Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 21 May 1970

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) Mr Deputy Speaker,1 thank the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes) for having made this statement which I sought during question time after the statements by Dr Gunther were reported in the Press. Allegations of the nature which are the subject of the Minister's statement must always be taken seriously. Especially is this so when they come from a man so respected and responsible, so informed and independent as Dr John Gunther is. Dr Gunther is one of the few men of authority in the Territory who can speak freely.

The restriction on public servants is well known and in fact affected the Waigani Seminar. An Administration circular, before the Seminar, quite clearly attempted to dissuade public servants - to intimidate them - from speaking at the Seminar in a political way. Even if we accept such restrictions for Australian public servants, it is clear that such restrictions have little relevance for a developing nation in which a large proportion of the people who can make a meaningful contribution to public debate are in public employment.

This transposition of Australian factors has posed many problems in the Territory.

For example, the present crisis in the Administrative College in which over half of its staff is about to resign seems due to the application of an Australian perspective to the role of a public servant. The attitude seems to be that the College should not be regarded as a tertiary institution but rather, as its new name reflects, a public service training centre. In the Minister's statement, he indicates that a similar attitude is reflected in the perceived role of official members of the House of Assembly. This is precisely what Dr Gunther objected to when he resigned from the previous constitutional committee. The allegations which Dr Gunther made are more than a sidelight on history; they are a reflection of the basic paternalism that permeates the attitude of this Government to New Guineans.

For years, the Government has sought to confound its critics by an assertion that self-government would come when the people wanted it, or asked for it. How trite these constantly repeated slogans are becomes clear when one asks the question: Who decides al what point the people of New Guinea should decide on their future? When should they ask? When should they make this request? That basic decision quite clearly continues to rest in Canberra. All the basic political advances in the Territory have similarly been decided in Canberra. Yet, at the same time, the Minister for External Territories refuses to accept any responsibility for future political development whilst hiding behind the smokescreen of these glib paternal statements with which no one could disagree.

As I have said constantly - the last time a fortnight ago on the Appropriation Bill - the basic decision which will have to be made in the very near future is that of determining the time when the people of the Territory will take their political future into their own hands. The only way in which the Government has attempted to involve people in the Territory in resolving this basic issue is through the successive constitutional committees. It is for this reason that Dr Gunther's allegations of administrative interference in the workings of the previous committee and the present committee are of major importance.

Let us clarify the nature of these allegations. No imputation of bad faith is made.

However, there is an inference that this paternalism of Government attitudes has affected the work of these constitutional committees. It is the essence of the pernicious nature of paternalism that decisions are made and influence is exercised from misguided good faith or from the assumption that those who have always exercised power know best how power should be exercised; or that those who have made decisions on behalf of others cannot accept the possibility that decisions could be made for them. There is no plot; there is no conspiracy; there is an all pervasive attitude, an attitude which discourages self confidence and saps initiative. There is no directive or formal control, for these are not necessary in a self perpetuating power structure which instinctively has come to expect the objects of this paternalism to tell it only what it wants to hear.

If we are to have friendly and fruitful relations with the future independent nation of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, we must begin the job of destroying this constellation of attitudes here and now. The basic allegation which Dr Gunther has made is that the previous Select Committee on Constitutional Development appointed by the House of Assembly in May 1965 was subject to 'interference by the Government through directions to the official members'. Such an allegation cannot be ignored, not simply because of the stature of the man who made it, but because he himself was one of the official members of that Committee. He ought to know.

He resigned as a member of the Committee. My understanding is that he resigned because of attempts by the Department of Territories, as it then was, to direct the actions of the official members. No doubt, he made the usual excuses about pressure of work or something of that nature. But I understand that he in fact resigned because of Canberra interference which contrasted with the lack of direction given to the first committee of which he had been the chairman. My information is that Dr Gunther announced his intention to resign at a meeting which was called by the then Administrator, Sir Donald Cleland, at the instigation of the Head of the Department of Territories, Mr Smith. This meeting was called for the official members.

