notes on the Agenda which stressed the failure to consult Australia about the Cairo Declaration ‘although the latter vitally affected the distribution of power in the Pacific’. As a consequence, ‘positions of great importance were given away for no consideration and without any special regard for the interests of unrepresented countries like Australia and New Zealand’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 482]

In the Agreement proper the two Governments agreed in broad terms

to exchange information, seek to reach a common view and the “maximum degree of unity” in the presentation of it, to adopt expeditious and continuous means of consultation, and to act together in matters of common concern in the South-West and South Pacific areas. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 480]

The two countries urged that full-scale negotiations with Germany await the end of the Pacific War and that Australia and New Zealand be represented ‘at the highest level on all armistice planning and executive bodies’. [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 75] Within the framework of a general system of world security they asserted (Article 13) that a regional zone of defence for the South–West and South Pacific areas ‘shall be established’ and this should be based on Australia and New Zealand. Significantly, Curtin who was Minister for Defence as well as prime minister, placed the Agreement in broader terms when, in a statement to the conference, he indicated that ‘security would rest on three safeguards—national defence, Empire cooperation and the system of collective security “organised on a world and regional basis”.’[Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 481] For his part, the New Zealand Prime Minister Fraser expressed doubts ‘as to the practicability of regional bodies for the preservation of world peace’ instead placing more stress on a world organisation ‘in which Australia and New Zealand could express their viewpoints on world problems’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 481] In this regard, both countries agreed that as well as becoming members they should be associated with the ‘planning and establishment’ of the proposed United Nations organisation.

One especially forceful part of the Agreement concerned ‘policing arrangements’ and the statement that ‘it would be proper for Australia and New Zealand to assume full responsibility for policing or sharing in policing such areas in the South-West and South Pacific as may from time to time be agreed upon’. Hasluck, [The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 485] has suggested that this essentially related to the need for the two countries to have a ‘defence screen’ through the islands to protect them from invasion in the future. Curtin, again speaking in his capacity as Minister for Defence, made it clear to the conference that Australia and New Zealand could not provide simultaneously for the defence of the screen and the local defence of their territories without assistance and this led to the Australian desire for the establishment of various zones of defence by agreement with Britain, the US and other colonial powers in the region.

In somewhat more provocative fashion the two powers also stated in Article 16 that the construction of war time installations (i.e. by the United States) had not in itself ‘afforded any basis for territorial claims or rights of sovereignty or control after the conclusion of hostilities’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 482] This was an important pointer to the dispute which developed subsequently between Evatt and the United States over the future use of Manus Island and was one part of the agreement which was regarded in the US as either insulting or unnecessary given that it was US military power which ‘had saved the two dominions from possible invasion’ and at a time when its ‘resources and manpower’ were still being expended in the defeat of the Japanese. [See Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 76]

The final results of discussions of the major issues were expressed in Articles 26 and 27 of the Agreement:

26. The two Governments declare that the interim administration and ultimate disposal of enemy territories in the Pacific is of vital importance to Australia and New Zealand and that any such disposal should be effected only with their agreement and as part of a general Pacific settlement.

27. The two Governments declare that no change in the sovereignty or system of control of any of the islands of the Pacific should be effected except as a result of an agreement to which they are parties or in the terms of which they have both concurred.

In Article 28 both countries also gave their support to the notion that the doctrine of ‘trusteeship’ was applicable ‘in broad principle to all colonial territories in the Pacific and elsewhere’ with its main purpose ‘the welfare of the native peoples’. They also agreed to the establishment of a South Seas Regional Commission to secure a common policy concerning the ‘advancement and well-being’ of the native peoples. At the same time, however, concern about possible challenges to their immigration policy in the postwar period led the two governments to affirm in Article 32 support for ‘the accepted principle that every government has the right to control immigration and emigration in regard to all territories within its jurisdiction.’ [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 483]

Hasluck has described the Anzac Agreement as ‘a sort of Pacific counterpart to the Big Power declaration [i.e. the Cairo Declaration] by which parts of their [Australia and New Zealand’s] own declaration had been provoked’. The Australian cabinet ratified the agreement on 24 January and the New Zealand Government on 1 February. In response to calls for a parliamentary debate on the Agreement, Evatt told the House of Representatives that the Agreement was in the category of a treaty and as such did not require parliamentary ratification being essentially ‘an arrangement between the two Governments as to how an important part of their foreign and external relationships shall be conducted’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 484; CPD (House of Representatives), Vol. 177, p. 71]

Assessments of the Anzac Agreement range from those describing its stronger provisions as ‘unnecessary and provocative’ to those who admired the government for its ‘temerity’. Although, for the first time ever, Australia had entered into an international agreement to which Britain was not a party (in this regard making it a forerunner to ANZUS), for the most part the agreement was welcomed by the UK Government and the British Press. [CPD (House of Representatives), Vol, 181, p. 65; Peter Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 205] This was perhaps as much as anything else because it could be seen as a partial reversal of Curtin’s 1942 New Year’s message. For the United States by contrast, their already hostile attitude to aspects of Evatt’s diplomacy was only augmented by this ‘regional presumptuousness’ though the formal response of the US was limited to ‘reminding’ the signatory governments that any decision concerning Anzac territories was ‘ entirely without prejudice to other countries’. Alan Watt [The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, pp. 76–77] has also suggested that the Agreement made the United States more reluctant to use Anzac forces in military operations liberating Pacific Islands from Japanese control in case this gave rise to subsequent postwar claims.

The significance of the Anzac Agreement faded fairly quickly with time but it certainly foreshadowed the fact that Australia, through Evatt, intended to take ‘vigorous initiatives in pressing publicly views on the post-war settlement without much regard to the susceptibilities of its greatest and closest allies’. [Watt The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 77] It can also be regarded in some respects as the forerunner of the ANZUS treaty signed between Australia, New Zealand and the United States in 1951. As Evatt contended in 1944 ‘it is necessary to get rid once and for all of the idea that Australia’s international status is not a reality and that we were to remain adolescent forever’. [CPD (House of Representatives), Vol. 179, 19 July 1944, p. 229].

