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Rethinking the Australian Dilemma

Economics and Foreign Policy, 1942-1957

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Bill Apter

This book explains how and why, Australian governments shifted from their historical relationship with Britain to the beginning of a primary reliance on the United States between 1942 and 1957. It shows that, while the Curtin and Chifley ALP governments sought to maintain and strengthen Australia’s links with Britain, the Menzies administration took decisive steps towards this realignment.

There is broad acceptance that the end of British Australia only occurred in the 1960s and that the initiative for change came from Britain rather than Australia. This book rejects this consensus, which fundamentally rests on the idea of Australia remaining part of a British World until the UK attempts to join the European Community in the 1960s. Instead, it demonstrates that critical steps ending British Australia occurred in the 1950s and were initiated by Australia. These Australian actions were especially pronounced in the economic sphere, which has been largely overlooked in the current consensus. Australia’s understanding of its national self-interest outweighed its sense of Britishness. 

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Preface

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This book explains how and why, between 1942 and 1957, Australian governments shifted from their historical relationship with Britain to the beginning of a primary reliance on the United States. It shows that, while the Curtin and Chifley Australian Labor Party (ALP) governments sought to maintain and strengthen Australia’s links with Britain, the Menzies administration took the decisive steps towards this realignment.

The dominant feature of the Australian governments’ foreign policy was a search for security. First, Japan, and then the Cold War in Asia had made the region more dangerous, at the same time as Australia’s traditional protector, Britain, proved less willing and able to meet these threats. However, while military strengths and cultural links were significant, domestic economic reconstruction was at the core of Australia’s search for security. The Menzies government saw development as not just as an economic goal but critical for Australia’s long-term security. This policy served to push Australia towards the dominant United States and its ally, Japan, and away from the weaker Britain.

There is broad acceptance that the end of British Australia only occurred in the 1960s and that the initiative for change came from Britain rather than Australia. This book rejects this consensus, which fundamentally rests on the idea of Australia remaining part of a British World until the UK attempts to join the European Community in the 1960s. Instead, it demonstrates that critical steps ending British Australia occurred in the 1950s and were initiated by...

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