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Public Sector Informant : PSI
12 THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT [HISTORY:ERN The colonialist colony: Aust Border games Australia has accrued 10 external territories since Federation, some by means it would never dare today Alan Kerr's monumental work unearths a fascinating story o is not intended as light bedside reading, though the many sn Christmas Island is regu- larly in the news. Yet how many Australians have stopped to reflect how this remote Indian Ocean island, 2650km north-west of Perth, closer to Singa- pore than to Australia, came to be an Australian territory? Or that during the 20th century, Australia by various means acquired no less than 10 external territories, or colonies. How many are aware that, much earlier, the British government offered to annex Fiji to the Colony of NSW but the colony's premier refused? Or that in the later part of the 19th century, the Australian colonies were suspicious of the activi- ties of the Netherlands, France, Ger- many and Japan in the unclaimed ''flowering islands'' to our north and north-east? These were colonial times and the colonies acted independently of each other. Colonial ambitions were well understood in London. In 1868, the first lord of the admiralty referred to Victoria's destiny to conquer the isles of the Pacific and its need for a navy. A Victorian petition in 1878 sought to add New Guinea to the Colony of Victoria to more or less equalise Victoria with the land and population area of the larger colonies. In 1883, Queensland purported unilaterally to annex New Guinea east of the Dutch border, an act subsequently rejected by the British government as ''null in point of law and unwarranted in point of policy''. In fact, Britain was reluc- tant to take control of the islands. But increasing interest by France and Germany together with pressure from the Australian colonies led to action. This was an era where powerful countries could confidently assert sov- ereignty over ''unclaimed'' parts of the world. In 1884, the British flag was hoisted in Port Moresby and, in the Anglo-German declarations of 1886, eastern New Guinea was partitioned between Britain and Germany, much to the annoyance of the Australian colon- ies.Former senior public servant Alan Kerr, in his three-part book A Feder- ation in These Seas, points out that the vast majority of Papuans and New Guineans were completely oblivious to these actions. By the end of the following century, the 20th century, Australia had effectively become a colonial power in its own right. Although the legal mechanisms for Australia's territorial acquisitions were varied, the provisions of section 122 of the Australian Constitution were cen- tral. That provision allows the Parlia- ment to make laws for any territory ''placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth''. The quaint language was explained by solicitor- general Sir Kenneth Bailey in a succinct passage quoted in Kerr's book: ''The Queen is the sovereign of both the United Kingdom and Aust- ralia.'' It followed that when the Queen directed that a British territory be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth, ''there has been a transfer of sovereign authority . . . from the United Kingdom to Australia''. When Britain transferred a colonial territory to Australia, Britain did not formally transfer sovereignty. Sover- eignty remained in the Crown. But a transfer of ''authority'' amounted for all practical purposes to a transfer of sovereignty. British action to place a territory ''under the authority of'' Australia, followed by Australian acceptance, became the most common, but not the only, mechanism for Australian territorial acquisitions. Oth- er mechanisms included a League of Nations mandate, a United Nations trusteeship and direct acquisition. Papua and New Guinea In 1905, Australia acquired British New Guinea, which became its first territory, known as the Territory of Papua. Kerr's full account of the lengthy Australian parliamentary debates over this transfer identifies the main issues as promotion of the welfare of the ''natives'', liquor and land grants. Kerr's account is crammed with interesting tidbits. Thus he writes that of the 320 or so Hansard pages devoted to the legislation, about 230 were either in part or wholly devoted to liquor. The law as finally enacted included a prohibition against the supply of liquor to natives. No grants of freehold could be made. Contemporary readers will be interested to read that one member saw it as important that the ''horrible'' mistakes made during Australia's col- onisation in relation to Aborigines would not be repeated in Papua. At the Versailles conference after World War I, prime minister Billy Hughes sought full control over the former German possessions in the interests of Australian security, but in light of United States president Woodrow Wilson's emphasis on self- determination, Australia had to settle for a mandate. New Guinea and Papua were administered separately until World War II, after which, with United Nations approval, the UN Trust Terri- tory of New Guinea was administered jointly with Papua. Papua New Guinea became an independent nation in 1975, a member of the Commonwealth and a member of the UN. This epic story takes up one-quarter of Kerr's monu- mental work and the account is rich in the detail of the parliamentary debates, correspondence and legislative and other primary documents. Norfolk Island From Papua and New Guinea, the tale moves to Norfolk Island, ''dis- covered'' in a European sense by Captain James Cook in 1774. In 1788, governor Philip King landed and the island became part of the Colony of NSW. Early hopes of using the Norfolk Island pines and flax for ships masts and cordage were not realised. Later, the island was resettled as a penal colony and became ''a place worse than death''. The constitutional history of the island is curious. In 1843, it was severed from NSW and annexed to Van Diemen's Land. In 1856, the Pitcairn islanders, descendants of the Bounty mutineers and Tahitian women, were resettled on Norfolk Island. Norfolk was severed from Van Diemen's Land and made a distinct settlement admin- istered by the governor of NSW as governor of Norfolk Island. The Pitcai- rners were the main occupants. Their lives were governed for the most part by the community laws they had brought with them. Towards the end of the 19th century, proposals for annex- ing Norfolk to NSW failed after strong objections from the islanders and from New Zealand. After the telegraph cable to Norfolk was built, interest in annexation increased. There ensued considerable tension between NSW and the Commonwealth over which should annex Norfolk. NSW contended that s122 of the Constitution, the territories power, was not intended to apply where control is being satisfac- torily carried out by part of the constitutional machinery of a state, a view rejected by the Commonwealth. In 1914, after the Norfolk Island Act 1913 was passed and a British Order in Council placed Norfolk Island under the authority of the Commonwealth, Norfolk Island became Australia's second external territory. Nauru The constitutional history of Nauru, a small island near the equator, is different again. Nauru was annexed by Germany in 1888. In 1906, the British Phosphate Company, with the apparent agreement of the German authorities, began to exploit the island's phosphate resources. In 1914, an Australian naval vessel, HMAS Melbourne, put Nauru's wireless station out of action and later that year Germany surrendered all of its Pacific possessions to Australian forces. After World War I, interest in exploiting the phosphate resources gave rise to tension between Australia, Britain and New Zealand. The outcome was Australian administration of Nauru on behalf of the Tripartite Administer- ing Authority under the League of Nations mandate. Australia as the administering power under the man- date did not exercise sovereignty over Nauru. The island was invaded by Japan in 1942 and the Australian administrator was executed by the Japanese. After World War II, Australian efforts to gain sole administrative control failed and under a UN trustee- ship agreement Australian adminis- tration on behalf of the ''Administering Authority'' (Australia, Britain and New Zealand) continued. Phosphate extraction was in the hands of the British Phosphate Commission. Lands that were mined for phosphate became uninhabitable and unsuitable for agri- culture. The Nauruans rejected plans by the three administering govern- ments to resettle them after the phos- phate deposits were exhausted. The Nauru Act 1967 enabled Nauru to draw up a constitution and Nauru became independent on January 31, 1968. As Nauru was never annexed as an Australian territory, it seems s122 of the Australian Constitution would not [MAY N t o n
PSI - September