550 Proceedings of the South Seas Commission Conference

Extract CANBERRA, 28 January 1947

7. Upon his election as President of the Conference Dr. Evatt said:-

'I wish to express my deep appreciation of the honour which has been conferred upon me by electing me to the office of President of this Conference. It has for three years been the objective of the Australian Government to convene such a Conference as this. As Mr. Nash pointed out, the Governments of Australia and of New Zealand have been active in this connection ever since the signing of the Agreement between Australia and New Zealand almost three years ago.

Our objective now is to establish a permanent welfare commission which will devote its activities to the raising of living standards among native peoples in the South Pacific, a commission which will be representative of all those Governments with territorial interest in this area. With this objective must be associated the name of the late Right Honourable John Curtin, who was Prime Minister of Australia when the Agreement was signed, and also Mr. Chifley, the present Prime Minister, who has just addressed the Conference, as well as my colleague the Honourable E. J. Ward, Commonwealth Minister for External Territories, who has already done much to give effect, in the territories under Australia's control, to those principles to which we subscribe for the betterment of native population. I desire also to associate with this work the names of Mr. Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Mr. Walter Nash, Deputy Prime Minister.

Having regard to the reception of the invitations of Australia and New Zealand to this Conference, I am confident that an agreement for the establishment of a Regional Advisory Commission for the area will be hammered out here. As a result of preliminary discussion with all the Governments represented here, it has become apparent that all six Powers are in favour of creating such a body and are convinced of the advantages to be gained from co- operative international investigation and treatment of problems concerning administrations responsible for the advancement of the welfare of the native peoples of the South Pacific.

The improvement of the living standards of the native peoples of the South Pacific depends to a great extent on co-operation between the nations primarily concerned. It means, for instance, making available to all concerned the best possible health and educational services. Separate administrations are constantly investigating and dealing with these matters. By promoting ideas and co-ordinating research problems through the agency of a regional commission, they can surely reach nearer to their objectives.

The field of co-operative regional action is not entirely unexplored. Regional action is positively encouraged in the United Nations Charter. In relation to the economic and welfare field, we have already witnessed the creation of a regional commission in the Caribbean area. It is our determination that an equally equipped institution will now be established in the South Seas entirely devoted to the social and economic welfare of the native peoples. I use the term 'social welfare' in the broadest sense, which includes the encouragement of voluntary movements and institutions.

This regional association can play its part in assisting member Governments to discharge obligations they have accepted either under the United Nations Charter or by solemn declarations of their leaders. There are many crucial problems left over by the war in this region which demand immediate study and investigation and a cooperative solution. There are gaps in our knowledge of the territories, and these gaps can be filled out only by energetic research work and by a coordinated attack upon the problems by all responsible Governments. The urgency and importance of these problems will provide the Commission with a great opportunity-a great mission. I hope that a special committee of this Conference will indicate some of the problems requiring immediate attention by the Commission.

The Australian Government feels that no time should be lost once agreement is reached on the constitution and the membership of the Commission in establishing an administrative structure which will be adequate to cope with the problems presented for consideration.

We are confident that the Governments gathered here can agree upon a constitution, and that the essential preliminary organisation of the Commission can be achieved with reasonable despatch.

It is a striking fact that six Governments should assemble so soon after the war to formulate definite plans for a body which will be concerned with promoting the welfare of the inhabitants of the South Seas. This Conference is the first occasion on which the Governments responsible for the administration of non-self- governing territories in the South Seas have gathered together to discuss the broad problems outlined in the provisional agenda for this Conference.'

[AA : A1838, 343/10]