20th January, 1925


(Due to arrive Melbourne 21.2.25)

My dear P.M.,

I have been here now for two months, and although it is still early in the day to start reviewing the position, I am going to try and do so, as much to crystallise my own mind as anything else.

First of all, I think I have made friends with Hankey [1] and with the heads of departments in the Foreign and Colonial Offices. I have all the authority to get and see and extract from official papers that I can reasonably expect. As far as I know, nothing is kept back from me. In the words of Mr. Chamberlain's [2] written authority to the Foreign Office, they are to tell me all that they would tell you if you were here. I have an office in the best location to do the job and a good Secretary in the shape of Miss Procter. In other words, I think I am in the position that you wanted, of being able to send you early, accurate information of events and tendencies, limited in the amount of detail telegraphed only by one's cable expenses, and by one's energy as regards written despatches.

As a rough scheme on which to work, it seems to be no less than essential to try and dig out from printed F.O. and other documents and from conversations with F.O. people sufficient of the past story of our relations with each individual country to make your files in Melbourne complete enough to enable you (and Henderson [3]) to read current telegrams and despatches with a reasonably full knowledge of what has led up to the present position.

In other words, this means the gradual building up of a set of confidential reference files of information of reliability guaranteed by the past experience of the Foreign Office, and kept up-to-date by the working of the diplomatic machinery that centres on the Foreign Office.

The speed with which these prior history files can be completed depends on the amount of time that one can spare from current affairs. It means reading and digesting a great deal of print, and sending out copies of the more important documents and making summaries of others. This has the advantage that it fixes the story in one's own mind, at the same time as one sends it out to file in Australia. There is nothing very difficult in it and it is very interesting work, and although it seems essential to do it, for the sake of my own knowledge as well as Henderson's, yet I grudge a good deal the time that it takes me away from what are without doubt more important current questions.

As you well know, people of note-and others-have talked and written at a great and increasing rate in recent years on this subject of the maintenance of the Empire and the share and responsibility of the Dominions in the conduct of foreign affairs.

It is apparently a question so difficult that nothing but rather obvious and simple solutions have been offered-even speculatively -by anyone. I admit that I haven't yet read a fraction of what has been written on the subject. It's a pleasant subject to browse on as long as you keep your mind on a high and abstract plane, but apparently rather a thorny one when you come down to actualities and try to paint in the detail of any new constitutional machinery to do the job. Nothing, however, can alter the fact that the real machinery for decision on any point, or at any crisis, is the Prime Minister and the Parliament of the Dominion at the seat of Government of the Dominion.

With this premise, an Australian Minister, permanently or quasi- permanently resident in London, would not seem to me to fill the bill any better than a political Liaison Office, with a small active staff. Your Minister would not be able to do more than transmit to the British Government the views of the Australian Cabinet, and in nine cases out of ten, he would speak officially only on definite instruction from Australia. This function your Liaison Office, or your High Commissioner, could do equally well.

The rough work of digging information as to our foreign relations out of the Foreign Office (and other sources) would still have to be done, and I can't see your Minister doing it effectively, except with a staff of at least the size of the Political Liaison Office.

The present scheme has the additional advantage that it involves no great constitutional change, whereas the presence of an accredited Minister in London might in time lead to unforeseen situations.

So that, except from a window-dressing point of view, or to maintain our status if another Dominion sent a Minister here, I do not see at present that you would improve the position much by sending a Minister.

I must admit that I can't see that such vast difficulties exist in the way of keeping you intimately informed on the general tone and conduct of this country's foreign relations, in sufficient time for you to make your voice heard on the subject.

Australia and Great Britain are for practical purposes two intimately allied countries. Friendly co-operation and complete frankness on both sides, fortified with active personal liaison, should, from what little I have seen of things, enable the present position to be continued without constitutional change.

Abstract discussion as to the exact constitutional relations of Great Britain and the Dominions does not seem to me to be within the range of practical politics. The position is well known in fact even although we have no defined form of words to express it.

It may, you can almost say it would, be awkward to say just what would happen in a great crisis such as war or peace, but that would be no less the case as between any two or more allied countries faced with coming to a quick decision on a momentous question.

Up to the present, generally speaking, the Dominions have been officially communicated with only when all the arguments regarding a situation or a proposal have been completely thrashed out here.

The Dominions are then (fairly late in the day) told the answer from the point of view of this country, and are asked to concur or suggest, at the same time being told very briefly the main considerations affecting the British Cabinet's point of view. They have not been told the running story of the negotiations, the proceedings of the sub-committee told off to work up the subject to a fine point, or the intimate story of the several alternatives and how each would affect our relations with other powers. All this the Dominions' Cabinets are left to reconstruct, rightly or wrongly, in their own minds. This must make it difficult for a Dominion Cabinet to take a strong line in support of the British point of view; it means that they usually have no time to inform or warn public opinion in the Dominion as to the way a decision must go, having regard to the ultimate best interests of the Empire.

I take it that the above state of affairs has been at the root of the greater part of the misunderstandings and irritation between this country and Australia. And it is one that can be readily put right, if not by the British Government being more frank in communications (which may not be possible or desirable), then by someone in the position of myself, who, in the confidence of this Government, is put in the way of knowing all that is going on, and communicates the gist of it, constantly and fully, in confidential cables and despatches to you.

The cabling of a coded message that would occupy a closely typed foolscap page costs about 10. A lot can be got into such a message. It can reach you three hours after it leaves this office, and in about eighteen months, when the Pacific cable is duplicated, it will reach you in probably half that time. It means that I can send you a cable at 6 p.m. here, about some event, and have your cabled views in reply early next day.

If you do not mind my sending you cables to the extent of up to say 1,000 a year, I think it is fairly certain that I can keep you in very close touch with all negotiations of importance. You have not up to now limited me as regards cable expenditure and unless I hear from you to the contrary, I will continue to use the cable freely at my discretion.

I take it that a really sudden crisis is a very rare event. A 'crisis' is the climax of strained relations, and can usually be seen coming some time before. Even 1914 would not be outside this description. And it is the full details of such coming events as cast shadows that I take it you have sent me here to send you.

I have not yet seen enough of things to be in a position to make any recommendation on the subject, but it may be that a little later I will submit to you a proposal to appoint another officer here to assist me. There is a lot of ground to cover, and if one is to run no risks of missing anything, it might be worth while having a second man. One might go sick, or it might (it probably will) be worth while my going to the Continent at times, to get some personal touch and knowledge of the many problems amongst the European countries. A man like Longfield Lloyd [4] would be a great help.

I regret having burdened you with such a lengthy letter. On the other hand, I would much appreciate your views generally on the points I have tried to make, when you are free enough to write.

I am, Yours sincerely, R. G. CASEY

1 Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the Cabinet.

2 Austen Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary.

3 Dr Walter Henderson, Head of the External Affairs Branch.

4 Major E. E. Longfield Lloyd, in charge of the N.S.W. office of the Commonwealth Investigation Service 1921-35, Australian Trade Commissioner (1935-37), later Government Commissioner (1937-40) in Japan.