Economics and Foreign Policy, 1942-1957
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.
5 The Chifley Government: Policy Motivation
The Chifley Government: Policy Motivation
“Behind the rhetoric of loyalty to Britain and the Commonwealth stood a nation deeply aware of its own interests and prepared to defend them, even against the British.”1
The Chifley government’s support for the British Commonwealth and the Sterling Area, while frequently expressed as support for Britain itself, derived from an understanding that membership of these institutions gave Australia genuine advantages. Ideology and domestic politics reinforced these beliefs. It has been suggested that having to choose between reviving its historical relationship with Britain and the Commonwealth or the American-advocated multilateral trading system was “an invidious choice.”2 The reality was more straightforward. Although there were concerns of over-reliance upon Britain, this was a longer-term fear; initially, the Sterling Area and the Commonwealth provided Australia with significant economic and political benefits.3
This chapter considers the Chifley government’s motivation and the advantages it derived from Britain and the Commonwealth. It first explains the value of the Sterling Area and the Commonwealth to Australia. Exploring the economic focus, it then analyses the ongoing importance of Britain to Australian industry and defence policy and its pursuit of atomic power. Political factors were also important, including the domestic constraints of Labor’s anti-Americanism and the risks of appearing to be anti-British. Together these elements meant that the Chifley administration reinforced its Commonwealth connections due to the benefits they brought, both to Australia and, politically, to the government itself...
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