CURTIN, CHURCHILL AND THE FUTURE OF THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH

Curtin’s New Year message at the end of 1941 is widely, and in essence correctly, interpreted as marking the first major break from Australia’s perception of its foreign policy as inevitably best served by its participation in the making of imperial foreign policy. However, the tenor of Curtin’s visit to the United Kingdom for the imperial Conference in 1944 and his input concerning ensuring a British presence in the eventual victory against Japan suggest ‘a wish to ensure that British interest and influence in the region were maintained after the war’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 436] Evatt, for his part, in October 1943 had already suggested that

…there were two means for expression of Australian views. One was by consultation within the British Commonwealth with a view to joint action. The other was by using Australia’s ‘distinct international status’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 474]

Because these ties were so important Evatt suggested it was essential to ‘improve the machinery for consultation’. Hasluck considers that the main difference between Curtin and Evatt on these issues was that Curtin came to appreciate the value of an association based on ‘loyalty and habits’ while Evatt was more interested in the opportunity Australia received from its involvement in the British Commonwealth to exert its own influence. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 476]

At the 1944 Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London on 15 May, two weeks after he had arrived in London from the United States, Curtin, following on from similar proposals he had first raised in the aftermath of the August 1943 election and then put before the ALP Federal Conference in December in his so-called ‘fourth empire speech’ [see Black, In His Own Words: John Curtin’s speeches and writings, Perth: Paradigm Books Curtin University, 1995, p. 238], sought support from the Commonwealth prime ministers for the establishment of a new permanent structure for the British Commonwealth. Day has suggested that in the aftermath of the 1943 election victory Curtin was returning to a commitment to the British Empire ‘as the surest way of providing for Australia’s postwar security while also amplifying the voice that Australia would otherwise have in the world’ and that he remained suspicious of US ambitions ‘to retain bases it had constructed on foreign territories across the Pacific including Australia’. [Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 522] Day also suggests that there were obvious political advantages for Curtin in stressing Australia’s continuing loyalty to the ‘ties of empire’. [Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 523]

Curtin’s speech to the ALP Federal Conference in December came in the same month as the announcement of his decision to have the Duke of Gloucester appointed as Australia’s Governor-General in succession to Lord Gowrie. Curtin’s proposal to the conference and subsequently in a memorandum for the Conference of Prime Ministers [Memorandum by Curtin, 15 May 1944, JCPML00129/26] was that there be established an Empire Council which involved the appointment of a standing committee of High Commissioners (any one of whom could be ‘replaced at appropriate intervals by a special representative who could be a Minister’) and the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, and supported by a secretariat on which all dominions would be represented and which could be shifted among the different capitals of the empire. [Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 525; Black, In His Own Words: John Curtin’s Speeches and Writings, Perth: Paradigm Books Curtin University, 1995, p. 238] Churchill, who was opposed to the proposal but recognised that ‘he could not afford to lead the opposition to it when there was much sympathy in the British press for Curtin’s position’ stayed away from the session on 15 May at which Curtin’s proposals were discussed leaving to Canadian Prime Minister McKenzie-King the task of scuttling the proposal which received little or no support. [See Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 543]

Despite their differences on this issue relations between Curtin and Churchill had improved significantly in the two weeks before the Empire Council came before the Prime Ministers’ Conference. In particular, in the midst of other activities, including a number of meetings with members of the royal family, Curtin spent three weekends in whole or in part with Churchill at Chequers and at the formal closing of the conference on 16 May he thanked Churchill as the Conference chair, claiming that nobody ‘could have steered us through these deliberations more graciously, more inspiringly, or more successfully’. [Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 545] Churchill in turn responded at a luncheon of the Australia Club (and chaired by the Duke of Gloucester) by offering the ‘right hand of friendship to that most commanding, competent, whole-hearted leader of the Australian people’. On that occasion, Curtin in his reply referred to Australia as ‘presently located within an American sphere of responsibility’ but without involving ‘any relocation of relationships’. [Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 546] According to Lloyd Ross, these events, and the stirring speeches Curtin made on 10 May, the day he received the freedom of the City of London, suggest that Curtin’s empire proposal was explained with ‘enthusiasm and complete sincerity’ and certainly ‘no new-found attachment’. [See reference to draft papers by Lloyd Ross in Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 544]

On one other major issue Curtin also achieved an important degree of agreement with Churchill. Curtin’s concern that Australia should be able to reduce its active participation in the war effort in terms of the supply of fighting forces in order to free up resources to assist the Allies in their war effort in the Pacific was linked to his attempt to secure a greater British naval commitment for the remainder of the war. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 430] Following discussions in London and in Washington Curtin was able to report on 2 June an agreement from the Combined Chiefs of Staff that Australia could reduce its service commitments ‘on the suggested basis of a reduction to six divisions and two armoured brigades’ thus releasing manpower for assisting US and UK forces and the civilian population with the provision of and food exports to the UK. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 429] Indeed, it was this agreement that the Australian press saw as the major achievement of his travels when he returned home. However, in August Curtin was informed by Churchill that the United Kingdom Defence Committee believed that the situation had changed since the Casablanca Agreement at the end of 1942 when Britain had agreed that ‘on the defeat of Germany’ she would assist the US ‘to the utmost of her power to defeat Japan’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 433] Instead, the strategy now would be for the British to concentrate on fighting in Burma and on the Indian frontier, with the aim of being able to provide more direct assistance to China. For a time it seemed that Churchill and Britain were going their own way and ignoring Australian concerns but, as it eventuated, Curtin, in a cable to Churchill on 21 September 1944, was able to express his ‘heartiest congratulations and warmest regards’ for the agreement reached at Quebec between Britain and the US that Britain would assist in the war against Japan though the actual method of deployment would be decided from ‘time to time in accordance with prevailing circumstances’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 435]

CURTIN AND ROOSEVELT 1944

Curtin’s role at the Prime Ministers’ Conference needs also to be seen in the widest possible context of seeking to secure Australia’s place in the postwar world. Until the 1943 election Curtin had rejected all proposals that he should travel overseas (including constant urging by President Roosevelt for him to visit Washington), contending that his first priority was the defence and indeed survival of Australia and that he could conduct negotiations with the Allies by cable. He also had his own personal dislike of air travel and the domestic political problem of lacking a working majority in either House of Parliament without the support of independents, and in the Senate some members of the Opposition.

