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Australia's Northern Shield?

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Chapter 10

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REDEFINING THE OPTIONS 1972 –1973

‘We must take all steps to minimise the possibility of Australia becoming involved, or looking as if it is involved in a military sense after Independence’.

Lance Barnard, Minister for Defence, January 1973

On 5 December 1972 the Australian Labor Party, led by Gough Whitlam, assumed government in Canberra.1 Under Whitlam’s leadership the Labor Party had displayed a close interest in political, economic and social developments in Papua New Guinea.2 Whitlam had visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) six times as an opposition MP from 1953 to 1972 and nearly all senior members of the parliamentary party, notably Kim Beazley, had developed close personal relationships with the country’s emerging leaders.3 As early as 1963, encouraged by Whitlam, the party had declared that Australia’s policy towards PNG should be ‘to develop the Territories to independence at the earliest possible time, and that it must then withdraw’.4 By January 1970, in an address to over 11,000 protesters in Rabaul, Whitlam had declared that a Labor Government would ‘let New Guineans govern themselves’.5 At the end of his visit Whitlam released Labor’s ‘Plan for New Guinea’.6 It declared that ‘New Guinea will have home rule as soon as a Labor Government can make the necessary arrangements’.7 It added that none of the problems facing PNG ‘require colonial rule for their solution’.8 Whitlam’s tour of Papua New Guinea was described by The Australian as having a ‘catalytic value’ in accelerating the pace and changing the direction of the debate in Canberra over the future constitutional status of the Territory.9 The Liberal Country Party Government was forced to embrace the idea of an accelerated shift in powers and authority from Canberra to Port Moresby and an earlier date for self-government.

Whitlam fervently believed that Australia should not continue in the role of colonial power. He had made clear to officials that he did not wish there to be ‘any appearance of “imperial power” in Australia’s participation in New Guinea’s development’. Nor would Australia make any ‘special claims on Papua New Guinea’.10 In Whitlam’s view such a role detracted from his government’s efforts to promote Australia in the Asia-Pacific region as a sympathetic and equal partner in development.11 In his speech at the beginning of the campaign for the 1972 election Whitlam reiterated the point that his government would ‘cooperate whole-heartedly with the [Papua] New Guinea House of Assembly in reaching successfully its time-table for self-government and independence’.12 He added that it was ‘wrong and unnatural that a nation like Australia should continue to run a colony’. He also declared that Australia would have ‘four commitments commensurate to our power and resources’. After nominating ‘our own national security’, he listed as second ‘a secure, united and friendly Papua New Guinea’. A closer relationship with Indonesia was the third priority while the ‘promotion of peace and prosperity of our neighbourhood’ was the fourth.13

Whitlam’s active interest in PNG was shared by his deputy and Shadow Minister for Defence, Lance Barnard who had accompanied Whitlam on a visit to Papua New Guinea in 1960.14 Barnard took full responsibility for determining the principles behind Australia’s long-term defence relationships and in his quiet, understated manner he steered Australia towards a new assessment of the defence relationship with PNG. In this he was joined by Bill Morrison who, as Minister for External Territories and later Minister assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs on matters relating to Papua New Guinea, was determined to bring PNG to independence as soon as practicable. Of all the ministers in the Labor Government involved in PNG Morrison had had the least exposure to the country, having visited it for the first time with Whitlam in January 1971.15

Morrison’s introduction to Papua New Guinea coincided with the deepening concern in Canberra at the future stability and unity of the country. He believed that the Territory’s ability to respond to the internal security challenges it faced was best ensured by a dramatic overhaul of the country’s poorly funded, badly resourced and inadequately trained police force. Andrew Peacock had recognised the same shortcomings of the police force but had had little time as minister to address the issue. Morrison argued for a significant increase in funding for the police force and suggested that such funding be drawn from the Australian-provided budget for the PNG Defence Force. He had support in Canberra for his views, particularly from within the Department of Foreign Affairs. He also had some support from Sir Arthur Tange, Secretary of the Department of Defence, who railed against plans presented to him by the Australian military that anticipated the PNG Defence Force being created as an image of the Australian Defence Force. As time would tell Morrison was to be frustrated in this goal. 16 He was, however, determined to ensure that Australia did not enter into an open-ended commitment to defend an independent PNG

The Whitlam Government’s counterparts in Port Moresby were a group of young, inexperienced but determined men on whose shoulders was placed the responsibility of leading their country to independence. Michael Somare was thirty-six years old and had first been elected to the House of Assembly in 1968. He had received some early education from the Japanese during the occupation of the East Sepik region in the Second World War and had been a primary school teacher and then radio broadcaster before entering politics. He was an early advocate of self-government and in 1967 had helped form and then lead the PANGU Party. Following the 1972 election he became Chief Minister in the House of Assembly. He had little experience in governing or in administration. The ANU scholar Hank Nelson provided a contemporary description of Somare in 1972, writing that he was:

not a reader, a visionary nor is he committed to a particular ideology; he has a great capacity to gather men and ideas, exercise power without displaying an arrogance of office, win and retain the trust of close staff members or crowds at political gatherings and work long hours; and he is committed to an improvement in the life of all the people of Papua New Guinea. No group thinks he will deceive them.17

Somare’s great gift was to seek a compromise as a means of solving a problem. He was a master of the ‘Melanesian Way’ – a style of finding a solution through discussion, consultation and compromise. At the same time he had a clear vision for his country and was determined to see it become self-governing and independent as soon as practicable. He, as much as Whitlam and Morrison, pushed the country towards these objectives. He did not baulk at seeking the transfer of powers and authorities from Canberra nor in acting as the decision-maker in the Port Moresby Government. As such he was called upon on a daily basis to make decisions of fundamental importance on all aspects of government. He did this while holding together a coalition of parties and individuals in government, fending off threats of secession from various quarters, negotiating with the outgoing Australian administration and presenting to the region an image of himself and his country and its views on international issues. Donald Denoon has described Somare as the ‘focus of huge and contrary pressures’ from a wide variety of sources.18 The monumental task of preparing the country for independence would have overwhelmed a lesser person. In January 1975, with the road to independence clearly marked, The Sydney Morning Herald described Somare as ‘having pursued a policy of moderate nationalism with dogged pressure, compromise and the lively touch of a successful gambler’.19

Somare’s key ally in the PANGU Party and in government was Albert Maori Kiki. Kiki had been born in 1931 in Gulf Province in Papua and hence was slightly older than Somare. He too had undertaken a teacher training course and had taught for two years in the early 1950s before studying at the Suva Medical School in Fiji and then working as a laboratory technician at the Port Moresby Hospital. Kiki had drifted into political activity in the early 1960s before joining PANGU. He became its National Secretary in 1967 and was elected to the House of Assembly in 1972. He also had had an active career in PNG’s trade union movement and had served in senior positions in a number of unions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1972 he was appointed Minister for Lands and Environment and then, in 1973, Minister for Foreign Relations and Defence. He was to prove to be very competent in both portfolios. Kiki initially held some anti-Indonesian views and was cautious in his approach to building a relationship with Jakarta but these concerns eroded over time and he worked hard to build a relationship with his counterpart, Adam Malik. Kiki was one of the strongest advocates of early self-government and independence.

