Skip to main content

Historical documents

96 Memorandum by Department of External Affairs

Prime Ministers' Conference [Briefing paper] No. 7 (extracts)

CANBERRA, 27 March 1944


1. The post-war settlement in the Pacific is a vital matter for
Australia because the stability of the region in which we live is
at stake. Our long-term security depends on the progress made in
the Southeast Asiatic area from economic and social backwardness,
strategic weakness and international rivalry towards economic
strength, prosperity and political stability. There are two groups
of problems-
(1) Security, and
(2) Colonial Policy.

2. From one point of view these are interdependent. Stability
cannot be achieved without a security system, but neither can it
be assured by a security system alone. A security system in the
Pacific will stand or fall ultimately according as economic
policies and projects give prospects of a decent living for all
Pacific peoples. In the long run there cannot be freedom from fear
unless there is freedom from want.

3. From the point of view of organisation, however, it is
suggested that clarity can only be achieved by making a
distinction between security and welfare. Commissions concerned
with promoting economic and social development need to be free
from responsibility for defence. Bodies responsible for welfare
activities need to be able to assume the existence of a shield of

4. There are dangers in a purely regional approach to security.

While there is a place for regional organisations within a general
system, a Pacific system would clearly be unsound unless it were
integrated into a general international organisation. This was
recognised in the statement by the Minister for External Affairs
on 4th October, 1943:-

[matter omitted] [2]

5. Australia and New Zealand need the assurance of Western power
in the Pacific. Their community life is based on economic and
cultural integration with Atlantic countries but they lie far
outside the Atlantic area and alongside vastly bigger communities
of a different character. The contrast between Western and Eastern
modes of life is heightened by the disparity between the ratios of
population to resources in Asia and Australia. Australia's
position must be one of fundamental insecurity while this contrast
exists. It therefore stands in special need of the sort of
guarantee that in former times British naval supremacy could
provide but which in future can be provided only by either a
permanent alliance of great powers or an effective international
system. Regional arrangements within this framework can be used to
give clearer definition to international collaboration, but
regional arrangements unrelated to or ill-adjusted to a general
system would not provide security.

6. These considerations, however, it is submitted, would not
justify a policy of relying on other Powers and making no
contribution of our own to security. Each country must have
trained forces; forces require bases; and the use of both involves
plans and strategic arrangements with neighbouring and allied
countries. Herein lies the proper object of regional arrangements
for security-the provision of facilities and the contribution of
trained men, material and bases by the Governments in a given
region according to an agreed plan as part of a general system.

7. Further, the possibility of the eventual collapse of a regional
or general system cannot be ignored. For this reason it would seem
necessary that our share in regional and international security
systems should be such that we will be in a position-
geographically in regard to bases failing to our care,
industrially in regard to armament production, militarily in
regard to trained and equipped forces of all arms-such that in the
event of the system becoming weakened we should be ready to defend
ourselves. This suggests the desirability of our securing (i)
direct responsibility for the policy system in the area adjacent
to our shores, including (ii) the right to use bases in Timor,
Dutch New Guinea, New Guinea, New Britain, the Solomons, New
Hebrides and New Caledonia and to see that these bases are
satisfactorily maintained; (iii) a share in the security
arrangements covering Malaya, N.E.I., Japanese Mandated Islands
and British Western Pacific possessions, as well as (iv) a more
general share in the Pacific security system as a whole.

8. The greatest possible measure of stability in the Pacific is
essential to Australia. Our interests are therefore incompatible
with reversion to a colonial system which would be on the one hand
a standing challenge to non-colonial powers such as Germany and
Japan and on the other hand an affront to the growing number of
colonial peoples who are developing towards independence.

9. Our special position in the Pacific dictates a long-term
interest in the cultivation of political, economic and social
strength and maturity among the native communities of South-east
Asia and Indonesia. Events have proved the weakness of an order in
this part of the world which was a projection into the Pacific of
the interests and influences of separate Western Powers and was
motivated by European rather than local and Pacific
considerations. Our long-term interest lies in the emergence of a
group of self-reliant and co-operative Western Pacific States.

Guidance by advanced nations, however, will obviously be
indispensable for a considerable time. This fits in with our vital
interest in having Western Powers present in the Pacific region,
for security reasons, but it will also be necessary in our
interests that this guidance be subject to external supervision in
which we could participate.

10. The economic question is linked with security. Australia has a
purely economic interest in future opportunities in Pacific
countries and it is important therefore that there should not be
discrimination against us. But our interest far transcends this,
since we wish this area to cease to be a zone of international

11. The examination of many important aspects of this question are
proceeding in other spheres of interest-e.g. the informal and
preparatory talks that have taken place on post-war economic
collaboration, the proposals for Anglo-American discussions on the
future of world petroleum, the suggestion for an enlargement of
the scope of the International Rubber Agreement, and the proposals
for commodity agreements and an international investment fund. It
is impossible at the moment, therefore, to do more than emphasise
the importance of this phase of the question and of linking
international agreement on such subjects with regional

12. It might also be emphasised that the Australian policy pursued
in international economic discussions-i.e. the raising of
standards of consumption and 'full employment' to create an
'economy of abundance'-also applies to the Pacific, subject only
to the necessity that may exist in some cases to slow down the use
of resources if native welfare is thereby endangered. Generally,
Australia might receive a twofold benefit from such a policy in
the Pacific. In the first place our export trade would benefit.

But again our larger interest is more fundamental than this
commercial one: stability in the Pacific and consequently security
for Australia depend on accommodation being found for the energies
of Asiatic peoples, especially Japan, which must export either
goods or people. Policies for the expansion of economic
opportunities of course would not be limited to the Pacific area.

