Mr A.G. Cameron, Postmaster-General, to Mr J.A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Letter ADELAIDE, 12 January 1939

I acknowledge yours of 29th December covering copy of a letter from Professor R.C. [sic] Melbourne, on which you request my comments. [1]

The chief points brought out in Professor Melbourne’s letter centre round the extent to which Australian national security may be jeopardised by too free a hand in China and East Asia on the part of the United Kingdom Government without previous consultation with other Governments, members of the British Commonwealth.

I think it only reasonable that on vital matters of policy in which action of one member may jeopardise the security of others, there should be some close co-

operation or consultation, at any rate, between the Governments concerned. Japanese hostilities produced as a result of unilateral British action in China might result in the loss of Hongkong and North Borneo to the United Kingdom Government, but it might also produce a state of war between Japan, Australia and New Zealand, in which these two dominions would be forced to rely on their own resources almost entirely for their own security, owing to the fact that Britain may not be able to detach forces from the European sphere on account of threats by Germany and Italy.

The second important point is that Professor Melbourne is particularly well acquainted with the Japanese outlook, is fairly deeply in their confidence, and therefore, I am bound to pay some attention to his forecast of a drawing together of Japan and Germany, subsequent to which the Commonwealth would be faced with requests by the Japanese Government for some amendments of Australia’s immigration policy, under which immigration of Japanese to the Commonwealth would become possible.

I think you would be well advised to sound Professor Melbourne as to his knowledge on this point, particularly in view of his statement that a demand of this kind may be addressed to your Government within the next few months.

The third important point is the Professor’s proposal that there should be an Australian Minister resident in Tokyo and he stresses the necessity for more direct information concerning the Pacific, which such a Minister could obtain. You will recall that I have consistently opposed the suggestion that Australian Ministers should be appointed to any governments abroad. I think that any information which could be derived by an Australian Minister in Tokyo or Washington could be secured by an Australian representative or counsellor at the British Embassy in those capitals. In the case of Japan, the most important available information from our point of view would be of a military nature, the securing of which is an activity quite outside the scope of a Minister accredited to a foreign Government.

You will recall that when the first Japanese expedition sailed for Shanghai in 1932, the first intimation that the British Minister had of any intention to despatch such an expedition was its arrival in Shanghai.

The Japanese, I am convinced, are as well able to prevent an Australian Minister from obtaining political information as they were to prevent a British Minister from obtaining vital military information in the Shanghai case.

Looked at from every viewpoint, I see nothing in Professor Melbourne’s letter to cause me to waver in my attitude in regard to this appointment.

The Professor also mentions the advisability of the Australian Government coming to some arrangement with the United States in regard to the Pacific area, and apparently he is prompted to violate every procedure laid down by him on page 1 in regard to China. The suggestion, if I read aright, is for a unilateral agreement between Australia and the United States in regard to military co-

operation in the Pacific area. I still hold strongly to the view that under no consideration will the United States take part in any war in the Pacific in defence of British territories. I am, however, convinced that the United States will not defend its own dependencies in the Philippines and its activities will be confined to a defence from the Aleutian Islands to Honolulu. They will exercise complete military control of the North Eastern Pacific, will impose the Munro doctrine so far as the South Eastern Pacific is concerned, and if the usual U.S. policy goes on, they will be prepared to leave the North Western Pacific to the Japanese, to the Dutch, British, French or anyone who may find themselves capable of executing hegemony in those areas.

You will further recall, I think, my observations in Cabinet on the night of the 27th September in reference to the possibilities of the North Eastern coast of Queensland. The point at which the Japanese would attack depends entirely on the objective they have in view. If that objective is conquest, they might decide to gain a footing in ‘a less easily defended area’. On the other hand their scheme of conquest might have for its first objective the pinching out of the areas from Sydney to Newcastle and Port Kembla, hoping thereby to paralyse Australian defence. This is a matter on which there could be many methods of attack and many methods of defence. The Professor’s letter throws no light on the Japanese intentions in this regard. If the Japanese objective is simply the reprisals which the Professor mentions in an earlier paragraph, then they may take one or more of many forms and in this case Prophecy as to the nature of the reprisals, or the point of delivery, is futile.

Summed up, my attitude to the Professor’s letter is this: ‘How much does the Professor know about Japanese intentions? How long have we got to prepare?’

If Professor Melbourne could be induced to expand himself on these two points, I think the Government should be deeply interested in ascertaining how much he knows. However, I have no doubt as to his Japanese connections.



1 See Document 1.



[AA: A1608, B41/1/6]