Anzac Conference

19 Jan 1944 - 21 Jan 1944


ww2dbaseBy early 1944 the Curtin administration governing Australia felt uneasy about its wartime relationship to the United States for both domestic and international reasons. Domestically the Curtin government expected, as had so many ALP governments before it, to come under intense attack from the conservative Opposition, which was back under Menzies' leadership: a repudiation of Curtin's "Australia looks to America" article of 1942 as anti-British was likely to come from Menzies, so the cabinet attempted to distance itself a little from the US, and reforge links with traditional ally Britain. Internationally the war in the Pacific was being fought on two levels: on the surface the Allied forces struggled against Japanese forces, but strategically and diplomatically the Allied nations squabbled amongst themselves over the allocation of resources and the settlement that governed the peace in the region after the conflict was finally over: Douglas MacArthur had limited the invading force he was employing in the task of recapturing the Philippines from the Japanese only to GIs of the US Army, marginalising troops from other Allied nations even when they were made available, such as diggers of the AIF, and even the US Navy where possible; Britain and the US saw themselves as competitors in the lucrative post-war civil aviation, even in the Pacific Ocean, and made moves to maximise their own advantage; and when the Australian prime minister, John Curtin, challenged the beat-Germany-first strategy agreed upon by the Allies, by asking Winston Churchill if Russia could be enticed to enter the Pacific war before Germany was defeated, which provoked an angry reaction from Churchill. In the light of this conflagration amongst the Allied ranks, the Curtin government became suspicious of Yankee dollar capitalism, and the External Affairs Minister, Dr H. V. Evatt, organised a conference between John Curtin and Labour Party prime minister of New Zealand, Peter Fraser, to decide upon the post-war security of the dominions under their care and the influence of the US in the Pacific after Japan was defeated. The two leaders began discussions in Canberra on 19 January, where General Blamey offered a military appreciation of the dominions' defensive position if they stood together without an ally in a future conflict. According to Blamey, if war should return to the Pacific Australia and New Zealand could not stand even together, with the combined military might of both dominions, if one fell the other would most likely follow soon after. The document produced by these discussions, the Australia-New Zealand Agreement, was meant to foreshadow the formation of the United Nations, and work within the framework of collective security. During the discussion it became evident that the conference would be an one-sided affair. A young civil servant with the New Zealand War Cabinet Secretariat, George Laking, who attended the conference with Fraser, said "The problem we had as New Zealanders was that Dr Evatt and the Australians were looking to us to provide them with additional votes for the things they wanted to do". He went on, revealing how the New Zealand contribution to the conference was their acquiescing presence:

The Australians were more enthusiastic about doing something than we were; they had more of a sense of their own significance than we had. Peter Fraser didn't want to have anything to do with it at all. It wasn't the least bit satisfactory. The real problem was that we had no idea at all that the world had changed.

ww2dbaseThe Australia-New Zealand Agreement that emerged from the early discussions limited the US post-war influence in the Pacific to the northern hemisphere, and it could not maintain military installations that it had obtained during the Pacific war. South of the equator Australia and New Zealand would have influence under the protective cover of the British Commonwealth. It was signed by Curtin and Fraser on behalf of their governments in Wellington on 21 January, with members of the Curtin government travelling to Wellington to observe their country's immature first excursion into playing an important role in international relations: Forde and Evatt were in attendance. The US secretary of state, Cordell Hull, vocally expressed disappointment to Curtin and Fraser. The matter was discussed later in 1944 when Curtin visited Roosevelt, who was suffering from hypertension, and they had lunch in the President's friend's South Carolina mansion. Curtin was relieved to hear that the President knew that others had drafted the document, and "that Curtin had merely agreed". Curtin wanted the Australia-New Zealand Agreement to be an albatross around Evatt's neck, minimising his insubordinate subordinate's claim as a rival for leadership of the ALP. At the conclusion of the war the Chifley government, facing opposition from the US, Britain, and most of the UN, had no choice but to drop its support of the Australia-New Zealand Agreement.

ww2dbaseSources: J. Beaumont, Australia's War: 1939-45, National Library of Australia, D. Day, The Politics of War, Wikipedia, P. Thompson, Pacific Fury.

Last Major Update: Oct 2009

Anzac Conference Timeline

19 Jan 1944 The three-day ANZAC Conference began in Canberra, Australia.

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» Blamey, Thomas
» Curtin, John
» Evatt, H. V.
» Forde, Frank

» Australia

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