Somare, Kiki and the other emerging leaders of PNG – Julius Chan and Father John Momis, and a team of young and untested public servants such as Tony Siaguru in Foreign Relations, Noel Levi in Defence, Mekere Morauta in Finance and Charles Lepani in National Planning – faced enormous challenges in deciding on the nature and style of government they believed was appropriate for Papua New Guinea.

On 3 December 1972 following Whitlam’s election, Somare issued a statement in which he said he knew ‘that our two governments will be able to work together in the same spirit that has been established with Mr Peacock and the Liberals during the last nine months’. He added that ‘Mr Whitlam can justifiably claim some of the credit for the recent changes of Australian policy towards Papua New Guinea after his visits to our country in 1969 and 1971’. He concluded by noting that as a consequence of these visits ‘there is already a great deal of understanding established between us’.20

A new approach

The Labor Government was determined to move to self-government and then independence in its first term in parliament. It established early time-lines to achieve these objectives and galvanised the Australian public service through a program entitled ‘Gearing Up’ led by a small group of senior officers in the Department of External Territories under the direction of its Secretary, David Hay, and including John Greenwell, Pat Galvin and Alan Kerr. The group’s purpose was to accelerate the transfer of responsibilities and authority to ministers in the House of Assembly. It worked closely with local politicians in Port Moresby and had the unwavering support of leaders such as Somare and Kiki.

Barnard had taken some interest in the question of the establishment of a local defence force in Papua New Guinea and of Australia’s role in an independent country but he admitted that his thoughts had not yet fully matured. In an address to the Australian Army Staff College in May 1972 he had acknowledged the Labor Party’s close interest in the political and social development of PNG but conceded that the ‘future of Australian defence relations with Papua New Guinea has not received any concentrated attention in the policy writing of the Labor Party’.21 He drew attention to the reference in the Party Platform to the proposal for a defence treaty and to the creation of a Pacific Islands Division in the Department of Foreign Affairs but noted that Labor’s thoughts did not go beyond these two proposals. Barnard argued that:

Australian military policy has fashioned military units in Papua New Guinea which are closely integrated into Australia’s armed forces. To a very large extent the New Guinea forces are facsimiles of Australian units. It is likely that this pervasive Australian influence will persist for many years to come. There is every reason why the forces of Papua New Guinea should be modelled on the Australian pattern. But policy should be directed towards weaning these indigenous forces away from Australia so when the final wrench comes it is not a traumatic experience for either country. Obviously Papua New Guinea will be a heavy charge on our defence resources for years to come. This will put a burden on Australian facilities for training and logistics support. It is a responsibility that must be accepted, but it reinforces Labor’s belief that Australia’s major effort should be swung away from South East Asia to Papua New Guinea.22

Barnard went on to identify the areas for ‘rapid policy implementation’ if Papua New Guinea were to have a self-sustaining defence force. He called for the establishment of a third battalion of the Pacific Islands Regiment, the rapid expansion of naval units to facilitate coastal surveillance, the development of an air capability to allow for the monitoring of the border and, finally, the building of an infrastructure for the administration of defence policy and the armed services. Barnard conceded that these initiatives could not be easily realised in the short term and that they involved considerable costs.23

Barnard had also acknowledged early in his remarks to the Staff College that Labor Party policy was to negotiate a defence treaty with PNG but he did not elaborate on this proposal. His comments had instead focused on the need to develop the PNG defence force’s practical capabilities rather than suggesting that Australia should extend its commitment to defend Papua New Guinea. In this respect Barnard may have been influenced by another section of the Labor Party Platform in which the party expressed its opposition to the commitment of forces overseas unless under the aegis of the United Nations. At the same time he could have been preparing to re-position the Party’s policy away from a formal defence treaty towards an emphasis on a significant level of practical cooperation. This assessment would accord with his subsequent actions and private comments shortly after becoming minister.

As Minister for Defence for two and a half years, Barnard was instrumental in shaping Australian defence policy towards PNG. However, while forthright in his views, on practical matters Barnard pursued much the same path that Fairbairn had begun to map out during the McMahon Government. Barnard’s significant contribution was that he quickened the pace of the decision-making. Fairbairn can be credited with identifying the basic policy parameters, while Barnard should be acknowledged as the minister who further developed them and nearly brought them to fruition.

Morrison had visited PNG from 4 to 8 January and had called on Somare in Wewak to introduce himself and to pass on to Somare a sense of the new government’s priorities. In turn, Somare announced that he would visit Canberra to discuss the timing of self-government and, amongst other issues, the transfer of responsibility for defence. Somare was expected to arrive in Canberra on 17 January 1973. At the same time Barnard agreed to accept an outstanding invitation to visit Port Moresby over the Australia Day (26 January) long weekend to attend the redesignation ceremony of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF). Whitlam had also accepted an invitation to visit Port Moresby in mid-February before proceeding to Indonesia. After being in power for only four weeks the new government had created a number of opportunities through scheduled bilateral visits to establish a framework for a defence policy towards Papua New Guinea.

