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60 Mr A. W. Fadden, Prime Minister, to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 385 CANBERRA, 5 September 1941


Following for Prime Minister. [1]

1. Reference your No. 607 [2] I am grateful for the informative
survey of the constitutional and other considerations involved in
the question of a Minister from one part of the Empire
participating in the work and membership of a Cabinet in another
part. I would reciprocate the exchange of views by outlining the
Australian side of the question as I see it.

2. The machinery for higher direction of war was discussed with
many other matters relating to Empire and Local Defence during the
Imperial Conference of 1937. It is regretted that, for reasons
which need not be traversed, these discussions were possible on a
two party basis only. The memorandum received from the Committee
of Imperial Defence, which, it was understood, had the endorsement
of the Minister representing the United Kingdom Government,
refers, for want of a better title, to an 'Imperial War Cabinet'
and to the measures to be taken on the outbreak of war to consider
what machinery along these lines is necessary. The memorandum

'The arrangement under which the High Commissioners of three of
the Dominions attend some of the meetings of the Committee of
Imperial Defence (on which the Government of India is permanently
represented) appears to lend itself to extension from the outset
of a major war in such manner and in such degree as the Government
of the Dominions may themselves decide in each case.'
3. I can see no difference in principle between representation of
a Dominion by a High Commissioner at the Committee of Imperial
Defence in peacetime when matters affecting it are under
discussion, and representation at the War Cabinet by a Minister
for similar purposes. The fact that the despatch of a Minister to
London has the support of the Opposition gives his mission
Parliamentary endorsement. I assume from paragraph 8 of your
cablegram that you would welcome the presence of Australian
Minister in War Cabinet when matters relating to higher policy,
operations or other questions which affect the Australian war
effort or the Australian Forces were being considered. If so we
are in full agreement.

4. I would make the following detailed comments on certain
paragraphs of your cablegram and, in view of the personal and
secret nature of the message, they will be quite frank so that we
may each be aware of the other's mind:-

Paragraph 4. I agree that the representative who can speak with
the best authority is the Prime Minister, but the Dominion
interests he would represent would be the same as in the case of a
Minister. If the presence of the Australian Prime Minister is not
any more practicable than it appears to be in the case of the
other Dominions, we feel that some form of Ministerial
representation is better than none.

Paragraph 5. As stated above the distinction between the Prime
Minister and a Minister is agreed with, but a Minister charged
with a special mission and carrying the endorsement of the
Australian Parliament is somewhat different from a Minister with a
Departmental portfolio visiting London to establish contact with
the corresponding United Kingdom Department with which he is

Paragraph 6. The views of the Prime Ministers of Canada and South
Africa [3] are noted with interest but not with surprise. As you
are well aware, their attitude is determined by local problems
peculiar to each Dominion which have been manifest since the
Imperial Conference of 1926. We too have a special viewpoint based
on the closest possible degree of Empire co-operation which,
speaking with that frankness permitted within the family circle,
is evident by comparison of our all-round war effort on land, sea
and in the air. The Australian people feel, however, that this
effort warrants the right to be heard when vital decisions
affecting their interests are being taken. For instance Australia
has a special interest in Pacific and Indian Ocean problems.

Paragraph 7. No suggestion has been made by the Australian
Government involving the retirement of any British Minister from
the War Cabinet. Regarding the presence of an Australian Minister
as suggested in my paragraph 3, it is understood that at War
Cabinet meetings many Ministers attend in addition to the members
of War Cabinet. The attendance of a Dominion representative
therefore means only one person, whether he be Prime Minister or
Minister. If other Dominions are satisfied with the present
arrangements, this should alleviate the numerical aspect, but if
there are questions for decision affecting their vital interests,
representation could not be denied if they desired it.

Paragraph 8. This is covered by my paragraph 3.

Paragraph 9. As you state, the relations between a Minister and
the High Commissioner are a matter for our decision. The
appointment and functions of the Secretary of State for Dominion
Affairs is similarly one for the United Kingdom Government. Though
we fully appreciate the co-operation and assistance extended by
Ministers who have held this office, we consider that direct
consultation on higher questions is a better method than dealing
through a third party who is not a member of the War Cabinet. The
satisfaction of the other Dominions with the High Commissioner
arrangement naturally follows from their attitude to Ministerial

Paragraph 10. The question of an Imperial War Cabinet is of course
a matter for an Imperial Conference. As stated earlier, we were
unable in 1937 to secure a round table discussion on this and many
other important aspects of co-operation. We are, however, not
concerned with the past but with the vital present and the
critical future.4


1 Winston Churchill.

2 Document 53.

3 W.L. Mackenzie King and Field Marshal J.C. Smuts.

4 Fadden informed Cranborne the same day (cablegram 586,AA:A3196,
1941, 0.13435) that the Commonwealth Govt proposed to send Sir
Earle Page, Minister for Commerce, to London.

[AA:A1608, H33/1/2]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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