In September 1943 he did meet Eleanor Roosevelt in Canberra and in March 1944 he used a dinner in honour of the second anniversary of MacArthur’s arrival in Australia to express his gratitude to MacArthur who, he said, had

exhibited a regard for the rights of this Government and its people, which could not have been exceeded if he had been an officer of our army. [Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 1944]

This speech reflected Curtin’s awareness that the relationship with MacArthur was coming to an end [Day, John Curtin a Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 533] and his forthcoming trip to the United States on the way to and after the Prime Ministers’ Conference would be concerned now with the future of Australia after the war rather than how to ensure its defence during the war. Initially Roosevelt, assuring Curtin that Australia ‘was pulling its weight in the boat’, had proposed comprehensive talks with Curtin on ‘the future military, naval and air protection of Australia’ and ‘the future policing of the whole Pacific and Asiatic area.’ [letter from Roosevelt to Curtin 3 January 1944, JCPML00266/3] However, Day suggests [John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 537] that the US reaction to the Anzac Agreement meant this would not now occur.

Curtin and his wife reached Washington on 23 April and there is no formal record of what was said in talks between the two leaders during the two days Curtin stayed at the White House. Christopher Thorne considers that Curtin spent much of his time in an after-lunch discussion defending the Anzac Agreement accepting that it had resulted from ‘what may well prove to be an excess of enthusiasm’ [Thorpe, Allies of a Kind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 486 cited in Day, John Curtin A Life, Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, p. 538] and that Roosevelt suggested it would be best to ‘forget the whole incident’. Subsequently Curtin was taken ill and by the time he had recovered he needed to commence his journey to the UK in order to arrive in time for the Prime Ministers’ Conference. Returning to the US after a few days in Canada Curtin addressed the National Press Club on 5 June suggesting that

America should not go to sleep upon its responsibility…We had been fighting for two years before you started. The struggle for Australia I felt was as vital to the global war against the enemy Powers as was the preservation of other important strategic locations…I put it you quite flatly: if Australia had gone you would have had no place open for a base from which to fight the Japanese. [Black, In His Own Words: John Curtin’s Speeches and Writings, Perth: Paradigm Books Curtin University, 1995, p. 245]

His tone, however, was much warmer in a broadcast from Washington on 26 April:

Americans have a good way of life, I believe that in Australia we have a good way of life too. Those ways are not dissimilar . . . We have found in the war much in common, and what we have found in common will endure. [Black, In His Own Words: John Curtin’s Speeches and Writings, Perth: Paradigm Books Curtin University, 1995, p. 245]

And a week earlier

I am deeply grateful to the United States for what has been done . . . I shall ever be grateful, as will the Australian people ever be grateful. [Black, In His Own Words: John Curtin’s Speeches and Writings, Perth: Paradigm Books Curtin University, 1995, p. 245]

BRETTON WOODS AGREEMENT

The Bretton Woods Agreement developed from the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference held from 1–22 July 1944 at Bretton Woods, a resort area in northern New Hampshire in the United States. Australia was represented at the Conference thought ‘on an official expert level only’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 467] The ideal of full employment was central to Australia’s contribution at the conference reflecting the ALP belief that the ‘pursuit of full employment would promote international trade and thus remove the underlying causes of tensions between states’. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 174] For an export-driven economy any expansion of international trade would also have obvious domestic economic benefits.

Related to this was Australia’s reaction to Article VII of the February 1942 Mutual Aid Agreement between Britain and the United States concerned with principles of postwar economic cooperation. The broad goals of the 1942 Agreement included policies designed to achieve an expansion of production, employment and the exchange and consumption of goods, and moves towards eliminating trade discrimination including tariffs. Australia was involved with and broadly sympathetic to these objectives but was understandably hesitant about the possibility of what it considered as too rapid moves (in particular by the United States) towards the elimination of tariff protection measures. As such, Australia lobbied for a coordinated British Commonwealth push to focus on the broader objectives of the 1942 Agreement and to couple the removal of trade barriers with policies promoting high levels of ‘employment, production and consumption’. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 174] Indeed it can be argued [After Nicholas Wise Norman, ‘Swinging the Club: Relations between the United States and the British Commonwealth in the Economic Transition from War to Peace 1943–1948’, Ph.D thesis, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, 1994 cited in Lowe ‘Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 174] that from 1944 onwards the Commonwealth displayed a high degree of ‘collective strength and cohesion’ in pursuing economic objectives and it was in this context that Australian economists argued forcefully for full employment at Bretton Woods and secured agreement to the incorporation of the promotion of full employment as an integral part of the United Nations Charter.

Full employment policies had been central to important aspects of Australian government policy since 1943. During a series of extension lectures held at the University of Melbourne the university term commencing in May, economist L F Giblin, who as Chairman of the Government’s Financial and Economic Advisory Committee had supervised the preparation of an inter-departmental reply on Australia’s position in relation to Article VII), argued (the lecture has subsequently been published as Realities of Reconstruction) that ‘freedom from want’ would be a matter of ‘outstanding concern in postwar planning’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 460] In his view, prevention of unemployment would be ‘the sort of thing the Australian people want more than anything else after the war’ and this in turn he considered would require ‘effective international agreement to keep up employment’ otherwise high employment policies in Australia could lead to an adverse balance of trade. In this vein the Australian delegation to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Conference at Hot Springs Virginia in May and June 1943 advanced the argument that in order to achieve a substantial improvement in nutrition and food production there needed to be a high level of employment in advanced economic countries to provide a strong demand for food and agricultural products. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 462]

During the first half of 1944 a series of conferences and meetings were utilised by Australian delegations to advance the need for an International Employment Agreement ‘in which each of the United Nations would pledge itself to pursue domestic policies of full employment as an indispensable basis for the success of all other international economic agreements’. [L F Crisp, Ben Chifley A Political Biography, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1977 (1961), p. 201] Chifley as Treasurer was seeking British support to urge this approach on the United States while earlier Evatt had secured Cabinet agreement that Australian officials at every opportunity would be instructed to ‘urge the acceptance of Australian proposals for an agreement on employment policy’. At the beginning of February the New Zealand Cabinet also expressed broad agreement with a statement of Australian foreign policy which emphasised achieving a high level of employment in order to raise standards of living throughout the world, international economic collaboration in the transition period after the war and a high degree of collaboration as a permanent feature of international economic relations (though with some room for short term national control policies as required to ensure continued stability).

