Skip to main content

Historical documents

65 Advisory War Council Minute 512

CANBERRA, 12 September 1941


(Previous reference-Minute No. (489)). [2]

(The Rt. Hon. Sir Earle Page, G.C.M.G., M.P., was present for the
discussion of this subject.)

The Prime Minister intimated that before Sir Earle Page left for
London it was desired that he should have a discussion with
members of the Advisory War Council.

2. Sir Earle Page stated that he held strong views on the
prevention of the extension of the war to the Pacific and the
measures that should be taken to achieve this end. He considered
that the provision of the necessary Naval and Air strength at
Singapore would deter Japan from entering the war. He therefore
considered that the necessary dispositions of Empire Naval and Air
Forces should be made accordingly. He was of the opinion that the
knowledge that the United Kingdom and the United States
Governments were acting in close collaboration in the defence of
their joint interests in the Pacific would deter Japan from
aggressive action.

3. Sir Earle also referred to the local defence problem with which
Australia is confronted owing to the situation in the Pacific, and
the consequent burden on the Budget and manpower that resulted in
the calling up for continuous service or long periods of training
of a large Home Defence army. There was therefore great urgency in
the need for the presentation of a case to the United Kingdom
Government for the strengthening of the Forces based on Singapore,
which would have an advantageous reaction on the extent of
Australia's local defence effort.

4. Sir Earle Page said that the route he proposed to take on his
journey to England was to Singapore and then across the Pacific
Ocean to the U.S.A.

5. His visit to Singapore would be for the purpose of consulting
with the United Kingdom Secretary of State and the Heads of
Services in order to inform himself of their present views.

6. He intended to have discussions in the U.S.A. on various trade
matters, for example the duty against Australian wool.

7. In regard to the representation of Australia in the councils of
the Empire, the line he proposed to take was that Australia's
contribution to the united war effort was a noteworthy one, and it
therefore warranted a voice when decisions were being taken in
London which affected Australia's interests. He was of the view
that permanent representation in the War Cabinet was essential
because events in the Pacific were of such vital importance to

8. Dr. Evatt [3] desired to know the terms of the cablegram
received from the United Kingdom Government on the question of the
despatch of an Australian Minister to London, and the Prime
Minister stated that Mr. Churchill said he would welcome the visit
of an Australian Minister for discussions on matters of mutual
interest. [4] While in London Sir Earle Page would canvass the
question of representation by a Minister sitting in the United
Kingdom War Cabinet.

9. Mr. Curtin [5] said that the Labor Party did not suggest that
an Australian Minister should be a member of the United Kingdom
War Cabinet, but that a Minister should be constantly in London to
put the Australian viewpoint. Mr. Curtin continued that Sir Earle
Page's functions in London would be to discuss Empire strategy in
the higher direction of the war effort. Australia's part is at
present based on the cooperation that can be afforded in the light
of her capacity and other commitments. We had part of the R.A.N.

Squadron overseas, together with the A.I.F. and overseas squadrons
of the R.A.A.F., as well as our part in the Empire Air Training
Scheme. The Home Defence Army and Air Force were necessary for
defence against Japan. Mr. Curtin said that he had no knowledge of
the progress of the U.S.A.-Japanese discussions, but if they did
not succeed our dangers would be increased. Therefore, the
strongest representations regarding the location of capital ships
at Singapore were both important and urgent. Local defence, and
the consequent degree to which Australia could participate in the
overseas war effort, were more urgent in the case of Australia
than of any other Dominion. The strategy of the war insofar as it
affected Australian cooperation depended on the presence of
capital ships at Singapore.

10. Mr. Curtin continued that, if Sir Earle Page's consultations
succeeded, he would be in a better position to discuss the
Australian contribution to the common Empire cause. The discussion
that day with the Commonwealth Bank Board had indicated the need
for reconsideration of our war effort, and in his opinion it
should be limited to:-

The present number of A.I.F. Divisions, together with the
necessary reinforcements;

Our part in the Empire Air Training Scheme;

Our Naval Forces to be used where it was considered they would be
most effective.

Mr. Curtin added that the whole of our contribution overseas was
contingent on the U.S.A.-Japanese discussions, and Sir Earle Page
should insist on the location of a strong force of capital ships
east of Suez. If these discussions were satisfactory, an
examination of our total war effort should then be made to
determine what Australia could best do and where it could best be
done, having regard to the burden imposed.

11. The Minister for the Army [6] observed that the position was
conditioned by the number of men to be kept under arms in

12. In reply to an enquiry as to the possible duration of his stay
abroad, Sir Earle Page said that he hoped to return as soon as

13. Mr. Beasley [7] stated that he did not wish it to be
considered that, because of this talk of Sir Earle Page with the
Council, he was bound by Sir Earle's actions abroad. The Minister
belonged to a school of thought in connection with policy which
sought the domination of world markets to the detriment of
Australian manufacturers. Sir Earle Page replied that he was
opposed to any policy of allowing the United Kingdom to say what
we can or cannot do in regard to the development of our secondary
industries. His aim in the U.S.A. would be to seek essential
supplies of which we at present stand in need.

1 Sir Earle Page, Minister for Commerce, was shortly to visit
London as Special Representative in the United Kingdom. Page's
instructions for discussions in Singapore, the United States and
London are contained in a letter from the Prime Minister (A. W.

Fadden) dated 16 September and found on file AA:MP1217, Box 475,
Australian representation in United Kingdom, Sir Earle Page's
mission abroad, September 1941 (preparation of Brief).

2 Dated 2 September. In AA:A2682, vol. 3.

3 Labor Party M.H.R. for Barton.

4 See Document 53, paragraph 8.

5 Leader of the Opposition.

6 P. C. Spender.

7 Labor Party M.H.R. for West Sydney.

[AA: A2682, VOL. 3]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top