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Australia's Northern Shield?


Chapter 9



‘Papua/New Guinea is of abiding strategic interest to Australia’.

Defence Committee, September 1970

On 26 January 1966 Harold Holt was sworn in as Prime Minister. He succeeded Sir Robert Menzies who had announced his retirement a few days earlier. Holt was to serve just short of two years before he drowned in December 1967. Holt’s death signalled the beginning of a five-year period of political uncertainty and division in Australia with three Prime Ministers (including a brief interim appointment of John McEwen as Prime Minister immediately after Holt’s death), five Ministers for External or Foreign Affairs, four Defence Ministers and three Treasurers holding office. The stability of the Menzies era had disappeared. A lack of cohesion and direction permeated the Cabinet as it struggled with a complex, demanding and rapidly changing regional security environment. As Peter Edwards has described: ‘the Australian government was in a state of policy paralysis’.1

The post-Menzies Liberal–Country Party governments were faced with three continuing defence-related problems: the dramatically changing and uncertain political environment in Indonesia after the removal of President Sukarno; the announcement by Britain that it would withdraw its forces ‘East of Suez’, leading to the negotiation of new defence arrangements with Malaysia; and the escalating war in Vietnam. Looming above these was the question of the constitutional future of Papua and New Guinea.

A change of direction in Indonesia

The Cabinet debates in the first twelve months of the Holt Government were conducted against the backdrop of an uncertain outlook in Indonesia. Sukarno’s power was increasingly on the wane. The Australian Embassy in Jakarta warned that he was still ‘capable of destroying any new initiative’ to end Confrontation through a strong personal attack on Malaysia and its leaders but thought that possibility was diminishing.2 General Suharto gradually strengthened his hold over the country by crushing communist party supporters and appointing pro-Suharto loyalists to government positions. Paul Hasluck (Minister for External Affairs) had told Prime Minister Harold Wilson in April 1966 that he thought Confrontation would ‘wither away rather than end in a formal sense’.3 In response, Wilson, reflecting the views of Bevin in 1950 and 1951, told Hasluck that in his view ‘Indonesia should in the long term not be in a posture of hostility to Australia but should form part of a defensive island chain to protect the Australians’.4 An alliance might be too much to hope for but ‘good relations should surely be attainable if only the Indonesians could be brought to accept the existence of Malaysia’.5 Hasluck agreed and Australia encouraged Indonesia and Malaysia as they progressed towards a negotiated settlement. An end to Confrontation was announced on 11 August 1966 and the Holt Government expressed its ‘delight’ at the outcome.

Hasluck visited Indonesia in August 1966 for talks with the new leadership and to discuss a broadening of the aid program. In the conversation with Dr Adam Malik, who had replaced Dr Subandrio in March 1966, Hasluck only briefly mentioned Papua New Guinea and only in the context of noting its eventual independence. He did mention the impending vote of ascertainment or free choice in West New Guinea and was assured by Dr Malik that the vote would go ahead.6 Privately, Hasluck, reflecting the attitudes he had formed as Minister for Territories, was cautious in his approach to possible cooperation between Australia and Indonesia over West New Guinea. He told Gordon Jockel, a senior officer in External Affairs and soon to emerge as a major influence on policy, that he did not want the impression to develop that any close cooperation was likely. Instead he thought the two territories would go their ‘separate ways’.7

In a report he allowed to be passed to the British Government on his visit, Hasluck noted that he was optimistic that the end of Confrontation ‘may well be the prelude to Malaysian and Indonesian friendship, perhaps even an emotional closeness’. However, he cautioned against assuming that all would settle quietly, and, again reflecting many of the points he had made in Cabinet in recent years, argued instead that ‘Indonesia will still be seeking to cut a figure on the international scene. … We should not imagine … that Indonesia has become less nationalistic or more pro-Western. In foreign policy its interpretation of non-alignment will probably be to establish itself as a leader in new groupings of Asian nations’. He assessed ‘as genuine’ their ‘friendliness and respect towards Australia’ and with ‘Confrontation ended they see no matters of dispute with us and Malik would go further and see a large measure of common interest’.8 In his brief remarks to Cabinet on his return to Canberra, Hasluck noted that Indonesia was still ‘intensely nationalistic – not western in outlook’.9

In 1968 Cabinet approved an increase in Australia’s aid program to Indonesia from $6.1 million to $12.7 million. As an indication of the change in mood in Canberra since the end of Confrontation, Cabinet accepted Hasluck’s argument of the ‘supreme importance to Australia of stability in Indonesia … to our very great national disadvantage if we fail to act’. McEwen supported the increase in the aid program and told his colleagues it was ‘enormously important to us that it (Indonesia) should be stable and that we should be well regarded … Support for trade reasons but not press. But do press for national foreign policy reasons’.10 The hostility towards Indonesia previously expressed by Cabinet ministers such as McEwen and Hasluck who had been members of the Cabinet throughout the West New Guinea dispute and then Confrontation, was changing. McEwen was even prepared to acknowledge the early work by Dr Evatt in laying the foundations for a positive relationship. He nevertheless still saw Indonesia as the ‘only great power in the world which could still threaten us’.11

John Gorton, who had succeeded McEwen as Prime Minister in January 1968, visited Indonesia in June and spoke in positive, friendly terms about the future of the relationship.12 In 1969 ministers again examined the aid program to Indonesia and approved a further increase in its budget. In the short discussion before deciding on the new level of funding ministers made no reference to security concerns nor to anxieties about the direction Indonesia could take.13 In 1970 the aid program was further increased to $53.8 million over three years with Cabinet accepting the argument that ‘Australia does not have an option of disengagement from Indonesia and its problems’.14 In March 1971 Cabinet agreed to lift all controls first imposed in 1965 and modified in October 1966 on the export of goods for use by the Indonesian Armed Forces.15 Australia’s relationship with Indonesia was further enhanced with the visit by President Suharto to Australia in February 1972, the first visit by an Indonesian Head of State. The communiqué issued at the end of the visit made only passing reference to the Papua New Guinea–Indonesia border and no reference to a future relationship between the two countries. Prime Minister McMahon who had succeeded Gorton in March 1971 paid a return visit to Jakarta in June 1972. The only reference to Papua New Guinea was an expression by Indonesia that ‘understanding and cordial relations’ should be developed between the two countries as Papua New Guinea moved to independence.16

In the period following the end of Confrontation the question which preoccupied Australian defence analysts was how Indonesia would manage the border between it and Papua New Guinea. Officials and ministers maintained a constant watch on cross-border movements and were alert to possible cross-border raids by Indonesian troops to pursue dissident movements opposed to the incorporation of Irian Jaya. These questions influenced later decisions on the role and size of the defence force in an independent Papua New Guinea and the debate within Australia on the nature of its long-term defence support to an independent Papua New Guinea.