In preparation for the visit to Canberra by Somare, the Labor Government had before it a number of assessments by the intelligence and defence communities on the short and long-term prospects for PNG. The reports focused almost exclusively on the internal political and security situation in the country. Their general tone was one of caution, if not pessimism. An assessment prepared in January 1973 by the Joint Intelligence Organisation concluded that the:

prospects for the future stability and even unity of Papua New Guinea are uncertain. The most likely threat to the viability of Papua New Guinea would be a general decline in law and order leading to large-scale civil disturbances and dissent, possibly going as far as attempted secession from central government rule by parts of Papua New Guinea. … It is almost inevitable that the central government of Papua New Guinea will, through the period of self-government and independence, face substantial problems in holding Papua New Guinea together.24

It is noticeable that the interest in possible Indonesian threats to PNG had diminished greatly. Similarly, other external threats were now given little attention. Instead, the assessments concentrated on the same issues which had featured in papers prepared for the previous Gorton and McMahon Governments: the possible secession of Bougainville, political disturbances in the Gazelle Peninsula and in Papua, and the difficult law and order situation in the Highlands.25

Shortly before Somare arrived in Canberra, Barnard met Morrison, Senator Reg Bishop, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, Admiral Sir Victor Smith, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Les Johnson, the Administrator of PNG. The purpose of the meeting was to come to an initial understanding as to how to resolve the question of the need to assist Papua New Guinea to meet its internal security problems, plan for the handover of a defence capability to a localised defence force and identify any Australian defence requirements in a post-independent PNG.26

Morrison was keenly aware of the need to strengthen the local authorities’ capacity to meet the challenges posed by the country’s internal security problems.27 He expressed his concern at the demands being placed on the police force and commented that its shortcomings could lead to the possible use of the military to assist in restoring order. If this were to occur there would be clear implications for Australia due to the presence of Australian personnel in the PNG Defence Force. Morrison persisted in his advocacy of the view that the limited financial resources of PNG, including the funds held under the defence cooperation scheme, should be directed away from the military and towards the police force. He also argued for the creation of a single security force combining the police and defence force. When this point was lost he suggested that a police field force along the lines of the Malaysian model he had seen while serving in the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur should be established with a battalion from the PNGDF being converted to serve as a field force. Its role would be to engage in the policing of law and order in rural areas, riot control and border liaison and supervision.28 Later, in four letters over the period January to May 1973, Morrison doggedly pushed his argument in favour of a stronger local police force at the expense of the Defence Force.

In response to Morrison’s presentation Barnard made clear to his colleagues that:

We must take all steps to minimise the possibility of Australia becoming involved, or looking as if it is involved in a military sense after Independence. It was quite clear Papua New Guinea would not be able to maintain the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) at its present level without financial assistance from Australia … It was also clear that before independence we must decide what facilities we might require in Papua New Guinea after Independence and which might be offset against any defence assistance granted by Australia.29

The meeting recorded that Barnard went on to note ‘while he did not favour a formal treaty he foresaw some form of understanding being negotiated about the time of Independence which clearly covered these matters’.30

At this early point in the life of the Whitlam Government, Barnard and Morrison had redefined some of the government’s key policy principles. Barnard may have been responding to Morrison’s assessment of the internal security challenges facing the country when he said that Australia ‘must take all steps to minimise the possibility of becoming involved’ but his comments could be seen as applying equally to an external threat. Both had recognised the challenges faced in responding to the weakening internal security environment in the country and both had ruled out the possibility of Australia, or more specifically the Australian Defence Force, intervening to restore order once PNG had ceased to be an Australian responsibility. Barnard had acknowledged that ‘while it was agreed that there was no external threat at present, we must take account of what might arise in the future. There must be and ought to be a defence force and Australia should be prepared to assist in the maintenance of such a force’.31 But he did not want the defence force involved in quelling outbreaks of civil disorder, thereby raising the possibility of PNG calling on Australian military personnel for support. At a later meeting with Morrison in April 1973 Barnard made his views clearer on the need for PNG to have a military capability when he noted that ‘it was necessary to have a viable defence force in Papua New Guinea otherwise Australia would have to accept the burden of defending Papua New Guinea’.32 Barnard was intent on Australia maintaining all possible options as his government began to address the question of the defence relationship with a post-independent PNG.

Barnard had also identified a further key issue: the question of continued access to defence facilities in an independent PNG. It is possible that the reference in Barnard’s remarks to an ‘understanding’ could have applied to the question of the use of or access to facilities by the Australian Defence Force in PNG given that Barnard, in summing up the meeting, agreed that ‘in the final negotiations Australia must seek to retain access to facilities it might require in Papua New Guinea [e.g. Manus]’.33 He had also made clear his view that it was not necessary to enter into a ‘formal treaty’ to secure Australia’s interests in an independent PNG. He was clearly moving away from his party’s platform declaration to ‘seek a defence treaty with Papua New Guinea’ but had yet to express a view on the scope of any long-term defence commitment or relationship.

While one assessment of this first meeting of relevant ministers and senior officials in the Whitlam Government could be that it set a clear agenda for the government’s approach to establishing the defence relationship, Donald Denoon has offered an alternate view. He has argued that, faced with Morrison’s calls for a field force and a revised set of functions for the PNG Defence Force, senior Australian defence officials in both Canberra and Port Moresby decided to ignore the government’s wishes and to continue to create a defence force which suited Australia’s objectives and one which could work closely with the Australian defence force. This battle of ideas was to continue for the next three years.34

Somare seeks to build a relationship with Indonesia

At the same time as the Whitlam Government was settling into office Somare was giving consideration to Papua New Guinea’s relationship with Indonesia. In late 1972 he had decided to visit Jakarta and, in preparation for the visit Bob Furlonger, Australia’s Ambassador in Jakarta, visited Port Moresby from Canberra on 5 December to brief Somare on President Suharto and the policy priorities of Suharto’s Government.35 Somare told Furlonger that he ‘expected Papua New Guinea’s relations with Indonesia would be harmonious’. He did not want ‘the Indonesians to feel that Papua New Guinea was anti-Indonesian and hoped that the ‘West Papuan people’ who crossed into Papua New Guinea would not be a cause of friction between the two countries. Somare added that he also did not wish to ‘harbour people who had made trouble on the Indonesian side [of the border]’. Furlonger told Somare that in his view Indonesia ‘wanted to be good neighbours and the type of relationship they had built up with their ASEAN partners would also be extended to Papua New Guinea’. He added that Indonesia was ‘primarily concerned to achieve stability in South East Asia so that they could be left to get on with the job of economic development’. Somare agreed and added his assessment that ‘the Indonesians now had no expansionist ambitions and that there was every prospect for good relationships between the two countries, based on many common interests’.36

Furlonger had an opportunity to discuss PNG when he called on Suharto on 11 December, shortly after his visit to Port Moresby. He told Canberra that the President had expressed a ‘desire that Indonesia should be a good neighbour there [Papua New Guinea] as elsewhere’.37 He ‘recognised that there were … residual fears of Indonesian expansionism and there were tribal problems in both parts of the island’. The President ‘developed the recurrent Indonesian theme of the possibility of instability flowing from the uneven economic development of the two parts of the islands’. He expressed ‘the hope that the remaining boundary and border problems with Papua and New Guinea could be solved in the near future’. Suharto also told Furlonger that ‘Australia and Indonesia would continue to share an interest in the stability of Papua and New Guinea even after Independence and everything possible needed to be done to avoid Papua and New Guinea becoming a problem in relations between Indonesia and Australia’.38 Suharto added that he believed increased political and cultural contacts between Indonesia and PNG would strengthen the understanding and links between the two countries.

