The “Brisbane line” was an alleged plan to abandon Northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion. The allegation was made during an election campaign in October 1942 when Edward Ward, the Minister for Labour and National Services accused the previous government of planning this strategy.
The accusation was unsubstantiated by Ward and firmly denied by Menzies and all members of the previous government. Curtin’s initial failure to dismiss the allegation and General Douglas MacArthur’s mention of it at a press conference in March 1943 led to the controversy gaining much momentum. Ward made repeated charges against the Menzies-Fadden government throughout 1943 and backed up his assertions by referring to a missing document.
The allegations created much public controversy and led to a Royal Commission of Inquiry in June 1943. Mr Justice Lowe was appointed Royal Commissioner. The terms of the commission were to focus on whether any document concerning the so called “Brisbane Line” was missing from the official files and if so what was the nature of this document.
The Royal Commission found the documents to be complete and that no such plan had been official policy under the Menzies government.
While Ward’s allegations were unfounded the War Cabinet had put in place strategies prioritising defence for vital industrial areas in time of war. The plans were well known to members of parliament and while they were not connected to Ward’s charges they did form part of his belief in the existence of a Brisbane Line. Ward’s allegations were constructed from these ideas as well as evacuation policies and existing plans for a scorched earth policy.
Paul Hasluck, The government and the people, Australia in the war of 1939-1945, vol.II (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970): pp. 711-717
- The papers of the "Brisbane Line" Royal Commission have been digitised and are available for reading on the National Archives of Australia’s RecordSearch database. Search the database using the keywords 'Royal Commission Brisbane line' to locate the records.