65 Draft Statement by Spender to Delegates at a Meeting of the Consultative Committee
14 May 1950
Statement by the Minister for External Affairs on his Appointment as Chairman of the Consultative Committee1
First of all I wish to thank you for electing me Chairman o f this conference o f the Commonwealth Consultative Committee for aid to South and South-East Asia. In doing so, you have not only done me honour but you have honoured Australia. The Australian Government is extremely gratified that this conference is being held in our country. We are vitally interested in the matters to be discussed, and we hope that we will be able to make a substantial contribution to the conference. Then again we feel that conferences, such as this one, between representatives of the various countries of our Commonwealth have a value in themselves, apart from any decisions or conclusions they may reach. These Commonwealth conferences underline our common interests, our common attitude on fundamental issues, and tend to strengthen those bonds between us, which have been tested in so many difficult circumstances, and on which we Australians look as one of the most important elements in our relations with the rest o f the world. The last occasion on which representatives of Commonwealth countries met in Australia was in 1947, when the Canberra Conference considered various matters related to the termination of hostilities with Japan. Now in 1950, three years later, we are happy that Commonwealth representatives are again gathered in Australia to consider matters of vital interest to us all. We are happy, too, that you gentlemen, representatives of the countries of the Commonwealth, will have the opportunity to see something of our country and people during the next ten days. We hope that those of you who have been here before will be able to carry your researches further, and those who are visiting us for the first time will gain a new understanding of Australia and its people.
The conference we are about to commence arises out o f decisions arrived at by the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers' Conference held at Colombo in January of this year. That conference recommended that the participating countries consider certain lines of action to assist economic development it the countries of South and South-East Asia. The means recommended included direct financial and technical assistance by Commonwealth countries while it was also envisaged that the utmost advantage might be taken of existing international machinery for economic aid as well as of the possibilities o f mutual aid between the countries of the area. The Colombo Conference also recommended that, to facilitate the implementation of its recommendations, a Commonwealth Consultative Committee should be established, open to all Commonwealth countries which might wish to participate and with very specific terms of reference. The recommendations of the Colombo Conference were duly considered by all Commonwealth Governments, and were accepted by the governments represented here.2
My Government will wish to lay some stress on the provision of short-term aid. A realistic appraisal of the situation in South and South-East Asia suggests that the needs of the area are so great in relation to the scanty recourses of the Commonwealth countries that we will not get very far in the development of a long-term plan for economic development on our own. We will require outside assistance, particularly from the United States. This does not mean that we should not proceed with long-term plans, but we must realise that this will take a considerable time to organise and longer to implement. We should by all means consider long-term plans and proceed with the discussions and negotiations which will be . required to organise them. But in the meantime we should press on with the provision as a matter of urgency of such short-term assistance as lies within our power. By sincere and determined approach to this aspect of our task we may find that we are able to do considerably more than appears likely at first glance. Further, the immediate provision of some form of concrete aid will be a demonstration of the sincerity of our professed desire to assist the peoples of South and South-East Asia. This in itself may have valuable results in the countries of the area. A concrete contribution at this stage may also encourage the people and government of the United States, by showing that they are not alone in their concern at conditions in Asia and their willingness to extend aid to countries needing it.
We believe that the most valuable short-term measures that could be undertaken would be provision of technical assistance and of the most urgently required kinds of both consumer goods and capital equipment. This conference might recommend the establishment of a Commonwealth fund which will be available for provision of high priority aid of this kind. The fund world be notional in the sense that, though the whole of it would be available for the purposes of the fund, the expenditure would be made separately by each contributing government. The fund would thus be a figure representing the aggregate amount of money which British Commonwealth governments together are prepared to lay out in the provision of short-term economic aid. We consider that a relatively small portion of the fund might be used to provide technical assistance either by training personnel, or by supplying facilities for technical training in the recipient countries. We have in mind a programme (details of which will be brought forward under the appropriate agenda heading) involving an expenditure of approximately ï¿½Str 1,250,000 over a period of two years. This does not seem a great amount, but we have been into the matter fairly carefully and it is surprising how much technical assistance of this nature can be provided by a small expenditure. Indeed, this type of aid is limited much more severely by the availability of training facilities than by expense.
The greater part of the fund could be for the purpose of financing urgently required imports to South and South-East Asia. We have fixed on an arbitrary figure of ï¿½Str 15,000,000 for this portion of the fund. This, however, is by no means a final figure and will be advanced simply as a starting point for discussions under the appropriate agenda item. We will suggest that contributions to the Commonwealth fund be in addition to contributions by Commonwealth countries to the United Nations technical assistance programme and to the ï¿½6,000,000 loan to Burma.
The Australian Government feels that, while it is important that we demonstrate our sincerity by the immediate provision of short-term aid, such aid as we are able to provide will be of little value unless accompanied by a long-term plan for international assistance in the economic development of the area as a whole. The basic aim of any such long-term plan should be to increase productivity in those countries thereby making possible a higher standard of living for their inhabitants. In the formulation of a long-term plan it is essential that the initiative should come from the countries of the area who must provide details of their long-range requirements. We can possibly assist in this by making experts available to the governments concerned. Another means of assisting in the formulation of plans might be by circulating a carefully worded questionnaire to the governments of the area seeking the kind of information which would be essential for the development o f longrange economic aid.
One instrument of long-range economic planning which my government would like to see developed in South and South-East Asia is the type of commodity stabilisation agreement which has become familiar in international commercial relations. Instability of world prices for the products of the area has been a major factor in hindering the economic development of South and South-East Asia. We therefore feel that Commonwealth Governments should strongly advocate and support the development o f international agreements to stabilise the prices of such commodities. We believe, furthermore, that we should do this even if it affects our interests as consumers.
My Government hopes that this Committee will recommend a further meeting, to which the U.S. and other countries interested in the area might be invited. Such a meeting could take place in Washington or in New York concurrently with the meeting o f the General Assembly of the United Nations. Pending such a meeting, however, we feel that the work should go forward with the utmost despatch. The best way of achieving this might be for officials of each Government represented here to continue consultations at the conclusion of this conference. One possible arrangement might be for officials to be provided by each country through their High Commissioners in Canberra. If this were agreed to I should be happy to arrange for secretarial assistance to be provided through my Department of External Affairs. Such a group, continuing the work of this Committee, could undertake immediate approaches to recipient territories of this area.
[NAA: A1838, 381/3/1/3 part 4]
1 Before the Sydney conference Spender suggested to his fellow delegates that they should open the first session to the public to generate maximum interest in the meeting. They agreed, on the condition that his welcoming speech be non-controversial, and they be given a chance to see an advance copy. Spender circulated this draft, which appears to be incomplete, to delegates before the official opening. His recommendations for a 'Commonwealth fund' proved contentious and he was forced to amend his address.
2 See Document 19.