“Australia is vitally interested in Persia”
Australian House of Representatives (1951)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | March 1, 2022                    

Australians fought in both world wars and the Korean War. In 1951, the government was reviewing the country’s defensive capabilities. High on their radar was the tense standoff between Britain and Iran over oil nationalization, and the possibly of a direct confrontation with Russia. Amid calls for Commonwealth solidarity, a minority recognized the validity of the Iranian perspective.

Australian House of Representatives | IRAN | 1952
Australian Senate | IRAN | 1951 (Coming soon)

March 14, 1951


Dr. Donald Alastair Cameron, O.B.E.
Oxley (Queensland)

Dr. DONALD CAMERON.— ...Perhaps the influence that Australia exerts in the world is out of proportion to its size. I remind the House in passing of the great exertions that we made in two world wars. The influence that we have we exercise, first, as a member of the British Commonwealth, and secondly, in conjunction with our powerful ally, the United States of America. There are limitations upon what we can achieve by ourselves. It is impossible for a nation of the size of Australia to pursue a free and independent foreign policy based entirely upon its own desires. We must realize that, whatever our desires may be in the realm of external affairs, they must be pursued in co-ordination with the British Commonwealth, of which we are a part, and the United States of America, whose power and influence constitute a dominant factor in the world to-day...

...I shall turn to the subject of the Middle East. Australia lies between two oceans. The Pacific Ocean is on the east and north of this country, and the Indian Ocean is on the west. All the dangers with which we are faced do not come from the Far East. It is impossible to exaggerate the strategic importance of the Middle East to the defence of Australia. That it is important is borne out by the fact that in two wars we have exerted our utmost efforts to defend the Middle East. It lies on the sea route to Britain and Europe and is the greatest link between us and the centre of the British Commonwealth. In the Middle East are countries, such as Persia, where the British Commonwealth has vital interests. What would happen to Australia and to the Western Powers if the Middle East fell? The Mediterranean basin would be lost to the democratic powers. It would involve the loss of Turkey, Greece and probably Italy. It would bring about the disruption of the entire defence system of the British Empire. One of the paramount and vital interests of Australia is the preservation of the defence of the Middle East. I do not subscribe to the views that were expounded by the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) that the defence of Australia should be attended to in Australia. The defence of Australia in Australia would be the equivalent of the ostrich’s defence of itself by putting its head in the sand. This country cannot be defended successfully unless the Government is prepared to face the implications of the situation in the Middle East. Policy in the Middle East is related basically to defence, but at the highest level policy and strategy are one. The object of Australian policy in the Middle East should be to understand and support British policy in that area and to be prepared to defend it as well. Australia should do its utmost to understand the problems involved and to cultivate good relations with the Moslem world, which will be a very great factor in the defence and the future of this country. Australia should cultivate friendly diplomatic relations with and do its utmost to understand the great problems which confront the Moslem States, especially those of the Middle East.

I believe that those two matters are as important as any other matter that the Prime Minister mentioned. [Japan and the Middle East] Australia cannot adopt a completely free and independent policy, as it might do if it had the population of the United States. Its vital interests being as I have summarized them, its foreign policy should be determined first in relation to the policy of the British Empire and secondly in relation to that of the United States.

June 21, 1951



Reginald William Colin Swartz, M.B.E., E.D.
Darling Downs (Queensland)

Mr. SWARTZ.—In view of the conflicting reports concerning the situation in Persia, will the Minister for External Affairs make a statement to the House at the earliest possible moment and indicate the facts and any action that has been taken by the Government to influence the Government of the United Kingdom in the firm handling of the situation? As the Minister is aware, Australia is vitally interested in Persia, as Abadan is one of the sources of supply of petroleum for this country. Would the Minister also include in the statement any information available regarding the extent of Soviet Russia's influence on the situation?

Mr. CASEY.— The Government has been following with considerable anxiety the course of the dispute between the Persian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, not only because the outcome will affect the supply of oil products from the Abadan refinery to Australia, but also because the dispute may effect the stability of the Middle East. The Government has been kept informed constantly by the Government of the United Kingdom about the course of the dispute, and, indeed, the facts have been related in the press substantially accurately and substantially fully from day to day. The Government has made certain observations to the Government of the United Kingdom concerning the dispute, although, as the negotiations are between the British Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company on the one hand, and the Persian Government on the other hand, Australia has no standing in the dispute. I understand that the present situation is that a proposal was made by the Persian Government to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which was rejected by the company. [AIOC] A counter proposal was made which, I understand, has been rejected in turn by the Persian Government. One can only say that the situation is one of very considerable anxiety. I do not believe that there is anything else that can be said publicly on behalf of the Government that would do other than complicate an already complicated situation. The Government is following the position with care and anxiety, and can only hope for a satisfactory outcome.

