455 Truscott to McIntyre

Minute CANBERRA, 11 July 1949


One of the items proposed for discussion at the Round Table Conference relates to the future status of Netherlands New Guinea.

Roem, the Republican delegate, at previous discussions has stated that the Republicans will agree to the inclusion of the item only on the consideration that New Guinea is accepted as a part of the U.S.I. The representative [1] of the B.F.O. has concurred in that statement. Netherlands negotiators have, however, expressly stated that they intend to keep the question an open one for the present and have avoided any statements of the policy they propose to follow.

It is quite evident that the future of Netherlands New Guinea is of very considerable importance to Australia.

(1) The territory is at present not well developed economically but its potentialities are great particularly as a source of supply of oil.

(2) It occupies a position of strategic and tactical importance to Australia.

(3) Developments in the Territory may reasonably be expected to influence conditions in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.

It is, therefore, important that the decision as to the future of Netherlands New Guinea should be one which will not prejudice Australia's interests.

While the attitude of the Netherlands Government has not been expressed in discussion with the Republicans, it appears probable that they are anxious to retain the territory as a part of the Netherlands Kingdom. The people of Netherlands New Guinea itself are not vocal and it is unlikely that the vast majority of them have any under-standing of or an interest in the problem. Only one voice-that of Johan Ariks who styles himself political representative of the Papuan population of New Guinea-has been raised, and Ariks has expressed his opposition to the inclusion of New Guinea in U.S.I. Ariks probably speaks mainly for himself though he seems to have the backing-tacit at any rate-of the Netherlands Administration, and possibly the Christian community of New Guinea such as it is, would hold a similar view.

Possible solutions of the problem:

(1) Incorporation into East Indonesia as part of the U.S.I.

(2) Retention as a part of the Netherlands Kingdom.

(3) Condominium Government by the Netherlands and the U.S.I.

The Third alternative appears perhaps the least satisfactory.

Condominium Governments rarely work very well, particularly where the countries forming the Condominium are not in harmony.

Incorporation into the U.S.I.

1. The U.S.I. will be geographically the closest Government with an interest in the Territory.

2. Historically the people of at least parts of the territory have at some time in the past-18th Century-come under a form of suzerainty of certain rulers in East Indonesia. While the population of New Guinea is fundamentally Melanesian it shows some signs of Indonesian blood.

3. As a long term problem the Territory has better chances of development by the Indonesians than by the Dutch. Indonesia is over populated and could probably settle the territory. The alternative to transmigration from Indonesia to the territory, might be the forcible annexation by other overcrowded Asiatic countries, e.g. Japan.

4. Open opposition by Australia to the incorporation of the territory in the U.S.I. might lose for Australia the good-will of the future Government of the U.S.I.

5. The oil resources of the territory could be a useful source of revenue to a young state.

As opposed to these considerations in favour of incorporation, such a step would appear to have certain positive disadvantages.

A. From the point of view of the indigenous population.

(i) Notwithstanding 2 above the population of New Guinea is quite distinct racially from that of Indonesia. New Guinea has further a distinct history and is geographically separate from the other parts of Indonesia. Racially it links rather with the South Pacific Area.

(ii) For practical purposes New Guinea would for many years be a 'colonial' part of Indonesia, and the Indonesians have had no experience in governing colonial peoples.

(iii) The U.S.I. will not have the financial resources to develop the territory satisfactorily. On the other hand the Dutch have shown ability in the development of colonial territories.

(iv) The U.S.I. for some time to come is likely to be in an unstable condition. It is unlikely, therefore, that it could bring stable conditions to the territory. This would discourage overseas investments which would help to develop New Guinea, without which the living standards of the native people cannot be raised.

(v) The Indonesians are predominantly Moslem, whereas such natives in New Guinea as are not animistic are Christian.

B. From Australia's point of view.

(i) It is possible that the Indonesians might introduce the general Asiatic tendency towards hatred of the white man into the territory. Only the very artificial boundary exists to prevent any such sentiment infiltrating into the territories of Papua and New Guinea.

(ii) Unstable conditions in the territory would attract extremist and Communist influences.

(iii) It would bring Asia right onto Australia's doorstep.

(iv) Useful Dutch research etc. which is valuable to Australia's territories through the medium of the South Pacific Commission would be largely lost.

(v) Collaboration between the Papua and New Guinea Administration and Indonesian New Guinea would probably be slight.

(vi) Any hopes for a Melanesian nation at some future date would be considerably diminished. It would seem that the incorporation of Netherlands New Guinea into Indonesia would widen what is really a purely artificial distinction between the two parts of New Guinea.

C. From the Netherlands point of view.

(i) Holland faces grave overpopulation problems which can only be solved by increased industrialisation and by emigration. There are several organisations encouraging emigration to New Guinea and studies into the possibilities of large scale emigration have been, and are being made by the Netherlands Government. The point should not be overstressed, however, as admittedly Netherlands' interest in New Guinea appears slight at present.

(ii) Netherlands interests have put a considerable amount of capital into the development of oil in the territory. In this regard it is to Australia's advantage that this source of supply should be developed as rapidly as possible. Stable conditions, which, it is submitted, can only be provided by the continuation of Netherlands control, will aid in this rapid development.


It seems that on balance the disadvantages of the incorporation of Netherlands New Guinea into the U.S.I. outweighs the advantages.

Whether Australia can influence the ultimate decision is, however, doubtful. We might advise the Netherlands Governments informally that we should like to see the territory remain a part of the Netherlands Kingdom, and assure them of our support in its development, e.g. close co-operation between the Netherlands New Guinea and the Administration of Papua and New Guinea, use of communication facilities on the Australian side of the boundary etc. In return we might seek assurances regarding the welfare of the indigenous inhabitants, the use of military facilities and, possibly, economic concessions.

1 Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak.

[AA : A1838, 309/1/1, i]