The outcomes of preliminary British Commonwealth monetary discussions in London in March 1944 raised some problems for the Curtin Government concerning the proposed draft monetary agreement. Thus in the following month the so-called Philadelphia Charter, arising from the 26th International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference fell well short of a fully fledged International Employment Agreement though full employment and the raising of standards of living were listed among a number of goals ‘which nations had an obligation to try to achieve’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 466] With some reservations within Cabinet about the direction the major powers were taking, Australia, as already indicated, sent a four person delegation of experts led by economist Professor L G (later Sir Leslie) Melville, economic adviser to the Commonwealth Bank, to attend the Bretton Woods UN Monetary and Financial Conference commencing on 1 July. The prime purpose of the Conference was to discuss the establishment of an International Monetary Fund, described by Crisp as ‘a stabilisation scheme to provide supervision over international exchange rates and assistance for member nations in temporary balance of payments difficulties’. [Crisp, Ben Chifley A Political Biography, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1977 (1961), p. 201] As it emerged from the conference the purpose of the fund was

to promote international monetary cooperation;
to facilitate the expansion and balanced growth of international trade;
to influence countries to correct maladjustments in their balance of payments and to fulfill their obligations under the fund.

Secondly, an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development was to be established to ‘finance rehabilitation and reconstruction during the transitional period between war and peace’ by the provision of longer-term loan capital. Recommendations were also put forward concerning the need to ‘reduce tariffs and other trade barriers’ and for governments to ‘facilitate by cooperative effort . . . national policies of member States designed to promote and maintain high levels of employment and progressively rising standards of living’.

The Australian delegation was unsuccessful in its attempt to secure a specific agreement to maintain high levels of employment on the grounds that this would be an ‘intrusion’ into domestic policy. Nevertheless, in their report the delegates asserted that there were ‘good prospects of securing widespread support’ for an employment agreement in due course. Hasluck [The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 488] has described this view as ‘somewhat optimistic’ but the issue was pursued further at the San Francisco Conference where the Australian delegates attempted to secure an obligation in the Charter for the UN to promote ‘higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development’. In this regard, they had some success achieving the incorporation into Article 56 of the Charter of a pledge for members to ‘take independent, separate national action to achieve full employment…’ In addition, during the course of the Conference the government at home published its own White Paper on Full Employment.

Recent research by Tim Rowse [‘Curtin and Labor’s full employment promise’, paper presented to JCPML seminar ‘From Curtin to Coombs: war and peace in Australia’, 25 March 2003 JCPML00793/1/2] has indicated that Curtin himself played a major role in the preparation of the White Paper issued on 31 May 1945. It was he who directed that it be written soon after his return from his 1944 overseas trip to the USA and Britain, where the Churchill Government had already published its own White Paper ‘Employment policy’. According to Rowse one of the major reasons for Curtin’s interest in the project was his endeavour to reconcile the competing demands for preference to ex-service personnel and for trade unionists respectively:

the best way in which to meet our obligations to both [military and civilian] sections of the community is by ensuring that there shall be jobs for everyone capable of and willing to work, for then the question of preference will not arise. [Curtin and Labor’s Full Employment Promise paper presented to JCPML seminar ‘From Curtin to Coombs: war and peace in Australia’, 25 March 2003 JCPML00793/1/2 p. 2]

Rowse’s research shows that Curtin made constant and detailed suggestions and directives concerning the wording of the document and although the White Paper was criticised by many commentators as ‘pallid’ and ineffective ‘the Chifley Government from 1945 until its defeat in December 1949, made a series of attempts to rise to the political challenge of full employment’. [‘Curtin and Labor’s full employment promise’, paper presented to JCPML seminar ‘From Curtin to Coombs: war and peace in Australia’, 25 March 2003 JCPML00793/1/2 p. 11]

More broadly, while the Curtin Government’s achievements on full employment issues in the international area during the wartime years did fall short of the government’s own stated objectives they were nevertheless significant. At the same time, it must be conceded that the government’s emphasis on the employment issue in the international context was open to criticism on the grounds that the maintenance of full employment in advanced industrialised countries, while in line with more idealistic objectives concerned with advancing international standards of living, was also of considerable potential domestic economic advantage to Australia.

The real problems for the Labor Governments with the international agreements came in immediate postwar years. In his biography of Ben Chifley L F Crisp has written at length on Chifley’s long-term problems in securing Australian ratification of the Bretton Woods Agreement in an era when wartime unity was steadily fading. While the Opposition parties were broadly in favour of Australian acceptance of the Bretton Woods outcomes, to many Labor politicians and party members the international agreements were seen as a potential threat to ‘their Party’s traditional protectionism and, potentially, to Australia’s employment levels and living standards’. [Crisp, Ben Chifley A Political Biography, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1977 (1961), p. 201] Many also expressed concern that Australia’s capacity to vary its own exchange rates could be severely restricted. Thus, the Australian delegates were instructed by Chifley in 1944 to add their signatures to the Bretton Woods agreement solely ‘as a certificate of its accuracy as a record of the proceedings’ [Crisp, Ben Chifley A Political Biography, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1977 (1961), p. 204] and although the Agreement was tabled in Parliament the agreement for the time being was left in abeyance to avoid ‘real Party disunity’. By the end of 1945 31 nations had ratified the Agreement but it was not until March 1947, and then only after a long and tense set of negotiations within the Party, that Chifley was finally able to secure parliamentary acceptance.

