Skip to main content

Volume 26: Australia and Papua New Guinea, 1966–1969

303 Submission, Eastman To Freeth

Canberra, 31 July 1969


West Irianese refugees–Runaweri and Zonggonao2
Request for travel documents

On 16th July Mr Hayden,3 M.P. for Oxley, sent the following telegram to you:

'Urge you to provide necessary travel documents for representatives of West Irian presently Manus Island to allow these representatives to travel to United States to present case for their people. Can you review previous decision on this matter.'

2. In a letter dated 17th July and received on 22nd July, William M. Zonggonao and Clemens Runaweri sent a letter to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, containing the following:

'We would like to go to New York to speak to the United Nations. We have had our fares to go guaranteed. We would like to make an application to the Australian Government for travel documents so we can go overseas. Can you do anything for us about this.'

3. Although Runaweri and Zonggonao had made clear from the time of their arrival in Papua/New Guinea on 31st May that they wished to travel to the United Nations, the above letter is the first occasion on which they have actually asked the Government to provide them with travel documents. The Netherlands Embassy in Canberra received a request for travel documents on their behalf from Mr John Middleton, the member of the House of Assembly who has undertaken to pay their fares to New York. The Netherlands replied to Middleton that the Netherlands Government was unable to meet the request since the refugees did not possess Netherlands nationality and were not temporarily resident on Netherlands territory. Although we do not have details there are reports that the two refugees sought travel documents from the United Nations without success. Nicholas Jouwe, a prominent West lrianese exile, is reported to be in the Netherlands at present seeking to obtain travel documents from the Dutch.

4. Middleton telephoned the Department on 23rd July to enquire what progress has been made in consideration of the letter of 17th July from Runaweri and Zonggonao. In the 'Sydney Morning Herald' of 29th July he is reported to have said that the Government appears to be deliberately delaying a decision on their application until the Act of Free Choice is over, by which time it will be too late. Middleton had earlier, on l0th July, spoken to the Secretary, Department of External Territories, who told him he did not think the Government would easily be brought to change its position on the question of travel documents.

Attitudes of other countries

5. The Indonesians have expressed the hope particularly that the two should not leave the Territory. Recently they have re-emphasized this hope, at least until the Act of Free Choice has been completed.

6. Our Embassy at Washington has the impression that the United States hopes that Australia will be able to obstruct for several months the departure of the two from TPNG and the Netherlands Foreign Ministry has also expressed the hope that we will be able to find means of avoiding granting travel facilities to them; it believes their visit to New York could have an unsettling effect at the United Nations and would be bound to attract attention in the Dutch Press with resulting pressures on the Dutch Government.

Policy in handling refugees

7. The Government has indicated that in handling West Irianese border crossers it will pay full regard to the international conventions governing refugees. The principles involved are embodied particularly in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Declaration on Territorial Asylum. The Government's hands are legally free in this case, however, since Declarations are not binding in International Law and the Refugees Convention is limited in its application, in Australia's case, to persons who became refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe before 1st January, 1951. In addition to this general statement of principle, the Government has said that, in the case of Runaweri and Zonggonao, it will neither help nor hinder them in their efforts to get to the United Nations.

Travel documents

8. The Refugee Convention provides in Article 28 that refugees should be issued with travel documents for the purpose of travel outside the Territory and that the holder of such a travel document should be readmitted to the Territory of the contracting party at any time during the period of its validity. In acceding to the Convention, however, Australia made a reservation in respect of Article 28 and specifically indicated that it did not accept the obligations stipulated in the Article relating to the issue of travel documents, although it was prepared to recognize travel documents issued by other contracting States as provided for in the Article.

