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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2537


Dr SOLOMON (Denison) - It is very clear from the tenor of the previous speeches made in this debate that the speed of the move to self-government is a continuing theme in any discussion of the estimates, or the matters relating to the estimates, of the Department of External Territories and in particular of Papua New Guinea. I want, if I may, to take up that theme on at least 2 facets. But before I do, I would like to make a small allusion to what was said earlier on the other side of the chamber. I want to say only this: It would be foolish of me with limited experience indeed of the Territory to deny that all the things that honourable members opposite say are true. Clearly, they have made their own personal contacts on some occasions and some of their experiences undoubtedly bear the weight of that contact. But it does seem to me, in listening to a succession of speakers, that they do the cause of Papua New Guinea's self-government and independence some disservice in their highly selective criticism of what is in fact happening there. Again, I do not say that they are wrong; T say they are highly selective in what they choose to talk about.

It is strange then that our Government members committee, for example, when it went to Papua New Guinea last March, found an almost total absence of the supposedly widespread criticism accorded the population there by, for example, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen). That is not to deny that criticism does not exist. Of course criticism exists in a situation of an emerging, selfgoverning nation. But if we take up any of those points we have to draw attention to the fact that, for example, as has been said by honourable members on the other side of the chamber, there is a useful clan system in operation. Of course there is. But the other side of the ledger shows that the process of bringing forward to European standards of education, or the beginnings thereof, produces considerable conflict and gives rise to a considerable social problem as between the offspring of a particular family and their tribal parents. Two worlds become apparent in the educational sphere. So we cannot leave it at the fact that there is a useful clan system - and this has been so for some centuries - in operation in Papua New Guinea.

It has been said that the people of Papua New Guinea can - and they say they can - run their own community. I have no doubt that might be so; but given the situation of United Nations pressure and Australian Labor Party pressure for ever increasing speed to self-government, the context is not one of running one's own stone age community. The context is one of running a community which is coming into the ambit of western sophistication - if that is the appropriate word - and the local people have shown very little aptitude for running, for example, their own land system which is perhaps as basic as any problem existing in the Territory. Therefore, until the people have proceeded part of the way along the road to westernisation and until certain values of land ownership, for example, are accepted, there remains a fundamental land problem which appears to be getting worse. So just let us qualify a little this apparently universal capacity of Papua New Guineans to run their own show in the face of international overtures, competition and international desire for investment. We cannot have it both ways.

I want to speak on 2 matters only. One is the expatriate administration officers and the other is the potential regionalisation of government. The matter of expatriate administration officers and how officers are treated in the future is quite a critical one. It is certainly critical for those officers concerned. In the White Paper - if I may call it so - issued by the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes) on 30th August 1971, which is entitled 'The Future Security of Permanent Overseas Officers of the Public Service', we have set out the options - they are 3 in number - open to the permanent overseas officers as they are called, or 'Poos' for short, if I may use a local term. They are in fact those who are eligible under the employment security scheme to take advantage of these options. There is not time in such a short contribution as this to examine the detail of these propositions, their validity, their beneficence or anything else, but what one must say is that on the face of it the options, the alternatives, appear to be quite generous.

But in saying that one has to bear in mind that there are considerable reservations expressed by the people of the permanent overseas service in Papua New Guinea. It is difficult for me to say whether their fears, their reservations are justified in whole or in part. There does appear to be, and to have increased in the last 6 months or so since I was there, a certain lack of trust that this Government may implement and arrange those things which it wishes to implement and says it will arrange. I think it is perhaps unfortunate in relation to these negotiations in this matter of trust that the proposals put forward by the Minister appear to have been somewhat modified by the Cabinet.

The amount of money to be involved ultimately is not known but it will probably be substantial; of the order of $50m or so. So we are not talking about peanuts. Nevertheless we are talking about the lives of people who in some cases have worked decades in the Territory and from my observations, whatever the observations of honourable members opposite might be, these men have had an almost universal dedication to the task in hand. I must say that I was considerably surprised to find the universality of the apparent inclination of these people to get out in favour of local people taking over their jobs in due course. So it is not surprising that when they get out, if they do, they want to get out under fairly substantially shored-up conditions. They have in mind, of course, the model of the British treatment of Britain's former colonial servants who were given very good treatment indeed. I think it must be said here that the conditions are probably a little different. The writing has been on the wall in Papua New Guinea for quite some time. It has been spelled out increasingly over the years, so that it is not quite the situation that the people have suddenly been confronted in the space of a year or two with a rush of nationalist movement. They have not suddenly found a Papua New Guinea equivalent of Kenya or some African State coming under other ownership. I think we need to bear that qualification in mind.

But my main point here is that whatever this Government has decided or will decide shall be the terms under which the permanent overseas officers leave the Territory, if they wish, or stay there, if they wish, it is most important that there should be the utmost in negotiations, so that the best possible compromise can be achieved. In this way these people who have served New Guinea so well and who have served the arm of government in this country so well may come out of that Territory, if they do. with reasonable peace of mind and reasonable security in the future.

The second point in relation to this movement to self-government that 1 want to make is this: Only the other day the question of regionalisation of government was brought up. Mr Oala Oala-Rarua in particular has advocated not only that there should be the Territory government in the House of Assembly - 1 presume there will still be the local government councils or their equivalent - but also there should be an intermediary level of government on a regional basis. If I remember correctly the 'Sydney Morning Herald' editorial this morning set out very well the problems involved in carrying out that proposal. I think I made mention of this in my last speech on the Territory. I believe that the situation now is as I saw it then. Who would wish on the Territory of Papua New Guinea or an independent Papua New Guinea with a couple of million people, having a substantial problem with large areas of land differentially occupied in terms of population density and even in land use, a 3-tier system of government which half the speeches in this House deal with as being a major problem of national operation? It seems to me that the local government councils, all, as far as I can see, astute bodies of people, represent local interests very well. The House of Assembly in a relatively small population should adequately be able to cull what there is on offer. I think there should be very great circumspection exercised in any possibility or contemplation in a serious vein of introducing a formalised and to that extent, once implemented, a relatively inflexible third or middle tier of government in so young a territory as Papua New Guinea. I very much hope that the present arrangement with whatever modifications may be necessary could be made viable and could continue that way without formalising or stiffening the situation any further than is absolutely necessary.







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