An ally departs – how to juggle new demands

While the issue of developing a positive relationship with Indonesia was of importance to Canberra it was the announcement by Britain that it would withdraw its military forces from ‘East of Suez’ that shook the Australian Government and forced a fundamental reappraisal of its attitude toward long term or unconditional written military commitments in the region.

During his visit to Australia in February 1961, Lord Mountbatten, Chief of the Defence Staff, had hinted that Britain could not sustain its defence presence in Asia given its global commitments and increasingly difficult financial position.17 In fact, as early as May 1960, as David Goldsworthy has pointed out, Mountbatten had set alarm bells ringing in Canberra with some injudicious comments on the future of the naval base in Singapore.18

By the mid-1960s Britain’s economic and financial position was under serious threat and the Labour Government of Harold Wilson was forced into a major reconsideration of Britain’s military priorities. Throughout 1965 Menzies and Wilson exchanged messages on the question of the future presence of British forces in Southeast Asia, with London seeking a greater financial and defence cooperation or burden-sharing from Australia and Canberra sidestepping any such commitments.

In January 1966 it was announced that the UK Secretary for Defence, Dennis Healey, would visit Canberra to brief the government on the thinking behind the UK Government’s review of Britain’s defence priorities. Cabinet met on 5 and 10 January to prepare for the Healey visit. It was wary of Britain’s intentions but uncertain as to how to react. Hasluck argued that Australia should encourage Britain to remain in Singapore and ‘not abandon bases in Asia’.19 He added that Australia should reject any suggestion that Britain transfer its military resources to a possible base in Western Australia. McEwen suggested that Australia propose a treaty arrangement to keep Britain in the region. Perhaps reflecting the ‘sentimental’ attachment of politicians of the Menzies era to Britain described by Goldsworthy, he told his colleagues ‘we should be trying for as firm a treaty as possible to pin her there’. He added ‘I want to survive. If Britain goes home from [the Far East] our survival would be a chancy matter. I’d pay a hell of a lot for [a] treaty which kept Britain and America there. I wouldn’t come down on the side of taking a chance’.20 In a subsequent meeting McEwen agreed that Australia would not formally raise the idea of a treaty but instead work towards that objective with a ‘softly, softly approach’.21 He subsequently told his colleagues there was ‘no denying that British reasons for being in Singapore belong to the past. Ours and US belong to the future’.22

The discussions with Healey took place over two days in early February 1966.23 He assured the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of Cabinet that Britain had not come to any firm decision on the future of its engagement in Asia. He ‘viewed a continued British presence in the Far East as a pre-condition to a continuation of an American presence’ and still saw Britain as having a role in the region countering Communist China at least until Confrontation and the war in Vietnam had ended.24 Healey nevertheless made clear that Britain could not sustain actions such as those against Indonesia for many more years. (Confrontation had all but ceased to be an active military issue following the rise to power of General Suharto but a formal settlement between Indonesia and Malaysia had yet to be agreed.) He described Confrontation as a ‘wasteful distraction’ and that Indonesia ‘would be far better acting as a counterpoise to China in Asia’.25 Healy noted that current British plans were based on Confrontation having ended by 1970 and raised the possibility of Britain withdrawing from its naval base in Singapore as part of a deal necessary to achieve a settlement with Indonesia. He also flagged the possibility that Britain could leave Singapore regardless due to local pressures and non-cooperation. In this context he mentioned the idea of building a new naval base in Australia.

In reply Holt argued that Australia already had a range of extensive military commitments in the region which limited its capacity to take on new responsibilities. Holt, who had served as Treasurer from 1958 until January 1966, may still have been thinking from the perspective of that portfolio, made only one reference to Papua and New Guinea when he drew attention to the need to budget for its development. He made no reference to the need to provide for its defence.26 Holt instead drew attention to Healey’s assessment of Indonesia and the prospects for a settlement to Confrontation. He questioned whether ‘an end of Confrontation [would] really mean [a] quiet and constructive Indonesia. … After Confrontation – what? Something almost certainly. Timor. NG [New Guinea]. We see no sense of security from end of Confrontation. Fortunately Indonesians have [a] sense of friendliness for Australia but opposition is equivocal at present’.27 McEwen pressed Healey on the strength of Britain’s willingness to remain in Malaysia, while Hasluck joined Holt in raising questions about Britain’s approach to an end of Confrontation. Hasluck described Britain’s possible approach to ending Confrontation as ‘ceding to Indonesia all asked for’ at a time when ‘we feel we cannot rely on Indonesian promises. If Confrontation ends in circumstances which give them what they want, they will try something more. … We rather hope it will fade away but not try to save Indonesia’s face’.28 Healey returned to his earlier theme by noting that Britain could hardly face retaining 50,000 men permanently in the area and could not refuse negotiations. He did, however, hope that Confrontation would ‘fade away’. The talks ended with an agreed minute which noted that Britain proposed to continue its global defence role and maintain its military presence in the Far East. It also foreshadowed further talks, including with the United States. Privately, ministers felt uneasy and unsure as to the future direction of Britain’s policy.29 They were not impressed and McEwen told his colleagues ‘I do not believe Britain would end Confrontation by force. So will walk out’.30 Hasluck later told the New Zealand Prime Minister (Holyoake) that the ‘essential point was that the British stay East of Suez, that there should be no diminution of their influence, that they stay on the Asian mainland’.31