9. Travel documents could take various forms, for example, passports, documents of identity or affidavits. There seems to be no question of supplying Runaweri and Zonggonao with Australian passports since they are not Australian citizens. Documents of identity could be issued and could be made valid for particular journeys. The Refugee Convention in fact contains an Article (Article 27) providing that contracting States should issue 'identity papers' to any refugee in their territory who does not possess valid travel documents. Identity papers are sometimes accepted as sufficient documentation for the purpose of issuing visas. The same applies to affidavits of identity, which are sworn before a Magistrate or similar authority, and thus do not involve an initiative by a Government. It is for consideration whether the possibility of Runaweri and Zonggonao obtaining an affidavit should be mentioned to them or Middleton.

10. The question of reconciling a decision to issue or not to issue travel documents with the Government's statement that it will neither help nor hinder the refugees in their efforts to go to New York poses some problems: if the Government decides to issue some form of document which is subsequently used for travel purposes, is it 'helping'? If it refuses to issue documents, is it 'hindering'? The position is perhaps best described along the lines that the Government will not 'help' by issuing travel documents, paying fares etc and will not 'hinder' by preventing the two refugees from leaving TPNG should they obtain the fares and travel documents from other sources.

11. A more important consideration is whether Runaweri and Zonggonao would be permitted to return to TPNG once they left. This is particularly relevant since the United States is unlikely to issue visas allowing the men to visit New York unless they have re-entry visas for TPNG or visas for a third country.

12. Australia is not at present under any legal obligation to re-admit them to TPNG. The humanitarian principles which led us to grant refugee status in the first place do not appear to require us to permit the refugees to use TPNG as a base from which to conduct an international campaign against Indonesian actions in West Irian.4 The Minister for Territories has indicated that, in his view, travel documents should not be issued to Runaweri and Zonggonao and that, if they succeed in obtaining documents elsewhere and leave the Territory, they should not be re-admitted. He would like to be consulted if it is intended to depart from these principles.

Public interest

13. There has not been a great deal of public interest in whether or not the Government should facilitate Runaweri and Zonggonao's travel to the United Nations although the press gave considerable coverage to them in the earlier stages of their stay in TPNG. Recently there have been few reports about them, although interest may revive now that the issue of the granting of travel documents has been aired.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

14. The UNHCR shows interest in West Irianese in TPNG and it has been Australian policy to keep him informed personally on matters relating to them. We believe he should also be informed confidentially of the decision taken in respect of the requests for travel documents for Runaweri and Zonggonao and the reasons for it.


15. It is recommended that you approve that–

(a) until consideration of the Act of Free Choice has been completed in the United Nations, the Australian Government should not issue travel documents to Runaweri and Zonggonao.

(b) the Government should take no step to draw to their attention the possibility of their travel on the basis of affidavits of identity.

(c) a decision be reserved as to what action might be appropriate in the event of any future application for travel documents after the United Nations consideration mentioned in (a).

(d) Mr Hayden be informed, as in the attached draft,5 that the Government's policy . remains that it will not prevent Runawerj and Zonggonao leaving TPNG for New York nor will it take positive steps to facilitate their doing so.

(e) a similar reply be sent to Runaweri and Zonggonao.

(f) the UNHCR be informed, confidentially and orally, of the Government's decision and the reasons for it.6

[NAA: A1838, 3036/14/1/6 part 15]

Reconstruction of the PNG public service and the Fenbury affair

In view of the constitutional changes in the Territory during 1968, a review of the structure of PNG's public service was undertaken in the same year. Its aim was to ensure the compatibility of the service with the changes and to facilitate future development.1Its result was the observation that the existing number of departments was 'excessive' and the recommendation that 're-grouping of functions' was needed to 'improve efficiency'.

Two proposals became the object of public controversy. The first was the creation of a 'Department of the Central Secretariat', which would combine the functions of the Department of the Administrator with information services and the field functions of DDA.2The scope of the new body would be substantial: it would embrace 'broad policy-making at a high level ... general administration and implementation of policies in the field, reaching down to Districts and Local Government Councils... and including the co-ordination in the Districts of activities of other Departments ... police and security services, and ... information services'.3it was argued that the gathering of these functions 'under one central control, with a close relationship with the Administrator' was 'essential' for 'strong and effective government at this stage of the Territory's development'. A second notable suggestion was the formation of a 'Department of Home Affairs' that would combine a number of 'housekeeping' activities currently spread across a number of departments4Its only substantial policy function was to be social development, hitherto located in District Administration.

