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Historical documents

161 MacDonald to Evatt

Message [1] (extract) SINGAPORE, 19 June 1948

Towards the end of this part of the discussion [2] I confirmed to
Mr. Macmahon Ball and his colleagues the effect of repatriations
on Asian opinion in Malaya. I introduced my remarks by saying that
United Kingdom authorities in Malaya had done some things since
the war which had produced misunderstandings and banned relations
between Asian and European peoples. Other European powers with
responsibilities in the East had done likewise. Sometimes such a
situation was inevitable owing to different conditions and
interests in different countries. The repatriation negotiations
with Australia had an unfortunate similar effect. My remarks did
not contain an expression of my personal opinion but a statement
of fact already well known throughout Malaya. It did not give
responsible Asian leaders present at the party any information
which they did not know already. It is not (repeat not) true to
say that I warned Ball and his colleagues that policy had done
'irreparable harm'. On the contrary, I argued that the situation
was far from irreparable. For example if it were by any chance
possible for the Australian Government, without any breach of its
immigration policy, to make some 'gesture' concerning this
question of the handful of repatriated Malayans it would be
quickly cleared up. I emphasised however that I thought this would
not be possible... I then defended, in front of Asian leaders
present, the Australian Government's immigration policy. I said I
thought it wise on both economic and political grounds so as to
prevent the Australian standard of living from being undermined by
cheap Asian labour. Its wisdom from the political point of view
seemed to me equally great... I thought that the Australian
Government and people were right in pursuing an immigration policy
which ensured that a vast majority of people were of similar
racial origin. Naturally the whole conversation was intended to be
confidential, and not for circulation beyond the limited and
responsible circle at my dinner party. I greatly regret that an
incorrect leakage in a newspaper misrepresenting both substance
and spirit of my remarks should have added to the Australian
Government's embarrassments in this matter. I am of course
extremely ready to do anything I can at any time to help to
establish good feelings. I believe that Mr. Ball and his
colleagues have helped considerably in this work but I would be a
poor friend to Australia if I did not honestly emphasise what you
have no doubt heard from Mr. Massey, that the repatriations have
hurt the feelings of the Asian peoples in Malaya very deeply and
caused very bad feeling. However strongly the defence of the
policy may be stated, that feeling is at present not only a
spontaneous but a solid and passionate fact. I have considered
your suggestion that I could close the incident by an appropriate
statement about the Goodwill Mission on the lines which you
suggest. I would gladly make this statement if I thought that it
would help at the present time. I fear that it would not. It would
only cause a new wave of protest. In my opinion and in the opinion
of all my advisers here we should say nothing now which might
provoke a fresh answer. We should let the feeling die down.

1 Transmitted through UK High Commissioner's office, Canberra, and
passed to Evatt on 21 June 1948.

2 That is, the discussion at the dinner party given by MacDonald.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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