192 Chifley to Chambers

Letter 9 December 1947,

I refer to a Minute from yourself to the Secretary, Department of the Army dated 31st October, 1947, concerning the amalgamation of overseas signal services in which you expressed concern at the position and directed that the Army correspondence on this matter be brought to my notice as Minister for Defence. This was done by Army Department memorandum 40654 dated 21st November.

2. In view of your observations I have had a statement prepared which summarises the action already taken to examine the question of the integration or co-ordination of signal services. Copy of this statement is attached. It will be seen that this matter has been prominently before the Defence Committee and that the time taken for a solution is not due to causes arising from any or all of the Services. Further progress depends on two factors, firstly the receipt and practical use of modern equipment by the Services, and secondly the plans of the United Kingdom for the integration of its strategic overseas communication facilities. In regard to the first factor, the earliest date by which the Services will have installed automatic telegraphy equipment and commenced training therewith will be the end of 1948. In regard to the second factor no agreement has been reached in the U.K. regarding integration of strategic communications, and even if such agreement were reached, resultant plans for consideration by the Dominions whose participation is desired would probably not be available until late in 1948.

3. I note your observation that it is 'difficult to appreciate why a decision on these matters must necessarily be given by the U.K.

Government before any amalgamation of the overseas signal services can be effected in Australia'. You will be aware that one of the most important principles for co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence, originally laid down by the Imperial Conference of 1926 and re-affirmed at later Conferences, is standardisation to the greatest practicable extent in organisation, equipment and training. Uniformity is of vital importance from the operational aspect of defence co-operation and it has an even wider significance in regard to British Commonwealth Forces that may be placed at the disposal of the United Nations under Article 43 of the Charter. The present trend in these matters is towards integration on an Empire basis subject to sovereign control of Policy of each part of the Empire by its own Parliament and Government. The recently established Defence Signals Bureau is an example of this type of organisation.

4. A strategic signal network is an essential war requirement which could not be implemented at short notice on the outbreak of hostilities. In the strategic network now under consideration in the United Kingdom that country would be the hub and Australia one of the links, and it would be impracticable for communication technical reasons for Australia to take unilateral action to effect integration. On the other hand if the United Kingdom decides to proceed with the plans to integrate its strategic communications, it is probable that a substantial degree of integration of overseas signals communications would be effected in Australia. A further report on this matter is to be prepared by the Defence Committee as soon as sufficient information is received from the U.K. to permit of some progress being made, or at the latest by December 1948. In the meantime the Committee is proceeding with its examination of the extent to which it might be possible to integrate internal signal services in Australia in rear areas, that is between specific places where static establishments belonging to more than one Service are located.

5. I shall keep you advised of developments affecting the integration of signal services insofar as this Department is concerned.

[AA : A5954/1, 1944/11]