Rt. Hon. William Morris Hughes, C.H., K.C.
Bradfield (New South Wales)

Mr. HUGHES.— ...I believe that the price of liberty is not only eternal vigilance but also readiness to fight for the country to which we owe our liberty. We are here to-day by the grace of God and the valour, endurance and deathless spirit of the men who fought for us. They fought in two world wars. They may be called upon within a few years, or a few months, to fight again. The position in Persia is inflammatory and may burst into flames at any moment. At the back of all this we see Russia. What is the cause of the industrial unrest in our midst? It is Russia—communism. Communism is Russia; Russia is communism...

June 26, 1951

SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1951-52.

Reginald William Colin Swartz, M.B.E., E.D.
Darling Downs (Queensland)

Henry Jefferson Bate
Macarthur (New South Wales)

Mr. SWARTZ.— World attention is focused on Persia at present because of its strategic and economic value to both of the main opposing camps in the world. When we examine the map and see that Persia is bordered on one side by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Afghanistan and Pakistan and on the other side by Iraq and Turkey, we realize the immediate strategic implications of that country in the present international situation. Furthermore, the economy of Persia is tied to oil production. Therefore, for both strategic and economic reasons that country has been the centre of a cold war since the termination of World War II. Oil concessions in Persia are of inestimable value to the British Commonwealth and the United States of America. Honorable members should realize that Russia has a treaty of friendship with Persia, which was signed in 1921 and which allows Russia certain rights, so far unexercised, in certain areas of the country. Russian influence is being brought to bear very strongly in Persia at present and the situation is aggravated by the existence of the three major problems of illiteracy, poverty and disease amongst the local populace. For the time being, the flow of oil from Persia has virtually ceased and there is a strong possibility that supplies from the Middle East generally will decrease seriously in the future. This great source of petroleum is essential to the British Commonwealth. Australians should not delude themselves on this issue. One method of solving the problem may be to revive the plan for an international oil agreement, which was contemplated some years ago.

Mr. JEFF BATE.— In Persia, the Communists have succeeded in throwing the oil supplies available to Australia and to other countries into confusion. In the same way, for a number of years, the Communists have succeeded in throwing our industries into confusion. They have distorted the Australian economy, and have joined the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) in declaring that any person who asks the trade unionists to work harder is a traitor. The Communists have also succeeded in placing emphasis upon non-essential industries. They have taken the drive out of coal-mining, steel production, power generation and butter production. They have drawn man-power and facilities away from those industries, and have thrown the economy into such a state that vital industries are not receiving adequate support.

October 4, 1951

BUDGET 1951-52.

Eldred James Eggins
Lyne (New South Wales)

Mr. EGGINS.— I shall now deal with the budget in general terms. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has acquired a worldwide reputation, and has been the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Therefore, I was astounded when the right honorable gentleman completely omitted from his speech last Tuesday any reference to the serious threat that is offered by the Communist bloc to the democratic way of life. He completely disregarded the developments in Korea, Persia and other parts of the world. The happenings in Persia bring home to us the realization of how weak in resources the Old Country has become. Years ago, the British nation would never have tolerated what it is now tolerating in Persia. As the result of its socialist administration, the United Kingdom has become so weakened that it is obliged to accept the situation in Persia. But, above all, that is a threat to Australia. The Leader of the Opposition, who was the Minister for External Affairs in the Chifley Labour Government, seemed to think that developments in the international sphere were not of sufficient importance to warrant a comment by him. I hoped that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) would fill in his leader's omissions, but he merely treated us to an entertainment. He should have trained for the career of a light comedian at the Tivoli theatre. Grave problems confront Australia, yet the honorable gentleman treated his responsibilities lightly. In fact, the general attitude of members of the Labour party to those problems indicates that they have no realization of the seriousness of the plight of their country, or, if they have such a realization, they have no intention of accepting their responsibilities.

October 10, 1951


The Honorable Archie Galbraith Cameron

Mr. SPEAKER.— I have examined the proof report of the question that was asked yesterday by the honorable member for Angas on the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. The right honorable member for Barton challenged the use of two terms that were employed in the question, namely, “Its (the British Government’s) mishandling of the Persian crisis”, and “the last vestiges of British influence in the Middle East”. It appears to me that those very matters are the subject of controversy in countries beside our own. I am unable to apply any one of the many dictionary meanings of the adjective “opprobrious” to any part of the question to which I have referred that was asked yesterday. When objection is taken to words used in the House and a withdrawal is ordered, such withdrawal must not be in deference to Mr. Speaker, who is enjoined by Standing Orders 77, 78 and 79 to take action. A withdrawal must be unqualified. The British usage is described in the fifteenth edition of May’s Parliamentary Procedure, at page 440, as follows:—

The House of Commons will insist upon all offensive words being withdrawn, and upon an ample apology being made, which shall satisfy both the House and the Member to whom offence has been given.

