149 War Cabinet Minute

Minute 545 MELBOURNE, 2 October 1940


AGENDUM No. 217/1940 [1]-EASTERN GROUP CONFERENCE-AUSTRALIAN POLICY War Cabinet noted that the object of the Eastern Group Conference, which has been convened by the Government of India with the consent of the United Kingdom Government, was to determine a joint war supply policy for the Eastern Group of Empire countries under which maximum use could be made of the existing and potential capacity for war supply of each of the participating countries, and that the Australian Delegation had sought the advice of the Defence Committee and the decision of the War Cabinet as to whether the policy for the Australian Delegation should be based on:-

(a) Complete interdependence with specialisation by each member of the Group and a Central coordinating member;

(b) The same as (a), but in two or more groups, e.g., Indian and Pacific; or (c) The opposite policy of self-sufficiency for Australia as far as may be practicable, with defined assistance to and from other members; or (d) Some compromise which would provide also for the Netherlands East Indies and other countries or colonies associated with the strategic problem.

War Cabinet affirmed that the authorised basis of Empire and Australian munitions policy is as laid down in the Prime Minister's speech of 24th August, 1937 [2], on the Commonwealth Government's Defence Policy in the light of the Imperial Conference, 1937 when the principles of Imperial Defence with reference to munitions supply generally were raised by the United Kingdom and Australian Delegations, and the question of planning for an emergency, with particular reference to the Eastern hemisphere, was submitted by the Australian Delegation. The resolution of the Imperial Conference in relation to co-operation in the production and supply of munitions provides that, with regard to manufacturing facilities, Governments should aim, in the first instance, at becoming self-supporting as far as possible.

War Cabinet endorsed the view expressed by the Defence Committee that, in the light of the principle of Imperial Defence that each part of the Empire is responsible for its own local defence, Australia's primary obligation is to provide for this, and its assistance to other parts of the Empire or Allies is conditioned by the dimensions and fulfilment of its own effort. It was also agreed that the Delegation should be instructed as under, in accordance with the recommendation of the Defence Committee:-

(i) The Delegation should base its attitude on the above principles but may be authorised to negotiate arrangements regarding the allocation of productive capacity for munitions and associated products, and for the supply of foodstuffs and raw materials after provision has been made for essential local requirements.

(ii) Conversely, it may make similar arrangements in regard to Australian requirements from other countries:-

(a) the supply of which is not contrary to the basic principle of Australian self-sufficiency;

(b) the quantity of which, in the case of munitions, is within the approved programme.

(iii) The question of supplies to the Netherlands East Indies and associated non-Empire countries and colonies is to be a matter for recommendation to the Government after relation of these needs to the priority of other Empire demands.

1 See AA:A2671, 217/1940.

2 See J.A. Lyons's speech in Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol. 154, pp. 21-37.

[AA:A2671, 217/1940]