Two weeks after Healey’s visit US Vice President Hubert Humphrey arrived in Canberra on 19 February 1966 as part of a regional tour. Humphrey confined his discussions to the political developments in Asia, the threat to Southeast Asia posed by communism and the state of the war in Vietnam.32 He made no specific request for an increase in Australia’s contribution to the war. In his one-on-one conversation with Humphrey and in the meeting with the Cabinet, Holt returned to one of the themes he had pursued in his meeting with Healey. He told the Vice President that Australia had embarked on a program to strengthen the defence force and that ‘it must continue to grow’. However, ‘at the same time we have other tasks of development in various directions, including in New Guinea, which we must not only not neglect, but, in fact, prosecute with vigour’.33 At the Vice President’s meeting with the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Holt, again perhaps reflecting his perspective as the former Treasurer, returned to this point when he said ‘Australia also had immediate tasks in bringing stone-age New Guinea into the modern world in the quickest possible time’.34 Holt was referring to the effect on the budget of providing Papua New Guinea with economic and developmental support rather than commenting on its place in Australia’s strategic outlook. His argument represented a change in emphasis as Australia struggled to assess the impact of regional developments on its security commitments. In his letter to President Johnson after the meeting, Holt again referred to the need to develop Papua New Guinea but placed it in the context of the competing demands and costs on Australia to contribute forces to Malaysia and Vietnam.35

On 15 February Cabinet examined the question of an increase in the Australian contribution to the war in Vietnam. There was a general sentiment in favour of an increase although Holt preferred not to rush to an immediate decision and noted that ‘a further question is how we stand in relation to our New Guinea defence’. McMahon and McEwen agreed, while McMahon asked ‘whether we can do this without running ourselves short in relation to New Guinea and further Confrontation’.36

Cabinet resumed its discussion on 2 March and agreed to the despatch of a task force to Vietnam. Ministers noted that Australia would retain the capacity ‘after the commitment of the task force to contribute to a situation suddenly arising in New Guinea’.37 Holt addressed the Parliament on 24 March 1966 and informed members of the government’s decision to increase Australia’s contribution to South Vietnam. In doing so he noted that the increased deployment was ‘fully consistent with our obligations and requirements to retain adequate forces for the defence of Australia and its territories, including Papua and New Guinea’.38

Holt continued to receive strong support in Cabinet for the decision to increase Australia’s commitment to the war in Vietnam.39 McEwen and Hasluck believed it was in Australia’s interest to be seen by the United States to be prepared to contribute. McEwen, in particular, argued strongly in favour of a further commitment of troops to Vietnam in 1967, telling the Cabinet on a number of occasions that, in his view, the ‘only real thing to ensure our survival is US willingness to be with us in South East Asia. … US involvement in Vietnam is enormously to our interest’.40 Later he told his colleagues ‘the primary aim is to keep the US there [in Asia]. What we want from the Americans (i.e. staying on the mainland) requires us to stay ourselves’.41 He added ‘you stand by your allies in adversity, not less. Two dramatic incidents of history are UK withdrawal from Asia and PM’s close relationship with the President of the US. Can think of nothing more important that this be strengthened, cemented and welded by every possible means. … The posture of an ally of US is so important as not to be tinkered with’.42 As to Britain, McEwen was equally disturbed by its proposed withdrawal and argued that Australia should try to convince Britain to ‘keep any force there – even a company – or even a sloop’.43 In these discussions there was no longer, as there had been in the early 1960s, any mention of the need to hold troops in reserve to defend Papua New Guinea. The five commitments or obligations that Menzies and others had articulated up until 1965 were no longer uppermost in ministers’ minds. Instead their focus had narrowed to the immediate issues of Vietnam and the British withdrawal.

A new Prime Minister and a new approach to regional engagement

Holt drowned on 19 December 1967 and Deputy Prime Minister McEwen held the Prime Ministership on an interim basis until Senator John Gorton was elected leader of the Liberal Party and sworn in as Prime Minister on 10 January 1968. US Secretary of State Dean Rusk described Gorton as ‘helpful, friendly and staunch’ with a ‘reputation as a lone wolf in political circles and apparently inclined to reach snap judgements and personal conclusions before he has considered the full advice of his more experienced colleagues and his departments. He will take a bit of handling but sees the general situation in the Pacific and Australian national interests pretty much as did Holt’.44 The British High Commissioner in Canberra, Charles Johnson, preferred to characterise Gorton as a ‘rogue-elephant’ rather than a ‘lone wolf ’.45 Johnson described him to London as having a ‘curious, almost schoolboyish streak of immaturity in him. … He would come out with something designed to shock but would not persist with it once I had done what I could to answer it’. Johnson was worried by what he perceived as Gorton’s view that ‘nothing could stop our two countries [Australia and Britain] drifting further apart’ and Gorton’s questioning of the relevance of the Commonwealth.

From the time of his appointment to Cabinet as Minister for Navy in 1958, Gorton had only occasionally intervened in discussions on defence and security issues, leaving the debate to the more experienced ministers such as Menzies, McEwen, Holt and Hasluck. He had been more involved during Holt’s term as Prime Minister but there were few indications of his overall approach to security matters or that he held views contrary to established policy. Gorton’s approach to discussions and deliberations in Cabinet, as revealed in the Notebooks, soon became apparent. In contrast to the practice adopted by Menzies, Gorton preferred to speak early in the discussion, to pose questions and to challenge the concepts underpinning existing policy. He would often open up an issue for discussion without the benefit of a ministerial submission or departmental paper. At times he did this because he had a genuine interest in re-examining a policy, while at other times, for example on the question of the timing of a withdrawal of troops from Vietnam or a continued defence-based commitment to Malaysia and Singapore, he appeared uncertain and unsure of his own position.46 Hasluck has described Gorton as having ‘so many likes and dislikes and so many fixed ideas that the search for wise guidance from him had to run the hazard of surviving his prejudices before one could reach the point for decision’.47 Some ministers, for example, Malcolm Fraser, found Gorton’s style difficult to accept and preferred the established procedures of relying on expert opinion and a well-argued and agreed submission. By mid-1970 Gorton had alienated a number of his colleagues.48

George Thomson, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, arrived in Canberra on 11 January 1968, one day after Gorton had been sworn in as Prime Minister. The purpose of his visit was to brief the Cabinet on the soon-to-be settled decision by the Wilson Government to accelerate Britain’s departure from Southeast Asia. In response to Thomson’s presentation Gorton commented that Britain’s decision ‘fills me with anxiety and some dismay’ while the ‘creation of a partial military vacuum in part of the Far East which US not covered leaves a dangerous hole in area. … I would not like to be reported that we accept this new step. Could not accept and would have to protest’.49 McEwen told Thomson that he was ‘tremendously fearful of state of affairs when Britain withdraws … a serious step … intolerable … this frightens me’. Gorton concluded the discussion by saying that the Cabinet was ‘dismayed’ at the decision and that he had ‘no confidence’ that any new arrangement could be settled.50

