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318 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Cablegram unnumbered LONDON, 21 November 1938, 7.44 p.m.


From 6 to 16 July 1938, on the initiative of U.S. President
Roosevelt, the Evian Conference met to consider the problem of the
increasing numbers of refugees from Germany and Austria and to try
to devise schemes for resettlement. Australia was represented by
Colonel T. W. White, Minister for Trade and Customs. As a result
machinery was set up to collect information on the immigration
policies of the participating countries and to look at proposals
for alleviating the situation of the refugees. See FA: A2937,
Evian Conference.

Owing to the wave of indignation consequent upon the treatment of
Jews in Germany strong feeling is rapidly developing particularly
in the United Kingdom, United States, Scandinavian Countries,
Holland and France that an international effort on an
unprecedented scale must be made to find means whereby refugees
can be absorbed. Many impracticable schemes are being put forward
and impossible suggestions made especially with regard to the
possibility of the absorption of great numbers in undeveloped
areas of the Dominions and Australia is more particularly
mentioned. This movement has already led to announcement which the
United Kingdom Government is making today with regard to the
Colonial Empire [1] and we may find ourselves in an embarrassing
position if no public statement is made as to our attitude
notwithstanding the fact that the number we are taking at present
bears favourable comparison with what is being done by any other

It occurs to me that it would be a wise move for the Commonwealth
Government to make an announcement, as by declaring our policy we
would, I am convinced, put an end to the present and growing
suggestions as to what Australia might do, and would greatly
increase, particularly in the United States, the goodwill towards
and the prestige of Australia as the country that made the most
practical and sympathetic contribution towards the solution of a
problem that is causing the gravest concern to the Governments and
arousing increasingly popular feeling.

In Australia while public opinion is running high an immediate
announcement of a definite policy, even if a bold one, would
probably be accepted whereas if the opportunity is allowed to pass
even the present number of refugees to whom we are granting
permits may prove an embarrassment to the Government in the

In order to make clear what is in my mind I am sending in a
separate cable a draft statement for your consideration. In this
statement I have suggested a figure of 30,000 over three years. If
a proper method of selection is instituted I believe that this
quota could be filled to the benefit of Australia particularly as
30,000 has not to be taken evenly over three years but could be
related progressively to Australia's capacity to absorb.


1 Reported in the Times, 22 November 1938.

[ANL : PAGE 678]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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