83 War Cabinet Submission by Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Agendum 335/1941 14 October 1941


AUSTRALIAN REPRESENTATION ABROAD Netherlands East Indies It was decided by the previous Government in July last that the Netherlands should be invited to exchange diplomatic representatives with Australia. [1] It was proposed that Australian representation should be by means of the accrediting of an Australian Minister in London with nominal relations with the Netherlands Sovereign together with the appointment of a Counsellor or First Secretary at Batavia to enable contact between the Commonwealth Government and the Netherlands East Indies Administration in which from the point of view of Australia would consist the actual advantage of the exchange.

2. The High Commissioner in London [2] was instructed to approach the Netherlands Government accordingly. He was also authorised if the Dutch did not wish to receive an openly diplomatic appointment at Batavia to suggest that an Australian representative should be appointed there in conjunction with a Minister in London with the designation of (a) Agent-General or, alternatively, (b) Consul- General.

3. In its reply early in August to Mr. Bruce's approach, the Netherlands Government urged an early exchange of Ministers but pointed out that it was not compatible with the constitution of the Netherlands to receive a full diplomatic officer as the Netherlands East Indies was merely a colony and further, that such an appointment would create a precedent which might lead to serious difficulties with other Powers. No State has a Minister in the N.E. I., the status of which (in relation to the Kingdom of Holland) corresponds to that of a Crown Colony (in relation to the United Kingdom).

4. As regards the further suggestions by the Commonwealth Government, the Dutch replied in September that they would agree to the appointment of an Agent-General in the Netherlands East Indies but that they wanted the purpose for which he would be appointed publicly defined on the ground that if there were no limitation of his functions the Japanese would demand a similar appointment. The definition suggested was 'trade, shipping and war requirements'.

5. The fact must be accepted that the Dutch Government in London are definitely unable to accept a diplomatic appointment in their colony. I think it would be undesirable to drop the idea of an exchange altogether. The only practicable alternative therefore is to put forward the suggestion for the appointment of an Australian Consul-General at Batavia.

6. The rank and designation of Consul-General are internationally recognised and require no definition. An Australian Consul-General at Batavia would have the same standing with the local Government as the British, United States and Japanese Consul-General, and the appointment would give us substantially the advantages looked for, though falling short of the original intention of a full diplomatic exchange. In the N.E.I. Australia's representative would have a status corresponding to the maximum status enjoyed by the representative of any foreign power.

7. I recommend that Mr. Bruce be instructed to convey this proposal to the Netherlands Government in London without further delay, intimating at the same time that the Commonwealth Government desires the appointment of a Netherlands Minister in Australia. As a Consulate-General is a recognised mode of international representation, I do not think it absolutely necessary that the Commonwealth Government should make a reciprocal appointment of a Minister in London accredited to Queen Wilhelmina. However, if the Dutch Government in London regards it as absolutely necessary, I think we should be prepared to accredit the High Commissioner to the Dutch Court in London. (The relevant documents are attached-Annex 'A'.) [3]

Russia 8. The previous Government felt that some positive step should be taken by the Commonwealth in recognition of the fact that Russia and the United Kingdom had become allies in the War. It was decided at the end of July that while no formal approach should be made direct to the Soviet Government at that stage, the High Commissioner in London should be instructed to suggest informally to the Soviet Ambassador that the Commonwealth Government would welcome the appointment of a Soviet Consul-General in Australia.

10. [4] On receiving these instructions, Mr. Bruce pointed out that in his opinion the result of raising the question of the Consul-General would probably be to bring a Straight-out request from the Soviet Government for an exchange of Ministers. Before approaching M. Maisky therefore he asked whether the Commonwealth Government was prepared to accept an exchange of Ministers with Russia. He was informed in reply that this was not desired and that having regard to his views it was left to his discretion to raise the subject with M. Maisky if and when an opportunity occurred.

