492 Pyman to McIntyre

Minute CANBERRA, 21 September 1949



1. The argument in this memorandum appears to be based on the view that the inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea 'have some political consciousness and are capable of expressing a useful opinion on the form of government which they desire'. Available evidence in the Department, however, suggests that there is no reason to alter our existing belief that the vast majority of the inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea are without political interest and are incapable of appreciating issues involved in any problem of territorial government. There are certain minority groups which may have indoctrinated small sections of the native peoples, probably close to the more settled areas on the coast of Northern Dutch New Guinea. Johan Ariks, who leads one such group described by the Consulate in Batavia as 'at best a small and unrepresentative minority', has stimulated a movement (possibly with Dutch inspiration though this is not proven) for separation of Dutch New Guinea (Irian as he calls it) from the rest of Indonesia. Opposing him is a party claiming a membership of merely 4,000 known as the Indonesian Independence Party of Irian and seeking a link with the Indonesian territories.

Furthermore it should be borne in mind that the inhabitants of Netherlands New Guinea are for the most part ethnically distinct from the peoples of Indonesia. Their ethnographic, cultural and geographical links are with the rest of Melanesia. [Estimates of the population vary between 500,000 + 1,000,000.] [2] 2. Any estimate as to the possible significance of a 'Freedom Movement' amongst the inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea should be made in the light of the foregoing basic facts. It will not be surprising if there are certain nationalistic stirrings, firstly amongst a minority of native peoples in Dutch New Guinea who have come into contact with Indonesians, and later amongst the tribes living away from the coastal and settled areas. It is possible that Indonesian inspiration could create problems for Dutch administration in the future (if it were retained in Dutch New Guinea) through agitation amongst the small number of articulate natives. It is very doubtful, however, whether such nationalist movements as did eventuate would attain any great momentum in the sense that they would be supported for many years to come by the primitive Melanesian native inhabitants of the sparsely settled non-coastal areas of Dutch New Guinea. I think it is correct to say that it is quite unreal in relation to Australian New Guinea to think in terms of nationalistic activity for the time being amongst the vast majority of native tribes who are essentially local in their outlook and have no sense of unity as a Melanesian nation. I am therefore a little uncertain as to what is meant in paragraph 7 of the memorandum from New York where it is stated that if the Dutch proposal succeeds at the moment 'a repressed nationalist group probably with ambitions in relation to the whole of New Guinea, would inevitably secure the full support of the Republic of Indonesia'.

3. This memorandum from New York quite justifiably draws attention to the dangerous consequences for Australian-Indonesian relationships which could follow from an ill-advised policy in regard to the future of Dutch New Guinea. I feel, however, that possibly the consequences flowing from the assumption of control by the Indonesians in Dutch New Guinea would be far more dangerous than those which might follow the continuance of Dutch rule, especially if the control of the Netherlands Government is exercised through a trusteeship arrangement. (I might add that [even] in the absence of a trusteeship arrangement the consequences I have in mind might well be less dangerous if full Dutch sovereignty were retained.) I have in mind the following factors in making these statements:

(a) the lack of experience which an Indonesian administration in Dutch New Guinea would necessarily exhibit in attempting to govern a vast and economically socially undeveloped territory inhabited by primitive Melanesians. From the consequent unstable conditions in the territory would come the possibility of extremist influences working amongst the native peoples, thus leading to constant irritations between the Australian administration in New Guinea and the Indonesian administration;

(b) the strong possibility that the Indonesians would permit Asiatic immigration (even Japanese immigration) in large numbers into Dutch New Guinea, thus rendering very likely infiltration of Asiatic elements into Australian New Guinea, creating further friction between administrations;

(c) retention of Netherlands control would give some hope that the economic and social problems of Dutch New Guinea would be adequately handled and that there would be some prospect of preventing large scale immigration of Asiatic peoples especially if the Dutch could be persuaded to negotiate a trusteeship agreement under the terms of which the welfare of the inhabitants would be the paramount objective, thus giving a pretext for opposing migration of Asiatics whose presence could possibly affect adversely the native Melanesians.

4. Apart from Palar's views, the evidence we have has led us to believe that the Republicans have been [induced] to support the demand for Indonesian control of Dutch New Guinea because of the attitude of the East Indonesian representatives. Whilst it is true that they may well be disappointed with any outright statement by Australian representatives that they favour Dutch control in New Guinea, it is not likely that so far as the Republicans are concerned they will resent bitterly our inability to support the Indonesian cause in relation to Dutch New Guinea. I think that the correct tactics are being followed in not making any forthright declaration but rather working through confidential channels to the Indonesians and explaining our conviction that the long-term interests of the Melanesian inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea would be better served by a trusteeship arrangement, with the Dutch as the trustee power, obliged under the terms of the agreement to promote, not only the economic and social development of the inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea, but also their political progress, an objective to which we are committed in Australian New Guinea.

1 Document 488.

2 Text in square brackets in this Document was inserted by hand.

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