Goldsworthy has described Gorton and Australia as adjusting ‘quickly’ to Britain’s decision and as taking the initiative in the ‘construction of alternative arrangements’.51 This does not reflect the difficult discussions which preoccupied the Cabinet over the next few years as ministers debated whether to be part of a defence arrangement covering Malaysia or Malaya and the extent of that commitment. Gorton in particular held strong views on limiting Australia’s role in Southeast Asia. In May 1969, following the Chinese/Malay race riots in Kuala Lumpur and the request by the Malaysian Government for additional military assistance, Gorton argued against a positive response from Australia, telling his colleagues that he feared for the future stability of Malaysia and that he could ‘see overtones of [a] beginning of a new Vietnam’.52 He was wary of any commitment to Malaysia. On this occasion, McEwen responded that if the security of the Malaysian Government was threatened ‘our first job is to contribute … to sustain it’.53 In more immediate terms, Australia’s representations to Britain did have the effect of postponing the withdrawal of British forces from Malaysia and Singapore by nine months until 31 December 1971. It was not until the Conservative Party under Edward Heath came to power that the British decision was modified further.

Britain’s decision to withdraw from Southeast Asia was significant for two reasons. It represented the departure of one of Australia’s principal allies from the region. Britain retained some residual defence forces but its role and importance to the defence of the region and to Australia’s defence was now greatly diminished. The second impact was more psychological. Britain’s announcement and the sense that Australia had been let down created great uncertainty and unease in the minds of defence planners. Ministers were dismayed and an air of floundering in an uncertain environment became apparent. At this time the idea began to take root in the minds of ministers and senior officials that Australia should avoid, at all cost, replacing Britain as one of the principal guarantors of security in Southeast Asia.54 Similarly, ministers and officials, notably Gorton and McEwen, adopted the view that Australia should avoid entering into long-term, unqualified commitments to defend countries in the region. David Goldsworthy has described in detail the impact on Australia of the decision by Britain to withdraw from Southeast Asia. He has quoted John Subritzky as describing the decision as fundamentally transforming Australia’s view of the region.55 Australia was now faced with relying on a sole ally, the United States, and on re-defining Australia’s role in the region.

The importance of this period of re-examination became clearer as Australia articulated its response to a proposed new security arrangement with Malaysia and Singapore. Thomson had advised the Cabinet of Britain’s intention to terminate the Anglo Malaysia Defence Agreement (AMDA) with effect from 1 January 1972 and with it Britain’s unconditional and unlimited commitment to defend Malaysia. In December 1969 it had proposed the negotiation of a new protocol. Negotiations proceeded over the next twelve months, eventually leading to the signing of a Five Power Defence Arrangement involving Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore in 1971. The new security undertakings did not include an unconditional commitment to defend Malaysia or Singapore from external attack or externally-sponsored subversion. Instead, a non-treaty-based document, issued in the form of a communiqué, declared that:

in the event of any form of armed attack externally organised or supported or the threat of such attack against Malaysia or Singapore, their Governments would immediately consult together for the purpose of deciding what measures should be taken jointly or separately in relation to such attack or threat.56

These words, or a closely similar sentiment, with the emphasis on consultation are significant as similar language would eventually be used in the text of the long-term defence undertaking agreed between Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1977. Australia had recast its defence relationship with the region to give it a greater degree of flexibility in how it responded to developments and to remove a sense of automatic commitment. This was the lesson Australia had learned from the end of Confrontation and the withdrawal of Britain from the region and, in time, it was to bring this appreciation to the negotiation of a long-term defence relationship with Papua New Guinea.

As a further indication of Australia’s response to the changes occurring in the region and in its revised assessment of threats to Papua and New Guinea, Cabinet decided in September 1968 to call a halt to the build-up of the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR). In 1963, at the height of concerns about the ambitions of Indonesia, a decision had been taken to increase the size of the PIR to three battalions. Cabinet now acknowledged that the change in direction in Indonesia meant that an increase was no longer necessary.57 As a similar example of the same trend, in July 1969, during the debate in Cabinet on the preparation of the government’s budget, Gorton queried the need for the funding of repairs and maintenance of the oil storage facilities at the Manus Island naval base and questioned its role. Gorton called for a review of the future need for the base.58

What to do about Papua New Guinea – first thoughts

The Holt Government faced the third major issue of its early period in government in March 1966 when it turned to a submission from the Minister for Territories, Charles Barnes, on the question of the long-term constitutional status of Papua New Guinea. The Cabinet was asked to adopt a policy approach to talks scheduled to take place with the Papua and New Guinea Select Committee on Constitutional Development, chaired by the Papuan leader Dr John Guise.59 It was expected that the Select Committee would seek an indication of the government’s thinking on the future status of the territory and its long-term relationship with Australia. The options were seen as self-government, independence or some form of association with Australia, including possibly statehood.60

The submission also examined Papua New Guinea’s strategic significance and placed it squarely in the context of a ‘forward defence strategy to hold South East Asia’.61 It moved away from seeing Papua New Guinea solely in terms of being threatened by Indonesia and set it in a broader context. It argued that:

in terms of this policy the retention of facilities in Papua and New Guinea is of great importance in ensuring the passage of our forces between Australia and South East Asia and the maintenance of communications between Australia and United States bases in the Pacific. We also need to retain these facilities for the defence of the Territory itself particularly against Indonesia, and in some circumstances, to reduce the risk to our Eastern seaboard. Should Papua and New Guinea come under the control of an administration unfriendly to Australia and the West in general, this would, in addition to the direct military consequences, facilitate the further penetration of the Pacific by hostile influences.

In the interest of Australian defence as well as the defence of the area it is important that access to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea and its base facilities be maintained.62

The paper suggested that future defence arrangements should settle three related issues: the retention of present and planned base and transit facilities in the Territory; the right to maintain forces as required in Papua and New Guinea; and, dependent on the first two, a commitment to defend the Territory against overt and covert aggression. In one of the earliest references in a Cabinet submission to the implications for the ANZUS Treaty of an independent Papua New Guinea, it noted that the Treaty would no longer apply to Papua and New Guinea once it became independent and ‘there could be great difficulties in obtaining the United States agreement to any modification’. An overt attack on Australian forces in Papua and New Guinea would nevertheless be covered.