Somare visited Jakarta from 9 to 14 February 1973 and called on the President on 12 February, accompanied by Furlonger.39 Suharto assured Somare that ‘Indonesia would never dominate other peoples. It was, on the contrary, anxious to develop close cooperation with its neighbours, as exemplified by ASEAN’. For his part, Somare told Suharto that he agreed ‘on the need for friendship and very close cooperation between the two countries’. He added that ‘Indonesia and Papua New Guinea formed a bridge between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and he was anxious to see this bridge developed as much as possible’. Both leaders spoke of the value of increased awareness and knowledge on the part of their respective countries. There was only a brief reference by the President to West Irian, while Suharto told Somare that ‘he appreciated the problem of national unity with which Papua New Guinea was confronted’.40

The exchange between Somare and Suharto had the effect of further removing from Australian assessments and forecasts the idea that PNG faced an external threat, notably from Indonesia. The possibility remained of misunderstandings along the border but the positive atmosphere generated by the talks meant that these could be managed and would not escalate into a stand-off between the two countries.

Australia and Papua New Guinea: a first round of talks – setting the parameters

Somare held an initial meeting with Whitlam on 17 January 1973. The question of the defence relationship was not discussed. Instead, Somare focused on a date for self-government and the transfer of further powers from Canberra to Port Moresby. He then met Barnard, Morrison and Senator Bishop on 18 January 1973. At this meeting Somare specifically sought the new Australian Government’s views on the level of ‘defence aid’, including financial aid, it would continue to provide after independence. He also raised the issue of Australia’s policy for the period between self-government and independence, and the post-independence defence relationship between the two countries.41 Somare opened the discussions by making clear his preference for Papua New Guinea to continue to have a defence force. He did not wish it to be used to control riots but instead envisaged a small force which ‘could be used to help in the development of the country and be seen by the people as their Army’. He described the reasons behind retaining an army as:

(a)   any independent country needs some armed forces even when there is no visible threat;

(b)   an Army could serve a useful role in nation building particularly in a developing country like Papua New Guinea – it should not simply be oriented towards war on the traditional British model; and

(c)   individual skills developed in the Army were useful to the community when servicemen left the force.42

Somare also expressed his preference for the creation of a police field force to undertake internal security tasks, including riot control.

Barnard had no hesitation in supporting Somare’s views on the role of a small defence force focused on nation building. As to the practical questions of assistance raised by Somare, Barnard agreed to the attachment of trainers to the police college to assist in training for the establishment of a possible police field force. Beyond this question Barnard did not express a view on the nature of the post-independence defence relationship nor the extent of any Australian commitment to PNG.43 Somare’s outline of the role of the army created few policy difficulties for Barnard and his fellow ministers. However, as Ron May, historian of PNG and a long-standing observer of the PNG defence force has argued, it was the beginning of an accelerated discussion between the two countries over the size, style, function and budget of a defence force for an independent PNG.44 However, it should be noted that most if not all of the work done on these questions was first carried out in the Department of Defence in Canberra with PNG officials brought into the deliberations at the last moment.

Barnard took advantage of his visit to Port Moresby a week later for a dedication ceremony to mark the conversion of the Pacific Islands Regiment to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) to reinforce some of the points he had made in his discussions in Canberra. In his meeting with the Administrator’s Executive Council on 25 January, Barnard told the Council members that ‘while there appears to be no external threat to Papua New Guinea at present we should not assume that this will always be the situation. For this reason alone therefore it is necessary to maintain in being a viable defence force … with a capability to contribute in peacetime to important national development projects’.45 In response to a question as to whether there would be a defence agreement committing Australia to PNG’s defence in the event of external aggression, he replied that:

it is not possible to give a precise answer but we have accepted certain responsibilities and this [sic] will continue. Personally, we believe it would be out of character if the Australian Government and people did not recognise that any problem Papua New Guinea had was also an Australian problem.46

In response to a similar question from another member of the Executive Council as to whether Australia would defend PNG, Barnard went even further and commented, ‘I unhesitatingly say yes – it could not be otherwise. It is not only your security but ours too. There would of course be highest level consultation’.47

Barnard’s remarks went beyond the policy positions his government appeared to be setting for itself. That said, his comments were less than clear and precise and could have been misinterpreted. At the same time, Barnard did not hold out the prospect of an open commitment to the defence of Papua New Guinea. Instead, he had emphasised the need for ‘highest level consultation’. Barnard had earlier told the Council that Australia considered ‘this area as strategically important and Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour’.48 At best, Barnard may have left the Council members with a slightly misleading impression. He had told Australian defence officials in several private conversations during the visit that ‘he did not favour a formal treaty. He preferred an arrangement similar to our defence cooperation arrangements with Indonesia with the possible addition of an agreement to consult in the event of external threat and/or aggression to PNG’. This was interpreted by Australian defence officials to mean ‘an agreement along the lines of the Five Power London Communiqué’ covering Malaysia and Singapore.49 Senior Defence Department officials also told their Foreign Affairs counterparts that their priority was increasingly directed to putting in place ‘arrangements to cover status of forces and visiting forces agreements rather than an over-arching defence agreement embracing a long-term commitment’.50 Defence officials were moving to ensure that Australia would be PNG’s primary defence partner rather than a guarantor against external aggression.