Here again, British practice is not based upon standing orders, but upon custom, usage, precedent, common sense, and courtesy.

Frederick Mears Osborne, D.S.C.
Evans (New South Wales)

The Right Honorable Richard Gardiner Casey, C.H., D.S.O., M.C.
Minister for External Affairs

The Right Honorable Herbert Vere Evatt, L.L.D., D.Litt., K.C.
Leader of the Opposition

Mr. OSBORNE.— I direct a question to the Minister for External Affairs, concerning the stated intention of the Egyptian Government to tear up the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, on which depends the last right of the British Commonwealth to defend the Suez Canal. Will this Government express to the Egyptian Government the grave concern of the Australian people at that proposal and make it clear to the Egyptians that such treaty rights are not only the affair of Egypt and the United Kingdom but are also of vital importance to the people of Australia, to outlier British Commonwealth nations, and indeed, to the whole democratic world? Will the Government also express to the United Kingdom Government our grave anxiety and make plain to that Government that the rest of the Commonwealth still regards Great Britain as the trustee of treaty rights for the whole of the British Commonwealth and that those treaty rights should not lightly be set aside?

Mr. CASEY.— The matters of which the honorable gentleman speaks are of first-class importance, not only to the United Kingdom, but also to Australia. They are of such importance that the Prime Minister as the head of the Government proposes to make a statement on the subject later this day.

Dr. EVATT.— Is the Minister able to state whether, in any of the communications from the Australian Government or its Ministers to His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom in relation to the present oil dispute with Persia, the Ministers or the Government or any Minister at any time proposed, recommended or suggested to the United Kingdom Government the use of military, naval, or air forces against Persia? Will the Minister make a statement to the House as early as possible, not only in connexion with the Persian oil dispute but also in connexion with the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty dispute?

Mr. CASEY.— The answer to the first question asked by the right honorable gentleman is “No”. The answer to his second question is, as I have already stated, that the Prime Minister will make a statement on the general subject of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and the regrettable recent incidents in connexion with it.

BUDGET 1951-52

Hon. Edward John Ward
East Sydney (New South Wales)

Mr. WARD.— We have heard some abuse of the Attlee Labour Government in the United Kingdom because of its handling of the situation in Persia. It is a very fortunate thing that the British people have in command during these difficult years a man of the stability and foresight of Mr. Attlee, rather than a man such as Mr. Winston Churchill. [Former British Premier Clement Attlee] The honorable gentlemen opposite would have had this country involved in war in Indonesia, in full-scale warfare in Malaya, and elsewhere, and to-day they would have us involved in the Persian dispute. I think that Mr. Attlee has adopted the correct attitude. If it is in order for the British Government to exercise the right to nationalize the steel industry of that country, what is wrong with the Persian Government nationalizing the Persian oil industry and using the wealth produced for the benefit of the Persian people? When we charge this Government with being a warmongering government, I am of the opinion that we have every reason for doing so.

October 25, 1951

BUDGET 1951-52.

Charles William Davidson, O.B.E.
Dawson (Queensland)

Mr. DAVIDSON (Dawson).— There has heen no acknowledgment by members of the Opposition of the urgent need for defence preparations. Instead, many of them have talked of trivialities such as the effect that this budget will have upon the prices of ice cream, popcorn and toys. Has it been forgotten that in Korea Australians are now fighting for the principles of democracy and are playing this country’s part in the fight that the United Nations is waging in support of democracy against communism? Has it been forgotten that not very long ago the British High Commissioner in Malaya was foully murdered by Communist bandits? Has it been forgotten that recently the whole of the British Empire, and possibly the entire democratic system, suffered a severe reverse in Persia as a result of the mishandling of a situation there? Has it been forgotten that in Egypt those who some of us came to regard with the utmost contempt many years ago are now challenging Great Britain? Unless we all do something about these matters when history comes to be written in 50 years’ time some of those events may be cited as the beginning of the disintegration of the British Empire. Yet, in the face of a situation of this kind, some honorable gentlemen opposite have actually talked about the effect that this budget will have upon the price of icecream cones. That amounts almost to a repetition of what happened many years ago, when a Roman Emperor fiddled while Rome was burning.