In his speech during the closing and finally successful stages of the parliamentary struggle Chifley told the House that

I try to look at the broad general outline of these matters without thought of any political advantage to the Labour [sic] Party or any other Party. I think of the advantages that the whole of mankind should derive from any such international agreement. On that basis the Bretton Woods Agreement is justified…If we have any love for mankind and a desire to free future generations from the terrible happenings of these last thirty years, we must put our faith in these organisations…in order to allow future generations…to attain a reasonable and decent standard of living to which every human being, black or white, is entitled’. [Crisp, Ben Chifley A Political Biography, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1977 (1961), p. 210]

Slowly but surely Australia was beginning to accept the implications of the existence of a global economy.

UNITED NATIONS

The idea of the United Nations as an international peace-keeping organisation, both building on and learning from the experiences and failures of the League of Nations, was first spelt out in Paragraph Four of the declaration signed at the Big Three wartime Allied Conference held at Moscow from 19 to 30 October. Previously, Churchill and Roosevelt in August 1941 had agreed on a number of broad principles including national self-determination after the war and provision for ‘a permanent system of general security’ [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 173] and these became known as the Atlantic Charter. Australia pledged its support for these principles early in 1942 and was also represented on the International Labour Organisation Conference which endorsed the principles in October-November 1941. Addressing Parliament on 14 October 1943 Evatt stated that Australia should do its utmost to see that the principles were ‘transformed into actuality’ [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 450] and Curtin secured support from the Commonwealth ALP Conference at the end of 1943 for a resolution stating that ‘Australia should continue to collaborate with other peace-loving nations to establish a peace according to the principles of the Atlantic Charter’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 450]

The Moscow declaration, in addition to matters concerning the pursuit of the war and the ‘surrender and disarmament’ of the enemies, included a recognition of the ‘necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organisation for the maintenance of international peace and security, based on the principle of the equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states, large and small’. Subsequently, at a Big Three meeting at Teheran from 28 November to 1 December 1943, the leaders promised to work together for a peace following the war that would ‘banish the scourge and terror of war for many generations’. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 472] The term ‘United Nations’ itself seems to have been first suggested by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was also the term that the Allies used to refer to their alliance against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

As already indicated, at this stage of the war Australian foreign policy was to an ever- increasing extent being focussed on her concern at what was seen as the repeated failure of the Allies to ‘consult Australia on matters affecting Australia’s interests’. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 473] What particularly affronted Evatt was that the wartime Allied conferences ‘should reach agreement and publish the commitments of the Great Powers to each other on matters with which Australia was vitally concerned without a prior Government-to-Government communication seeking Australian concurrence’. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 473] Both Curtin and Evatt saw part of the solution in improved machinery promoting ongoing consultation within the British Commonwealth as ‘one of the few available opportunities for Australia to take an effective part in the conduct of the war and the pursuit of her postwar international objectives’ and this line was pursued but failed to attract support when Curtin attended the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ meeting in 1944. Evatt, on the other hand, came to see that ‘wider opportunities’ would arise from the proposed United Nations organisation where he envisaged mobilising new and more numerous supporters from among smaller nations. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 476]

Between 21 August and 7 October 1944 representatives of France, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the USA and the USSR met at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Georgetown, Washington DC, there to elaborate the plans for the proposed new organisation. These plans entailed the establishment of a Security Council to represent the big powers, a General Assembly with delegates from all nations, a permanent world court, a secretariat and a body to oversee the administration of trust territories (previously referred to as mandated territories). [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 214] The Dumbarton Oaks talks and later meetings were the precursors to the United Nations Conference on International Organisations held in San Francisco from 25 April to 26 June 1945 and attended by representatives of fifty nations including Australia. On 26 June these fifty countries, and then Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed the Charter of the United Nations as original signatories and, following ratification by the five permanent members of the Security Council (the same five countries which attended at Dumbarton Oaks) and a majority of the other signatories, the UN came into existence on 24 October 1945. Most significant was the ratification by the US Senate by a vote of 89 to 2 on 28 July 1945 given that the non-ratification of the League of Nations by the US had been one of the major contributing factors to the eventual failure of that organisation.

At the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in May 1944, Curtin agreed with the British proposal that the Commonwealth nations give broad support to the principles being enunciated in the Moscow Declaration, adding that, in the light of the experience of the League of Nations, the Commonwealth members should go to ‘extreme lengths’ to secure United States support for the new international organisation. By the time the Dumbarton Oaks draft was published in October 1944 [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 495-6] arrangements were in hand for the first Australia-New Zealand meeting arising out of the Anzac Pact which took place in Wellington from 1 to 6 November attended by Ministers Forde and Evatt from the Australian Government and advisers from the Department of External Affairs. An important set of conclusions arising from this meeting concerned the proposed General International Organisation and in these general support was indicated for the Dumbarton Oaks draft but with an emphasis on certain principles deemed important to Australia namely

the need to preserve ‘the territorial integrity and political independence of members . . . against change by force or threat of force from another power’;

that while conceding that the success of the organisation would ‘depend upon the leadership of the Great Powers . . . it is essential that all members should actively participate in the general control and direction of its affairs’ and thus the General Assembly should be able to deal with any matter within the sphere of action of the Organisation and concerning ‘the settlement of disputes and action to be taken against an aggressor’, ‘subject only to the executive powers of the Security Council’; and

the need for ‘the maximum employment of the International Court of Justice for the ascertainment of facts which may be in dispute’.

These resolutions were approved by the Australian Cabinet on 10 November and by the New Zealand Cabinet six days later. The most controversial aspect of the Australia–New Zealand reaction was their strong support for the establishment of an international supervisory body concerned with maintaining oversight in terms of principle of trusteeship by those ‘powers responsible for dependent territories’. Where Churchill felt that the Atlantic Charter principle of self-determination was only meant to apply to Europe, Evatt urged that it should apply to all colonial territories, not just those which were held under mandates from the United Nations. Aside from the idealistic aspects of this policy the hope was that new nationalisms in Asia might ‘be shaped into moderate forms’. [Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 176] The Australian Government eventually defused conflict with the British over the issue with a statement that Australia’s support for a supervisory body was not intended to cause interference with ‘the sovereignty and control’ of such territories by parent states. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 497]

Throughout 1944 and into 1945 Australia also gave close attention to and support for various proposed international agencies. Legislation was passed providing for Australian membership of the FAO and of UNRRA and UNESCO, the latter having first been proposed in October 1942 and eventually coming into existence in November 1945. Australian representatives also participated in the work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and of the Inter-Governmental Committee on refugees.

