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Tuesday, 8 March 1966

Mr. DenisHealey, the British Minister of Defence, visited us for four days from Monday, 31st January. The talks, although occurring within the first week of our taking office, were most timely. They were held at a time when the United Kingdom Government was coming to major long term decisions, subsequently incorporated in the White Paper on defence recently presented to the United Kingdom Parliament. Mr. Healey had been set the task of framing a defence programme which would contain British expenditure on defence in 1970 within the equivalent in that year of £2.000 million sterling today. This task called for some drastic adjustments. One of the possibilities coming under public discussion in Britain was a withdrawal of British forces east of Suez. Mr. Healey made it clear to us that his Government did not hold any views on these lines. But the general proposition had found support amongst highly placed parliamentarians on both sides of politics. The United Kingdom Government decided - in our view, very wisely - that it would continue to maintain a global role in world affairs and that as part of this role it would continue to maintain substantial forces in South East Asia. The Canberra talks were of tremendous value in enabling us to make a frank exchange of views. Mr. Healey made it clear to us, in direct but friendly fashion, that if British troops had to leave Singapore, then either they would have to be accommodated in base facilities on the Australian mainland or they would have to go home. For our part, we were willing to plan against the contingency that Singapore might become untenable at some future point of time and have now put in hand a study, at the Service level, of various possibilities and their feasibility. However, we emphasised strongly the need for a continued British presence in South East Asia, and we affirmed that the bases in Singapore and Malaysia, in which we share and to which we have made substantial contribution, should be retained for as long as possible. The British presence on the mainland of Asia provides an essential stabilising and moderating influence, and aid to morale. British departure from the scene could have disastrous consequences. We are gratified that the United Kingdom Government has confirmed, in the White Paper, its firm intention to continue to maintain the bases in Singapore and Malaysia so long as the Governments of Singapore and Malaysia make this possible on " acceptable conditions". For Australia this is a most significant and welcome decision.

Mr. DeanEyre, the New Zealand Minister for Defence, participated in all the discussions with Mr. Healey. This Government wishes to increase its co-operation with New Zealand in defence matters and, indeed, in all other matters of mutual interest. The Anzac tradition was forged between us in another great struggle fought by the forces of freedom to resist aggression. The grim events in Vietnam and Indonesia's ill-conceived confrontation of Malaysia have brought us closely in association again. Our discussions revealed complete identity of view between our two Governments.

It is worth recording that the British Government carried out its recent defence) review in a way which was, we believe, unique in British history. It was probably the first time the British Government has ever tried to look so far ahead in planning its foreign and defence policy - Mr. Healey's talks with us ranged over the period from the 1970's to the 1990's- and it is also the first occasion on which the United Kingdom has consulted so closely with its allies before final recommendations were adopted by the Cabinet.

Arising from the Canberra talks, it was agreed with the representatives of Britain and New Zealand that consultations will continue at ministerial level. We felt that there should be discussions between ourselves - that is, the three Governments - and United States representatives on our respective activities in South East Asia. These should not be confined to political and defence matters. We all are involved in military action in one area or another but we all are also participating in programmes of economic and social aid in the area. It would be of great advantage to develop the widest possible agreement on policy aspects and to see how far our activities can be co-ordinated.

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