The economic position of Japan and all other countries is affected
by conditions in all parts of the world. But South-east Asia is
one obvious and appropriate field for international action to
foster development, productivity, rising standards and expanding
trade. Australian interests would require our full participation
in such schemes and in their control.

13. The Principles of Australian colonial policy (as stated in
speeches by the Minister for External Affairs on 3rd September,
1942 [3], and 14th October, 1943. in telegrams to London numbers
2, 14 and 36 (1943) [4] and in the Australian - New Zealand
Agreement [5]) may be summarised as follows:-

(i) The broad principles of the Atlantic Charter should be

(ii) There should be a general system of security, as effective in
colonial areas as elsewhere;

(iii) Colonies must share in the benefits of economic

(iv) 'Trustee' states should accept accountability to some
international body;

(v) Trustee states should promote social, economic and political

(vi) Native peoples should participate in government and
administration to the fullest possible extent;

(vii) Exclusive economic rights in non-self-governing territories
should be relinquished by all powers;

(viii) Administration should remain the responsibility of powers
associated with respective territories in the past, subject to
changes necessary to general security;

(ix) Colonies should be grouped under Regional Commissions for
purposes of international collaboration;

(x) Australia should participate in the control of the affairs of
South-east Asia and the Pacific area.

14. In applying these principles in the Western Pacific region,
two types of colony have to be provided for, those of Indonesia,
and the small and scattered insular possessions in Oceania. The
geographic, racial, cultural, economic, strategic and almost all
features and problems of these two areas differ profoundly. it is
suggested that it would therefore be fitting that in matters of
colonial welfare there should be two commissions, one comprising
Indo-China, Malaya, Netherlands Indies and Portuguese Timor, the
other the Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian islands. There
must obviously be close co-ordination between the two commissions
on matters of common concern, e.g. security, development and
migration, air communications.

15. If this proposal were acceptable, it is suggested that the
membership of the two commissions might include the following-
(a) Indonesian Commission: United Kingdom, Netherlands, France,
Portugal as 'Trustee' States; United States, Australia, China,
Thailand, Burma, Philippines as States with major interests:

(b) South Seas Commission: United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand,
United States, France as 'Trustee' States and perhaps the
Netherlands and the Philippines as powers with major interests.

16. In the telegrams referred to the Commonwealth Government
advocated international supervision and said in effect that this
would be best executed by a general international commission. The
reasons for this are both political and technical.

17. The political importance of the colonial question was
demonstrated long before the war. Colonial administration cannot
realistically be treated any longer as wholly a domestic matter;

it is clearly a matter also of general interest. Any attempt to
exclude third powers from some voice in the guidance of non-self-
governing peoples and the economic development of colonial
territories would foment criticism. The wise course would appear
to be to make concessions to this legitimate and admitted third-
party interest. But it would be better to make the concessions on
the level of principles of policy and general supervision than on
that of practical administration; that is, on the level of a
general supervisory commission rather than on that of regional

18. There are other considerations, partly political and partly
technical, which point to the need for a general commission. While
no precise scheme has yet been worked out, it is now generally
considered that some world-wide political organisation-some
permanent association of nations-will be needed to replace the
League of Nations. It would seem desirable if not necessary that
colonial affairs should be brought within the purview of such an
association of nations and, through it, linked with international
collaboration in security and economic matters.

19. The chief difficulty is to provide for the two different main
purposes of international organisations in this field. These two
types of function may be distinguished as those of supervision and
those of practical co-ordination of effort in the execution of
trusteeship. To obtain good practical results from international
co-operation in a given region, it is necessary that a regional
commission consist of Government officials personally versed in
the problems at issue, competent to advise their Governments and
to voice the official views and explain the practical methods of
their Governments. But by the nature of its membership a regional
commission of this kind would find it difficult to supervise,
inspect and report to the international community on the merits
and shortcomings of administration by colonial powers. The work of
co-ordination on a wide range of technical matters could not be
done to best effect by a commission which was also charged with
making a critical review of each Power's administration. Its
members would be put in the impossible position of sitting in
public judgment on their own Government. On the other hand, if a
regional commission were given the tasks of supervision it would
cease to be a meeting place of officials concerned to get
practical results by collaboration with neighbouring

20. Any commission charged with the tasks of supervision as the
representative of a general world interest in colonial peoples
would gain in impartiality by including non-colonial Powers and
would gain in freedom if it did not also have the tasks of
coordinating technical detail as between colonial administrations.

21. It is therefore suggested that the functions of supervision,
inspection, representing world opinion and general third party
interests would be undertaken by the general world commission.

This body would review the work of regional commissions and of the
various colonial administrations, from which it would receive
regular reports. The personnel would properly be expert, non-
official, non-political and permanently appointed. The model of
the Permanent Mandates Commission [6] would be appropriate, but
the powers might usefully be somewhat more extensive. The regional
advisory commissions could then be concerned with the practical
working-out of the principles of trusteeship. They would be
consultative, collaborative bodies, concerned with mutual
assistance and practical co-operation between colonial
administrations. Their members would be officials engaged in
actual administration in various fields and competent to advise
their Governments.

1 i.e. item 3 (c) of the suggested agenda conveyed in cablegram
D335 of 5 March. On file AA:A5954, box 646.

2 The matter omitted cites two paragraphs of Evatt's speech in
Parliament concerning Australia's security interests in the
Pacific region (see Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol. 176,
pp. 568-79).

3 See ibid., vol. 172, pp. 78-84.

4 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VI,
Documents 94, 97 and 115 respectively.

5 Document 26.

6 i.e. of the League of Nations.

[AA:A1838, 277/2, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top