In February 1969, External Territories commended the review to Barnes, though it argued that the 'Social and Home Affairs' department be short-lived–it should be abolished when Fenbury 'can be satisfactorily placed elsewhere'. Barnes approved the changes.5 Three months later, Warwick Smith received a letter from Hay and Gerald Unkles (Chairman, PNG Public Service Board) urging, ahead of the service-wide reorganisation, the immediate formation of both the central department and the home affairs body.6Two key personalities linking the new departments were Fenbury and Ellis. Hays relationship with Ellis had continued to develop since his appointment as head of DDA, while that with Fenbury had not improved.7Given that the establishment of the central department was contingent on the dissolution of DDA–and that Fenbury had been chosen to run home affairs, with Ellis marked for the reconstructed Administrator's department–the two departments had to be formed simultaneously. As to the timing and urgency of the decision to proceed, Unkles wrote privately to Warwick Smith that 'Mr Hay rather fears the return of Mr Fenbury [from leave] in current circumstances, and hence one must sympathise with the idea of re-organising'.8(Unkles thought Hay might also 'have had in mind a forcing of the issue ... on the relationship between Departmental Head ... and the role of Assistant Administrator')9Hay himself has said that he was anxious to have the reorganisation 'done by mid-year before anything blew up in relation to Bougainville, before the Gazelle got any worse ... and as quickly as possible in relation to the West Irian border where I had had some trouble with intelligence reports not reaching me quickly enough'.10Warwick Smith telexed Barnes' approval on 30 May.11

After some hesitation,12the plan was announced on 7 July.13In doing so, Hay laid particular emphasis on Fenbury's responsibilities regarding social problems not yet tackled by the Administration. However, behind closed doors it was evident that even this one policy area might be denied him. In a conversation with Unkles, Besley said that 'social development might be moved later to another department [and] Fenbury had to know this and to understand that if this happened he was not to feel wronged or aggrieved. It was just something which was on the cards and may or may not happen'.14Besley's comments also indicate that Territories agreed with Hay's reasons for moving Fenbury. He remarked that there was a 'need [for] a clear understanding that Departmental Heads [are] not in future able to make public statements of a controversial kind', and while referring to 'Fenbury's abilities [and] Territorial experience', Besley also spoke of 'his blinking red lights approach at times'. These criticisms echoed Warwick Smith's comment to Hay–to be found on the same file–that it 'would seem desirable at the time of making appointments to positions of Departmental Head status to be assured of the good faith of appointees, particularly from the viewpoint of loyalty to Administration policies'.15

Fenbury bitterly protested the change. He called Unkles and 'complained at length about being moved ... and about Ellis having been publicly preferred to him for (in his mind) a posting of higher status'.16(The imputation that Ellis' greater status was more imagined than real was disingenuous; aside from the obvious and divergent functional significance of the two departments, the original public service review made clear that the head of social affairs would receive a lower income.)17Unkles explained that Fenbury intended to write formally to the Public Service Board 'objecting to the new arrangements', adding that he had rejected 'Unkles' observation that a public servant accepts whatever posting he is given'.18Unkles believed 'Fenbury will carry out the letter of his duties but without any enthusiasm for them'.

