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Thursday, 1 April 1965


Senator GORTON (Victoria) (Minister for Works) . - by leave - I wish to inform the House that discussions will be held in Canberra next week between officials of the British, New Zealand and Australian Governments about some important Nauruan matters. These three Governments are jointly responsible for the administration of Nauru under the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement and are partners in the British Phosphate Commission. The talks to be held next week are in preparation for later talks with representatives of the Nauruans.

Honorable senators will recall that talks took place in August last as part of a series of discussions with representatives of the Nauru Local Government Council. These talks have been concerned with possibilities of resettling the Nauruan people, political advancement for the Nauruans, the level of royalties payable on phosphate exports from Nauru, together with other matters related to the phosphate industry.

The question of resettlement of the Nauruan people, who number about 2,700, was discussed very fully at these talks in August 1964. Australia had offered to the Nauruans the prospect of establishing themselves on Curtis Island off the Queensland port of Gladstone. It was proposed that they should become Australian citizens and that arrangements would be made that would allow them to have extensive powers of local government and to retain their distinctive identity as a Nauruan community. The costs of resettlement, estimated at £10 million, would be met out of funds provided by the Governments of Australia, Britain and New Zealand.

The Nauruan representatives agreed that Curtis Island was generally suitable as a place for resettlement. They said, however, that they did not wish to become Australian citizens nor to be subject to Australian laws in such matters as taxation, immigration, customs and so on. They said that, after careful deliberation and discussion, the Nauruan people had come to the view that the difference of approach between the Commonwealth Government and the Nauruans left no prospect of agreement about Curtis Island nor, accordingly, about any other island close to the Australian coast. Defence and quarantine matters might be the subject of treaties between the Nauruans on Curtis Island and the Commonwealth Government and possibly some arrangements might be made in relation to external affairs; apart from these matters, however, if they were to resettle on Curtis Island it would be as a separate and independent nation and the Commonwealth had said that it could not accept this. They stated categorically, therefore, that the proceedings for the acquisition of properties at Curtis Island for their resettlement should be discontinued and that they intended to remain on the island of Nauru. The representatives of the Australian Government in these discussions urged the Nauruans not to close the door upon resettlement but the Nauruans maintained their attitude.

The Australian Government has given this question the fullest consideration. It has come to the conclusion that, in view of the very clear attitude of the Nauruan representatives, the particular resettlement. proposals involving Curtis Island should be dropped. In order to end uncertainty about their future position, the residents of Curtis Island and the Queensland Government have been informed. The Australian Government has no other specific proposals to make to the Nauruans regarding their resettlement. It still considers, however that, in view of the inevitable growth in the present population, the high standard of living enjoyed by the Nauruan people, the small size of Nauru and the limitations of its natural resources other than phosphate, in the long run the Nauruans' own interests will require resettlement. The Australian Government, therefore, whilst not pursuing the proposal for resettlement of Curtis Island, remains of the view that resettlement is desirable in the interests of the Nauruans and will consider any new suggestions by the Nauruans in the spirit of willingness to co-operate in solving this continuing problem. In accordance with the usual practice, a visiting mission from the United Nations will shortly be visiting Nauru and the mission will have the opportunity, in the course of its visit, to test the attitude of the Nauruans towards resettlement.

The discussions with the partner governments and with the Nauruans will also cover the arrangements for government of the island. The Nauru Local Government Council representatives in last year's talks asked that a Legislative Council be established in 1965 and that they be given independence by 1967. The Australian Government undertook that it would examine carefully the possibilities of greater participation by the Nauruans in the administration of Nauru. The Nauruans proposed in August that ownership of the phosphate industry should be transferred to the Nauruan people. The Australian representatives, in indicating that this request could not be agreed to, pointed to the present and future benefits accruing to the Nauruan people from a vigorous and efficient phosphate industry. They explained that the legal basis for the British Phosphate Commissioners' operations stemmed from the purchase of phosphate rights from the commercial undertaking which had owned them before the First World War.

Another important matter that has been under discussion is the level of phosphate royalties. In August 1964 the Nauruans were offered an increase of 50 per cent., from 2s. 8d. to 4s. per ton, in the cash payments to be made to or on behalf of the Nauruan people. This was in addition to meeting the costs of administration on the island of approximately11s. per ton. An offer was also made, related to a proposed increase in output of phosphate, for an increase from1s. to 3s. per ton in payments to the Long Term Investment Fund which was created several years ago to provide a fund for the benefit of the Nauruan people after the phosphates were exhausted. At current rates of interest and on the proposed rate of output of phosphate, the fund would build up to approximately £20 million. The Nauruan delegation had proposed an increase in royalties to 14s.8d. per ton but this was not accepted by the Australian Government. The level of phosphate royalties along with the other matters I have mentioned will be further considered with partner governments next week and later with the Nauruans when talks can be arranged with them.

I present the following paper -

Nauru - Ministerial Statement, 1st April 1965 - and move -

That the Senate take note of the paper.

Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.







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