The struggle to be heard

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List of Documents and Brief Background Information

Minister for External Affairs in the Curtin Government, Dr Herbert Evatt, put together a statement summing up international affairs after his 1942 trip to the USA and Great Britain.

• Statement on International Affairs by Dr Herbert Evatt, 3 September 1942.

To many Labor politicians and ALP members the Bretton Woods Agreement was seen as a potential threat to Australia’s employment and living standards and their party’s traditional protectionism. Although the agreement was tabled in Parliament, it was left in abeyance until 1947 when it was finally ratified under Prime Minister Ben Chifley.

• Notes on the Bretton Woods Agreement Cabinet Agendum 669C, 17 January 1946.

After Curtin’s attempt at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference to improve Empire cooperation failed, Evatt more strongly pursued the United Nations as an organisation that might give smaller nations, such as Australia, an opportunity to voice their concerns.

• Cablegram from Prime Minister Curtin to Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde, 16 May 1944.

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 stated in the Moscow Declaration, adding that the Commonwealth members should go to ‘extreme lengths’ to secure United States’ support for the new international organisation. The Australia-New Zealand conference held in October 1944 gave rise to an important set of conclusions giving general support to the preliminary United Nations proposals but with an emphasis on certain principles deemed important to Australia, namely:

the territorial integrity and political independence of members should be preserved against change by force or threat of force from another power;

The success of such an organisation will 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, 1944. The most controversial aspect of the Australia–New Zealand Agreement was Evatt’s insistance that the Atlantic Charter principle of self-determination should not only apply to Europe, but to all colonial territories. Aside from the idealistic aspects of this policy the hope was that new nationalist movements in Asia might develop more moderately.

• Telegram from the Dominions Office regarding the pre-San Francisco meeting, 13 April 1945.
• Cablegram from High Commissioner Bruce regarding the resolutions of the Atlantic Charter which laid the foundation for the United Nations, 12 August 1941.

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