508 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, of Conversation with Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Extracts [LONDON], 30 May 1942

Had a long talk with Evatt after dinner. He opened the conversation by saying that he had discussed with the Prime Minister [1] at Chequers last night the position with regard to our representation here and the necessity of implementing the arrangement that had been entered into down the lines of our previous conversation.

Evatt told the Prime Minister that I would be taking over when he left and, according to Evatt, so far from objecting to this the Prime Minister expressed his cordial agreement and spoke in the highest terms of me personally. It sounded to me a little startling but may be true.

Evatt said that in the conversation, while making no formal complaint, he emphasised the necessity of full consultation and the supply of adequate information. Evatt said that he pointed out that the position had not been satisfactory prior to his arrival here and expressed the hope that an improvement could be progressively brought about by my cooperation. The Prime Minister assured him that he would do everything he could to facilitate what we desired and expressed the view that there should not be any serious difficulty.

In reply to a question I put to him Evatt said that the Prime Minister raised no point with regard to my position as High Commissioner and Evatt expressed the view that there was no necessity in these circumstances to do anything about the matter.

I told him that I anticipated the Dominions Office would raise the question and that in the event of their doing so I still held the view that the matter could best be adjusted by a statement indicating that I was shedding my ordinary functions as High Commissioner and that they would be carried out by Duncan. [2] Evatt indicated that he had no very fixed views on the subject and we must be guided by future developments.

I then reverted to the understanding which had been reached with the Prime Minister and I said I was quite prepared to take on [sic] as Accredited Representative on the basis of that understanding and would do everything in my power to achieve what we wanted quietly and without friction. I said, however, it was essential that there should be no misunderstanding but that I was the Accredited Representative in the fullest sense of the word. I added that I did not think there would be any difficulty in this direction because I understood a telegram had already come in to the Dominions Office from the Prime Minister [3] advising them officially that I would be the Accredited Representative after his, Evatt's, departure.

I then went on to make it clear that if I was to do the job I must organise the staff working for me in the way I considered best. I told Evatt, in this connection, I had been somewhat alarmed by a conversation I had had with Page. [4] I reminded him that I had told him of my first conversation [5] when I had refused to discuss the matter with Page at all, and told him, Page, to see the Minister. I said that I understood from Page that he had had a long conversation with Evatt after I had seen him, Page, and that in the evening Page had asked me to go and see him at his hotel.

When I had seen Page he had talked to me for the best part of an hour and a half about all his ideas as to how the position should be organised here and generally told the Minister of my conversation with Page. I said that my fears with regard to Page were that he was obsessed with the idea of getting everything cut and dried and down on paper, which to my mind was quite impracticable. Our organisation would have to grow in conformity with the Anglo-American organisation, and I explained generally to him the way we were working at the present time and the gradual expansion which I thought was likely to take place.

I added that in addition to creating the organisation in the best way as I saw it, I must also have complete discretion as to the instruments I employed and how I used them. In this connection I instanced the position of Wardell [6], and said frankly that it appeared to me that he, Evatt, was inclined to think that Wardell had refrained from disclosing information which he should have told to the Minister or to Page. I explained the position that Wardell was in and the manner [in which] it was necessary for him to work. I defended what Wardell had done and said in my view he was absolutely right. We had a slight argument on this point but in the end Evatt indicated that he accepted my view and left the matter entirely in my hands.

We then reverted to Page and Evatt told me that he had seen Page who had talked to him for an hour and a half. Evatt said that he did not quite know what Page was talking about but it appeared to him that much of what he said was impracticable and that a good deal which was in his broadcast, which Page had shown him, was quite inaccurate. Evatt said that he had told Page to go away and put down on paper what he had in mind but I gathered that this was merely a method of getting rid of him and little notice will be taken of whatever Page produces. [7] Evatt also spoke in very contemptuous terms of Page's broadcast and expressed the view that it was most undesirable that he should make it. He indicated that it had been postponed for a week, I think because Bracken [8] had, on Evatt's inspiration, found it impossible to fit it in.

Evatt then stressed how undesirable he thought the broadcast was but when I put the question to him as to whether the Government would be prepared to take action so that Page would not make it, he said that the Government would not so act as if they did Page would say they had muzzled him. He, however, was clearly most anxious that I should endeavour to stop the broadcast and implied that if I could not do so Bracken might be invoked to put difficulties in the way for the time being. [9]

We then reverted to what the exact position was following on Evatt's talk with the Prime Minister. I stressed to him that it was essential we should mutually agree exactly what the position was and that the Government must have complete confidence in me. I then stated the position as I saw it; that he had put the whole position to Churchill; that in doing so his attitude had been friendly and firm and he had made it clear that it was essential we should be kept fully advised and have an opportunity of expressing our views. As to exactly how this would be brought about was to be quietly worked out by me and I would keep the Government fully advised as to developments.

This the Prime Minister had agreed and indicated he would cooperate. Evatt was inclined to be somewhat impatient of my insistence upon a definition of where exactly we did stand and rather indicated that he thought it was unnecessary. I stuck to the point, however, on the same grounds as in my previous conversation with him, namely, his position on his return to Australia. I put it to him that when he got back some of his colleagues who I gather were pretty tough would want to know what safeguards he had obtained as to our being ensured of future consultation. I urged on him that if he went back and merely told his colleagues that he had obtained various things, e.g. the Spitfire Squadrons, and increase in the price for wool, but that he had been unable to obtain any guarantees as to consultation because he did not want to quarrel with the Prime Minister, his reception would not be very good. If, however, he could add to what he had obtained an assurance that he had come to an understanding with the Prime Minister as to future consultation then I thought his position was unassailable.

