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Thursday, 23 August 1906

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) .- Some honorable members of the Opposition so dearly love an atmosphere of suspicion that even a Supply Bill cannot be discussed without honorable members being made the subject of innuendoes, which are unworthy of any responsible assembly. The innuendo which they have hurled at members of the party to which I belong is hurled also at a member of their own party. I am acquainted with the honorable gentleman who has aroused the suspicion of some of the Opposition. I have read his reports with considerable interest, and on several occasions have discussed them with him. In justice to him and in fairness to myself, I wish to say that he has never mentioned to me anything that would justify the suspicion which some members of the Opposition entertain, nor have I been approached, bv any one on his behalf. Coming to the question of the control of Papua, I may say at once that it has been a vexed one almost from the inception of the Parliament. At different times and from different sources representations have been made, which appear to indicate that the Administration is not as satisfactory as could be wished. I agree with the honorable member for North Sydney that there are many difficult problems associated with the control of the Territory. Owing to its remoteness, much has to be left to the Administration, and there is often a disposition on the part of those clothed with a little brief authority to harshly exercise that authority when they are not under the immediate supervision of their superiors. It is true that private interests have often to be dealt with and curbed, and the probabilities are that even the reasonable exercise of control would lead to friction, and to many of the charges levelled at these officers. But whilst every allowance must be made for that fact, it seems to me that statements have been made which demand investigation. Those who have made these charges ask for an impartial investigation of all the circumstances by unbiased persons, which makes me think that their complaints are not altogether, groundless. Last session a Mr. J. W. Craig, a former resident of Papua, laid before a number of honorable members an account of his treatment by the officials of the Territory. His complaints were investigated and reported upon by the Secretary to the Department of External Affairs ; but those who heard his statements, and have read the report, will hardly be satisfied with the conclusions arrived at, many of which were foreshadowed by Mr. Craig himself. He said that, having rendered himself obnoxious to certain officials, he was subjected to petty persecution, making it difficult, and practically impossible, for him to carry on his business, or to remain in New Guinea. According to his account, he was charged with most of the crimes in the calendar, from murder downwards; but the supposed records of the proceedings against him have been lost or mislaid, which is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. Two other cases requiring investigation are those in regard to which the papers have been laid on the table, while there is also the case of Captain Strachan, whose action against the Commonwealth has formed the subject of several questions recently. The papers in his case are not yet available ; but if his disclosures to me in the early part of the week were accurate, I say unhesitatingly that there is need for radical reform in the administration of the Territory. I am not acquainted with Captain Barton, who mav be an admirable man in many respects, and yet may not be suited for the position which, he holds, which requires exceptional ability in the occupant. It would bevery difficult to find another man as able as Sir William McGregor, and the attempt of the Prime Minister to again secure his services was very laudable. But, without disparaging the present Administrator, I say that we must know what ground there is for the complaints which have been made - whether he is suited in all respects for the responsible position which he fills, and whether his officers are able and trustworthy men, who are discharging their duties in a manner creditable to themselves and to the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister has indicated that he does not feel able to decide this matter without the assistance of a Commission of investigation. The only Commissioner with whom I am acquainted is Colonel Mackay, whom I have known for many years as earnest, able, and conscientious. I feel sure that he will do his duty to the best of his ability. I have been assured by those who are familiar with the Territory that, unless exceptional steps are taken, the Commissioners may return no wiser than they went, because a system of terrorism prevails by reason of the ruling officials making things intolerable for residents whose presence is disagreeable to them. I am informed that, unless the Commission is armed with powers which will protect witnesses from pettypersecution , it will not get at the facts. We are, however, giving to the people of the Commonwealth an opportunity to voice their grievances, and I hope that they will take advantage of it, because the sooner these matters are dealt with the sooner will a change for the better take place. The Commonwealth Tariff is unduly restrictive, so far as New Guinea is concerned, and I endeavoured, when it was being passed, to get some concession. As the duties stand, the settlers of New Guinea will always be handicapped in trading with Australia. The honorable member for Wentworth indicated that the members of the Labour Party were not prepared to extend to Papua any consideration in this regard. If he had been in the first Commonwealth Parliament, he would know that those honorable members who showed the strongest disposition to extend consideration to the white settlers in Papua, and even in the New Hebrides, belonged to the Labour Party. Moreover, I would tell the honorable member that unless some members of his. party have changed their views, they would not support him in carrying out the liberal policy he has advocated. I trust that, as the outcome of the investigation that is about to be made, the administration of New Guinea will be placed upon a proper footing, that all causes of grievance will be removed, and that the utmost benefit will be conferred upon the Possession and all concerned.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported.

Motion (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to-

That the Standing Orders be suspended, to enable all steps to be taken to obtain supply and pass a Supply Bill through all its stages without delay.

Resolution adopted.

In Committee of Ways and Means:

Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -

That towards making good the supply granted to His Majesty for the services of the year ending 30th June, 1907, a sum not exceeding Seven hundred and forty-eight thousand three hundred and sixty-three pounds be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

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