The submission stressed that ‘the importance of Papua and New Guinea in Australian defence and security is such that total Australian policies towards Papua and New Guinea should be directed to achieving the securest possible tenure for Australian defence positions and interests in the Territory’. It concluded that this could best be achieved by securing the goodwill of the people and government of the day in Papua and New Guinea rather than relying on constitutional forms, although a form of association would be a preferred option rather than a policy directed towards disengagement.63

In the discussion in Cabinet, ministers agreed fully with the views expressed by McEwen that the government should maintain ‘flexibility’ in the talks with the Select Committee and ‘avoid precision’. He acknowledged that the Territory’s leadership held the prerogative to ‘terminate their status … and be independent’. Nevertheless, he thought it would not do this until the Territory had obtained a greater degree of economic viability. He argued that ‘as a matter of mutual self-interest we would think that there would be, under independence or otherwise, a defence relationship and a trade relationship’.64 The formal Cabinet decision closely reflected McEwen’s argument although it noted that ‘the defence relationship would derive from the Territory’s need of Australian aid in defence and from Australia’s interest, from a defence point of view, in New Guinea’.65

This was not the first time that ministers had examined the strategic importance of Papua and New Guinea. However, it was one of the first occasions in which they had examined it in the context of the long-term political and constitutional relationship which Australia and the Territory’s leaders envisaged for the two countries. The strategic value of Papua and New Guinea was assessed as important but not sufficient to push Australian ministers to embrace the idea of including the Territory as a state in the Commonwealth. That idea was unacceptable to Cabinet. Australia’s interests had been identified as securing bases in the Territory and maintaining sea links through the region to the north and east. Cabinet’s views were shared by Sir Henry Bland, Secretary of the Department of Defence (1968–1970), who, following a visit to Port Moresby, told his colleagues that ‘in all our thinking about the Territory, we must see it not as part of Australia nor anything resembling an extension of Australia. For our purposes the Territory is a country of South East Asia’.65a

Internal problems in Papua New Guinea erupt

The concerns which had begun to preoccupy the minds of ministers in 1966 over internal stability, the inadequacies of the police force and the possible use of the army to assist in quelling local security problems, resurfaced dramatically in 1969. In 1969 civil unrest erupted in the Gazelle Peninsula over land issues and the establishment of a multi-racial local council. The campaign by the Mataungan Association and local political parties from 1968 until 1972, culminating in demonstrations, calls for secession, acts of political brinkmanship, arrests and the killing of a District Commissioner, deeply disturbed the administration in Port Moresby and the Gorton Government. At the same time there were the first signs of a serious political crisis emerging on Bougainville Island as Conzinc Rio Tinto (CRA) began the development of the Panguna mine in the centre of the island. These concerns deepened in August 1969 when the population of Rorovana Village at Loloho rioted and were removed by the police to make way for a new wharf to service the mine.

In this period the Papuan separatist movement, Papua Besena, under the leadership of Josephine Abaijah, also emerged to argue the case for Papua to remain a separate entity from New Guinea. It attracted support from the Papuan community with Abaijah elected to the House of Assembly in 1972. Papuan separatism and Josephine Abaijah were to be a thorn in the side of the administration in Port Moresby and the government in Canberra until independence in 1975. Smaller groups also emerged such as a Papuan Black Power Group and the Highlands Liberation Front which, while very few in numbers and of marginal influence, nevertheless created a sense of anxiety in Canberra about the future of a unified Papua New Guinea. The outbreak of serious fighting between New Guineans and Papuans in Port Moresby in July 1973 following an inter-regional football game marked a nadir in law and order and in Canberra’s confidence about the prospects for a peaceful, united Papua New Guinea.

In May 1969 Barnes sought Cabinet’s views on how the government should respond to present and future secessionist movements ‘and generally towards national unity in the Territory’.66 Barnes’s submission focused on Bougainville and the threat to the development of the mining project should violence increase. As to the question of preserving the unity of the Territory, Barnes told his colleagues that ‘it should be made clear that the Government’s attitude is that secession of any part of the Territory cannot be accepted at this stage of the Territory’s development’. He also sought Cabinet’s agreement to the Minister for Defence, in concert with other senior ministers, being given the authority to recommend to the Governor-General that the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) be called out to aid the civil powers to guard important points or, as a last resort, reinforce the police.

Ministers supported the idea of sustaining the Territory as a united entity but were alert to the possibility that the House of Assembly in Port Moresby could take a different approach and endorse the secession of part of the Territory. Gorton questioned whether Australia would use force against the recommendations of the Assembly. He described the prospects of such a development as creating an ‘international situation’ and referred to ‘Biafra’67 then in the process of breaking away from Nigeria resulting in a bloody civil war. Malcolm Fraser (Minister for Education and Science and a former Minister for the Army) argued that if the Assembly approved an act of secession ‘we couldn’t use force’. Allen Fairhall (Minister for Defence) agreed, noting that the PIR was not trained for internal security roles and that ‘public disorder should be handled by civil means’. He also saw the possibility of the PIR splintering along race lines with ‘many tribes and white officers’ with a result that it ‘could escalate into white versus black’. McEwen was adamant. He told his colleagues that ‘CRA [was] not an Australian company’ and that he didn’t want ‘to see us getting in with white troops or black troops to support CRA. This troubles me immensely. … Preserve law and order but don’t get involved at behest of foreign companies’. He did support the concept of national unity if promoted by the House of Assembly but added ‘if the House of Assembly says Bougainville should secede we’d have to agree’. However, he accepted the idea of calling out the PIR if the police were unable to maintain law and order.68

Ministers agreed that Barnes could be authorised to ‘express the Government’s belief that the interests of the people of Papua–New Guinea are best served by national unity and to say that the Government endorses the House of Assembly declaration in this regard’. Ministers did not come to a view on the question of the deployment of the PIR, noting that this had ‘wider implications of great significance’ and calling for a further study of the issue.69 There was no appetite within the Australian defence and foreign affairs community to support the deployment of the PIR, with its large attachment of Australian soldiers, to manage the country’s internal security problems. Tange, who had been appointed Secretary of Defence, and now chaired the Defence Committee, was adamant that the PIR should not be deployed and argued that ‘the moment we make a move we are on the road to involvement in situations of civil order. This could develop to the point where we would have to commit Australian troops to retrieve the situation’.70

