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83 War Cabinet Submission by Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Agendum 335/1941 14 October 1941


Netherlands East Indies
It was decided by the previous Government in July last that the
Netherlands should be invited to exchange diplomatic
representatives with Australia. [1] It was proposed that
Australian representation should be by means of the accrediting of
an Australian Minister in London with nominal relations with the
Netherlands Sovereign together with the appointment of a
Counsellor or First Secretary at Batavia to enable contact between
the Commonwealth Government and the Netherlands East Indies
Administration in which from the point of view of Australia would
consist the actual advantage of the exchange.

2. The High Commissioner in London [2] was instructed to approach
the Netherlands Government accordingly. He was also authorised if
the Dutch did not wish to receive an openly diplomatic appointment
at Batavia to suggest that an Australian representative should be
appointed there in conjunction with a Minister in London with the
designation of (a) Agent-General or, alternatively, (b) Consul-

3. In its reply early in August to Mr. Bruce's approach, the
Netherlands Government urged an early exchange of Ministers but
pointed out that it was not compatible with the constitution of
the Netherlands to receive a full diplomatic officer as the
Netherlands East Indies was merely a colony and further, that such
an appointment would create a precedent which might lead to
serious difficulties with other Powers. No State has a Minister in
the N.E. I., the status of which (in relation to the Kingdom of
Holland) corresponds to that of a Crown Colony (in relation to the
United Kingdom).

4. As regards the further suggestions by the Commonwealth
Government, the Dutch replied in September that they would agree
to the appointment of an Agent-General in the Netherlands East
Indies but that they wanted the purpose for which he would be
appointed publicly defined on the ground that if there were no
limitation of his functions the Japanese would demand a similar
appointment. The definition suggested was 'trade, shipping and war

5. The fact must be accepted that the Dutch Government in London
are definitely unable to accept a diplomatic appointment in their
colony. I think it would be undesirable to drop the idea of an
exchange altogether. The only practicable alternative therefore is
to put forward the suggestion for the appointment of an Australian
Consul-General at Batavia.

6. The rank and designation of Consul-General are internationally
recognised and require no definition. An Australian Consul-General
at Batavia would have the same standing with the local Government
as the British, United States and Japanese Consul-General, and the
appointment would give us substantially the advantages looked for,
though falling short of the original intention of a full
diplomatic exchange. In the N.E.I. Australia's representative
would have a status corresponding to the maximum status enjoyed by
the representative of any foreign power.

7. I recommend that Mr. Bruce be instructed to convey this
proposal to the Netherlands Government in London without further
delay, intimating at the same time that the Commonwealth
Government desires the appointment of a Netherlands Minister in
Australia. As a Consulate-General is a recognised mode of
international representation, I do not think it absolutely
necessary that the Commonwealth Government should make a
reciprocal appointment of a Minister in London accredited to Queen
Wilhelmina. However, if the Dutch Government in London regards it
as absolutely necessary, I think we should be prepared to accredit
the High Commissioner to the Dutch Court in London. (The relevant
documents are attached-Annex 'A'.) [3]

8. The previous Government felt that some positive step should be
taken by the Commonwealth in recognition of the fact that Russia
and the United Kingdom had become allies in the War. It was
decided at the end of July that while no formal approach should be
made direct to the Soviet Government at that stage, the High
Commissioner in London should be instructed to suggest informally
to the Soviet Ambassador that the Commonwealth Government would
welcome the appointment of a Soviet Consul-General in Australia.

10. [4] On receiving these instructions, Mr. Bruce pointed out
that in his opinion the result of raising the question of the
Consul-General would probably be to bring a Straight-out request
from the Soviet Government for an exchange of Ministers. Before
approaching M. Maisky therefore he asked whether the Commonwealth
Government was prepared to accept an exchange of Ministers with
Russia. He was informed in reply that this was not desired and
that having regard to his views it was left to his discretion to
raise the subject with M. Maisky if and when an opportunity

11. No approach has in fact yet been made to M. Maisky, but the
High Commissioner has now reported by telegram of October 7th that
he has reason to think M. Maisky would probably be content with
the appointment of a Consul-General in Australia and would not
press for the establishment of a Soviet Legation at Canberra
involving reciprocal action on our part at Moscow. In view of
this, Mr. Bruce has asked to be advised of the wishes of the
Commonwealth Government. (The relevant documents are attached-
Annex 'B'.) [5]

New Zealand and South Africa
12. Similar grounds to those in the case of Canada exist for an
exchange of High Commissioners between these two Dominions and the
Commonwealth, namely, that the development of relations,
particularly in time of war, has reached a point where means for
direct inter-Governmental communication are highly desirable. In
South Africa there is no Australian representation at all. In New
Zealand, the Commonwealth Government maintains a Trade
Commissioner, but his status and functions are not appropriate for
maintaining contact between the two Governments on general
political matters.

