290 Calwell to Noel-Baker

Message CANBERRA, [10] December 1947 [1]


It was most gratifying to receive your kind personal message conveyed through Mr. Beasley, following the receipt by you of my personal letter of 25th November. [2]

Your memorandum to our High Commissioner, which he has cabled me [3], makes most depressing reading from our point of view. While we fully appreciate the position at present confronting the United Kingdom and are most anxious to help and to avoid adding to its burdens, it is difficult to escape the impression that little is being done to meet our essential migration needs in the overall allocation of shipping, and that, particularly as regards the Asturias, proposals for the use of shipping do not take advantage of it being employed for dual United Kingdom and Australian purposes without detriment to the former.

2. I would like to specially mention two projects which are deemed vital to our immigration plans.

3. Asturias. Apparently the proposed immediate role of this vessel is evacuation of British servicemen and civilians from India to the United Kingdom and Australia. It is difficult to follow why an arrangement on the following lines would not achieve this purpose while at the same time helping Australia with the transportation of migrants from the United Kingdom. Our proposal is that this vessel on completion of her present voyage to Australia should- (a) return to India and there embark British people for evacuation to United Kingdom;

(b) leave United Kingdom with, say, 1,100 British and 180 Polish migrants for Australia, the balance of the berths (approximately 350) being used, if necessary, for the carriage of passengers to the middle East;

(c) on arrival at India embark a total of 350 ex-servicemen and their dependents and transport them with the United Kingdom and Polish migrants to Fremantle;

(d) this itinerary to be repeated for at least a further voyage of the Asturias.

4. We consider these proposals, while being reasonable, as possessing also the advantage of serving both the United Kingdom and our own requirements. In agreeing to a lift of 350 persons from India per voyage we are making a contribution to the British- India evacuation problem and to do so requires special and somewhat difficult arrangements to provide for their reception and accommodation here, as these people, unlike migrants from the United Kingdom, have not been nominated by relatives or friends in Australia in a position to house them.

5. Aquitania. The basis of our claims for this vessel will have been fully explained to you by Mr. Beasley. Not only were we first in the field with our application but were nearing the completion stage in our negotiations when these were suspended for time being at request of British Government for purpose of coping with a stated emergency. We had every indication that this vessel would be available for charter by us after March next and if it is now otherwise allocated there would be a strong feeling here that preference was being given to other representations and our just claims ignored.

6. Of the two projects mentioned that concerning the Asturias is by far the most urgent, as this vessel is at present in Fremantle and an immediate decision is therefore necessary as to her future employment.

7. I have cabled quite frankly and personally to you on these two projects which among others have been before your Government for some time. Failure to achieve any results whatever on these several matters is viewed most seriously here. Immigration has become such a live issue and there is such a general demand for labour indeed to increase our production, so that incidentally we can further help United Kingdom, that the importance of this work both nationally and politically cannot be too strongly emphasised.

8. Mr. Beasley has received further recent instructions on all the projects in which we are interested and will be in a position to fully inform you of our views and proposals in detail. I am convinced that any gesture the United Kingdom Government could see its way to make in regard to the Asturias and Aquitania would not react to its disadvantage, and in this connection I take considerable hope from your kind intimation that you will proceed to consider the suggestions embodied in my letter of 25th November.

1 Conveyed to Williams in Canberra on 9 December and thence to Noel-Baker on 10 December.

2 Calwell had asked Noel-Baker for his 'personal intervention and support' in negotiations with UK authorities to obtain vessels to transport British migrants to Australia.

3 The memorandum explained in detail the difficulties associated with each of the vessels which Australia had hoped to obtain in the immediate or near future.