Evatt then admitted that it was necessary to clarify the position and he agreed that it was as I had stated. I then said that that cleared the situation for me and I was prepared to go ahead and see what I could achieve. I said I would work quietly and attempt to avoid any friction. I would keep the Prime Minister advised as to how the position was developing and I would only appeal for the Prime Minister's intervention if absolutely necessary.

Evatt expressed the view that he was quite sure I would be able to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement. He is obviously impressed with the personal contacts and sources of information I have here.

He said it was essential that I should be the Accredited Representative and he stressed that no Minister must come here for some time as that would undermine my position. In regard to Ministers coming here I referred to Page's ideas about my position being permanent and defining my relations to visiting Ministers. I said that I thought that would be a great mistake, but the position must be left to work itself out and probably we would find by the time any Minister came there would be no difficulty whatsoever.

I then came to the point of the necessity of the Government having confidence in me. I suggested that very possibly some of his colleagues might have grave doubts as to whether I was a quite safe representative for a Labor Government to have.

Evatt said that he did not think there was any such feeling and he had never heard anything said against me save by one or two and rather to my surprise he mentioned Scullin. [10] He said I knew Curtin's opinion of me and that he, Curtin, had the fullest confidence in me. In any event, he said, he and Curtin could completely control the position.

I said I quite recognised that but at the same time it was as well that he and the Prime Minister should know quite clearly what my position was. I then told him that I had really been dragged into politics and had no party obligations.

Evatt said that he had rather gathered that.

I then told him that I had contemplated getting out in 1938. I said that as a result of the prestige I had obtained in the City in connection with the conversion operations, I had had a most flattering offer made to me which would have made me financially independent for life. I told him that I had notified Lyons [11] that I wanted to get out but eventually seeing that war was almost inevitable and that I could perhaps do something to help if I stayed on as High Commissioner I had reviewed my decision and agreed to go on with the right to get out at any time should the position improve and the danger of war recede. I told Evatt that I had no political ambitions of any sort. My one desire was to get out and give up public life. I said I had only one interest and that was the sort of world we were going to build in the post-war period and that interest might keep me in the ring.

Evatt said he thought the work I had been doing on economic and social questions was of the greatest value and said that we had made great progress in America. He referred to the fact that Frankfurter [12] had spoken to him of the work I had been doing.

The point I wanted to stress to him, however, was that I was only here to help and that as soon as I could do so I wanted to get out.

Evatt said he quite understood the position and he assured me that I would have every possible support and help from his Government.

He urged me not to worry about the wording of cablegrams I might receive from Australia. He said the great majority of them were drafted by Shedden [13] and that although they might come over the Prime Minister's signature he probably had not given them any consideration.

Evatt then said he had thought over the position with regard to Duncan but saw no reason to alter his status. I told him that I thought the question was almost certain to arise owing to complications with other Dominions, and in any event if I was more or less going to disassociate myself from the work of Australia House it would probably be a good thing to give Duncan the extra status of making him Deputy High Commissioner. I stressed, however, that whatever was done in this connection it was essential I should keep control over Australia House because the organisation of the Accredited Representative would be a very limited one and the great bulk of the routine work would all have to go through Australia House.

Evatt said that he quite agreed with that and said that the whole question could be examined and he had an open mind on it. The main thing was that the organisation should be satisfactory. In this regard Evatt paid a tribute to the organisation here though not a very gracious one and compared it with what he described as the chaotic position in America.

[matter omitted]

Evatt told me he had been to see the Dutch Prime Minister [14] that morning and he had obviously been most attracted by him.

The conversation was of the most friendly and frank character as in fact have been all my conversations with Evatt. This contrast between his dealings with me and with all those who have been serving under him since he has been over here is a somewhat startling one.


1 Winston Churchill.

2 Official Secretary of the High Commission in London.

3 See John Curtin's cablegram 313 of 30 May on file AA:MP1217, Box 461, Australian representation in the United Kingdom.

4 Formerly Special Representative in the United Kingdom (see Document 439, note 8). Bruce's notes of his two conversations with Page on 28 May are on file AA:M100, May 1942.

5 See Document 504.

6 Military Liaison Officer and Adviser to Bruce.

7 Page set out his views in a long cablegram (no. 5385 on file AA:M100,June 1942) dispatched to Curtin on 12 June.

8 U.K. Minister of Information.

9 Page insisted on making broadcasts to both British (on 14 June) and Australian (on 13 June) listeners. Bruce induced him to omit any specific reference to Australian representation in the U.K.

War Cabinet from his British broadcast and to omit 'the more undesirable passages' on this subject from his Australian broadcast. See Bruce's cablegram 66 of 12 June to Evatt (then in Washington) on file AA:M100, June 1942.

10 Labor Party M.H.R. for Yarra. Scullin had replaced Bruce as Prime Minister Oil 22 October 1929 following the latter's electoral defeat.

11 Then Prime Minister.

12 Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

13 Secretary of the Defence Dept.

14 Dr P. S. Gerbrandy.

[AA:M100, MAY 1942]