However, Australian activity in world affairs ‘came to its wartime climax’ [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 503] with its participation in the San Francisco Conference commencing in April 1945. The Australian delegation consisted of Deputy Prime Minister Forde and Evatt, accompanied by 16 ‘assistants and consultants’ (of whom only three or four had technical expertise as distinct from a community representation basis) and seven ‘advisers’ (all of whom were in government service). The presence of Forde (apparently at Curtin’s insistence) led to what Alan Watt has described as ‘an absurd and childish division of the Australian delegation into two camps, each living on a different floor of the same hotel’ [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 81] and with the ‘Evatt team’ in possession of ‘most of the documents’. [See Paul Hasluck, ‘Australia and the formation of the United Nations’, Royal Australian Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, XL, III p. 160 cited in Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 82] Nevertheless, Hasluck concedes that the delegation was ‘especially well prepared’ through prior discussions of key issues, a wealth of documentation and the availability of the services of the expert advisers. Even so, at the conference the main burden fell on the two delegates, and especially Evatt who is said to have displayed enormous physical and mental energy [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 507] and emerged as the ‘greatest champion of ‘the small powers’.

In September 1944 Evatt had made a major speech to the House of Representatives in which he outlined his views on a number of aspects that would arise at San Francisco. On that occasion he told the House that the ‘community of nations consists of small and near-great powers as well as the Big Three or the Big Four’ and a central problem was to ensure that 'these leading powers will pay due regard to the old but still cherished doctrine of equality of States’ and hence allow ‘fair representation to smaller powers . . . and so gain their confidence and support’. [CPD (House of Representatives) Vol. 179, 8 September 1944, p. 603] Evatt argued strongly concerning the need for adequate representation of small and middle powers on the executive authority to ensure ‘a balanced outlook on world affairs’ and that ‘no distinct region of the globe and no important group of nations’ should be left unrepresented. [CPD (House of Representatives) Vol. 179, 8 September 1944, p. 604].

By the time the members of the British Commonwealth had gathered together in London early in April 1945 to consider the Dumbarton Oaks Draft, the great powers at Yalta in affirming the Dumbarton Oaks proposals in February had adopted a voting formula for the Security Council providing for a veto by major powers. Evatt played an especially prominent role at the April meeting [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 215; Hasluck, ‘The formation of the United Nations’, Royal Australian Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, XL, III p. 160] arguing that the veto proposal should be limited ‘except in cases of emergency’ and with provision for ‘a majority of the great powers to take enforcement action against aggression’ notwithstanding a veto by one or more of the great powers. He also opposed the big powers having ‘unrestricted power’ to veto any proposed change to the United Nations Charter. More broadly, he urged that the General Assembly should ‘be given powers and functions which would enable it in practice to be the central body of the world organisation’ [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 504]; that ‘Australia and other lesser powers exercise leadership so as to moderate big power supremacy’; and to support [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 216] a more activist approach on matters of colonial trusteeship and on economic and social aspects of the Charter.

At the San Francisco Conference itself Australia and New Zealand (whose prime minister, Peter Fraser, attended as a delegate in his capacity as his country’s Minister for External Affairs) worked closely together and to this extent in Hasluck’s view made ‘both countries an acknowledged force at San Francisco’. [Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 505]

In total, Australia proposed 38 amendments of substance to the Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta conclusions and 26 of these were either adopted without significant change or achieved by other means. Furthermore, Australia (in the person of Evatt) was also elected to the Executive Committee of 14 which prepared the final draft of the UN Charter. While Deputy Prime Minister Forde technically led the delegation, his speech at the opening plenary session was written by Evatt and placed emphasis on the need preferably to abolish the veto but certainly to ensure that it would be used responsibly. Although the big powers refused to remove the veto threatening ‘a breakdown of the conference’ if the matter continued to be discussed, Evatt, though failing to prevent a veto on charter amendments, did achieve a decision that the veto could not be imposed on negotiations ‘being conducted to resolve disputes’. [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 216]. Perhaps a bigger disappointment was the failure to obtain permanent representation on the Security Council for middle powers including Australia.

On the trusteeship issue, a bone of contention between Australia and the United Kingdom since Dumbarton Oaks, Evatt adopted a ‘reformist’ approach that while sovereignty over trustee territories remained with the powers historically in control of them, they should be obliged ‘to foster the self government of people under their control’. [Crockett, Evatt A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 217] In this regard, Evatt did achieve the establishment of a trusteeship council and a declaration of trusteeship in the Charter but he remained concerned that the United States would avoid ‘material and political obligations to assist native peoples’. As will be discussed further below, the Australian Government postwar did adopt a gradualist line in terms, for example, of the announcement by the nationalists of the unilateral establishment of an Indonesian Republic in 1945, by seeking to cooperate with the Dutch in terms of securing a path to independence for the East Indies. At the same time Indonesia in 1948 nominated Australia as one of its two supporting nations in the final moves to independence in 1948 and 1949. Evatt has also been described as the ‘central figure in the battle to enlarge the powers of the General Assembly’ [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 92] and aspects on which Australia achieved significant change at San Francisco included the right of the General Assembly to discuss and make recommendations concerning all aspects of the charter, including ‘measures for the peaceful adjustment of any situation likely to impair the general welfare or friendly relations among nations’ and the promotion of full employment.

