Degree Name

Master of Arts (Hons.)


Department of History and Politics


After acceding to political independence in 1975, Papua New Guinea's (PNG) overall relations with Australia were generally described as dependent. The relationship was described as dependent because PNG's reliance upon Australia for economic input (trade, aid and investment), education and as the major source of skilled manpower recruitment was substantial. Consequently, PNG's conduct of bilateral relations with Australia were constrained - this socio-economic dependence also restricted PNG from pursuing relations with others independent of Australia particularly, between 1975-1979. But socio-economic and skilled manpower recruitment were not the only reasons contributing toward a dependent relationship with Australia. Other factors such as, firstly, the inexperience of the PNG foreign affairs officials and politicians and their getting to know how to conduct the bilateral relations also helped to make the dependent relationship much deeper than it appeared. Secondly, PNG's proximity to Australia implied substantial and continuing interest amongst Australia's military-strategic and political planners, thereby increasing Australia's influence.

The dependent situation did not emerge suddenly at PNG's political independence in 1975. The foundations were already set during the period of Australian colonial rule, particularly beginning in 1962 following the United Nations Visiting Mission (1962) and the World Bank Mission (1964).

However, PNG's dependence upon Australia was not necessarily, as argued by other writers, a consequence of an official policy per se, but stems from the desire of the colonial Administration (and the Australian Federal Government) to help develop PNG toward economic self-sufficiency in preparation toward eventual political independence. Economic self-sufficiency for the Territory of Papua and New Guinea was to be achieved under policies recommended and espoused by the World Bank and the colonial Administration such as for example, increased foreign participation to boost economic activity within the territory which incidentally led to the development of linkages between foreign investors in the territory and business interests overseas.

In spite of these linkages between domestic and foreign business interests and the fact that aid relations continued to be the focus of the relationship, PNG's relations with Australia in the 1980s were thought to have "become relatively, but not absolutely, less important to PNG". The relative decline in importance of relations with Australia occurred because PNG began to diversify its trading partners toward South East Asia and North East Asia including Japan and Germany (West) with Japan becoming an important export destination (though Australia retained its status as the major origin of PNG's imports). Japan also became a substantial aid donor and increasingly Asia was replacing Australia as an important area of recruitment of skilled personnel. These developments led to greater independence by PNG in the conduct of its relations with Australia. But other issues such as the projected cessation of Australian budget support by the year 2000, and its gradual replacement by project and program aid, point to the potential erosion of PNG's independence. How has the shift from budget support to tied aid impinged upon policy independence? is a question which is answered in the course of the dissertation.

The analysis of the conduct of PNG's bilateral relations with Australia considered against the background described above can lead to two possible conclusions: firstly, that foreign policy directions as enunciated - universalism and active and selective engagement - were responsible for increasing policy independence in the conduct of bilateral relations with Australia, and secondly that the manifestation of PNG's policy independence from Australia was a consequence of its economic diversification (in trade, aid and investment) and the desire by PNG to be in control of its own destiny. The successive universalist and selective and active engagement foreign policy directions had differing impacts on the conduct of external relations. Universalism was intended to accommodate existing global divisions, whilst selective and active engagement was intended to define in clear terms PNG's basic orientations. In my view, PNG's policy independence reflects economic diversification as the principal source of independence because, without "real" independence (particularly economic), PNG would and could not be able to sustain a continuous and consistent level of independence over a longer period of time, which I am suggesting PNG has done since 1980.

However, as I argue in the introduction, PNG's policy independence can also be attributed to other explanations such as for example, the power of the weak (many competing diverse interests and Australia's more broader regional and global interests), political decolonisation and coinciding interests. I intend in this dissertation to show how these explanations are relevant in defining PNG's policy independence.