Mr F.K. Officer, Australian Counsellor at U.K. Embassy in Washington, to Mr R. G. Casey, Treasurer

Letter (extract) WASHINGTON, 25 January 1939


[On 5 December 1938 Casey wrote a personal letter to Officer in which he asked for Officer’s views on upgrading Australia’s representation in the United States (ANL: Officer, MS 2629/1/631). The following extract is taken from the reply.]

The position as I see it briefly is this. The present arrangement of an Australian Counsellor at the British Embassy here should be amply sufficient for keeping us supplied with information on the position here and for providing the Ambassador with an Australian adviser when it becomes necessary for him to take some special action on behalf of Australia. Whether it does or not depends only on the success or otherwise of the holder of the post. It also shows to the American official world, and to some extent the public, that Australia takes sufficient interest in their relations with the States to have an Australian on the Embassy staff. It is partly for this reason that I have been getting about as much as possible. But it must be realised that it identifies us very closely with the British Embassy and that in fact the Australian is looked upon as likely to be imbued with the United Kingdom point of view. Finally, it is of course a cheap method of doing things. The advantages of opening a Legation would be first of all that we would give very great satisfaction to the United States Government who I know are very anxious to have us represented here in the same way as Canada and South Africa, and to be represented themselves on a diplomatic basis in Australia. Secondly, it would enable us to make representations on a definitely Australian basis from time to time at the State Department not only formally but informally. For instance, it might have been most useful in the weeks of crisis last autumn if an Australian Minister had been able to indicate in informal discussions that Australia was in accord with the United Kingdom policy and supporting it. So the question boils down to this-

what do we want? Merely information, or do we wish to play a more important part? If the latter, we must have our own Legation. As you know, I was always a supporter of the present system: I admit frankly that I am becoming a supporter of the idea of a Legation mainly for the reason that I believe in these times of stress an Australian Legation co-operating closely with the British Embassy would be some use to British prestige and influence in this country.

But if you are going to think along these latter lines you have got to think of four important matters: first of all, the cost; secondly, the staff; thirdly, the personality of the Minister; and fourthly, the question of foreign policy. As staff is tied up with cost I will take it first. The minimum I think would be a Minister, a First Secretary senior enough to act as Charge d’Affaires when the Minister was on leave, a Third Secretary who could be quite junior, and to some extent a learner, a Commercial Counsellor or Attache who could also do the work of the Trade Commissioner in New York, a clerical staff of probably three and a messenger. Allowing for adequate accommodation I do not believe you could do it under 12,000 a year. And unless you are prepared to put out a certain amount of capital, say 30,000, to buy or build a Legation you would have to spend an additional 2,000 at least on renting accommodation probably of an unsatisfactory nature-Canada has bought and South Africa has built. There might be a slight saving in the cost of the New York office although I rather doubt this. The Secretary of the South African Legation has kindly given me the figures regarding their Legation here. They own the Legation property, the land, building and furniture having cost them I understand about 30,000. The cost of the Legation staff for this year consisting of a Minister, one Secretary, two Attaches, a senior and two junior clerical assistants and a messenger will be 9,353; subsistence and transportation expenses cost another 800; printing, stationery, postage, telegrams, books, newspapers, etc., another 550; and the maintenance of the Legation another 300, or a total of 11,003. Their Consulate in New York costs another 5,865. Secondly, by the question of staff I mean that the Department of External Affairs must go on recruiting and training with a view to future development. It seems to me that we should have been doing more in that line the last couple of years, and that Hodgson’s staff must be barely adequate for what it has to do at present, and makes no provision for fairly sudden expansion. My own feeling is that the appointment of a High Commissioner in Ottawa is at least as important, and, I believe, more important than the establishment of a Legation here. But that again is going to require a senior and junior External Affairs Officer as its staff, and whoever went as senior to either Washington or Ottawa should have had some considerable experience not only in Canberra but also in London, whilst the junior should have had at least an adequate period of training in the Department at Canberra. As to personality, I mean that we must have someone who can impress by both his knowledge and personality and not be a figurehead. I hope the time will come when you will do what Canada is doing and employ career External Affairs men.

Finally, by my reference to foreign policy I mean that these posts abroad are only going to be useful if we have passed from what I think of as the ‘information’ stage to the ‘action’ stage. By the former I mean the period during which the Department was more or less satisfied with collecting an adequate amount of information on any question that was likely to arise, so that it could, if the need arose, inform the Government of all the facts. By the ‘action’ stage which I take it we have now reached, I mean that the Department should have expanded to the extent that it is considering constantly any situation which may affect Australia in the remotest way on the facts in its possession and is stating from time to time in London or elsewhere its views as to the action that should be taken. I am saying this particularly in the light of my visit last week to Ottawa. There I feel they have built up a big Department of External Affairs and a numerous series of Missions abroad with very little use or effect, for my very definite impression is that they get very little if any more information in spite of their Mission than we get depending as we do on the Foreign Office, and that they have no policy on any subject except to do nothing or say nothing for fear that they may do or say the wrong thing. And of course our Legation would need to be supplied regularly with the fullest information of the Government’s policy and action. I hope the above is not too long. You will I hope let S.M.B. [1] see it.



1 S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, who arrived in Australia for consultation on 23 January 1939.