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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

Appendix III — Interchange Of Information Between The Governments Of Australia And New Zealand

page 338

Appendix III
Interchange Of Information Between The Governments Of Australia And New Zealand

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia

Prime Minister's Office, Wellington
23 September 1938

Dear Sir

I have to inform you that the New Zealand Council of Defence at a recent meeting discussed the question of co-operation in Defence matters between Australia and New Zealand. It appeared to the Council that while our liaison with the United Kingdom is completely satisfactory, the liaison with Australia, except on certain matters dealt with by individual services, is not as good as is desirable.

2. As an instance of the state of affairs, I would refer you to two papers of the Committee of Imperial Defence, numbered 440C, Defence of Australian Ports, and 473C, Defence of New Zealand Ports. In the case of the first paper, the document originating the paper was drawn up in Australia, was referred to the Committee of Imperial Defence, and subsequently reached New Zealand as a British paper. In the second case, the paper was originated in New Zealand and by this time has presumably reached Australia as a British paper.

3. Other similar instances could be quoted. While we will both agree that consultation with the United Kingdom is essential, I would suggest that consultation with each other direct is of some value also. Our problems both in peace and war resemble each other even more than they resemble those of the United Kingdom.

4. I suggest for your consideration that we establish the principle of complete mutual interchange of information between Governments as opposed to between individual services. Presumably the details could be worked out in further correspondence, but in the meantime I suggest the following as some possible methods to adopt:


Exchange of brief summaries of decisions on defence policy.


Furnishing each other with copies of any communications to the United Kingdom which might be of interest to the other side (e.g., the recent Pacific Islands scheme sent to you under cover of my memorandum of 19 May 1938).


Exchange of copies of what I believe you know as ‘War Book Papers’ but which we know as papers of the Organisation for National Security, the local equivalent of the Committee of Imperial Defence.

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Exchange of copies of Government War Books or of particulars regarding compilation.


An understanding that in time of war the fullest possible information, both of enemy and own activities, should be mutually exchanged, e.g., copies of our replies to the telegrams set out in CID paper 664M (Notification of Precautionary and War Measures) might well be exchanged between us.

I should be glad if in due course you could let me have your remarks.

Yours faithfully,

(sgd) M. J. Savage

The Prime Minister of Australia to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

Prime Minister

, Canberra,
3 March 1939

Dear Sir


I desire to refer again to your letter of 23 September 1938, concerning the question of interchange of information between the Governments of New Zealand and Australia.

I have consulted my colleague the Minister for Defence, and am now in a position to reply in detail to your letter.

My Government fully agrees that, in principle, the exchange of information between the parts of the Empire cannot be other than beneficial to mutual understanding and co-operation in Empire Defence. This is particularly the case between Britain and the Dominions, and between Dominions in the same geographical region, as Australia and New Zealand.

It would, however, appear inadvisable to lay down hard and fast rules as to classes of documents that should be exchanged. I am sure you will agree that it would be preferable that the information exchanged should be at the discretion of the Governments concerned.

Committee of Imperial Defence and other papers of Dominion interest, or relating to Empire Defence, are forwarded overseas, and the Dominions Office also transmits copies of Parliamentary debates. Whilst my Government is in agreement that, similarly, Australian and New Zealand Governments should keep each other posted on broad questions of policy and plans, it considers that information regarding the conclusions reached, rather than the documentation relating to their evolution, is all that it is necessary to transmit between the two Governments.

Dealing, seriatim, with each of the classes referred to in paragraph 4 of your letter of 23 September 1938, I would offer the following specific comment:


This is now being done by the transmission of copies of Policy speeches, and, in addition, these subjects are covered by the quarterly letters exchanged between the Chiefs of Staff in each country.

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This can be arranged on the basis determined by each Government as to the particular communication to be forwarded.


and (4) The Government will be glad to forward to you shortly a copy of the Australian War Book. As this Book contains the conclusions reached, it will not be necessary to forward the War Book papers as well.

There is also the point that the documents and reports of the Committees which make up the War Book papers are of a secret and domestic nature and embody information furnished in confidence by private bodies. In view of this, it will be readily understood that these papers cannot be made available.


This would appear to be desirable and could be arranged so far as my Government is concerned.

There exist already, as you know, arrangements for interchange of information between the Services in the two countries. It is considered that the practice should be continued, as it serves a most useful purpose. The information exchanged by this method is not such that it need be exchanged between our Governments direct. You may, however, wish to consider the desirability of the New Zealand Organisation for National Security maintaining a close liaison with the Services. Much Australian information is furnished through this channel, and if this liaison is maintained, it will be unnecessary to duplicate the information by the method of inter-Government exchanges.

Suitable steps are being taken to ensure that information on the lines of the foregoing will be forwarded by my Government, and it is proposed that this shall be done on a quarterly basis.

Yours faithfully,

(sgd) J. A. Lyons,

Prime Minister