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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2905

Senator KILGARIFF(12.05) —I was interested to hear Senator Macklin's remarks on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Self-Determination ( Consequential Amendments) Bill 1984. He considers that Federal representatives of the Northern Territory should be able to go to the Cocos Islands if eventually they are integrated with the Northern Territory, at least for electoral purposes. One would expect that the Northern Territory representatives would have to go there. I wonder whether, while he is arranging the necessary facilities for these members to visit the Islands, he could arrange an extension of the weeks in a year from 52 to, say, 54. That may be helpful.

I welcome the decision of the Cocos Malay people to integrate with Australia. Indeed, we have heard quite a lot about that in the last few weeks. On 7 May I received a letter from Parson Bin Yapat who is the Chairman of the Cocos ( Keeling) Islands Council. In part of the letter, he said:

I, . . . , am writing this letter as Chairman of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Council to thank you very much for your letter of 27.4.84, and for your expression of best wishes to us. You will know from the Election result that it can be said that almost all Cocos Malays chose to option Integration with Australia.

I point out that he purposefully said 'integration with Australia'. He continued :

This option guarantees our future and that of our children and grandchildren.

That letter makes it quite obvious that the people look forward to their integration with us. There is also no doubt that we welcome them as people who will be part of Australia as are those of the Cocos Malays who live in Australia . Of course, quite a few Cocos (Keeling) Islands people are living in a particular suburb in Perth now.

However, there have been some criticisms of the way the Government carried out the poll which leads one to wonder whether the decision that has been made was an informed one. Honourable senators would be aware of the criticisms of the United Nations mission which observed the vote. That mission said that it had reservations about the Government's handling of the education program. Indeed, an article in the Australian of Monday 9 April was captioned 'UN raps political education program for Cocos natives'. Perhaps it would have been nicer had it referred to Cocos people, but there it is. The article states:

The Chairman of the United Nations mission observing last week's referendum in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands has criticised the Australian Government's handling of the political education program for the native population.

The Cocos Malay natives-about two-thirds of whom are illiterate-last Friday voted to integrate with Australia in an act of self-determination which will see Australia assume responsibility for the islands' social, political and economic welfare.

Almost 90 per cent of the population of about 360 voted to become a part of Australia in preference to two other options presented to them in the referendum .

Yesterday, the mission's chairman, Ambassador Abdul G. Koroma, from Sierra Leone, said that although the whole ballot had been conducted freely and fairly he had some reservations about the Government's handling of the political education program.

He was being critical of the fact that one particular option had been pursued perhaps to the detriment of the other two options. Nevertheless, the situation now is that the people have voted for integration with Australia.

In a debate such as this, it pays to review briefly the history of the Cocos Islands. As most honourable senators will know, the islands were discovered in 1609, but they were not settled until 1826 when the Englishman Alexander Hare settled there. In 1827 a second settlement was established by Captain John Clunies-Ross. Australia had no real association with the islands until 1955, when they were accepted as a Territory of Australia, known as the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. In 1978 the Australian Government bought from Clunies- Ross his property on the island, with the exception of five hectares of land and the Clunies-Ross residence. So, as of 1955 when the islands became a Territory of Australia, all people born there are automatically Australian citizens and, therefore, eligible to vote in Australian Federal elections and referendums when the islands are included with a State or Territory of Australia. The population of the islands at 30 June 1982 was 546. It is very interesting to note that many Cocos Islanders have already emigrated to Australia. Most of these people are now living in Western Australia, particularly in a Perth suburb.

Looking briefly at the economy and history of the Cocos Islands, it is interesting to note, too, that until 1978, when the Australian Government purchased the islands from Clunies-Ross, the economy functioned under what has often been described as a feudal system. The sole source of employment was provided by Clunies-Ross, and he ran the islands as his own private company. The island workers employed on his copra plantation were paid not in cash but with plastic tokens which were tenderable at the general store, again owned by Mr Clunies-Ross. This system came under severe criticism from the Australian Press and from the United Nations, and it was a major reason for the eventual purchase of the islands. Since that time, the Islanders have set up their own co- operative, which controls a copra plantation and a small retail store. Obviously , Australia could assist the Cocos Islanders by improving their economy. That would mean increasing the size of the plantation.