11. No approach has in fact yet been made to M. Maisky, but the High Commissioner has now reported by telegram of October 7th that he has reason to think M. Maisky would probably be content with the appointment of a Consul-General in Australia and would not press for the establishment of a Soviet Legation at Canberra involving reciprocal action on our part at Moscow. In view of this, Mr. Bruce has asked to be advised of the wishes of the Commonwealth Government. (The relevant documents are attached- Annex 'B'.) [5]

New Zealand and South Africa 12. Similar grounds to those in the case of Canada exist for an exchange of High Commissioners between these two Dominions and the Commonwealth, namely, that the development of relations, particularly in time of war, has reached a point where means for direct inter-Governmental communication are highly desirable. In South Africa there is no Australian representation at all. In New Zealand, the Commonwealth Government maintains a Trade Commissioner, but his status and functions are not appropriate for maintaining contact between the two Governments on general political matters.

13. In August of last year the then Minister for External Affairs [6] obtained the authority of Cabinet to approach the New Zealand Government with a suggestion for the exchange of liaison officers between the respective Departments of External Affairs. The New Zealand Government in reply welcomed the proposal but stated it would appreciate time to consider it. [7] The suggestion was not followed up, owing, it is understood, to shortage of staff in the New Zealand Department of External Affairs.

Near and Middle East 14. The Commonwealth Government has maintained since 1936 an Australian Government Commissioner at Cairo, with jurisdiction extending over all Middle Eastern countries and functions covering primarily questions of trade and secondarily political intelligence. In this latter respect, however, the capacity of the Commissioner is necessarily limited by his non-diplomatic status.

In the meantime it is evident that the importance of Egypt and the Near and Middle East region to Australia, both politically and militarily, has substantially increased. The whole region now plays a most significant part in Imperial policy, a fact which has been recognized by the recent appointment of a member of the British War Cabinet as a Minister of State in the Middle East [8] with headquarters at Cairo.

Japan 15. Sir John Latham accepted appointment as Minister in Tokyo on the understanding that the term of office would be for one year.

This period expired on October 12th.

16. Sir John Latham is at present on his way to Australia. He had suggested at the end of August making a visit to Singapore for consultation with Mr. Duff Cooper. [9] He was informed that it seemed preferable that he should come the whole way to Australia timing his visit to coincide with the expected visit here of Mr.

Duff Cooper early in November. Before this arrangement was finalised, however, Sir John Latham on his own responsibility embarked on a ship leaving Japan on 27th September and due to arrive at Singapore on October 14th.

17. In a telegram despatched on October 4th to reach him on arrival at Singapore Sir John Latham was informed that the Government considered that any prolonged absence from his post was undesirable in the present circumstances, and that it was desired that he should not be away long and should return to Tokyo as soon as possible after his visit here. It was suggested that he should proceed by first flying-boat from Singapore direct to Australia without stopping at Batavia. (The relevant documents are attached- Annex 'C'.)

United States of America 18. Mr. Casey [10] has suggested that a visit by him to Australia for consultation would be useful at the present time. He was informed on October 9th that Sir John Latham was arriving here about the middle of the month and asked to 'ascertain and advise' us whether he could reach here in time to synchronise with the latter's visit. Mr. Casey misinterpreted this provisional enquiry as a definitive [sic] invitation and I had to send him a very clear disclaimer on Saturday morning last as he actually proposed to announce to the press that he was about to make the visit. (The relevant documents are attached -Annex 'D'.)


1 All documents referred to under the headings Netherlands East Indies, Russia, Japan and United States of America are included in Annexes A, B, C and D of this submission respectively. They may be found on file AA:A2671, 335/1941 2 S. M. Bruce.

3 The question of an exchange of diplomatic representatives with the Netherlands was considered by War Cabinet on 15 October and again On 30 October, when Evatt's recommendations were accepted in principle (see AA:A2673, vol. 8, minute 1408 and AA:A2673, vol. 9 ,minute 1460). On 31 October instructions were sent to Bruce in accordance with the terms of paragraph 7 of the submission (see cablegram 6652 on file AA:A981, Netherlands 20, i).

4 There was no paragraph numbered 9 in the original.

5 For further consideration of Australia's relations with the U.S.S.R. see Document 96.

6 John McEwen. See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, WE IV, Document 71.

7 See letter of 31 August 1940 from Peter Fraser, N.Z. Prime Minister, on file AA:A981, ExternaI Affairs Dept 156.

8 Oliver Lyttelton.

9 U.K. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, then in the Far East.

See Document 75, note 1.

10 Minister to the United States.

[AA:A2671, 335/1941]