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Tuesday, 10 October 1972
Page: 2304

Dr GUN (Kingston) - The honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) has said that Australia should be concerned primarily with Australia's welfare and that if we are not concerned with it nobody else will be. I want to speak about a matter which I believe is of paramount importance to Australia and that is our relationship with Papua New Guinea. We noted just before dinner the statement of the Minister for External Territories (Mr Peacock). I believe it was a statement that everybody on this side of the House will welcome. Before very long we will be moving to a situation of self-government in Papua New Guinea. In fact, I think we really have a de facto self-government in New Guinea now. I think this is a tribute to the far-sighted, statesmanlike policies of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) following upon his very much publicised, and at the time criticised, visit to Papua New Guinea 21 years ago.

The present Minister is also to be congratulated on his performance since he has been Minister for External Territories but I think the way was really paved by the present Leader of the Opposition. 1 also think that if the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) had been Prime Minister any earlier we may not have reached the situation in which we are today, because I think that the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) was probably pushed by the Leader of the Opposition into coming out in favour- of early selfgovernment and independence - for Papua New Guinea. With the present Prime Minister's incapacity to make any sort of decision at all, I very much doubt whether we would have reached the present situation if he had become Prime Minister a year earlier than he did, I think that that at least is some cause for satisfaction.

I would like to say something about the military relationship of Australia with Papua New Guinea. I think this matter is of paramount importance because Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour, because shortly, as I have said, it will achieve self-government and independence, because that independent country may have to face enormous economic and political problems and last but not least, because there are many Australian nationals who will be involved in any changeover that takes place. We must bear in mind a combination of 3 very important factors. The first is the forthcoming selfgovernment and what I call the present de facto self-government in " Papua New Guinea. The second is the existence of a number of separatist movements within Papua New Guinea itself. The best-known is probably the strong sentiment towards separatism in Bougainville. Some of its people want to form their own independent nation and others rather favour the idea of union with the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. A third factor is the existence of the Pacific Islands Regiment, a regiment which is using Australian weapons, has many Australian officers and non-commissioned officers and is in fact a part of the Australian Army.

The present course of the coalition in New Guinea, I think, has been very tactful and discreet, and I have no quarrel with it. It is endeavouring to do its best to reach consensus. When I was in Papua New Guinea during the last recess I detected, I think, some feeling that the Government was being a little bit indecisive on some things. In the present situation I believe that this would be a virtue. It is probably preferable to err a little on the side of indecision rather than to take precipitate action in a situation which could become quite explosive. However, no matter how politically adroit the Government might be we cannot close our eyes to the possibility of a secessionist movement being in conflict with the government of an independent Papua New Guinea. It is far from impossible that in such a situation the Government of Papua New Guinea would want to use its army. We have to decide on whether we want to be involved, and if so, how much we want to be involved. What if there is a prolonged struggle? Do we want our own type of Vietnam? What are the Government's plans for such contingencies?

A lot of attention must be given to what is to happen in such situations and whether we are doing everything possible to prevent their coming about. I appreciate that finding the answers is not easy, but whatever happens, if something goes wrong in Papua New Guinea, Australia rightly or wrongly will get some of the blame for it. We must still make a maximum effort to see that there is no interference by Australia in the internal affairs of Papua New Guinea after independence. Crucial to this effort will be the Pacific Islands Regiment, or whatever it will be termed after independence. I question the wisdom of maintaining the Pacific Islands Regiment as part of the Australian Army. Very shortly moves must be made to pass the responsibility for the Pacific Islands Regiment over to the Government of Papua New Guinea.

I know that it is very easy for us to say that we are not going to interfere but in the event of any conflict the temptation for Australia to interfere in the internal affairs of Papua Ne.w Guinea will be very great.

It will have to be resisted and we ought to make it clear now that we will resist any such temptation. How many times have we heard in the past criticism of the stupidity of Imperial Britain's drawing artificial lines on the map and of the even greater stupidity of Britain's interfering to maintain its boundaries after independence had been granted, such as happened in the conflict between Nigeria and Biafra?

We have to make it clear that this will not happen in Papua New Guinea. A first stage must be the alteration of the arrangement with the Pacific Islands Regiment. Otherwise we will Kind that we have an Australian garrison on foreign soil. The Labor Party is opposed to such an arrangement. We do not want Australia to have a garrison in Singapore and we do not want an Australian garrison in Papua New Guinea. We ought to move towards separation of the Pacific Islands Regiment from the Australian Army. The Pacific Islands Regiment should be brought under the responsibility of the Government of Papua New Guinea. I believe that Australia's military presence in Papua New Guinea should be redesigned so that the force becomes fundamentally an indigenous force. Australia should act in a technical and advisory function to train such a force against any external threat. Our servicemen should be supernumeraries and should act only to the extent requested by the Government of Papua New Guinea.

I do not apologise for raising this subject. I appreciate that many of these questions must be dealt with very carefully but our military relationship with Papua New Guinea must be squarely faced and on this subject we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. We have to say exactly where we stand. If we do less, we will be doing a disservice not only to ourselves but also to the people of Papua New Guinea.

In the short time left to me I would like to say that I think a very much greater commitment for civil aid to be given to Papua New Guinea after independence should be stated by the Government. I am sure that much of the opposition to independence within Papua New Guinea has sprung from a fear amongst the people of that country that if it is given independence Australia will up stumps and leave Papua

New Guinea to itself. If, that were to be the case there would be. some grounds for apprehension about independence. The Leader of the Opposition has made quite clear the attitude that would be adopted by a Federal Labor government. I would like to see a greater pledge given by this Government. Many Australian public servants in Papua New Guinea feel that they are being let down by the Government and I would like to see a greater measure of support for them. I would like the Austraiian Government to say that it will look after the future of any. Australian who is working in Papua New Guinea. Many people who are uncertain about their future there are coming back to Australia while they are still young enough to get a job here. I hope that this situation will be rectified and that the Australian Government will state quite clearly that it will give continuing civil support to Papua New Guinea as long as that country wants to keep Australian personnel.

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