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Historical documents

158 Ball to Burton

Cablegram 366 SINGAPORE, 7 June 1948, 3.35 p.m.


1. I am sending a report on Indonesia by air mail.

2. On arrival at Kuala Lumpur we found ourselves faced with a
storm of protest

against Australian Immigration Acts. News reports and leading
articles in Malayan press were extremely bitter. The point was
made that it was very bad taste for Australia to send a goodwill
mission to Malaya at this time since it looked a cheap effort to
atone for a deep insult by a patronizing distribution of largesse.

Indeed the sending of the Mission seemed to be considered a fresh

3. The local press was very insistent about meeting me, and in
these circumstances I felt it wise to give an informal press
conference. I remember the Minister's suggestion that he felt it
better for me to avoid press conferences wherever possible, and I
felt that if I had refused to see the press here it would have
looked like running away. Will you please explain the
circumstances to him?
4. I have told the press that this visit had no direct connection
with recent misunderstandings on immigration policy [1], since it
has been decided on some months ago and included eight countries
in addition to Malaya. I emphasised that this mission was simply
carrying out decisions taken by Dr. Evatt on behalf of the
Australian Government to fulfil what we believe to be our
obligations as a loyal and active member of the United Nations.

I emphasised the UNESCO and Post-UNRRA [2] background. I
emphasised the part which Dr. Evatt has played in arousing
Australia to a new sense of our international obligations and
particularly to our desire to live in friendship with our
neighbour in the Pacific. I emphasised that I was not repeat not a
travelling Santa Claus, that there was nothing of patronage about
our visit; that in the long run Australia would certainly depend
more upon the goodwill of her Asiatic neighbours than they on our
goodwill. When pressed by a questioner I expressed it as a
personal opinion that owing to Australia's new sense of her place
in the Pacific, a change in Australian public opinion towards our
immigration policy was likely during the coming decades.

5. Some Asian leaders asked me whether it would not be possible
for the Australian Government to invite a group of them to visit
Australia where they might have the opportunity of meeting our
Ministers and the leaders of public influence. I felt that the
least I could say was that personally I felt it would be a good
idea and that I would convey the suggestion to my Government.

6. I am having private talks with many of the leaders of the
Asiatic parties and communities here; the more sober and
responsible of these leaders have been restrained in their
reaction to Australia's 'insult'. They have told me while they
have been deeply puzzled at recent acts of our Immigration
Authorities they still feel that the very violent and vociferous
press campaign against Australia is partly a political racket and
being deliberately exploited to intensify racial self

I regret to report that Malcolm MacDonald has not repeat not been
helpful. Saturday MacDonald invited us to an informal dinner party
where we met a dozen Asiatic political leaders. After dinner
MacDonald said he felt it would be helpful if I would try to
explain to these leaders the recent surprising acts of the
Australian Government. I talked for about twenty minutes and then
invited questions and comment. Malayan Chinese and Indian
representatives expressed very vigorously their hostility to the
recent 'brutal' acts of our Immigration Authorities. Mr. MacDonald
himself, instead of trying to give me a little help in what was
clearly a difficult situation, said that he thought that Australia
by her acts had done 'irreparable harm' not only to herself but to
the British and every other European nation interested in South
East Asia. He felt, moreover, that Australia's blunders called for
a 'major political gesture' by the Australian Government to wipe
out the stain. At this point I thanked Mr. MacDonald for having
expressed his views so bluntly and said I thought it was time for
us to leave. I said that whereas one normally thanked one's host
for a pleasant evening I should like to thank him and his guests
for an unpleasant evening.

7. I felt that his attitude was a deliberate attempt to make
political capital for himself or for the U.K. at Australia's

8. I should report on the other side that Gent and Gimson have
been friendly and helpful.

9. I would like to suggest that it might be desirable for the
Australian Government if it can do so without appearing to make
apologies to make a statement indicating that recent incidents
between Australia and Malaya produced unfortunate
misunderstandings, but that this in no way affects the real will
of our Government and people to live and work in mutual trust and
friendship with the people of South East Asia.

10. I wholly agree with Stuart about the importance of this area,
particularly of the Malayan Federation to Australia. This
importance may be temporarily obscured by the existence of British
Authority here, but the Malays clearly feel a great sense of
solidarity with the Republic of Indonesia, and I think that our
relations with Malaya should always be considered as intimately
connected with our attitude towards Indonesia. [3]

1 A reference to the expulsion of fourteen Malay seamen from
Australia in February 1948 and others. For reaction to the initial
decision to repatriate the seamen, see Volume 12, Documents 520
and 523.

2 United Nation, Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

3 External Affairs replied on 8 June 1948 asking Ball not to
express any opinion, eve. personal, on political matters, adding
that he was on a mission dealing only with relief and scholarships
The next day Burton advised Ball not to comment, if questioned,
about the reaffimation by Chifley and Evatt of Australian
immigration policy in Parliament on 8 June.

[AA:A4968/2, 25/35/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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