520 Massey to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 623 SINGAPORE, 17 November 1947, 4.30 p.m.


My telegram 622.

Hostile reaction here upon the reported decision to deport 14 Malayans [1], is the most extreme we have yet had to face, and has already largely undone the goodwill towards Australia of the local Asian population resulting from our initiative in supporting the Indonesian Republic. It is particularly regrettable from our point of view, that, as the result of this incident the Malayans are now added to the Chinese and Indians in the resentment of the implied race discrimination. This morning I received deputations of the Presidents of the Malay Union (an Association of Malay political bodies) and Malay Seamen's Union who told me that they had proposed calling mass meetings of protest. On my assurances that I was communicating with you on the subject, they have agreed to postpone action for the time being. They assured me however, that unless a satisfactory explanation is forthcoming, it will be impossible to restrain the Left wing of their own or other associations from precipitate and inflammatory action.

2. I learned from an Australian here with excellent Malay contacts that apart from the foregoing, Malay citizen bodies are preparing joint representations to the Australian Government.

3. I am also doing my best to play down further press campaign but the mischief has already been done. Local papers have assiduously canvassed for opinions of local Malay leaders which are what one might expect, and have been strongly expressed. One view, that 14 Australians should be deported from Malaya in retaliation, may sound ridiculous, but has secured such support that it is only being withheld from publication in at least one local paper pending the outcome of advice referred to in para. 1. While the full facts of the case are now known to us here, I would urge that the possibility of repercussions such as these should always be borne very much in mind when decisions are reached on deportation of Asians, and the fact that these repercussions will become increasingly dangerous should be regarded as certain.

If I may suggest it, I think it wiser from a long term point of view to make judicious exceptions to the immigrant regulations than give occasion to criticism of staff policy which may very likely reach the United Nations Assembly. The Governor of Singapore has already warned a member of my staff that he has reason to believe that India may take the initiative in this direction before long. Massey. [2]

1 Malayan seamen had been permitted to stay in Australia under exemption because of emergency wartime conditions. Twelve of the fourteen were married to Australians, two had de facto wives, and there were fourteen children.

2 The Department of External Affairs replied on 19 November, reiterating Australia's policy that persons of non-European origin could not be permitted permanent residence, and reminding him that the principle of the right of my country to determine the composition of its nationhood had been accepted at the Inter-Asian Relation Conference in March. It recognised Massey's difficulties regarding the Malay seamen, but pointed out that thousands of non- Europeans had been admitted for sanctuary during the war on the understanding that they would return to their own countries when conditions allowed, and that marriage to Australians would confer no right to settle permanently. Some 4400 of these had already been repatriated, including many who had married Australians.

[AA : A1838,411/3/6/1/2, i]