I ask the Minister for External Territories to investigate whether any such special meeting was held and, if so, what was the purpose of such a meeting of official members if it were not to discuss that Committee's affairs. There is no allegation that Canberra interference affected the actual recommendations of the final report. 1 understand that the purpose of the intervention was to ensure that the Constitutional Committee concentrated on issues of development of the existing system rather than the broader issues which the Territory would have to face.

This difference in emphasis can be borne out to a certain extent by the available documents. Let us compare, far example, the first interim report of the Select Committee and its final report. In its interim report, the Committee stated: the most important initial task that is being tackled by the Committee is the formulation of a list of the possible alternatives from which the people of both Territories may choose their future- even though the committee went on to recognise that:

.   . further developments of the present Mouse of Assembly will tend to predetermine the pattern of future constitutional development.

There is nothing in its final report which delineates the broad alternatives to which the Committee had referred. In paragraph 53 of the final report the Committee states:

Although the Committee has examined long term constitutional matters, including the constitutions of other countries and the relationship between the legislature and the executive in such countries, it has restricted the ambit of ils recommendations to matters affecting the 1968 House of Assembly. 1 thank the present Committee for. its reference to the discussion that it had with me. As I understand its deliberations, not only due to the official membership but to the expatriate membership, it is still not yet coming to grips with what must surely be the basic constitutional development which we must envisage for New Guinea - the presidential and congressional system, or the parliamentary and ministerial system - the Washington or the Westminster system.

As we all know, there has been constant pressure from expatriate members and official members of the House of Assembly to disparage and downgrade the role of political parties in an elected assembly. By comparing the history of our legislatures in the Australian States in the last century with those in this century and by looking at the experience in other parts of the world, we know that it is the party system which makes an elected assembly work. If there are not parties upon which a government can depend then there is either a constant rotation of governments as loyalties in the Parliament fluctuate or a constant series of elections as the Government asks the head of State to dissolve the Parliament and produce a workable one.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Do you think coalitions can work?

Mr WHITLAM - I think that passing years show increasingly that they do not work in this Parliament or in State parliaments. The party system has not been allowed to develop in New Guinea. There is no prospect, as things stand, of stable government, consistency of administration or progress in legislation by a continuation of the ministerial or parliamentary system. There is such a hope that both the Government and the Parliament will have some prospect of continuity if the presidential and congressional system is developed. Little attention is being given in the deliberations of the Committee to this key matter from the point of view of any developing country. On the other hand I notice that obviously on the inspiration of expatriate members of the Committee a great deal of attention is being given to such exotic concepts as an upper House, or a federal system, or safeguards against nationalisation.

One can appreciate the inference that the earlier Committee was sidetracked from the broader issues by the remaining official members. The indication of the Government's attitude to this Committee is found deeply embedded in a host of generalisations in the Minister's statement to the House on 3 1st March 1966. After the usual statement of government benevolence on how the Government does not intend to make any decisions at all, we find the following revealing sentence:

The Government would regard transitional steps towards eventual responsible ministerial government as appropriate at this stage.

That is the basic assumption that the Government makes, which may be completely inappropriate to a developing country, particularly New Guinea which has had a House of Assembly succeeding a legislative council and where no strong party system has yet developed. There is, however, new hope for the people of the Territory. It has been accepted in the Territory that when the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) at last visits it later this year he intends to announce a date for home rule and that that date will probably be in 1972. If the Government is seriously thinking along these lines then it should now be willing to admit past errors, including the one to which Dr Gunther has drawn our attention.

The Government has always used reports of the constitutional committees as an alibi for its own conservatism. Statements in this House and in the Trusteeship Council have used any report of the committees as though it was a full indication of what the people in the Territory wanted. Any allegation that the Government interfered in the scope of the committees' reports casts doubts on such claims. The final report of the Committee was very limited.I note that the report of the United Nations Visiting Mission to the Territory in 1968 stated that the members were a little timid in their approach to constitutional progress. This has now been explained. Dr Gunther did out line his motivation for making these effects public at the time. He stated:

We had reason to believe that there was similar interference with the present committee.