Barnard’s presentation had continued many of the themes first developed by Fairbairn during his visit to Port Moresby in June 1972. Indeed, Barnard also visited Manus Island and, as Fairbairn had done seven months earlier, expressed the interest of the Australian Navy in continued access to the oil refuelling facilities located at the naval base. In a later press interview he described Manus as ‘desirable to Australian Defence for refuelling purposes’.51 The visit also highlighted the continuing debate surrounding the role of the Defence Force in responding to breakdowns in internal security, with Barnard making clear to his officials that ‘this ought to be the role of the police and only of interest to the army in the circumstance of ultimate crisis’.52 There was, however, general recognition that the police force ‘needed improvement of a qualitative rather than quantitative character’.53

This issue remained unresolved for a number of months with Morrison continuing to push for increased involvement by the better-resourced defence force. In May 1973 he pushed unsuccessfully for the transfer of part of the budget of the PNGDF to the police force following Somare’s statement that his government felt that ‘the greatest foreseeable threat to Papua New Guinea’s security is that the Police Force will not be able to contain the internal security situation’.54

The attitude of the new Labor Government was slowly beginning to crystallise. It had a clear interest in seeing a viable but small and financially self-sustainable defence force established in Papua New Guinea. It was also willing to assist in practical ways in the development of such a force. Similarly, there was a wish to encourage Papua New Guinea to accept full responsibility for its own defence. At the same time the Whitlam Government was preoccupied with identifying what residual interest Australia had in securing access to bases and facilities and in securing the terms and conditions to underwrite the continuing presence of Australian defence personnel in the PNGDF. In addition Barnard, like his most recent predecessors in the defence portfolio, and perhaps reflecting the changes in thinking which had marked the negotiations over the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Malaysia and Singapore, had sought to avoid a public statement committing Australia to defend Papua New Guinea against external attack. Barnard’s less than clear explanation of his government’s policy may have carried this argument further than intended at this stage but he had not gone into any detail as to how Australia might commit itself to defend Papua New Guinea. The intention behind Barnard’s presentation, as it had been with Fairbairn, was to encourage consultations on the practical questions of the development of Papua New Guinea’s own capacity to defend itself and to initiate discussion on the practical aspects of inter-service defence cooperation and support.

The third opportunity to discuss the establishment of a local defence force and the post-independence defence relationship came during the visit to Port Moresby by Whitlam in February 1973. In his meeting with Somare, Whitlam made clear his view that responsibility for law and order should be in the hands of the police and not the army. He commented that the Defence Force had Australian officers and his government would be held responsible if the Australian Army were involved in the shooting of Papua New Guineans. He added that ‘he did not want the Army involved as that involved Australia’.55 In keeping with this theme, but also reflecting growing concern about the internal security situation in the country and the strength of the separatist movements in Papua and Bougainville, Whitlam in his public remarks emphasised the importance of maintaining national unity in the face of such elements. He said that he saw it as Australia’s duty to ‘hand over to the Central Government and the House of Assembly a united Papua New Guinea’.56 Whitlam and his senior ministerial colleagues were forced to make repeated statements in the months leading up to independence in 1975 in support of national unity as the country continued to face threats of secession from Bougainville, the Gazelle Peninsula and Papua.

Whitlam left Port Moresby for his first official visit to Indonesia. In his public comments in Jakarta Whitlam told his audience that ‘we seek no binding treaty or formal alliance [with Indonesia], merely an understanding based on mutual trust and friendship. We will be charting a new course in our foreign policy with less emphasis on the kind of military pact that is no longer relevant to the realities of the 70s’.57

Two further speeches served to draw this initial period to a close. The first was by Barnard in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra on 15 March 1973 in which he described the future defence relationship with Papua New Guinea as a ‘matter of high priority [and] where it is welcomed, Australia will be prepared to contribute to the maintenance of a defence force in Papua New Guinea after independence’.58 He made clear his view that the size and functions of the defence force were issues to be settled by Papua New Guinea, although this remark ignored the considerable work being done in Canberra on these questions. His reference to assistance ‘where it is welcomed’ was similar to Fairbairn’s remark in 1972 that Australia would only act militarily to support Papua New Guinea ‘if our help should be sought and if we should wish to respond’. Barnard showed the same caution that Fairbairn had demonstrated when discussing a long-term commitment to Papua New Guinea and, just as Fairbairn had done in 1972, chose to concentrate on the practical aspects of developing the defence force.

The second occasion was Whitlam’s foreign policy address in the House of Representatives on 24 May 1973. In that speech he described the defence cooperation arrangements with Indonesia as the model which the government would follow and that it would have as its:

guiding aim … to promote self reliance and the capability to resist external threats. It does not favour the permanent stationing of Australian military forces abroad, but looks to … cooperation in such areas as technical aid, training assistance, joint exercises and continuing consultations. The Government will seek cooperation of this kind with our regional neighbours on an informal basis without the need for fixed and formal military pacts.59

Turning to Papua New Guinea, Whitlam told the House that ‘Papua New Guinea will occupy a special position in Australia’s network of relationships, but we do not seek an exclusive relationship with Papua New Guinea which will want to find its own place in the international community’.60 Somare wrote to Whitlam expressing his support for Whitlam’s concept of defence cooperation as set out in the speech. Somare added that ‘my government’s views on the impracticality of signing formal defence treaties (either bilateral or multilateral) are one and the same with those of your government’.61 He noted that no ‘final decisions on the future size, shape or composition of the Defence Force had been taken’ and that planning for a separate defence force would ‘follow realistic standards of economy’.62

At this time the government also announced the commencement of a study of the future disposition of defence bases and facilities within Australia to ensure their suitability for the defence of Australia, and their support of Australia’s external commitments. This study, and the decisions arising from it regarding the establishment of new facilities in northern Australia, were to have important consequences in determining the long-term significance to be attached to maintaining access to facilities in Papua New Guinea. In particular, the decision to establish an air force base in the Northern Territory made obsolete the arguments which had featured in assessments in the early 1960s that access to air bases in Papua New Guinea, particularly Nadzab near Lae, was necessary if Australia wished to project forces into Southeast Asia. From this time on the RAAF took less interest in the issue of access to facilities in Papua New Guinea. The service department which sustained that interest was the Navy, which continued to raise the question of access to the oil storage facilities at Manus Island.

A revised strategic assessment

The first Strategic Basis Paper prepared for the Whitlam Government was endorsed by the Defence Committee chaired by Tange on 1 June 1973. It was the first of three significant documents to confirm a change in the assessment of the strategic importance of Papua New Guinea to Australia.63 The paper dealt first with Indonesia which was described as of ‘the greatest strategic significance to Australia because of its position. Australia’s relations with Indonesia are of profound and permanent importance to Australia’s security and national interest’. It assessed that ‘Indonesia will see Australia as an ally rather than an enemy’ and that the likelihood of Indonesia threatening Australia was ‘remote’. Indonesia had a ‘legitimate, abiding interest’ in Papua New Guinea. It acknowledged that difficulties could continue over the management of the border and problems could emerge if dissidents from Irian Jaya sought haven in Papua New Guinea but it dismissed as ‘highly improbable’ and ‘remote’ the possibility of ‘significant military intrusion’ by Indonesia into Papua New Guinea. Although canvassing ‘highly remote’ and hypothetical scenarios, the paper argued for a policy of considerable tolerance and forbearance towards Indonesia over Australia’s interests in its relationship with Papua New Guinea.

