161 MacDonald to Evatt

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

SECRET & PERSONAL 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.