The problems on the Gazelle Peninsula continued to defy resolution. At its height over 25 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s police force was deployed to the Peninsula. Similarly, Bougainville continued to fester as a political problem while the administration in Port Moresby was also dealing with outbreaks of tribal fighting in the Highlands.71 In response to a directive from Cabinet in June 1970 an inter-departmental committee of officials studied the internal security problems facing the Territory. The study endorsed the assessment of the National Intelligence Committee that the state of law and order was ‘deteriorating’ with the ‘growing possibility of significant disorder’ which the police alone would be unable to contain. The study also acknowledged that the ‘main threat to the integrity of Papua New Guinea is likely to be internal … while the outlook for internal security … will impose severe strains on the whole internal security apparatus’.72 In a separate report in 1970, the National Intelligence Committee thought the prospects for Papua New Guinea were finely balanced between ‘weak New Guinea [which] could degenerate into another Congo but one which would be on Australia’s northern borders. A stable New Guinea will have a beneficial influence amongst neighbouring islands and the Pacific peoples’.73

The slow road to self-government and PNG’s strategic significance adjusted

It was against this background of uncertainty over the future stability and unity of Papua New Guinea that Gorton undertook an extensive visit to the Territory from 5 to 11 July 1970, the first by an Australian Prime Minister since 1963. (Gorton had served in the New Guinea theatre as a pilot during the Second World War.) A month earlier he had paid his first visit to Indonesia. The visit to Port Moresby and major regional centres was intended to be the occasion for a major announcement by Gorton of the further transfer of responsibility and decision-making to elected members of the House of Assembly. This was seen by the Gorton Government as a significant step on the road to internal self-government. However, Gorton’s visit was overshadowed by the continuing trouble on the Gazelle Peninsula and the threat of violence. Gorton used his visits to Bougainville, Lae and elsewhere to argue the importance of national unity. In his farewell broadcast from Port Moresby he acknowledged that ‘the Territory is on the road which leads to self-government. There can be no turning back from that road. It must be travelled to the end. But it is not for the Australian Government to dictate the speed at which the ultimate goal is reached’. He also expressed a ‘hope’ that the Territory would ‘remain un-fragmented and that the different parts of it will not secede. … [as] each separate part will be economically and politically less strong than the whole’.74 His government would wait for Papua New Guineans to come to their own decisions about the timing of the next stage in their political development.

The troubles on the Peninsula and the threats from the Mataungan Association, combined with the emerging problems in Bougainville, the threat from the Papua Besena Movement, as well as the continuing breakdown in law and order across the Territory, served to shift the focus of Canberra’s attention away from external threats to concentrate almost exclusively on internal law and order problems. Opinion in Canberra was united on the seriousness of the problems facing Papua New Guinea and how Australia should respond. Sir Keith Waller, Secretary of External Affairs, warned his senior departmental colleagues that ‘the longer we delay independence the harder it may become to grant it because of separatist tendencies within PNG’.75 Waller feared not only for the future of the Territory but also for Australia’s ability to exercise freely its policy options.

Although the Gorton Government was not prepared to accelerate the transfer of powers to Papua New Guinea nor to think in terms of possible independence for the Territory, work in Canberra began to turn slowly in the direction of self-government. In September 1970 the Defence Committee concluded its three-year-long review of the defence forces in Papua New Guinea in preparation for decisions on its eventual size and function.76 In examining these questions the Committee inevitably revisited the issue of the strategic significance of Papua New Guinea to Australia. It judged that:

Papua/New Guinea is of abiding strategic interest to Australia because of its geographical position astride our military and trade lines of communication from our eastern seaboard to South-East Asia, Japan and the United States bases in the Western Pacific; because of its common border with Indonesia; and because of its potential as a base for the conduct of operations inimical to Australian security interests.77

At this time nineteen per cent in value and twenty one per cent in volume of Australia’s trade with Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan passed through the strait between New Ireland province and Buka Island, north of Bougainville, the Vitiaz Strait between New Britain and the Huon Peninsula near Lae or through the Torres Strait.78

In addition, the assessment noted the ‘continuing requirement for unrestricted passage of our military shipping through New Guinea waters in support of our regional security arrangements’. As a consequence, this required the maintenance of a refuelling facility for naval escorts in the area, i.e. the HMAS Tarangau naval base at Manus Island. The land frontier with West Irian ‘could provide Indonesia with opportunities to threaten the security of Papua/New Guinea and thereby embarrass Australia’. The report also examined the ‘very long term’ prospect that:

should Papua/New Guinea be taken over, or come under the influence of a power unfriendly or hostile to Australia this would open the way to further penetration of the south-west Pacific, facilitate military operations down the eastern Australian coast and expose our important trade routes with Asia to interruption.79

The Defence Committee went on to record that:

It is in Australia’s interest that an independent Territory of Papua New Guinea (TPNG) should remain well disposed towards Australia. It would serve our defence interests if TPNG should seek an understanding or an arrangement on defence matters. Although Australia has no legal obligation to give to Papua/New Guinea a defence capability, there is a general expectation that we should.80

The assessment endorsed by the Committee contained familiar language and themes. It also contained interesting new phraseology noting that Papua New Guinea was of ‘abiding strategic interest’. The reference to an ‘understanding or an arrangement’ had been mentioned previously but departed from the report prepared by the lower-ranked Joint Planning Committee which had left this issue undefined. Nevertheless, the reference was still open to interpretation and fell short of any suggestion of a long-term, unconditional commitment. Of equal importance, the Committee acknowledged that it could no longer determine these questions in isolation from local (Papua New Guinean) opinion.

A changing of the guard

The personal animosities and divisions which had plagued the Gorton Cabinet came to a head in March 1971 with the resignation of Malcolm Fraser as Minister for Defence. In explaining his actions Fraser cited Gorton’s style of decision-making, noting in particular his handling in July 1970 of the decision to approve the call-out of the PIR during the crisis in the Gazelle Peninsula.81 A subsequent challenge to Gorton’s position as Prime Minister was won by his deputy, William McMahon.

