Chifley to Attlee

Cablegram 360 CANBERRA, 2[3] October 1945 [1]


1. Admiral Mountbatten has been good enough to repeat to me his telegram of 23rd October to London concerning the movement of some 1400 Indonesians from Australia to the Netherlands East Indies.


2. My immediate reaction is to query whether over emphasis is not being given to the representations made by the Dutch authorities in the area. When this movement was about to take place the Netherlands authorities in Australia (who must be presumed to reflect the Dutch official attitude elsewhere) strongly pressed for the forcible expulsion of the Indonesians to the Netherlands East Indies, preferably in Dutch ships. Subsequently, when the Australian Government maintained its attitude of returning none against his will, the Dutch authorities here acquiesced in voluntary return in the ESPERANCE BAY. Indeed, they demobilised many for the express purpose of undertaking the voyage.

3. As regards Dr. Van Mook’s estimate that the majority are undesirable characters, I can only repeat the information already given to Admiral Mountbatten (outlined in his 7th paragraph) and observe that in our experience the Dutch are perhaps apt, particularly under present circumstances, to regard as ‘undesirable’ any Indonesian politically out of sympathy with them, irrespective of whether he is an extremist in our sense or not.

4. I find it difficult to appreciate how the arrival of 1400 Indonesians will tip the scales in favour of the extremist element. This result seems to be even more improbable if they should be landed as a group at some port under British control or if their landings are dispersed.

5. Anxiety that their arrival may antagonise the Dutch is, I think, answered by what has already been mentioned, namely that the movement has been undertaken with Dutch acquiescence.

6. I regret that it is quite impossible to divert the Indonesians in the way that Admiral Mountbatten suggests. [3] It would provoke serious trouble here and amount to a breach of faith which in present circumstances would be unwarranted. The Australian Minister for Immigration gave pledges with the knowledge of Netherlands officials in Australia, and I cannot agree to the arrangement being vetoed by Netherlands officials in Java. The movement cannot be interrupted and I must ask that landings be arranged as originally planned, i.e. without incident and punitive action by the Dutch, at ports selected by the Indonesians. As I understand that British forces have now landed at Sourabaya, I can see no objection to the ESPERANCE BAY party being disembarked there under British surveillance. Our immigration code must be observed. If only in the interests of the Commonwealth’s future influence in the whole Pacific our promises must be honoured.


1 This copy was dated 24 October but the cable was dispatched on 23 October. See AA : A3643, vol. 19, 0.27172/73.

2 On file AA : A1838/2, 401/3/6/1/3, i. See Document 332.

3 i.e. to Timor. See Document 327.


[AA : A1838/2, 401/3/6/1/3, i]