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Memento : Issue 23
memento may 2003 Communist sympathisers, atomic bomb testing and uranium mining were some of the issues that preoccupied Cabinet in the Cold War climate of 1952. These issues appear in the 1952 Cabinet notebooks, released to the public earlier this year. Cabinet notebooks record the views and discussion of Cabinet Ministers. Because of their sensitivity, they are released only after 50 years. In February Dr John Knott from the Australian National University, and consultant historian to the Archives, briefed the media on the 1952 notebooks. Below are excerpts from his paper. Dr John Knott holding one of the 1952 Cabinet notebooks. To find out more, read Dr Knott's paper or view digitised images of the Cabinet notebooks and transcripts under 'Cabinet' in the Collection section of our website at www.naa.gov.au. In September 1950, Menzies had secretly agreed to a request from Britain to conduct atomic weapon tests in Australia. Only a few people were told of the agreement: the then Acting Minister for Defence, Philip McBride, and the Secretaries of the Prime Minister's, Defence and Supply Departments. Menzies neither informed nor consulted his Cabinet over the decision. The absurd situation eventually arose whereby the Minister for Supply, Howard Beale, was telling Parliament that rumours of atomic tests in Australia were 'completely false', while his own department head was cooperating with the British to arrange the tests. In April 1952 an agreement was signed between the Combined Development Agency, the South Australian Government and federal government for the development of uranium deposits at Radium Hill. The Combined Development Agency, a joint US--UK authority created to ensure an adequate supply of uranium for the Western allies' weapons programs, would be the sole customer of the mine. Menzies believed that selling to the Combined Development Agency was 'a matter of importance to the free world'. Nevertheless this did not stop some of his Ministers from openly questioning whether Australia was obtaining the best financial return from such an arrangement. Australia did not succumb to the rampant McCarthyism that was experienced in the United States in 1952. Although communist witch- hunting occupied the attention of a good many members of Parliament (on both sides of politics), these Cabinet notebooks suggest that Menzies was not the Cold War warrior that he is occasionally portrayed as. Certainly Menzies and a majority of his Cabinet were not prepared to abandon basic civil liberties in order to deal with the perceived threat of communist subversion. Proposed changes to the Official Secrets Act, for example -- which were to include powers to search without a warrant, arrest on suspicion and reverse the onus of proof -- were rejected as too draconian. 14 in Menzies' 1952 Cabinet Chills in Menzies' 1952 Cabinet " "