McMahon succeeded Gorton as Prime Minister on 10 March 1971 and Gorton assumed the office of Minister for Defence. McMahon had served as a minister in the Menzies Cabinet from July 1951 and had risen to the posts of Treasurer (1966–1969) and Foreign Minister (1969–1971) in the Holt and Gorton Cabinets. He had visited Papua New Guinea once in 1954. A reading of the Cabinet Notebooks for the period 1950 to 1969 reveals a person of limited initiative and confidence in foreign and security matters. He lacked Barwick and Hasluck’s intellectual capacity to articulate a clear set of principles to guide the development of Australia’s foreign policy. His preference was for the maintenance of the status quo even when debating the inevitability of changing policy. His approach to Papua New Guinea was to let his energetic and open-minded minister, Andrew Peacock, take the lead. He did not discourage Peacock from moving more purposefully towards self-government for the Territory but expressed no opinion of the possibility of eventual independence. He cancelled at the last minute a planned trip to Port Moresby scheduled for early August 1972.

In addition to the change in Prime Ministers, the late 1960s and early 1970s were marked by the departure of Paul Hasluck from the post of Minister for External Affairs in February 1969 following his appointment to the position of Governor-General, the retirement of Allen Fairhall as Minister for Defence in November 1969 and, most significantly, the retirement of John McEwen in February 1971. Charles Barnes also retired as Minister for External Territories in January 1972 giving way to Peacock.

Hasluck had provided the intellectual framework for the Holt and Gorton governments’ policies towards Asia and the war in Vietnam and had redefined Australia’s concept of ‘forward defence’ to a more subtle concept of ‘engagement in regional security’. He had also shifted the emphasis in the presentation of Australia’s regional defence outlook away from a focus on Papua New Guinea and did not pursue its importance with the same vigour as Barwick had done in his meetings with members of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He had been the last minister to accept the need to change Australia’s policy towards the West New Guinea dispute and had shown a similar conservatism and stubbornness towards Indonesia throughout the period of Confrontation.

However, it was McEwen’s retirement which was perhaps the most significant. He had been elected to the Federal Parliament in 1934 and had been Minister for External Affairs in 1940 in Menzies’s wartime government. He had served with Menzies since 1949 and his position from 1958 as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Country Party had given him a status in Cabinet equal only to that of Menzies. McEwen had adopted Menzies’s approach of letting other ministers set out the policy options before intervening with a statement of principles which often brought the meeting back to its essential purpose and gave it direction.

McEwen is more widely known for his work as Minister for Trade and his role in protecting the development of the Australian economy; however, he was an active participant in all Cabinet debates on foreign and defence issues and no decision was taken on Australia’s security policies in the 1950s and 1960s without his full support. He believed that Australia’s interests were best served by being an absolutely reliable and dependable ally of the superpowers. He told his ministerial colleagues in 1967 at the height of the war in Vietnam ‘you stand by your allies in adversity not less’.82 At the beginning of the crisis over the Suez Canal in September 1956 he told the Cabinet that, while he did not think the issue would see the use of force, ‘if the United Kingdom is in – we’re in. That’s my view’.83 Later he warned the Cabinet, as it assessed the deteriorating security environment in Asia, ‘we are not any longer in 1914 or 1939 – we can’t be in a position of letting the US know “in a few days” – we’re either in or out – we must take the basic decision that we are with the US. … we must be in’.84 He did not hesitate to argue the case for Australia’s participation alongside first Britain and then the United States in military engagements in Asia – from the Dutch New Guinea dispute, to Confrontation and finally the war in Vietnam. Even in those conflicts which had not developed into full scale military campaigns, such as the tensions over Formosa in the mid-1950s and the crisis in Laos in 1962, McEwen had fully supported the principle of Australian participation if requested by the United States. Woodard is therefore slightly wide of the mark in his conclusion that McEwen may have supported Barwick if the latter had argued in Cabinet against a deployment to Vietnam.85

McEwen believed that Australia’s interests were best served by keeping the United States in Asia, even if the price were Australian participation in a military campaign. However, he also recognised that Australia could not engage in any military campaign in Asia by itself – except in the defence of Papua New Guinea. He had had no hesitation in declaring that Australia’s interests in Papua New Guinea should be defended as a first priority against any threat from Indonesia. At the same time he could see the broader danger of military conflict with Indonesia and warned during the West New Guinea dispute that ‘a fracas over this is a fracas with Asia’. He accepted that Australia’s future was in Asia and that Australia could not afford to offend Asia through ill-thought-out military involvement, such as a strike against Indonesia during the critical months of Confrontation. He had shared Menzies’s distrust of Sukarno and was fearful of Indonesia’s potential to disrupt Australia’s position in Papua New Guinea. In his last years in office he had steered the government away from any suggestion that Australia take the place of Britain in the defence of Malaysia, although Gorton shared this view. He, rather than Gorton, had been the initial advocate in Cabinet of the view that Australia should only commit itself to defend the peninsula of Malaya, not Malaysia. In the 1950s and early 1960s he had argued that Australia’s need for economic development should be placed ahead of financing the nation’s defence. By the mid 1960s and the escalation of the Vietnam War he had accepted that this objective could no longer be sustained.

The 1971 Strategic Basis Paper

As Minister for Defence Gorton presented his first and only Strategic Basis Paper to the McMahon Cabinet in May 1971.86 Regarding Papua New Guinea, the paper examined the Territory from the perspective of both its pre- and post-independence status. It drew on earlier language to describe Papua New Guinea as of ‘abiding strategic interest to Australia’ because of its ‘geographic position aside our military and trade lines of communication … because of its common border with Indonesia; because in hostile hands it could provide facilities for the conduct of operations inimical to Australian security’.87

Turning to the post-independence period, the paper revealed a heightened sense of concern and alarm. It assessed the ‘principal threat to the integrity of the Territory after Independence is foreseen as the general decline in law and order or the activity of secessionist movements which could lead to conflict beyond the limits of capability of the security forces’.88 A further ‘danger’ was the ‘possibility of hot headed reactions or provocations … [that] could lead to armed clashes with Indonesian forces in the border area. Any of these sources of conflict could conceivably lead to calls for Australian combat assistance’.89 The paper also canvassed Australia’s response to a possible act of secession and noted that Australia ‘should not exclude the possibility of furnishing the New Guinea Government with organizational, training and logistic support and in the last resort, physical assistance’. It added that such support ‘should not be assumed to be automatic’.90 It also drew attention to Australia’s potential responsibilities when it noted that ‘whether there be a formal Australian New Guinea defence agreement or not, Australian interests will lie in affording the New Guinea Government reasonable assurance of combat support against the emergence of any substantial, unprovoked and persisting Indonesian aggressive actions’.91

The paper also highlighted two further elements in Australia’s defence relationship with Papua New Guinea. It repeated the need for a naval refuelling installation off the north coast of New Guinea and noted the need to develop air facilities also on the north coast for strategic transport, maritime patrol and combat air support operations. However, it warned that ‘we should proceed with caution on the establishment of any new facilities in [the Territory of Papua New Guinea] required only by Australian forces’.92 Overall, the 1971 paper was an important development in the evolution of Australia’s assessment of the strategic importance of Papua New Guinea. Indonesia was still seen as a potential threat but not to the same extent as in the papers of the 1960s. It was now ‘unlikely’ to pose a threat to Australia. West New Guinea was no longer described as a potential staging ground for an attack on Australia or for incursions into Papua New Guinea. There was a degree of optimism about the future direction of Indonesia under President Suharto.