In summary, there is no doubt that while many aspects of Evatt’s approach came in for criticism, and although essentially he failed in his bid to undermine great power dominance through the Security Council, Australia, through its work on the Executive Committee and other bodies, established itself as a nation ‘capable of making a significant contribution’. [Hasluck, The Government the People 1942–1945, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970, p. 507] Australia signed the Charter (which also created the International Court of Justice) on 26 June and it was ratified on 4 October. In addition, Australia was included in the 14 nation Executive Committee of the Preparatory Commission set up to convoke first General Assembly. In 1948 Evatt himself was elected the third president of that body, making him the only Australian ever to hold that position.

On the one hand, Evatt’s legacy, in Watt’s view, was to leave a degree of hostility and Hasluck [a historian but also a political opponent] described Evatt as a ‘larrikin’ with a ‘disposition to throw stones at street lights just because they are bright’. [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 94] Watt also gives some credence to the view that the ‘Charter as it emerged was a Great Power Charter reflecting the inevitable facts of power’ [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, p. 86] while accepting that this is probably ‘an underestimate of concessions gained by Smaller Powers’. According to Watt, Evatt’s activities over the whole period between 1943 and 1948 did have adverse effects on Australia’s relations with the United States of America and the ‘wartime accord early began to lose some of its warmth’. [Grattan, The United States and the Southwest Pacific, p. 200 cited in Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 100] As a political personality Evatt

made his mark on the world stage . . . and, at the time of the San Francisco Conference, increased Australia’s standing amongst Middle and Small Powers. But his style and methods did not attract friends—least of all amongst the Great Powers. [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, London: Cambridge University Press, p. 105]

On the other hand Paul Hasluck, notwithstanding his other criticisms of Evatt, wrote that

. . . for ceaseless determined activity I have never seen anything like his [Evatt’s] performance. Coming to the conference an almost unknown man internationally, he made himself one of the better-known figures in that multitude of people all striving to impress themselves on others. He made Australia the acknowledged aviator and often the spokesman of the small powers. [Hasluck, ‘Australia and the formation of the United Nations’, Royal Australian Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, XL, III p. 173]

Similarly the New York Times told its readers

When Dr Evatt came here he was a virtually unknown second-string delegate, with the background of a professor and Labour politician. He leaves, recognized as the most brilliant and effective voice of the Small Powers, a leading statesman for the world’s conscience’. [See Lowe, ‘Australia in the World’, in Joan Beaumont (ed.), Australia’s War 1939–45, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996, p. 181]

ASIAN NATIONALISM

Prior to the advent of European administration the nation as a concept had not been a feature of societies in either Africa or Asia. [J H Allsop and H R Cowie, Challenge and Response. A history of the modern world, vol. 2, Melbourne: Nelson, 1970, p. 414] Developments towards the end of the 19th century and in the first three to four decades of the 20th century ‘boosted the growing sense of national destiny among the Asian people’ but independence for Asian peoples still seemed a long way off in 1939. However,

the havoc created by the Japanese in the Pacific War speedily awakened the spirit of nationalism and its consequent demand for independence.[ J H Allsop and H R Cowie, Challenge and Response. A history of the modern world, vol. 2, Melbourne: Nelson, 1970, p. 415]

As the Japanese swept westwards and southwards after Pearl Harbour her rulers proclaimed the creation of the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Zone and their intention to release the peoples of the area from European rule. At first ‘greeted as liberators, the Japanese soon proved to be harsh task masters’. [J J Cosgrove and J K Kreiss, Two Centuries. An Outline History from 1789 to 1953, Carlton: Pitman, 1984 (82), p. 519] Nevertheless, although most of the conquered peoples welcomed the Japanese defeat in 1945, the nationalist movement which had sprung up during the years of displaced European rule ensured that colonial control could not be readily re-established in the postwar years by the Dutch, the British, the Portuguese or the French in their respective South-east Asian colonial territories. Sensitivities in this regard also caused Curtin in November 1943 in one of his ‘off-the-record briefings to senior journalists’ to suggest that the term ‘White Australia’ should be avoided ‘at the present juncture’ given the effect on ‘the coloured people, particularly the Chinese, who are on our side in the war’ and the potential effects in a postwar world where Australia would be ‘seeking trade with Asiatics and other coloured people’ while ‘strenuously refusing them access to an empty Australia’. [Clem Lloyd and Richard Hall (eds), Backroom Briefings: John Curtin’s War, Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1997, p. 175]

Australia’s interests in and attitudes towards the process of decolonisation need to be seen against a background of changing policy emphases during and after World War Two. During the war the Curtin Government had put great emphasis on self-determination in the wording of the Atlantic Charter and in terms of the aims and objectives of the United Nations with Evatt’s emphasis on providing for a ‘form of universal accountability for all colonies’. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 440] However, there is little doubt that Evatt, even into the post-war era, while accepting that India, China and the Philippines would determine their own destinies, initially welcomed the prospect of the return of the British, Dutch, French and Portuguese to their colonial dependencies. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 40] By 1947, however, his policies changed with a new emphasis on Australians replacing ‘the departing European powers’ in Asian councils and the need for Australians to regard Asian nationalism ‘realistically and with understanding’.

In this regard, during the life of the Chifley Government, Evatt and Australia came to play a significant role in the achievement of Indonesian independence by opposing Dutch military actions against the nationalists from 1947 onwards (at one stage even suggesting the Netherlands be expelled from the United Nations) and backing the independence movement to the extent Australia was nominated along with India to sponsor the Indonesian delegation to the UN in 1949. When the Indonesian delegation took its place in the General Assembly its spokesman thanked Australia, with India, for carrying the nationalists’ case ‘through thick and thin until the ultimate goal was achieved’. [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 41] Even so Evatt should always be seen as for the most part seeking ‘humane and progressive colonial administration’ [Hudson, Australian Diplomacy, South Melbourne: MacMillan of Australia, 1970, p. 44] rather than the displacing of colonial rule and in this regard, for example, he and both the Curtin and Chifley Governments gave no hint whatever of any intention in the foreseeable future of Australia ending its colonial rule in Papua and New Guinea.

