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204 Curtin to Chifley

Letter CANBERRA, 1 June 1943

You will have seen telegram No. 95 from Mr. Bruce regarding postwar relief. [1] The value of the United Nations relief organisation in affording a practical approach to many post-war problems has been recognized by the Commonwealth Government for some time, and last December we expressed a general agreement with the broad lines of the draft proposals for a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, at the same time expressing our special interest in any regional committees for the Far East or the Middle East (see telegram 11390 to Mr. Bruce of 12th December [2]).

Since December, progress towards the setting up of the United Nations organisation has been slow and there have been indications that the original proposals regarding structure may be considerably modified. Meanwhile, the Post-war Requirements Bureau, under Sir Frederick Leith Ross, in London, and the Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation under Mr. Lehman, in Washington, are proceeding with their investigations.

It is to be expected that, at an early date, the Commonwealth will be required to enter more actively on the tasks of post-war relief, and it is desirable that we should do so. In preparing for this contingency, there appear to be three matters for urgent consideration, namely:

(1) Australia must be ready at an early date to supply information regarding the foodstuffs, drugs, raw materials and 'other articles of prime necessity' which can be made available by the Commonwealth for relief purposes, having due regard to our obligations in respect of supplies for war purposes and for our own civil population. It will be necessary not only to estimate quantities, but also the time and place at which they will be available, and to provide for continuous adjustment of estimates in accordance with changing needs and circumstances.

(2) Consideration will have to be given to the terms under which these supplies can be made available, whether by gift or payment, so as not to endanger the economic stability of our own country.

(3) Arising out of these tasks, and, irrespective of our eventual representation on any inter-Allied board, I assume it will become necessary to devise an Australian relief organisation for the purpose of:

(a) co-ordinating the information obtained regarding relief supplies and directing the attention of the co-operating departments to new lines of inquiry;

(b) providing liaison between Australian agencies and whatever United Nations organisations may be set up for the procurement and distribution of relief in various regions of the world;

(c) advising the Australian Government in regard to external relief, so far as it affects Australian production and supply, and coordinating our relief obligations with the general requirements of a stable Australian economy.

The machinery necessary for the third of these tasks can only be evolved in due course and with due regard to existing agencies of the Government. I suggest that this matter should be kept in mind, so that, at an early date, the appropriate action may be taken by Cabinet.

As an immediate measure to carry out the first and second tasks listed above, I would appreciate it if, in your dual capacity of Treasurer and Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, you would instruct the Acting Director of Post-war Reconstruction [3] to call together the representatives of the Departments of Supply, Commerce and Agriculture, Health, Labour and National Service, and the Rationing Commission, in order to undertake an inquiry along the lines indicated in paragraph (1) above; and instruct the Secretary to the Treasury to report on the financial aspects of post-war relief.

It is my wish that the Department of External Affairs should also be associated with both these inquiries so that, as far as may be necessary, it can advise on international aspects of the matter and be in a position to co-ordinate the main conclusions for communications when the time comes to other Governments and so that, as the inquiries proceed, the results may be directly applied in the formulation of the Commonwealth's external policy.

I feel that I can rely on the assistance of your department in carrying out this inquiry as a matter of urgency.


1 Document 200.

2 On file AA:A2937, Post War-Relief.

3 Probably J. G. Crawford.

[AA:A1608, C23/3/2, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History