I have mentioned the strong traditional links of the Islanders with Western Australia. Over the years, shipping and air services to the islands have originated from Perth. As to telecommunications, all Overseas Telecommunications Commission calls go through Perth. There is a strong argument-perhaps it should have been really put-for integrating the Cocos Islands with Western Australia. It appears that this was not considered. Certainly the people of the islands have at no stage been given the opportunity of indicating to what area of Australia, following their integration into Australia, they would wish to become attached. The argument that their being attached to the Northern Territory would be unconstitutional could be solved through a referendum held in conjunction with the next election.

These Islanders are Australians. They should have some say in the matter. So far, as I have said, there appears to have been little consultation between the Islanders and the Federal Government. At this stage of negotiations, the Islanders are unlikely to make a prominent stand. I say that deliberately, because I believe that they are very gentle and polite people. It is my understanding that, having gone through what I suppose has been a traumatic experience of integration into Australia, it is not their wish to agitate once again for more consultation. But this Senate has the right to say to the Australian Government that we believe that these Australian Islanders should be consulted. It is up to the Government to initiate these discussions. The Cocos Islanders should be able to consider the alternatives and whether they should, for electoral purposes, be part of the Northern Territory as has been planned, the Australian Capital Territory or, perhaps, Western Australia. That is a constitutional matter but I believe any problems could be overcome.

Another problem was raised by Senator Durack. What will be the effect of the Northern Territory's progress along the road to statehood on the Cocos Islanders if the Cocos Islands are associated with the Territory? As a Territorian, I believe that somewhere along the track the Territory will become a State and, as I have said, it is working to that end. It has had responsible self-government since 1974-that was a momentous step-and the time will come when the Northern Territory becomes a State. What then will be the status of the Islanders? Will it be up in the air if the Territory becomes a State, or will the Islands be a part of the Territory and as such become part of the new State? Contrary to what the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) has said in the other place, the Northern Territory, as I have indicated is looking to statehood -in the not too distant future, too. I take this opportunity, without taking up too much time, to read from a letter sent by the Northern Territory Deputy Chief Minister, the Hon. Nick Dondas, to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) regarding this issue. The letter was written on 28 April and referred to a letter dated 28 March 1984 concerning the Cocos (Keeling) Islanders. The letter states:

As you are aware, the Northern Territory is substantially self-governing and it is envisaged that it will progress towards Statehood in the not too distant future. This raises a number of difficulties in respect of the status which will then be accorded the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island upon the grant of that Statehood.

When the Northern Territory becomes a new State, I am advised that it would not be constitutionally possible for the Senators and Members representing the new State to also continue to represent the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, unless those Islands were incorporated within the new State.

There is no suggestion in your correspondence that any form of incorporation is proposed, whether now or in the future-merely a common electoral representation. I am advised that the Constitution does not envisage a sharing of general representation between a State and a Territory.

Thus, if your proposal to include electors on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Northern Territory electorate for Federal election and referendum purposes were to be implemented, it would have to be terminated upon the grant of Statehood for the Northern Territory.

Accordingly your proposal, would only temporarily resolve the issue of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, as the Islands would not be incorporated with the Northern Territory upon the eventual grant of Statehood for the Northern Territory and would presumably remain a territory of the Commonwealth.

There is more in that letter but I think I have put its main points. I take the opportunity to reiterate that the statement by the honourable member for the Northern Territory regarding statehood is nonsense because my Party in the Northern Territory, the Country-Liberal Party, brought the Northern Territory to responsible self-government with the total support of the people of the Territory and after five years of self-government the Party continues to gain support, as was instanced in the last election. One of the planks of the Party is statehood.

