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Australian and intergovernmental organisations from 1919 to the 1960s

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 07:27 authored by Peter Carroll

This paper argues that the study of Australia's involvement with international governmental organisations has been neglected. It outlines that involvement from 1919 to the 1960s, arguing that Australia was a 'conscientious, responsible but distant member' of the League and the ILO, taking few initiatives and opposing efforts to change its role. Far greater attention was devoted to enhancing Australia's influence in the British Empire, seen as essential for continuing Australian security. That distant membership changed after 1945. It saw the rapid development of a considerable commitment to the UN system, followed by an equally rapid decline as the very limited capacity of the UN to cope with the issues posed by the Cold War became apparent. It was replaced by an increasing, Australian focus on regional IGOs, not only in the Asia-Pacific area, but those that developed in the North Atlantic area, such as the OEEC and the EEC, culminating in its membership of the OECD.

International governmental organisations (IGOs) are important means to the end of foreign policies. Yet, while references to the major global and regional IGOs are frequent in studies of Australian foreign policy, they have rarely been their major focus, with the exception of the UNO (and its predecessor the League of Nations), the GATT/WTO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). As far as the author is aware, for example, there have been no major, book length studies of Australia's activities in relation to the IMF, World Bank, FAO or UNESCO, to name only few of those with Australian membership. This is despite the fact that, as Ungerer notes, middle powers such as Australia typically have a preference for working through IGOs and promoting international legal norms (Ungerer 2007: 539).

The aim of this paper is to outline the history of Australia's involvement with IGOs to the 1960s. It is divided into three major sections, followed by a conclusion. The first section examines the development of Australian foreign policy pre-1939, indicating that much of the early experience of Australian decision makers with external affairs was gained within three major IGOs, the League of Nations, the ILO and the British Empire as it commenced its metamorphosis into the Commonwealth of Nations. The second examines the growing Australian involvement with IGOs and the changing position of Australian governments regarding the Commonwealth, the United Nations and its specialised agencies in the post-1945 period. The third section focuses on Australia's growing concern for European integration in the 1950s and its implications for Australian interests.


Publication title

Proceedings of the 2012 Australian Political Studies Association Conference




R Eccleston, N Sageman and F Gray






Australian Political Studies Association (APSA)

Place of publication


Event title

2012 Australian Political Studies Association Conference

Event Venue

Hobart, Tasmania

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Rights statement

COpyright 2012 The Author

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Civics and citizenship

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