237 Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner to Australia, to U.K. Dominions Office

Cablegram 207 CANBERRA, 20 September 1939

SECRET

In the course of a long talk late yesterday with the Prime Minister [1] he introduced with deliberate casualness the question of information from and consultation with the United Kingdom. He said there was a growing opinion among his colleagues that supply of information was very meagre. He himself recognised difficulties and was not concerned so much with the scarcity of information contained in daily D.W. telegrams as with the impossibility in present conditions of effective consultation on questions of broad political strategy. Things were happening and would happen which vitally concerned Australia but about which they knew nothing until afterwards. The effective cause of war in which Australia was involved was Polish guarantee (of which he said that he and his colleagues cordially approved) but Commonwealth Government had known nothing of this until it had been decided to give it. In theory Australia was not bound by guarantee and could have refrained at any rate from active participation in war which had arisen from it; but now that she had declared war she found herself liable to be committed in matters vital to her existence, by negotiations in which she had no part-e.g. in your present discussions between United Kingdom, France and United States as to Sino-Japanese situation.

There was another question which must be thought [to] arise in the very near future on which it might well be impossible in present conditions for United Kingdom Government really to consult Dominions. He assumed as soon as occupation of Poland was complete Hitler [2] would offer peace terms. He also assumed United Kingdom Government would wish to make it a prior condition of any negotiation that Germany should evacuate Poland but he thought we might have difficulty with France on this point. Peace or war would turn on discussions between United Kingdom and France- discussions by which Dominions would be committed but in which they would have no effective voice. So far as Australia was concerned she would be solidly behind what he took to be United Kingdom view: but was it certain that other Dominions would share this view? In these circumstances he was wondering whether those Dominions who were taking or were preparing to take an active part in war ought not to have a seat in United Kingdom War Cabinet. So far as Australia was concerned the difficulty would be whom to appoint- assuming of course that United Kingdom Government agreed. It must be a Minister and under Commonwealth constitution Bruce [3] could not be appointed a Minister unless he had a seat in Parliament. He (Menzies) was obvious alternative but there was no one whom he could leave in charge in Australia. (I agreed that this is so).

The Bruce difficulty could of course be got over but I refrained from suggesting any method of doing so as I did not know what the views of the United Kingdom Government were likely to be as to the idea of Dominion participation in the War Cabinet.

Menzies was obviously thinking aloud and is likely to return to the subject within the next few days. I should therefore be grateful for your observation as soon as possible.

1 R.G. Menzies.

2 Adolf Hitler, German Chancellor.

3 S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London.

[PRO: CAB 21/874]