Senator Robertson —As it is with the Labor Party, of course.

Senator KILGARIFF —I recognise the honourable senator's interjection. I am not referring to matters concerning the Australian Labor Party's policy-I recognise its policy-I am saying that perhaps the honourable member gave some misinformation in his talk. The Territory is well on the way to statehood but, at the same time, it is not rushing blindly into it. The Territory will have to wait for indicators as to when the time is ripe. The Northern Territory is set to become a responsible and progressive part of Australia. It is certainly growing that way now.

I think at this stage in discussing the Cocos (Keeling) Islands I should refer to Christmas Island and perhaps, for that matter, to Norfolk Island. What will be the future of Norfolk Island? Legislation passed through the Senate some little while ago set the Island up as a self-governing territory. As I understand the position, it has no representation in the Federal Parliament and the people of Norfolk Island cannot participate in referenda. What is their future?

Senator Peter Baume —Northern Territory maybe?

Senator KILGARIFF —Yes. One wonders what is going to happen with Norfolk Island. I now look briefly at Christmas Island also. The Federal Government has indicated that it also is to be included in the Northern Territory electorate. Will Christmas Island be in the same boat as the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are now ? As I see it, there has been no consultation with the people of Christmas Island in regard to the electorate that those people might like integration with . Christmas Island also has strong ties with Western Australia, in particular with the Australian Labor Party through the union movement. Presuming that the decision to include the Islands in the Northern Territory has been made-there seems to be some quite strong basis for it-that has happened without consultation. A decision has been made by the Federal Government that the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island are to be integrated with the Northern Territory. One can only see that-as do a large number of people in the Northern Territory-as a political move in an endeavour to rescue the present member for the Northern Territory. Surely the people of Christmas Island should have the opportunity to say what should happen to them.

I have noticed with surprise that as soon as the announcement to integrate the Christmas Islanders with Australia was made, the Hawke Government started to lay the law down very firmly in Christmas Island. I refer to the Government's decision to close the Phosphate Mining Co. of Christmas Island Ltd if enough workers do not leave the island. That was indicated in the West Australian of 9 May. In an article headed 'Christmas Island Govt ultimatum on closure' it was stated:

The Federal Government sent a blunt warning to Christmas Island yesterday, that unless enough workers were willing to quit the island, the entire operation would have to fold.

In a report of the same situation an article in the West Australian of 10 May was headed 'Mining chief quits and blames Govt'. It seems rather strange to me that having very firmly indicated that Christmas Island is to be integrated with Australia there immediately seem to be Federal Government plans to close the Christmas Island mining if it does not get its own way. In these circumstances I do not think the Christmas Islanders will be very happy to be political guinea pigs, as appears to be happening now. I believe that the Christmas Islanders and the Cocos (Keeling) Islanders should be given every opportunity to decide for themselves where their association with Australia will be. Whatever their decision, it will be welcome. If they wish to integrate with the Northern Territory, so be it. If they wish to be associated with some other part of Australia, for example, Western Australia, so be it too. It is my opinion that they should be associated with Western Australia or, for that matter, with some other State. Surely the question can be solved by referendum. In closing I therefore give my total support to the motion moved by Senator Durack which is the same as that moved in another debate by Senator Hill. The motion stated:

. . . the Senate is of the opinion that a State Supreme Court Judge should be commissioned to ascertain the wishes of the Australian citizens in the Cocos ( Keeling) Islands . . .

I believe that we must let the people of the Islands have their say. In closing my contribution to the debate, like Senator Durack, I again say that the Cocos Islanders and Christmas Islanders are very welcome to Australia. We have very many people from South East Asia living in Australia. If it is their wish to come to Australia, they have that right to do so. It would be my pleasure to visit the Cocos Islands and Christmas Island when the Government sees fit to allow me to go there.