Australia, however, was now preoccupied by the prospects for Papua New Guinea’s unity and stability. In June 1970 the Cabinet ordered a ‘special study of the situation in relation to internal security’ in Papua New Guinea.93 Over the next three years senior officials and ministers repeatedly returned to the issue and the associated question of the possible circumstances in which the PIR could be called out to assist the police to put down civil unrest. All decision-makers in Canberra were appalled at the idea of such a possibility. In May 1971 the Administrator, Les Johnson, was authorised by McMahon and Barnes to release a statement making clear the Australian Government’s policy was to ‘advance Papua and New Guinea to internal self-government and independence as a unified country’.94 Sir Keith Waller again reflected the ‘unease’ of senior officials in his department, notably his Deputy, Mick Shann, about the future of the Territory when, on 14 December 1971, he wrote to David Hay, Secretary of the Department of External Territories. He now made clear the views he had only expressed ‘in-house’ that ‘it would be wrong to conclude … that it would be in the best interests of both Australia and the Territory to slow down the move towards self-government’. He argued that ‘the longer we delay independence the harder it may become to grant it, not least because of the separatist tendencies already apparent within the Territory’. Waller told Hay ‘the longer we stay in PNG the more we will become disliked and the more difficult it will be for us to control a law and order situation which has already shown signs of strain’. He concluded his letter by emphasising the need to encourage the local population to assume greater responsibility as ‘it is the people of the Territory who will decide the pace of progress towards self-government’.95 Hay acknowledged Waller’s letter and did not take issue with his arguments. The implications of the serious and deteriorating internal security situation and its potential to impact on the country’s unity had emerged as the critical element in Australia’s strategic assessment of Papua New Guinea.

In March 1972, the Minister for Defence, David Fairbairn, tabled the Australian Defence Review in Parliament. It noted that the extent of Australia’s obligations and ‘accompanying rights in the defence of that country [Papua New Guinea] will depend on the wishes of the Government of the new nation and the terms of a negotiation with Australia. This is for the future’.96 In his speech accompanying the presentation of the Review Fairbairn argued that Australia ‘must, however, recognise the contingency that in some way or in some measure the future security of the country [Papua New Guinea] may be threatened. Fairbairn told the Parliament that it was ‘the Government’s view that this and future governments must be provided with the means to act militarily in support of the Papua New Guinea Government if the need should arise, if our help is sought and if we should wish to respond’.97 The new caveat could be seen as the first public indication of a more cautious approach to the terms of the future defence relationship. It placed an emphasis on local opinion and interests and less of an emphasis on Australia pursuing its national interests, regardless of local opinion.

In June 1972 Fairbairn visited Port Moresby – his first visit since 1944. He told the Administrator’s Executive Council that he placed importance on close consultation on defence matters with the leaders of Papua New Guinea. He also suggested the appointment of an indigenous defence spokesman in the House of Assembly who would have responsibilities for answering questions and making statements on defence matters, consulting the Administrator and leading discussion in the Administrator’s Executive Council on the development of the defence force’.98 In August 1972 the Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea, Michael Somare, was appointed the Defence spokesman. He held that post until August 1973 when he was succeeded by Albert Maori Kiki. Kiki was one of the strongest advocates of a ‘special relationship’ with Australia and was pro-Australian principally due to his extensive contacts with the Australian union movement.99 Kiki was to continue in the position after independence.

In a press conference at the conclusion of his visit Fairbairn commented on the question of the post-independence long-term defence relationship and the circumstances in which Australia might assist Papua New Guinea, particularly in internal security matters. He said that ‘there would be a need for agreements and possible pacts, defence pacts between the two countries and this is a matter which would come for consideration between Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments at that time’.100 This was his only specific reference to a possible post-independence defence relationship. In response to a further question from an ABC reporter as to the importance of PNG to Australia’s defence, Fairbairn commented that:

I think it is important to say that just from the point of view of a base for Australia or denying a base to the enemy that PNG has lost its importance. On the other hand, it is extremely important to us that PNG … should be friendly and should not be taken over by an enemy.101

Fairbairn’s remark reflected the changes which were emerging in Australia’s approach to the strategic importance of PNG and of its place in Australia’s defence planning. The unequivocal stance of the early 1950s and 1960s, especially the views held by Menzies, McEwen and Hasluck, was in the process of being reassessed. New language was being developed to describe PNG’s importance and a more circumspect attitude emerging. The last year of the Liberal Country Party Government was witnessing the emergence of new thinking which was to gain greater prominence with the election of a Labor Government in December 1972.


The Holt, Gorton and McMahon governments had all struggled with some of the most difficult and complex issues in the evolution of Australia’s regional security policy. They had been shocked by Britain’s decision to withdraw ‘East of Suez’. They had refused to assume Britain’s responsibilities in Malaysia and the region and had been wary of entering into any undertaking which committed Australia to come unconditionally to Malaysia’s defence. At the same time as adjusting to the new realities in Malaysia, successive governments were faced with managing Australia’s involvement in and then withdrawal from the Vietnam War.

The Australian Government had begun this period with an open commitment to defend Papua New Guinea against attack, infiltration or subversion from its neighbours. It remained deeply concerned by the incidents of cross-border infiltration from Indonesia but as the period progressed it redefined its interests to focus on the internal security situation emerging in the country and less on external threats. The shift of attention to the seemingly intractable internal security problems facing Papua New Guinea and the rise of separatist movements fundamentally changed Australia’s perception of its responsibilities towards Papua New Guinea and how it should manage those responsibilities. This unsettled environment was bequeathed to the incoming Whitlam Government which had a clear idea of how it wished to be seen by the world and by Papua New Guinea.

Australia's Northern Shield?

   by Bruce Hunt