Turning to Papua New Guinea itself, the paper focused on the internal security pressures facing the Territory and argued that its major problems ‘are likely to arise from pressure for increased regional autonomy’ while ‘swollen urban populations, traditional hostilities in the Highlands and elsewhere and a general deterioration in law and order could lead to dissidence of varying degrees of seriousness and violence’. It anticipated ‘no threat of military attack … by an external power’. In a separate section on ‘Australian Interests’, the paper acknowledged that the question of any involvement by Australia in Papua New Guinea’s internal security problems, post-independence, represented a very difficult policy issue. Moreover, any intervention by Australia (particularly in response to actions by secessionists) would be ‘earning the hostility of significant political forces in Papua New Guinea’.64 The paper acknowledged that a ‘weak, fragmented Papua New Guinea may prejudice Australia’s long-term strategic interest’ but concluded ‘if the Papua New Guinea government itself were unable to cope with the situation politically and by military pressure, it is difficult to see what would justify Australian military intervention’. The overall judgement was that ‘there appear[s] to be strong arguments against Australian intervention in the internal security situation … and a desirability of avoiding any commitment to intervene’.

The 1973 Strategic Basis Paper confirmed the trend which had been emerging since 1970. The possibility of an external attack on Papua New Guinea was seen as remote. Australia’s need to transit Papua New Guinea waters and airspace en route to the war in Vietnam was lessening. The focus in assessments was now firmly on Papua New Guinea’s internal security problems. This, in turn, was leading decision-makers in Canberra to recommend both a hands-off approach and an avoidance of a commitment to intervene. There was a general acceptance that the political and diplomatic costs to Australia of intervening in internal security matters would be too high. There was also a tentative acceptance that a fragmented Papua New Guinea would make only a marginal difference to Australia’s security environment.

Papua New Guinea was now seen as neither the robust shield of the Second World War era nor the necessary staging ground for deployments by Australia into Southeast Asia. The country still had a role as part of the geographic barrier stretching over Australia’s northern approaches but it also presented a complex set of problems and pressures which needed to be managed carefully due to the stresses and strains of internal division and instability.

A question of bases in Papua New Guinea

The Strategic Basis Paper was followed by a report by the Joint Planning Committee of the Department of Defence on the question of Australian Access to Base Facilities in Papua New Guinea after Independence.65 The question of maintaining Australian-built military bases in Port Moresby, Lae, Wewak, the small patrol base at Vanimo and the naval base on Manus Island had been a fundamental element of Australia’s defence thinking since the Second World War. They were seen as part of Australia’s strategy of forward defence or, in the case of Manus, as staging and refuelling centres to assist in the deployment of troops to Southeast Asia or further north.

The review made the critical judgement that ‘the circumstances in which Australia would require access to base facilities in Papua New Guinea after independence are so doubtful that it would not be justifiable to outlay major expenditure to maintain or to develop these facilities, nor to enter into a defence commitment in support of Papua New Guinea in return for access to facilities’.66 However, if they were available the facilities would ‘enhance the operational capability of our naval and air forces should circumstances ever arise which required an Australian presence or intervention in Papua New Guinea’. The report suggested that the value of the navy refuelling and communications facilities at Manus Island were such that Australia should seek ‘an arrangement’ to maintain the facilities in association with the PNG Defence Force should it not wish to do so itself.67

The conclusions were in keeping with the changes that had been occurring in Australian defence analysis in the early 1970s. In the 1960s Cabinet had examined on two separate occasions the question of whether the base and refuelling facility on Manus Island played a role in Australia’s defence profile and had rejected suggestions that they should be closed. Defence planners now couched the need for bases and access to facilities in judgements which emphasised the remote possibility of military action by Indonesia. The official assessment may still have been that Australia had ‘abiding’ strategic interests in the country but these were now under serious re-examination as Australia approached the prospect of formally deciding on the terms of a defence relationship with an independent Papua New Guinea. The report also contained the important acknowledgment that Papua New Guinea might have its own views on issues and might not wish its position compromised by providing Australia access to its facilities.

The question of a commitment or not

On 1 November 1973, the Defence Committee continued the rapid transformation in Australia’s re-appraisal of the strategic importance of Papua New Guinea when it examined a comprehensive report on Australia’s Defence Relationship with Papua New Guinea.68 The Committee comprised Sir Arthur Tange as Chairman and Secretary of the Department of Defence; the senior representatives of the armed services; K.C.O. (‘Mick’) Shann, the former Ambassador to Jakarta (1962–66) and, on this occasion, Acting Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs; Sir David Hay, former Administrator of Papua New Guinea and now Secretary of the Department of External Territories; and Gordon Jockel, Director of the Joint Intelligence Organisation and former Ambassador to Jakarta (1969– 1972). Jockel had undertaken wide-ranging visits to Papua New Guinea in 1966 and again in November 1972. The report had been written solely by Bill Pritchett, First Assistant Secretary, Defence Planning Division, Department of Defence and a former senior officer in External Affairs with minimum consultations with other departments.69 (Pritchett had served as Commissioner in Singapore from 1965 to 1967. In 1979 he succeeded Tange as Secretary of the Department of Defence.)

All these senior officials had been closely involved in the development of Australia’s foreign and defence policies towards Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea over the previous decade. All had expressed, over the course of those years, strong views on Australia’s responsibility to defend Papua New Guinea and all had accepted the concept that Australia had a strategic interest in the Territory. In recent years Shann, in particular, but aided by his Secretary, Sir Keith Waller, and Deputy Secretary L. H. Border who had day-to-day responsibility for overseeing the department’s engagement in the process towards independence, had taken the lead in Foreign Affairs in raising questions as to the role Papua New Guinea could play in the region and how it would manage its relationship with Indonesia. Shann had encouraged his colleagues to look at Papua New Guinea as an independent country whose internal dynamics needed to be understood. He was not prepared to take the country for granted and wanted to know how it would act and respond on the international stage. In November/ December 1972 he had visited Papua New Guinea to try to further his own knowledge of the country. He had previously visited in 1963. In his subsequent conversations within Foreign Affairs, Shann had also raised questions about the responsibilities and size of the proposed defence force for an independent Papua New Guinea and had argued against it being a duplicate of the Australian Army in structure and functions. Shann had also argued that Papua New Guinea could not afford to maintain a defence force which, by tradition, had next-to-no role in responding to breakdowns in internal security. Earlier, Border had put to Sir Keith Waller, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the idea that Australia could offer an independent Papua New Guinea a security assurance to ‘consult’ on defence issues drawing on similar language to the Five Power Arrangement covering Malaysia.70 Waller had suggested that the idea be held over until a later date.

