Forging the short-lived ANZAXIS: Ian McGibbon notes the 75th anniversary of New Zealand's first international agreement.

AuthorMcGibbon, Ian
PositionANNIVERSARY - Australian-New Zealand Agreement

On 21 January it will be 75 years since the conclusion of the Australian-New Zealand Agreement, also known as the Canberra or Anzac Pact. The first international agreement made by New Zealand, it marked an important stage in New Zealand's path to independence.

Concern at the lack of Allied consultation lay behind this action. In both Dominion capitals there had been mounting concern about the lack of consultation about Allied war plans. This was compounded when Britain, the United States and China meeting in December 1943 issued the Cairo Declaration, which set out plans for the disposal of the Japanese Empire. Possible US actions following victory in the Pacific War, especially in relation to British islands taken by American forces during their offensive, was another worrying aspect. More fundamentally, there was recognition of the need for closer co-operation between the two countries in the post-war world than had existed before the outbreak of war in 1939, when they had sometimes learned of each other's defence plans through London.

Against this background New Zealand had readily agreed to Canberra's invitation, in October 1943, to meet to discuss consultation and other matters of mutual interest. At the meeting, which began on 17 January 1944, the principals on the Australian side were Prime Minister John Curtin and Minister of External Affairs Herbert Evatt. New Zealand's delegation was led by Prime Minister Peter Fraser and included Carl Berendsen, the New Zealand high commissioner in Canberra.

The New Zealanders were taken by surprise. The Australians proposed signing a formal treaty setting out their concerns--and presented them with a wide-ranging draft. Apart from expressing their intention 'to act together in matters of common concern in the South West and South Pacific areas', and to ensure 'the maximum degree of unity in the presentation, elsewhere, of the views of the two countries', it included clauses encompassing post-war security, civil aviation and regional co-operation. Fraser was willing to go along, and the terms of the agreement--a treaty was ruled out on constitutional grounds -were quickly settled.

In the short term the agreement failed to secure the Allied consultation desired in Canberra and Wellington. The response in Washington to the initiative was negative; indeed, the administration's attitude to the agreement has been described as 'one of barely concealed hostility'. The US naval authorities were...

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