186 Massey to Chifley

Ministerial Dispatch 1/47 SINGAPORE, 14 October 1947


Following certain negotiations between yourself and the United Kingdom authorities concerning Australian interests in this area, you gave me a direction that, pending establishment of a permanent organisation for the co-ordination of British Commonwealth defence, I should act as a channel through which suitable liaison could be maintained with the British Defence Committee in South East Asia, and that I should attend its meetings as an observer.

These instructions were conveyed in top secret departmental memorandum No.29 of 31st January 1947. [1] As you know, an essential requirement of the efficient discharge of these duties has been access to information gathered by the various United Kingdom organizations here, both service and civilian, and exercise of an adequate voice in decisions reached in committees other than the Defence Committee, such as the Co-ordination Committee and the Joint Intelligence Committee.

2. The Joint Intelligence Committee consists of three service members, a representative of the Governor-General's Office, and of the various Security bodies here, under the chairmanship of the Special Commissioner. I have always been represented as an observer at this committee, either personally or by a member of my staff. This has been quite invaluable, not only because it has allowed us to draw upon sources of information which would otherwise not have been available, but also- because it has given us the opportunity of remarking trends in U.K. policy in this region, as revealed in the subjects which the Committee has had under consideration. Recently, however, there has been a definite tendency on the part of the service representatives on the Committee to try and restrict membership purely to service personnel, with the exception of the Special Commissioner's representative. The ostensible reason has been to bring the Committee's organisation into conformity with that sitting in London, which consists of representatives of the Foreign Office and three Service Ministries, and the U.K. Security organisations.

In consequence, the Chiefs of Staff Committee here and the Joint intelligence Committee, London, have both recommended that the Joint Intelligence Committee (Far East) should (a) be re-constituted so as to be responsible to the Chiefs of Staff Committee here instead of as at present to the British Defence Committee in South East Asia; and (b) that its membership should be restricted accordingly.

You will remember that a similar development took place recently in regard to the British Defence Committee, and that it was necessary to check this forthwith (see my despatch to Dr. Evatt No.49 of 20th August 1947). [2]

3. Although I feel strongly that, in view of the importance of the role of Australia in any future defence scheme, the exclusion of the Australian representative would at this stage be discourteous as well as unrealistic, I did not on the present occasion make an issue of this, for I did not wish to take action which might be regarded as in any sense entering into a commitment. The Special Commissioner's Office, however, has expressed strong views on the matter. On its initiative the Joint Intelligence Committee (Far East) has now recommended that nothing should be done to alter the present practice whereby an Australian representative attends its meetings as an observer. The service members of the Committee concurred in this course, in spite of the contrary opinion emanating from the Chiefs of Staff.

4. There the matter rests, and I think that our association with this very useful Committee is assured for the time being. I should be grateful, however, to have your views on the whole subject, and any guidance which you may feel it possible to give me. I wish to emphasise that I have been myself guided by the desire to make as much use as possible of the sources of information available here, without at the same time becoming an actual participant in committee work to an extent which might be regarded, either by the Australian Government or the United Kingdom authorities, as accepting a commitment. I very much hope that in this I am following your wishes. [3]

1 See Document 166.

2 The British Defence Committee in South East Asia noted that Massey had been present as an observer at all its meetings, and expressed strong opposition to any change in that procedure.

3 on 31 October Chifley replied that he agreed with the views expressed in paragraphs 3 and 4, and encouraged Massey to make clear to the appropriate authorities that Australia attached considerable importance to its association with British Commonwealth defence work in South East Asia.

[AA : A1838, TS382/8/2/., iii]