Mr J.A. Lyons, Prime Minister, to Mr M.J. Savage, N.Z. Prime Minister

Letter CANBERRA, 3 March 1939


I desire to refer again to your letter of 23rd September, 1938 [1], concerning the question of interchange of information between the Governments of New Zealand and Australia.

I have consulted my colleague the Minister for Defence [2], and am now in a position to reply in detail to your letter.

My Government fully agrees that, in principle, the exchange of information between the parts of the Empire cannot be other than beneficial to mutual understanding and co-operation in Empire Defence. This is particularly the case between Britain and the Dominions, and between Dominions in the same geographical region, as Australia and New Zealand.

It would, however, appear inadvisable to lay down hard and fast rules as to classes of documents that should be exchanged. I am sure you will agree that it would be preferable that the information exchanged should be at the discretion of the Governments concerned.

Committee of Imperial Defence and other papers of Dominion interest, or relating to Empire Defence, are forwarded overseas, and the Dominions Office also transmits copies of Parliamentary debates. Whilst my Government is in agreement that, similarly, Australian and New Zealand Governments should keep each other posted on broad questions of policy and plans, it considers that information regarding the conclusions reached, rather than the documentation relating to their evolution, is all that it is necessary to transmit between the two Governments.

Dealing, seriatim, with each of the classes referred to in paragraph 4 of your letter of 23rd September, 1938, I would offer the following specific comment:-

(i) This is now being done by the transmission of copies of Policy speeches, and, in addition, these subjects are covered by the quarterly letters exchanged between the Chiefs of Staff in each country.

(ii) This can be arranged on the basis determined by each Government, as to the particular communication to be forwarded.

(iii) The Government will be glad to forward to you shortly a copy and of the Australian War Book. As this Book contains the conclusions (iv) reached, it will not be necessary to forward the War Book papers as well.

There is also the point that the documents and reports of the Committees which make up the War Book papers are of a secret and domestic nature and embody information furnished in confidence by private bodies. In view of this, it will be readily understood that these papers cannot be made available.

(v) This would appear to be desirable and could be arranged so far as my Government is concerned.

There exist already, as you know, arrangements for interchange of information between the Services in the two countries. It is considered that the practice should be continued, as it serves a most useful purpose. The information exchanged by this method is not such that it need be exchanged between our Governments direct. You may, however, wish to consider the desirability of the New Zealand Organisation for National Security maintaining a close liaison with the Services. Much Australian information is furnished through this channel, and if this liaison is maintained, it will be unnecessary to duplicate the information by the method of inter-Government exchanges.

Suitable steps are being taken to ensure that information on the lines of the foregoing will be forwarded by my Government, and it is proposed that this shall be done on a quarterly basis. [3]



1 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. 1, Document 298.

2 G.A. Street.

3 This letter was drafted in the Defence Department (see memorandum S/S62 from F.G. Shedden, Secretary of Defence Department, to F. Strahan, Secretary of Prime Minister’s Department, 27 February 1939, on file AA: A816, 14/301/110).


[AA: A816, 14/301/110]