545 Pyman to Burton

Minute CANBERRA, 17 September 1947

SOLOMON ISLANDS SITUATION

[matter omitted]

3. The question of further action on our part arises. The following considerations are relevant:

(a) If we proceed to offer our services by means of exchange of ideas and advice derived from our own experience, we may be associated in the minds of ill-informed outside critics, with the repressive measures [1] employed and also with the possible ultimate failure to devise real remedies for a situation that could continue for some time and even worsen.

(b) On the other hand this region is one in which we are directly concerned. The whole purpose of the South Pacific Commission Agreement is to promote cooperation in the examination of problems relating to the living standards of the native peoples in the South West Pacific.

(c) I feel, frankly, that Australia's reputation will depend more upon its ability to provide constructive solutions of such problems (as it will attempt to do in Indonesia) than upon its success in merely drawing attention to the existence of problems in the South West Pacific and South East Asia.

(d) It is within the letter and spirit of the South Pacific Commission Agreement that exchange of views should be encouraged even on matters which have the appearance of being political but have fundamental economic and social causes.

4. On balance, it is suggested that we [sh]ould [2] be well advised to take [a] more positive interest in the Solomon Islands situation and as a step in that direction a cable could be sent to the Commonwealth Relations Office or alternatively, if you prefer, a letter to the United Kingdom High Commissioner's Office stressing our general interest in the situation and drawing particular attention to the proximity of Australian mandated territory. We could emphasise our readiness to make available information derived from our experience in handling natives of the Solomons mandated area and in parts of the territory of New Guinea in which there has been any lengthy contact with United States forces. We could suggest that possibly a meeting [might] be arranged between [the] British Resident Commissioner in the area and the Administrator of Papua - New Guinea to exchange ideas on recent developments and on constructive solutions affecting the economic and administrative structure of the territories under consideration. (it is possible that from such discussions there would emerge a realisation that the trouble in the Solomons has been partly caused by shortages of essential materials and supplies. In such circumstances Australia might be expected to make a special effort to assist and indeed we could hardly justify our assertion of direct interest in the area unless we were prepared to carry some of the obligations).

5. Finally it is quite possible that the Colonial Office may at first glance resent [our] desire to 'intervene'. I feel that a lot will depend on the way in which the approach is made and would suggest for your consideration that if it is pursued on the lines suggested above it might be possible to make progress towards a constructive solution. Efforts made by Australia in this direction, incidentally, could well be mentioned in our annual report to the Trusteeship Council on the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and would assist in enhancing our prestige.

[6. Territories [3] should, of course, be consulted as to the terms of any such communication. From my conversations with them I feel that they would not be opposed to action being taken on the above lines.] [4]

1 In order to forestall unrest expected on 1 September, police numbers were increased in troubled areas and possible ringleaders arrested. Two British warships were reported in the Solomons in September.

2 Matter in square brackets has been corrected or written by hand.

3 That is, the Department of External Territories.

4 Burton's handwritten reply read: 'My understanding is that Colonial Office regard our administration as about the poorest in the area. They would not welcome our advice. All points to getting [the South Pacific] Commission going: what is position with France? Why cannot both Aust & NZ make a start?'

[AA : A1838, 317/2/1, i]