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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr Beazley (FREMANTLE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) y asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -

1.   On what date, and by what agreement, did the United States of America establish a naval base at Manus Island during World War II.?

2.   Who negotiated the agreement on behalf of (a) the United States and (b) Australia?

3.   What were the terms of the agreement and what time limit was placed upon it?

4.   On what date did the United States forces vacate Manus Island?

5.   What arrangements were made for disposal of equipment and dismantling of installations?

6.   What is the estimated expenditure by the United States on this base?

7.   Did the United States seek a post-war renewal of the agreement providing facilities for its army, navy and air force; if so, who made the proposals on behalf of the United States?

8.   Who replied to any such proposals on behalf of the Commonwealth and what was the reply?

9.   What decisions with respect to the Manus Island base have been made by the present Government?

Mr Casey - The answers to the honorable member's questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. In March, 1944, allied forces operating under the direction of General MacArthur as Supreme Commander, South-West Pacific Area, recaptured the Admiralty Islands, including Manus, from the Japanese. The recapture of the islands was followed within a short time by concentration of allied air, land and naval forces at Manus. While operations of war were in progress under the Allied Command the question of formal government-to-government agreements on the use to be made of the territory did not arise.

4.   The United States withdrew the last of its forces from Manus during 1947-48. Australian civil administration was re-established on the island in June, 1948.

5.   Part of the equipment installations on Manus were removed by the United States authorities; part sold to the Government of the Republic of China; part was sold to Unrra; and part was acquired by the Australian Government.

6.   I stated in the House on 4th March, 1952, that an amount of over 500,000,000 dollars had been spent. 7 and 8. Late in 1945 and early in 1946 the United States Government, through the then Secretary of State, Mr. Byrnes, proposed that it should be given long-term rights but not sovereignty in Manus Island. The Australian Government, acting principally through the then Minister for External Affairs (the Right Honorable H. V. Evatt) attempted to drive a bargain by way of securing rights in American bases elsewhere in the Pacific. The result was that the Americans lost interest in Manus. In extension of the above, I give the following extracts from my speech in the House of Representatives on 4th March, 1952:-

The simple facts are that the United States of America, in the person of the American Secretary of State, suggested in formal discussions in early March, 1946, that the United States of America might be given long-term base rights on Manus Island to be shared jointly with Australia.

The matter went on for fifteen months in the atmosphere of discussing not whether this joint use of Manus Island should take place but solely whether it should be broadened into a regional arrangement in the Pacific. For practical purposes the joint use of Manus Island was not discussed again.

The Americans cooled off. Within a year or fifteen months they said, in effect, " Well, please forget what we suggested in March, 1946. We do not want to pursue it any more." So Australia lost what I think was a tremendous opportunity to retain the militant interest of the world's greatest power in a position of immense value to us in Australia - a position which roughly speaking is half way between this country and the great continent of Asia.

I now ask the following question and it is not a rhetorical question - "is Australia stronger or weaker as a result of the fact that America is not a joint user of Manus Island with us now? " There can be only one answer. We are very much weaker indeed.

I am fortified . by a report that I received yesterday from the Department of Defence - that Manus Island was a first-class naval base during the latter years of the last war. It had two floating docks, each of which was capable of taking the largest battleship afloat or the world's largest merchant liner of 80,000 tons. These docks were supported by the necessary shore-based facilities for a great fleet. It was on a major scale I point out that Manus Island had probably one of the greatest and safest harbours in the world in which, prior to the attack on Leyte, a great armada of 1,200 vessels of war were safely ensconsed. For aircraft there were five air strips capable of taking what were then the largest bombers in the world. Other strips had been made for fighter aircraft. In all there were eight or ten air strips. For the purposes of the military, every conceivable kind of establishment was constructed and amenities were provided for tens of thousands of troops. Manus Island was a naval, military and air base on a grand scale, compared with which Gibraltar was a flea-bite.

9.   Manus Island is administered by Australia as part of the Trust Territory of New Guinea. The advanced Royal Australian Navy base and the Royal Australian Air Force airfield and base facilities have been maintained and improved, but of course on a considerably smaller scale than when the United States was maintaining a base there.

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