175 Record by Cumes of Conversation with Timbs

Canberra, 15 July 1971


Jervis Bay Power Plant; Future Chairman of AAEC; and Enrichment Plant

Mr. Maurice Timbs asked to come to Canberra to talk to me and the following conversation was mainly over lunch.

Jervis Bay Power Plant

Timbs went over, in a mass of detail, what he described as the abominable handling of the tender procedures for the proposed Jervis Bay Atomic Energy Power Plant. He described in detail the unbusinesslike and 'unethical' behaviour of Sir Philip Baxter in handling the four main tenders from Britain, Canada, the United States and Germany. He said that Baxter had decided that the contract should go to Britain and, in the end, had arranged matters to achieve this. He had an intense dislike of the Americans and therefore their tender was eliminated without any serious consideration. Similarly, the German tender had been eliminated although, I gather, not because of Baxter's dislike of the Germans, but because Baxter favoured the British. However, the Germans had become aware of the procedures which Baxter had adopted to achieve acceptance of the British tender, because of the link between German and British atomic energy interests. Although Baxter had originally been in favour of the Canadian reactor, he had later become disenchanted with it or, perhaps more accurately, had seen more clearly the advantages of accepting the British tender. Timbs implied that some of these advantages were perhaps personal to Baxter, rather than based on solid and objective technical and economic considerations.

Timbs made it clear to me that it was he himself who had seen the unfortunate procedures which Baxter had been adopting and who had made the facts known both to the other Commissioners of the AAEC and to the Minister (Mr. Swartz). It was as a result of this that the decision had been taken to defer consideration of the proposed Jervis Bay Plant for 12 months. Timbs emphasised that Baxter's relationships overseas were very bad. The Americans would have nothing to do with him. The complaint which the Canadians had made to the Commission about the tender procedures earlier in the year had, according to Timbs, been fully justified and, as a result, Baxter's standing with Lorne Gray1 and the other Canadians could scarcely be worse. The French and the Germans had no wish to have any dealings with him and it was only the British, with whom Timbs alleged that Baxter had been engaged in a 'conspiracy', who were prepared to use him.

Timbs said that Ministers would like to terminate Baxter's appointment as soon as possible and, in any event, would not wish him to continue beyond February next year. The difficulty about terminating his appointment earlier would be that much of the recent events would perhaps be brought to public notice if termination were too precipitate.

New Chairman of AAEC

In response to my question Timbs said that a good deal of thought had already been given to possible successors to Baxter. He said that among those whom he did not want to see succeed were Alder (a present member of the AAEC, whom Baxter prefers) and Titterton.2

Timbs said that he would like to see someone who would have the respect of people overseas and who would be able to support administration of the Commission in a business-like and effective way. With those as primary remarks, he said that people whom he had in mind were Sir Roland Wilson3 and Sir Allen Brown.4 Neither of these had any technical background related to AAEC and he suggested that two others who did have this background and whom he would like to see as Chairman were Dr. A.R.W. Wilson, at present with the AAEC and Mr Struan Anderson5 from C.R.A. Timbs told me that he had already had some discussions with Sir Frederick Wheeler6 and I think also with Prime Minister's Department. He suggested that, if we had any ideas, particularly bearing in mind the need for the Chairman to be able to get on well with his counterparts overseas, it would be useful to put them forward.

Enrichment Plant in Australia

Timbs said he was pleased with the French proposals to conduct an exploratory survey for the establishment of an enrichment plant in Australia. He hoped that we could go ahead with this survey as quickly as possible. [matter omitted] with the views I put forward that it would be a very useful way of involving a major European country in Australia and that if we were able to bring in as partners Japan, Canada and the United States, then we would have both a useful project for multi-national co-operation and virtually water-tight assurances about the economy of the project. Timbs agreed that we should, if at all possible, give a positive and enthusiastic response to the French and should then carry through the exploration as quickly and as efficiently as we could.

[NAA: A1838, 720/4/9 part 2]