He went on to say:

I hope by making this interference public it will cease so that advice to the public is truly perceived and reported.

I am not aware of any direct interference by Canberra with investigations of the present Committee. I am informed, however, that when the Committee was in Canberra recently and called on the Prime Minister the chairman, Mr Paulus Arek, asked that the representative of the Department of External Territories and one of the official members of the Committee should not accompany them into the Prime Minister's suite. One may infer that Mr Arek seemed aware of the possibility of interference. As I and my colleagues, the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) and the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), have stated in this House on several occasions, when in the Territory we were met with an instinctive reaction to the term 'self government' again and again but we always found complete agreement in favour of all propositions which come to make up self government. This has also apparently been the experience of some members of the present Constitutional Committee.

Thus another allegation was made at the Waigani seminar by Mr Michael Somare, a member of the Committee. He stated that the day before the Committee arrived in Wobang a local kiap had told the people that if self government came all white men would leave. Such incidents have probably happened throughout the Territory. There is no directive from Canberra to this effect. There is no standing policy to this effect. But the Minister for External Territories is the only Minister who is responsible to any elected body for actions such as these. The Government's general attitude to the Territory is consonant with such expressions of opinion.

This Government must be regarded as an accomplice in any such attempts to influence the people of New Guinea. At the recent Waigani seminar many accusations similar to those of Dr Gunther were made. An ex-member of the House of Assembly accused the Government of stacking the official membership of the House with district commissioners from the Highlands because they could effectively lobby the conservative indigenous members. A member of the consultative committee appointed to consider local government in Port Moresby indicated at the seminar that members of the Administration attempted to influence the operations of that Committee. He stated:

As interpreted by the Administration the meanings of the terms consultation, information and explanation become virtually synonomous.

He asserted:

Government officials found the activities of the Constitutional Committee objectionable not only because they might upset the timetable laid down by the Department of External Territories but also because the Committee challenged the monopoly of policy making.

He gave as another example a meeting held to obtain the view of local councillors on a land matter on which 67 out of 90 minutes were taken up by speeches of European officials. If consultation is to degenerate to such farce then this Government has betrayed its responsibility for the future of the Territory and its trust to the United Nations. 1 think the experience of all of us in New Guinea is that at any gathering where there are officials or expatriates they will hog the discussion, they will take the points of order, they will be the bush lawyers, and they will discourage and in fact-

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - interrupt.

Mr WHITLAM - Yes, interrupt. It must be admitted they humiliate the indigines, including elected indigenes. The great thing that has to be done is to build selfconfidence - a feeling of manhood and nationhood among the people of this Territory. There is certainly nothing intrinsically difficult to believe in the allegations which Or Gunther, Mr Michael Somare and others that I have mentioned made at this seminar. These allegations were made by people who were free to speak. There were a great number of people at that seminar. There were a great number of people in positions to form public opinion in New Guinea but who at this seminar had to listen. They could not speak. They could not meaningfully participate. 1 may say that I was able to keep track of the proceedings at the seminar and I was able to get early copies of the papers because a member of my staff visited the seminar. I would like to say on his behalf, as I have earlier said on behalf of my colleagues who went to New Guinea and on my own behalf, that we appreciate the facilities that the Minister and his senior officers have made available to us, wherever we have gone to such functions in the Territory.

I conclude by drawing attention to another paragraph in the statement which Dr Gunther made and which the Minister has tabled. He was referring to the experience that he had as a member of the Select Committee in 1962. He said:

There was a widespread fear of the United Nations (and the United States of America because of its part in proposing the Bunker Plan). There was a fear that Australia would be pushed and would then walk out taking her money and knowbow with her. It is a great evil that this fear still exists amongst much of the population today, and it is a sad commentary on the Australian Administration and the Australian Government that they haven't made every effort to repudiate completely such beliefs.

Suggest corrections