339 Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister, to Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister (in London)

Cablegram 112 7 March 1941,

Now that Cabinet and War Council meetings have concluded you should know the atmosphere here, particularly in relation to the Pacific situation.

Despite anything you may have read on recent developments I would like you to know there is no need for concern. Any difficulties will be ironed out with the ready co-operation of Mr. Curtin [1] and others. When the War Council issued its warning a fortnight ago [2] we were faced not only with a delicate overseas position, but a dangerous situation at home. Pin-pricking strikes, overtime bans and go-slow tactics were having a serious effect.

Following the War Council's declaration, which was given wide publicity, I had several secret discussions with Union officials and Parliamentary members. Mr. Curtin also called meetings of his members and of officials at the Trades Halls. Mr. Beasley [3] also worked along similar lines.

These efforts have had a marked effect industrially. The overtime ban which was slowing up shipbuilding and munitions production has been removed while a series of strikes in munitions plants has been settled. The Miners' Federation issued a no strike pledge because of the gravity of the War situation.

While some people may have felt that the War Council's warning went too far, nevertheless no one came out publicly in opposition and no one disputed the need for the utmost preparation against possible aggression.

During visits to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle I was given quite definite evidence that people more than ever were looking to our own defences and the defences of our near North.

The arrival of our troops in Malaya following quickly upon the War Council's declaration provided concrete evidence of our preparations. It had a consolidating effect upon the atmosphere that had been developed. Preparations for the meeting of Parliament were based upon this atmosphere.

A new situation has been created as a result of the interpretation placed upon your speech by a section of the newspapers and Labour members on Advisory Council that it advocated appeasement and was a policy essentially different from that on which the War Council's declaration was based.

An indication of the conflicting viewpoints being expressed is provided in the following-'Age' leader 6th March:

Inconsistency with the recent grave statement by the Advisory War Council is also charged against the Prime Minister. Many citizens, fully impressed at the time with this warning, and accepting its implications, have since concluded that it was issued in a mood of hysteria, or perhaps for undisclosed diplomatic reasons.

'Sydney Morning Herald' leader 7th March:

Everything that has happened abroad, both in Europe and the Far East, since the Advisory War Council issued its grave warning to the nation on February 13, goes to reinforce the warning and strengthen the appeal which the party leaders then made for the greatest effort of preparedness. At that time there were several strikes in progress which were seriously impeding war production, and it was gratifying to observe, during the following week, signs that the War Council's admonitions had been heeded by sections of workers who, in the preoccupation of trying to enforce their demands, had been turning a blind eye to dangers approaching their homeland. The climax to this welcome development in industry was the pledge given by the leaders of the Miners' Federation [Messrs.

Nelson and Kellock], of '100 per cent. coal production while the present grave war situation continued.' [4]

In discussion at War Council Meeting yesterday Beasley, Forde [5] and Makin [6] expressed fears of repercussions industrially apart from developments in their own caucus. This view seems also to be held by Curtin who was not at the Council Meetings, but who stated at Canberra:

I must emphasise that the War Council's views were unanimous and were made as a result of official communications placed before the Council. For myself, I say that nobody, not even the Prime Minister, can escape the fact that an aggressor is on the move in regions affecting Pacific countries. Until the aggressor stops moving, it would be a major blunder for any Australian to disregard the strategic potentialities of the position.

New Zealand newspaper opinion is also being published here, displaying a conflict of views.

Your explanation dated London, 6th March [7], setting out your views in nine points, is accepted here as assisting to clarify the earlier newspaper and Labour interpretations.

Our purpose now is to remove any misapprehensions created by the newspapers. This might take some time unless some overseas incident comes to our assistance.

I have refrained from commenting, but should it be felt necessary to make some declaration on this matter I will seek your views. I reiterate that there is no need for concern and am confident that the position will speedily be adjusted.

FADDEN

1 Leader of the Opposition and member of the Advisory War Council.

2 See Document 289.

3 Leader of the Lang Labor Party in the House of Representatives and member of the Advisory War Council.

4 Words in square brackets have been added from and the punctuation altered to conform to the Sydney Morning Herald, 7 March 1941, p.8.

5 Labor Party M.H.R. for Capricornia.

6 Labor Party M.H.R. for Hindmarsh.

7 Document 338.

[AA:A3196, 1941, 0.2932]