There were also vigorous public objections to the arrangements. Don Barrett wrote in the Post-Courier that the new department might more correctly be named the 'Bits and Pieces Department' and he claimed that the reconstruction weakened connections with the grass roots.19He noted that Ellis was 'an outspoken opponent of local government'–while Fenbury, for his part, was not a comfortable partner in the push for centralisation: 'Perhaps he has been too outspoken to please his "masters" in Canberra–for let us be sure that this present reorganisation is another Canberra product'. The mainland press was similarly harsh. The Sydney Morning Herald labelled the action a 'backward step' and condemned the 'increase [in the] ability of the Department of External Territories to control Papua – New Guinea affairs'.20It decried a situation in which 'Canberra officials–notoriously out of touch with developments in the Territory and responsible for the major blunders of recent years–will now have the means of reaching directly down to the most minor details of field administration'. And it alleged that the presence of DDA officers in the new Administrator's department was designed to amplify the 'voices of conservatism' and 'slow down the pace of political change in the Territory'. The Australian maintained that the 'new arrangements, combined with the abolition of ... assistant administrators ... removes various checks and balances that previously operated', and though it conceded that greater efficiency was now possible, 'there must', it concluded, 'be misgivings at the way government in New Guinea is being increasingly centralised to give the Department of Territories increasing control over not only broad policy, but its detailed implementation'.21Barnes responded to these criticisms by arguing that the scope of the Administrator's authority would remain the same and that the absorption of DDA allowed for more effective coordination.22 To calls for the acceleration of a handover in PNG, the Minister gave his standard rejoinder: the Government's policy was to 'develop [PNG] for self-determination and to allow the views of the majority of the population to determine the timing of their decisions about their constitutional position'.

Aside from political fallout, there were other aspects of the affair that caused concern in Government. In the Administration, Legislative Draftsman C.J Lynch 'produced a long list of reasons why recent [changes were] ... illegal or extra-legal'.23The core of the anxiety was that the changes had been implemented without a report from the PNG Public Service Board and the DOET departmental head. 'Under pressure' Lynch conceded that 'his personal opinion was that [the] Minister had power to act without [a] report, but ... he understood there was opinion to the contrary'.24 A decision was made to quietly decline the opportunity to discover whether, in fact, such opinion existed. A Territories officer recommended that no approach be made to Attorney-Generals 'as it might act as a fetter to the discretion exercised in the past (usually with P.S.B. agreement)'.25 Besley agreed, cabling Port Moresby that there was 'No record of opinion here or at A.G.s and we see no value in seeking one since [the] Minister has already taken [the] decision'.26

1 A.J. Eastman, First Assistant Secretary, Division I, DEA.

2 For context, see Document 288.

3 W.G. Hayden (ALP).

4 Freeth here wrote: 'In fact we make this one of the conditions on which they are accepted'.

5 Not printed.

6 In a marginal note of 1 August, Freeth wrote: 'i. Although the letter to Mr. Hayden omits any reference to travel documents, in so far as it is a reply to his request for the issue of documents it can be taken as a refusal at this stage. ii. I believe this is probably the right view at the present time. But there will be more political sensitivity in Australia about stopping these men telling their story to the U.N. (& it will be taken this way) than in our "going along" with the act of free choice as conducted by Indonesia. We should therefore have some flexibility to meet this attitude. iii. We could eventually come to a position if there is much reaction where we issue documents of identity on the basis that these men cannot be allowed to re-enter. This would probably make it difficult for them to obtain U.S. visas (and this attempt to do so would take some time) & subsequently obtain permission from the Dutch or some other country to enter there–again taking some time. This should delay their arrival in New York for a good many weeks. iv. These men staying in New Guinea will be a continuing nuisance–we would be better off if they left, and provided we delay their departure as long as possible we don't have any other obligations to Indonesia or anyone else. I suggest that further discussions with Territories be held along these lines'. The Australian Government stood by its refusal to issue travel documents to the pair. They were still on Manus in early 1970 (see letter, Beazley to McMahon, 29 January 1970, and letter, McMahon to Beazley, 12 February 1970, NAA: Al838, 3036/14/1/6 part 17).

1 See attachments to memorandum, Administration (Somers) to DOET, 31 December 1968, NAA: A452, 1969/142.

2 loc. cit.

3 A DOET paper later noted that 'No other Department can be classified above this one–it is [the] absolute fulcrum of the Administration' (8 September 1969, ibid.).