In other respects the international situation changed drastically in the immediate postwar era. During the second half of the 1940s, and then into the 1950s and 1960s, Australians became only too aware of the implications of the potential for Communist nationalistic movements to impact on the Cold War balance of power and this caused major problems in the late 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s for the ALP when genuine support for nationalistic movements could be interpreted as aiding the Communist cause. Economically too, Australians came to see the importance of developing trading ties with their Asian neighbours. Above all, however, in the immediate aftermath of the war, the most immediate and potent factor arose from the failure of the British protective barrier at Singapore that made Australians only too aware of the extent to which their future security would depend on the direction of developments in south-east Asia and the importance of continuing involvement by Britain and more especially the United States. In this regard, however, Evatt’s wish for a regional defence zone involving the participation of Britain, the United States and New Zealand ran into problems because of the breakdown of negotiations for a major US defence base on New Guinea’s Manus Island. While Evatt’s opponents insisted he had driven the US away, his supporters insist that the US sought ‘too much control of the base’ while in any case the focus of US strategic interest was returning to the Pacific north of the Equator. [Crocket, Evatt: A Life, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 193–194] By contrast, when ANZUS was signed in 1951 it was after the coming to power by the Communists in China and was in part an element in the price paid by the US to secure Australian and New Zealand acceptance of a peace treaty with Japan.

CONCLUSION

At the political level Australia made a smooth transition into the postwar world in August-September 1945 despite the death of Prime Minister Curtin six weeks before the Japanese surrender. The new leader Ben Chifley had been a close associate of Curtin throughout the war and was a key figure in the planning for the postwar world which took place in the government’s second term while Evatt remained as Minister for External Affairs throughout. Thus, for example, in line with Curtin’s proposals to the Prime Ministers’ Conference in 1944, Australia under Chifley did its best to maintain the British connection to the extent, arguably, of undercutting its prospects of re-election in 1949 by continuing to ration petrol for Australian motorists. As Chifley’s biographer has pointed out this was done specifically ‘at the request of and for the benefit of Britain’ to avoid the drain of dollars from the sterling bloc which would be otherwise necessary to secure additional supplies of petroleum. [Crisp, Ben Chifley: A Political Biography, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1977 (1961), p. 371 note 8.] Even where the Chifley Government entered major new areas of policy as with the commencement of Australia’s postwar migration policy and the large scale influx of non-British migrants to Australia the seeds had been sown during the life of the Curtin Government. At the same time, Labor’s long standing concern about the impact on Australian wage levels of a substantial departure from the policies linked to the concept of a ‘White Australia’ remained intact notwithstanding Curtin’s admonition to journalists during the war to avoid reference to the concept. Again the disagreements with the Americans over the future of Manus Island reflected a continuation of Evatt’s wartime concerns about the need for the maintenance of Australia’s sovereignty as a middle power and its assertion that within the region, along with New Zealand, Australia’s allies should accept that it had the major responsibility and authority for defence planning.

Despite these continuities, however, the postwar world after 1945 was a very different place from that which existed in 1939. The ties with Britain and the Commonwealth were not to be discarded, especially not under the leadership of the Anglophile Menzies, but the foreign policy realities which had confronted Curtin at the end of 1941 guaranteed that inevitably the United States would become the most significant of Australia’s ‘great and powerful friends’ and the progression of events through ANZUS and SEATO to the Vietnam War and eventually to the two Gulf wars were all chapters in the one story. On the other side of the ledger, notwithstanding Menzies’ ‘I did but see her passing by’ speech [In a speech made early in 1963 near the commencement of a tour of Australia by Queen Elizabeth II Menzies quoted from a poem ‘There is a Lady’ by the 16th century English poet Baranabe Googe—‘I did but see her passing by and yet I love her till I die.’ See K Perkins, Menzies Last of the Queen’s Men Adelaide: Rigby, 1968, p. 220] did not prevent the British decision in 1967 to withdraw all its forces east of Suez and concurrently to join the European Economic Community. Loyalties to the old colonial powers in the region were slowly replaced by support for the new nationalist demands for independence though the complication of the Cold War delayed full acceptance of this fact in many regions until the 1970s and 1980s. The need to accept a revived and reinvigorated Japan as a bulwark against Communist China slowly overcame the resistance to any fraternising with what many still regarded as a ‘cruel enemy’.

Curtin’s briefing to the journalists in November 1943 showed his awareness that in a postwar world trade and economic interaction with our Asian neighbours was going to be crucial even if he could not have foreseen the speed with which Japan rose to become the country’s leading trading partner and that by the turn of the century free trade agreements with the United States would be sought with the same vigour, and with the same problems, as was the case with Britain at Ottawa in 1932. Similarly, his concern in 1943 about the impact of the concept of ‘White Australia’ on these developments suggest that had he lived long enough he would have come to embrace his party’s conversion to the concept of multiculturalism.

Thus, it is not too much to say that between 1941 and 1945 Australia made the first decisive steps towards the acceptance of a very different world from that in which Australia saw a British naval base in Asia as the centrepiece of its protection against the rest of the world. Instead Australia was seen to have become part of that world and, while still dependent in many important respects on its new ‘great and powerful’ friend, it was now a genuinely independent player in a world where it required hundreds of overseas diplomatic appointments at a cost of millions of dollars even though, as late as 1939, it had had no separate diplomatic representation in any country outside the United Kingdom.

In the world of the 21st century in many important respects the same concerns face the national government as confronted Edmund Barton and the first Commonwealth ministry after federation. As a small to middle power Australia is still seeking its own active role in an often unstable regional and international involvement. The complications of its historical and cultural links to Europe and the western hemisphere still have to be set against its geographical location and the hostilities which have arisen from time to time, most obviously in the current ‘war against terrorism’ when Australia has positioned herself very firmly in one camp. Immigration policy is still an issue though more in terms of how to deal with waves of illegal migrants rather than concern about the bias of official policies. The future of the British Commonwealth and the divisions within it, such as those which were central at the beginning of the century concerning the situation in Zimbabwe, contrast strikingly with the firmness of the American connection which arises from many of the same considerations that motivated Curtin’s New Year message in December 1941.The same problems still exist in one form or other but the events of 1941 to 1945 in many important respects changed forever the way those problems are dealt with.