November 7, 1951


Rt. Hon. William Morris Hughes, O.H., K.C.
Bradfield (New South Wales)

Rt. Hon. Robert Gordon Menzies, K.C., Prime Minister
Kooyong (Victoria)

Mr. HUGHES.— I refer to the confiscation by the Persian Government of the leases and refinery held by the Anglo-Persia Oil Company in the Abadan oilfield, and I ask the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Minister for External Affairs, what steps have been taken to safeguard Australian interests under the 1920 agreement with that company?

Mr. MENZIES.— We have been in constant communication with the Government of the United Kingdom about the matter that the honorable member has raised. At the moment, I am not able to add anything to the remarks I made recently on the subject.

ESTIMATES 1951-52.

Eli James Harrison
Blaxland (New South Wales)

Douglas Reginald Berry
Griffith (Queensland)

Mr. E. JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland)— ...It is useless for the Government to incur this proposed expenditure without giving proper attention to our defence requirements as a whole. The Government proposes to incur this expenditure and to commandeer man-power for purposes that will not enable Australia to play an effective part in co-operation with other members of the United Nations should another war actually occur.

Mr. BERRY.— Should we wait until after war has broken out?

Mr. E. JAMES HARRISON.—If the Government really believes that war is imminent, the inadequate preparations that it now proposes to undertake brands it as the most impotent government that has ever hold office in this Parliament. This country cannot be effectively defended unless our transport systems are modernized; but the Government does not propose to do anything in that direction.

Apparently, its supporters have not read recent press reports concerning the anxiety of the western democracies about the present world oil position as the result of recent events in Persia.

Mr. BERRY.— Your mate Attlee did that.

Mr. E. JAMES HARRISON.— That interjection is an indication of the intelligence of Government supporters. They hope that now that Mr. Churchill is the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Liberals will be able to make a better bargain with the Communists than the British Labour Government was able to make with them. That is the principle upon which the Government appears to be acting. It has aroused fear of another war in the minds of the people, but its policy will leave this country practically defenceless should another war occur. The Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride) said this afternoon that Australia was somewhat fortunate in having sufficient oil to meet the requirements of the Royal Australian Air Force for a while. It may be true that Australia is one of the few favoured countries that have sufficient oil to meet their requirements for the time being. However, the Government fails to realize that, as a result of recent events in Persia, the Western democracies are now denied their previous supplies of oil, which amounted to one-quarter of the world’s production. One is astonished at the present attitude of the Government when one realizes what it could and should be doing if its talk about the need for preparing our defences were sincere.

November 8, 1951

BUDGET 1951-52.

The Honorable Philip Albert Martin McBride
Minister for Defence (Wakefield)

Mr. McBRIDE.— In the limited time available to me I shall not be able to reply to all the matters that honorable members have raised in respect of the proposed votes for the defence services. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) is on the extreme left of his party in his approach to the problem of defence. He is the Aneurin Bevan of the Labour party in Australia because he said, definitely, that we were expending too much upon defence. He contended, in effect, that Australians want butter before guns, and thus implied that living conditions in this country are unsatisfactory. The honorable member should consult with some of his colleagues, who, I am happy to say, do not share his views in that respect. He indulged in a long discourse about oil. He criticized the Government because, so he alleged, it is not doing sufficient to obtain ample supplies of oil. When the Government assumed office it abolished petrol rationing and since that time no shortage of oil, of petrol, has been experienced. In spite of the loss of a substantial source of supply in Persia we have been able to maintain substantial oil supplies with the assistance of the United Kingdom and of the United States of America, and as the result of vigorous activities on the part of oil companies in this country.

The honorable member’s suggestion that the world oil position is worsening is not in accordance with the facts. The great difficulty that confronted the world after the refinery at Abadan closed down was in respect of not crude oil but refined spirit. As a result of the dispute in Persia world refining capacity has been curtailed, but in the meantime active steps have been taken by many countries to increase their capacity and it is anticipated that within a reasonably short period we shall be able to meet all our needs, particularly under peace-time conditions. The honorable member’s sneering reference to the 5,500,000 unemployed in the United States of America was most unfortunate. I do not know on what authority he cited that figure, and I do not question it. However, it is most unfortunate that a member of this Parliament should reflect upon the one country upon which the democracies rely and which is meeting its obligations under its pact with Australia. We should also remember the assistance that we received from the United States of America in the past, and the assistance that we anticipate we shall receive from it in the future.

• Source: Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives Official Hansard
[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

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