4 See attachments to memorandum, Administration (Somers) to DOET, 31 December 1968, ibid.

5 Submission, Besley to Barnes, 19 February 1969, ibid. Warwick Smith also highlighted the Department's interest in a 'Co-ordinating Secretariat'. He raised his concern that the Administration be removed 'from political and public controversy' and he suggested changes to the responsibilities of Assistant Administrators (for further discussion, see editorial notes on administrative delegations and the role of Assistant Administrators).

6 Letter, Hay and Unkles to Warwick Smith, 27 May 1969, ibid.

7 Hay interview, 1973–4, NLA: TRC 121/65, 6:2/36. For background, see footnote 1, Document 154.

8 Letter, Unkles to Warwick Smith, 27 May 1969, NAA: A452, 1969/142..

9 See editorial note 'Administrative delegations and the role of Assistant Administrators: continued debate'.

10 Hay interview, 1973–4, NLA: TRC 121/65, 6:2/37.

11 Telex 5419, Warwick Smith to Hay, 30 May 1969, NAA: A452, 1969/142.

12 See, for example, telex 5968, N.F. Wicks (Assistant Secretary, Establishments Branch, DOET) to Unkles, 18 June 1968, and telex 3803, Unkles to Wicks, 25 June 1969, ibid.

13 See telex 5914, Hay to Warwick Smith, 7 July 1969, ibid.

14 Minute, Besley to Warwick Smith, 8 July 1969, ibid.

15 Letter, Warwick Smith to Hay, 13 February 1969, ibid.

16 Minute, Wicks to Warwick Smith, 8 July 1969, ibid. Fenbury complained to Hay and Barnes in similar terms. His relationship with Hay– 'never ... warm, but at least ... correct' –deteriorated to the point where he 'became a sort of internal opponent' (Hay interview, 1973–4, NLA: TRC 121/65, 6:2/38).

17 See attachments to memorandum, Administration (Somers) to DOET, 31 December 1968, NAA: A452, 1969/142. An attempt was later made by Territories to have Fenbury placed in a higher salary bracket in view of the position's 'work value' and the occupant's 'capacity ... to contribute to the job' (as demonstrated by Fenbury's 'academic achievements and his long and varied experience in the field and at headquarters') (letter, Warwick Smith to Sir Frederick Wheeler (Commissioner, Commonwealth Public Service Board), 3 November 1969, ibid.). The Commonwealth Public Service Board turned down the request since the 'matter was not one of work value or personal retention' (note for file by Warwick Smith, 3 November 1969, ibid.).

18 Minute, Wicks to Warwick Smith, 8 July 1969, ibid.

19 Papua – New Guinea Post-Courier, date unknown, in ibid. There were also indications of disquiet at lower levels in DDA. For example, the Deputy District Commissioner of the Eastern Highlands district, J.P. Sinclair, decried what he saw as the cavalier manner in which DDA had been consigned to the past–but, he wrote, 'No doubt the teeming thousands of Johnny-come-latelys in Port Moresby, most of whom have no knowledge of nor interest in New Guinea as a whole, will wonder what I am getting fussed about' (loc. cit.)

20 Sydney Morning Herald, 10 July 1969, in ibid.

21 Australian, 9 July 1969, in ibid.

22 Press statement by Barnes, 10 July 1969, ibid. Barnes' statement was expressly aimed at articles of 10 July, yet it is likely he also had in mind earlier criticism.

23 Minute, Don Scott (Senior Inspector, Organisation and Classification Section, DOET) to Besley, 19 August 1969, ibid.

24 loc. cit.

25 loc. cit. Scott wrote that 'in the past we have maintained [the] position that we should have [a] recommendation from [the] Board before [the] Minister should act ... There have been isolated occasions when this procedure [has] not [been] followed'.

26 Telex 9062, Besley to Unkles, 16 September 1969, ibid.

Last Updated: 26 November 2015
Back to top