The senior officers now serving on the Defence Committee came to judgements which crystallised many of the tentative conclusions which had begun to emerge in the last years of the Gorton and McMahon governments and in the early months of the Whitlam administration. The Committee’s report was to serve as the basis of Australia’s approach to a long-term defence commitment to Papua New Guinea for the next decade or more. It was the reference document used by ministers and officials during the negotiations of the long-term defence arrangement finalised in 1977. It was again used during the negotiation of the revised defence obligations contained in the 1987 Joint Declaration of Principles.

The report had three distinct parts: a paper setting out the nature of the defence relationship and the options for a post-independence defence commitment; a paper on the ‘Strategic Importance of Papua New Guinea to Australia’; and a short note on the application of the ANZUS Treaty to an independent Papua New Guinea.

The key document before the Committee, and the only one considered in detail, was the paper prepared by Pritchett on Australia’s defence relationship with Papua New Guinea. The paper acknowledged that PNG was of ‘abiding strategic relevance for Australia’ and that:

Australia’s defence interest relates to the lodgement in PNG of an unfriendly power able to offer us a significant threat, or such other developments there as would facilitate that threat or limit Australia’s ability to counter it and the protection of Australian interests in regard to trade routes and sea and air passage through the area and its waterways.71

On the question of how critical PNG was to Australia it advanced the key judgement that:

control of PNG by a hostile power would seriously disadvantage Australia’s defence. However, loss of PNG to an unfriendly power would not necessarily mean that Australia could no longer be effectively defended. Our defence policy should not be based on the assumption that exclusion of an unfriendly power from PNG is ultimately critical to Australia’s own defence. … [nor] automatically require military resistance from Australia. … on balance we may decide to accept the situation.

Pritchett’s paper stated that Australia’s policy objective ‘will be … if possible, to secure the exclusion from PNG of an unfriendly power’ and this might require the commitment of military forces. However, ‘short of this it will be desirable for Australia to secure and retain the ability to influence, and if possible prevent, the development of circumstances in which the questions of foreign intrusions and resistance to it might occur’. It argued that one way to ensure this outcome was to create in the mind of any foreign power contemplating an act against PNG the thought that it would also have to consider Australia’s response to such an intrusion. Pritchett concluded that ‘Australia’s defence relationship with Papua New Guinea should therefore be the primary regional defence relationship of that state’.

The paper then addressed itself to the issue of how best to give expression to the desired relationship. In doing so Pritchett examined the question of the long-term defence commitment and relationship Australia could enter into with an independent Papua New Guinea. He initially identified three possibilities: an unqualified commitment; no commitment; and a commitment to consult.

Regarding the first option of an unqualified commitment, the paper argued that it ‘appears undesirable at this time that this [the expression of Australia’s defence relationship] be done by formal Australian commitment to the defence of PNG in all circumstances’. It was ‘altogether inappropriate when PNG was moving to independence and Australia is relinquishing obligations and responsibilities’. Moreover, a defence commitment to PNG was ‘unnecessary’. An external threat to PNG was ‘unlikely’ and Australia’s ‘own defence interest [was] not in the security of PNG as such but the exclusion from there of a foreign power inimical to Australian defence interests’. This contingency was ‘unlikely within the foreseeable future’. The paper envisaged the need to ‘prevent, contain and end any local conflict in which PNG might become involved’ but ‘we must be free … to decide for ourselves whether our own interests and the circumstances of the day favour our military intervention; we should not, in the present and likely circumstances, bind ourselves to intervene’. Pritchett added that an unqualified defence commitment could also encourage PNG to ‘pursue immoderate or risky policies, involving Australia beyond our own interests in disputes with other governments’.

Turning to the second option of ‘no commitment’, the paper argued that acceptance of this option would accord with Australia’s recognition of PNG’s status as a fully sovereign and independent state. It would acknowledge the ‘improbability of intrusion by an unfriendly external power’ and be in accord with Australia’s ‘requirement not to be involved by PNG beyond our own interests in disputes with other governments’. If later developments changed this outlook then it would be possible to move to a firmer commitment. Pritchett argued that ‘no commitment need not mean no influence’ and drew attention to the very close relationship Australia would expect to maintain in all fields, including the defence relationship. He envisaged Australia as the ‘primary source of defence support’ for Papua New Guinea. He also argued that any sensitivities which might be felt by Papua New Guinea if Australia did not offer a defence commitment could be managed by presenting ‘a suitably worded statement … expressing in general terms [both countries’] common interest in regional security and their intention to work for these objectives’.

There was an acknowledgement that the option of ‘no commitment’ may, however, ‘not be politic in terms of all our interests in PNG and the PNG government’s wish for [a] defence assurance’. He therefore proposed the concept of a ‘consultative relationship’. This could be of a formal character similar to the formulation in the Five Power Arrangements with Malaysia and Singapore or it could be a general reference in an agreed statement that the two governments would consult about their common defence interests and about developments affecting the security of the region.

Pritchett presented four options for Australia: a formal commitment to defend PNG in all circumstances; a mutual commitment to consult in the event of external threat to Australia or PNG; an informal and generalised intention to consult about common defence interests; and a general statement between the two governments expressing their common interest in stability and regional security and intention to work towards these objectives. Pritchett’s recommendation to the Defence Committee was that no ‘automatic commitment’ be offered or accepted. If a consultative arrangement were preferred ‘it should for the present be of the general and informal character’ and reflect their common defence interests. He also recommended that there be consultations with PNG at ministerial level on this issue and that a decision be deferred until PNG reactions had been obtained.