13. In August of last year the then Minister for External Affairs
[6] obtained the authority of Cabinet to approach the New Zealand
Government with a suggestion for the exchange of liaison officers
between the respective Departments of External Affairs. The New
Zealand Government in reply welcomed the proposal but stated it
would appreciate time to consider it. [7] The suggestion was not
followed up, owing, it is understood, to shortage of staff in the
New Zealand Department of External Affairs.

Near and Middle East
14. The Commonwealth Government has maintained since 1936 an
Australian Government Commissioner at Cairo, with jurisdiction
extending over all Middle Eastern countries and functions covering
primarily questions of trade and secondarily political
intelligence. In this latter respect, however, the capacity of the
Commissioner is necessarily limited by his non-diplomatic status.

In the meantime it is evident that the importance of Egypt and the
Near and Middle East region to Australia, both politically and
militarily, has substantially increased. The whole region now
plays a most significant part in Imperial policy, a fact which has
been recognized by the recent appointment of a member of the
British War Cabinet as a Minister of State in the Middle East [8]
with headquarters at Cairo.

15. Sir John Latham accepted appointment as Minister in Tokyo on
the understanding that the term of office would be for one year.

This period expired on October 12th.

16. Sir John Latham is at present on his way to Australia. He had
suggested at the end of August making a visit to Singapore for
consultation with Mr. Duff Cooper. [9] He was informed that it
seemed preferable that he should come the whole way to Australia
timing his visit to coincide with the expected visit here of Mr.

Duff Cooper early in November. Before this arrangement was
finalised, however, Sir John Latham on his own responsibility
embarked on a ship leaving Japan on 27th September and due to
arrive at Singapore on October 14th.

17. In a telegram despatched on October 4th to reach him on
arrival at Singapore Sir John Latham was informed that the
Government considered that any prolonged absence from his post was
undesirable in the present circumstances, and that it was desired
that he should not be away long and should return to Tokyo as soon
as possible after his visit here. It was suggested that he should
proceed by first flying-boat from Singapore direct to Australia
without stopping at Batavia. (The relevant documents are attached-
Annex 'C'.)

United States of America
18. Mr. Casey [10] has suggested that a visit by him to Australia
for consultation would be useful at the present time. He was
informed on October 9th that Sir John Latham was arriving here
about the middle of the month and asked to 'ascertain and advise'
us whether he could reach here in time to synchronise with the
latter's visit. Mr. Casey misinterpreted this provisional enquiry
as a definitive [sic] invitation and I had to send him a very
clear disclaimer on Saturday morning last as he actually proposed
to announce to the press that he was about to make the visit. (The
relevant documents are attached -Annex 'D'.)


1 All documents referred to under the headings Netherlands East
Indies, Russia, Japan and United States of America are included in
Annexes A, B, C and D of this submission respectively. They may be
found on file AA:A2671, 335/1941
2 S. M. Bruce.

3 The question of an exchange of diplomatic representatives with
the Netherlands was considered by War Cabinet on 15 October and
again On 30 October, when Evatt's recommendations were accepted in
principle (see AA:A2673, vol. 8, minute 1408 and AA:A2673, vol. 9
,minute 1460). On 31 October instructions were sent to Bruce in
accordance with the terms of paragraph 7 of the submission (see
cablegram 6652 on file AA:A981, Netherlands 20, i).

4 There was no paragraph numbered 9 in the original.

5 For further consideration of Australia's relations with the
U.S.S.R. see Document 96.

6 John McEwen. See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49,
WE IV, Document 71.

7 See letter of 31 August 1940 from Peter Fraser, N.Z. Prime
Minister, on file AA:A981, ExternaI Affairs Dept 156.

8 Oliver Lyttelton.

9 U.K. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, then in the Far East.

See Document 75, note 1.

10 Minister to the United States.

[AA:A2671, 335/1941]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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