65 Advisory War Council Minute 512

CANBERRA, 12 September 1941


(Previous reference-Minute No. (489)). [2]

(The Rt. Hon. Sir Earle Page, G.C.M.G., M.P., was present for the discussion of this subject.)

The Prime Minister intimated that before Sir Earle Page left for London it was desired that he should have a discussion with members of the Advisory War Council.

2. Sir Earle Page stated that he held strong views on the prevention of the extension of the war to the Pacific and the measures that should be taken to achieve this end. He considered that the provision of the necessary Naval and Air strength at Singapore would deter Japan from entering the war. He therefore considered that the necessary dispositions of Empire Naval and Air Forces should be made accordingly. He was of the opinion that the knowledge that the United Kingdom and the United States Governments were acting in close collaboration in the defence of their joint interests in the Pacific would deter Japan from aggressive action.

3. Sir Earle also referred to the local defence problem with which Australia is confronted owing to the situation in the Pacific, and the consequent burden on the Budget and manpower that resulted in the calling up for continuous service or long periods of training of a large Home Defence army. There was therefore great urgency in the need for the presentation of a case to the United Kingdom Government for the strengthening of the Forces based on Singapore, which would have an advantageous reaction on the extent of Australia's local defence effort.

4. Sir Earle Page said that the route he proposed to take on his journey to England was to Singapore and then across the Pacific Ocean to the U.S.A.

5. His visit to Singapore would be for the purpose of consulting with the United Kingdom Secretary of State and the Heads of Services in order to inform himself of their present views.

6. He intended to have discussions in the U.S.A. on various trade matters, for example the duty against Australian wool.

7. In regard to the representation of Australia in the councils of the Empire, the line he proposed to take was that Australia's contribution to the united war effort was a noteworthy one, and it therefore warranted a voice when decisions were being taken in London which affected Australia's interests. He was of the view that permanent representation in the War Cabinet was essential because events in the Pacific were of such vital importance to Australia.

8. Dr. Evatt [3] desired to know the terms of the cablegram received from the United Kingdom Government on the question of the despatch of an Australian Minister to London, and the Prime Minister stated that Mr. Churchill said he would welcome the visit of an Australian Minister for discussions on matters of mutual interest. [4] While in London Sir Earle Page would canvass the question of representation by a Minister sitting in the United Kingdom War Cabinet.

9. Mr. Curtin [5] said that the Labor Party did not suggest that an Australian Minister should be a member of the United Kingdom War Cabinet, but that a Minister should be constantly in London to put the Australian viewpoint. Mr. Curtin continued that Sir Earle Page's functions in London would be to discuss Empire strategy in the higher direction of the war effort. Australia's part is at present based on the cooperation that can be afforded in the light of her capacity and other commitments. We had part of the R.A.N.

Squadron overseas, together with the A.I.F. and overseas squadrons of the R.A.A.F., as well as our part in the Empire Air Training Scheme. The Home Defence Army and Air Force were necessary for defence against Japan. Mr. Curtin said that he had no knowledge of the progress of the U.S.A.-Japanese discussions, but if they did not succeed our dangers would be increased. Therefore, the strongest representations regarding the location of capital ships at Singapore were both important and urgent. Local defence, and the consequent degree to which Australia could participate in the overseas war effort, were more urgent in the case of Australia than of any other Dominion. The strategy of the war insofar as it affected Australian cooperation depended on the presence of capital ships at Singapore.

10. Mr. Curtin continued that, if Sir Earle Page's consultations succeeded, he would be in a better position to discuss the Australian contribution to the common Empire cause. The discussion that day with the Commonwealth Bank Board had indicated the need for reconsideration of our war effort, and in his opinion it should be limited to:-

The present number of A.I.F. Divisions, together with the necessary reinforcements;

Our part in the Empire Air Training Scheme;

Our Naval Forces to be used where it was considered they would be most effective.

Mr. Curtin added that the whole of our contribution overseas was contingent on the U.S.A.-Japanese discussions, and Sir Earle Page should insist on the location of a strong force of capital ships east of Suez. If these discussions were satisfactory, an examination of our total war effort should then be made to determine what Australia could best do and where it could best be done, having regard to the burden imposed.

11. The Minister for the Army [6] observed that the position was conditioned by the number of men to be kept under arms in Australia.

12. In reply to an enquiry as to the possible duration of his stay abroad, Sir Earle Page said that he hoped to return as soon as possible.

13. Mr. Beasley [7] stated that he did not wish it to be considered that, because of this talk of Sir Earle Page with the Council, he was bound by Sir Earle's actions abroad. The Minister belonged to a school of thought in connection with policy which sought the domination of world markets to the detriment of Australian manufacturers. Sir Earle Page replied that he was opposed to any policy of allowing the United Kingdom to say what we can or cannot do in regard to the development of our secondary industries. His aim in the U.S.A. would be to seek essential supplies of which we at present stand in need.

1 Sir Earle Page, Minister for Commerce, was shortly to visit London as Special Representative in the United Kingdom. Page's instructions for discussions in Singapore, the United States and London are contained in a letter from the Prime Minister (A. W.

Fadden) dated 16 September and found on file AA:MP1217, Box 475, Australian representation in United Kingdom, Sir Earle Page's mission abroad, September 1941 (preparation of Brief).

2 Dated 2 September. In AA:A2682, vol. 3.

3 Labor Party M.H.R. for Barton.

4 See Document 53, paragraph 8.

5 Leader of the Opposition.

6 P. C. Spender.

7 Labor Party M.H.R. for West Sydney.

[AA: A2682, VOL. 3]