Australia’s relations with India 1944-1965
Deakin University has always valued its relationships with India.
Deakin was the first university in the world to set up an office in India.
In more recent times, as well as hosting undergraduate students, Deakin has worked to build up mutually beneficial research partnerships.
One of Deakin University’s leading scholars on the history of the relationship between Australia and India is Eric Meadows, a Research Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Education.
He recently prepared this article entitled Australia’s Relations with India, 1944-1965.
Australia’s Relations with India, 1944-1965
It’s surprising that India was one of the first countries in Asia that Australia opened formal diplomatic relations with - in 1944, three years before India’s independence.
There were high hopes on both sides for the relationship. A defence alliance was even mooted in 1944. Australia was a western aligned nation in the early Cold War and India was “non aligned”, but their governments were in broad sympathy on many of the major issues of the day. Both countries worked together to assist Indonesia achieve independence. Jawaharlal Nehru and Ben Chifley had sympathy with nationalist movements in Asia and did not assume that a desire for freedom from colonial domination was inspired by revolutionary communism exported from Moscow.
Yet, by the mid 1950s Paul Hasluck could describe Australia’s relations with India as worse than those with any other country including Russia. The Menzies Government from 1949 worked hard to develop sound working relations with other Asian nations. Why did it apparently fail with India? There were many reasons for this. Australia under the Liberal/Country Party Government took a different view of the threat from international communism and the nature of the decolonisation in South East Asia than had Labor under Chifley. Australia became formally aligned in a series of treaties with other western powers – ANZUS in particular. India doubted that Australia had a genuinely independent view of the world: its views became irrelevant. It seemed to support apartheid in South Africa and its intervention in the Suez crisis appalled Nehru.
Underlying India’s wariness lay a profound unease with Australia’s immigration policy, the so-called “White Australia” policy. Although the Indian Government never made a public statement condemning the policy it was a subject of constant press comment in India over the years. It was the one thing even well-informed Indians knew about Australia – other than our prowess at cricket of course! Successive Indian high commissioners in Canberra had reported on the administration of the policy and one occasion made some public comments calling for its replacement by a quota for Indian migration, a policy Canada had already introduced. Australian high commissioners in New Delhi reported on the damage to Australia by the policy and similarly called for change, from as early as 1946. It had no impact. The legacy of this profoundly misguided policy bedevils Australia’s image in Asia to this day.
Australia continued to send some of its best diplomatic representatives to New Delhi; its external affairs minister, Richard Casey, had been pre-independence governor of Bengal. The Liberal Country Party Government should have been well informed about Indian policy; Casey was anxious to improve the relationship. Considering the quality of advice it received why didn’t the relationship improve? Who, in fact, determined policy at this time? Peter Edwards’ thesis in Prime Ministers and Diplomats was that for the pre-1949 period prime ministers dominated decision-making in Australian foreign policy. Did this pattern continue after the election of the LCP Government in 1949? The evidence from the relationship with India suggests that it did.