The paper also examined the implications for Australia’s defence interests of PNG’s internal instability. Pritchett acknowledged that internal instability would affect various Australian interests ‘but not necessarily the defence interest’ as that was focused on a ‘foreign intrusion inimical to Australia’. It followed from such an assessment that ‘there can be considerable internal instability in PNG without the defence interest being directly affected. … This relative lack of concern extends even to the possible break up of Papua New Guinea. The continued unity of the present state … is in itself not essential to the Australian defence effort’. The paper immediately set this thinking to one side and acknowledged that ‘the defence interest will share with other interests, political, economic, communications etc., the objective of a unified and stable PNG because instability and division would make it more difficult to exercise the influence our defence interest seeks’. It repeated the judgement that it was undesirable to intervene militarily in problems related to internal security. The paper did not rule out completely the possibility of responding to a request to intervene to restore order or to rescue Australian citizens but preferred not to establish any criteria for particular scenarios.

The Defence Committee gave a ‘general as distinct from detailed’ endorsement of the paper. It modified some of the language used by Pritchett but did not raise any fundamental objections. It amended the paper’s wording to read ‘Australia’s defence interest is that Australia’s defence relationship with PNG be the primary defence relationship of that State’. As to the form of a defence commitment, the committee agreed with the four options summarised in the paper but added that ‘it would not be wise for the Australian Government to reach final decisions until PNG views had been obtained’. It also agreed that such was the ‘high policy implications’ of the issue that discussions with PNG should be at ministerial level.

The committee members also considered a section of Pritchett’s paper on access to bases and facilities in Papua New Guinea. They concluded that ‘the question was not one of maintaining Australian facilities’ in Papua New Guinea but rather whether special measures should be adopted to ensure access to any particular facility. They agreed that ‘it was in Australia’s interest to seek to retain access to refuelling facilities at Manus should PNG decide to continue to base its maritime element there and to use influence to ensure that PNG retains a potential for the future development of Wewak airfield’.

The Defence Committee’s ‘general as distinct from detailed’ endorsement of Pritchett’s paper and its conclusions were approved by Barnard on 11 December 1973. He did not seek Cabinet endorsement of his decision, a fact which demonstrated a confidence in his own judgement and his hold over policy development. The committee’s conclusions were referred to in later Cabinet submissions presented to the Fraser Government.

The thinking behind Pritchett’s analysis of Australia’s long-term defence interest in Papua New Guinea had not developed in isolation. It reflected a pragmatism evident in the writings of Australian academics interested in defence and security issues, such as Hedley Bull, Robert O’Neill, T. B. Millar, Jamie Mackie and J. D. B. Miller. In a series of articles and speeches beginning in the late 1960s all had identified the problems of internal security and instability as the greatest threat to Papua New Guinea and had warned against the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the Australian Defence Force becoming directly involved. They had strongly cautioned against Australia entering into an open commitment to come to Papua New Guinea’s assistance if attacked. Instead, they had advocated a very limited definition of Australia’s security interests in the country, largely confined to protecting maritime and air routes. O’Neill had warned that ‘Australia should be chary of more direct involvement … putting Papua New Guinea back together again is likely to be beyond Australia’s capacity’.72 Bull had shared O’Neill’s view on the significance of the problem of internal security when he argued in early 1973 that ‘we should … make it clear to the government of an independent Papua New Guinea that we will not underwrite the internal security or unity of that country’. Bull had taken a harder line on the scope of any future defence obligation when he had argued that ‘our ultimate objective should be to have no closer strategic connection with Papua New Guinea than with any other neighbouring country’.73 Later, at a meeting of the Australian Institute of International Affairs in May 1975, Bull had cautioned against a neo-colonial relationship emerging and had argued that ‘Australia’s long-term objective must be to disengage’.74

Jamie Mackie, one of Australia’s keenest observers of developments in Indonesia and author of the authoritative book on Confrontation, had come to the same conclusion as his peers but had also viewed the issue from the perspective of regional security policy.75 He had argued that ‘it is of the highest importance for Australians to avoid creating any misleading impressions that we would or could underwrite the defence of Papua New Guinea in the event of conflict between her and Indonesia’. He had added that ‘our national interests in not being dragged into hostilities with [Indonesia] is almost … greater than our residual interests in Papua New Guinea’.76

The terms of a possible Australian defence commitment to Papua New Guinea continued to be discussed over the next few years, with writers such as F. A Mediansky largely accepting the argument advanced by O’Neill and Bull against a formal defence arrangement containing a guarantee of assistance. Mediansky described such an option as ‘undesirable … [as it was] still too uncertain for Canberra to underwrite Papua New Guinea’s foreign policy from the outset’. Mediansky nevertheless suggested that an arrangement to ‘consult’ in the event of an armed attack might be a practical alternative to an open guarantee. He argued that to do less would be ‘imprudent and ungenerous’.77

The only academic to question this accepted line of argument was Owen Harries from the University of New South Wales, who had described it as a ‘rather brusque, tough dismissal’ of Papua New Guinea.78 Harries argued that Australia had a residual responsibility based on the special nature of Australia’s historical role in and responsibility towards Papua New Guinea. Harries was subsequently to emerge as an influential adviser on foreign policy issues in the Fraser Government.

With the exception of Harries, the academic community showed an absence of sentimentality in their assessments of Papua New Guinea and any associated Australian obligations. The empathy which had formed during and after the Second World War and had influenced Australian policy decisions during the West New Guinea dispute in the 1950s had begun to fade by the late 1960s, at least in this community. The emerging possibility that Papua New Guinea would soon be independent and a free agent on the regional stage, while still plagued by internal security questions, was serving to focus the attention of the academic community as quickly as it was that of the government’s policy makers.

Conclusion

The period following the election of the Whitlam Labor Government in December 1972 witnessed an accelerated consideration of the themes which were beginning to emerge in Australian assessments as to the place of Papua New Guinea in Australia’s post–Vietnam War environment. Some elements of Labor’s approach to the significance of Papua New Guinea were similar to those evident in the last months of the Liberal Government. However, Labor endorsed a fundamentally new approach when the Minister for Defence, Lance Barnard, approved the Defence Committee’s recommendations on the future of the long-term defence relationship. Australia’s interests were now less influenced by concerns about foreign infiltration or subversion or by the need to retain Papua New Guinea as a base for the projection of Australian forces into Southeast Asia. Rather, they now took into account concerns over the long-term stability and reliability of the country and how best Australia should respond to those concerns. The emphasis had shifted to the need to avoid a long-term, open-ended commitment and to a position in which Australia retained the flexibility to determine how it responded.

Australia's Northern Shield?

   by Bruce Hunt