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Friday, 3 September 1920

Mr POYNTON (Grey) (Minister for Home and Territories) . - I.move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

This- might be termed a Bill for an Act to do justice that has been long deferred. The facts with which it deals are very simple. When they were brought under my notice I felt that an injustice had been done, and submitted the matter to the Cabinet, who approved of what is proposed in this Bill. In 1896 a lease was granted of a group of small islands called the Conflict Group by the original Government ofNew Guinea, before the Commonwealth took over the Territory. In that lease there was provision for a rightto purchase the land included in the lease at 5s. per acre: The. Papua Act, passed by the; Commonwealth Parliament, came into force on the 1st September, 1906. In August, 1906, Mr. Wickham applied to exercise his right of purchase. The matter appeared to be all in order, the conditions of the lease had been fulfilled and the local Executive of Papua approved of the preparation and issue of a grant in fee-simple. The grant and deed were prepared. It was then discovered that there was a difference of opinion as to the area covered by the lease, and some little delay occurred in connexion with that. For instance the Government claim to be paid on 6,000 acres, but it was proved, after further inquiry, that the area involved was only 1,800 acres. The delay caused in investigating these facts prevented the title being granted in the terms of the lease. The Papua Act of 1905 includes this provision -

The Lieutenant-Governor may make and execute under the public seal of the Territory, in the- name and on 'behalf of the King, grants and dispositions of any land within the Territory which may be lawfully granted or disposed of in the name of the King, but so that -

(a)   no freehold estate in any such land shall be granted or disposed of

Owing to the delays I have mentioned, that law was passed before the title could be issued. There is only one case of this character in the whole of Papua. A Bill relating to the matter was introduced some years ago, but was crowded out at the end of the session; but Mr. Isaacs, the then Attorney-General, gave an opinion that, whilst legally there' was no power to grant the title, yet on moral and equitable grounds the lessee was undoubtedly entitled to get the fee-simple in the terms of the original agreement. He suggested an amending Bill to enable that to be done. There has been a good deal of correspondence in regard to this claim, and recently the lessee instituted legal proceedings against the Commonwealth. I and the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) investigated the matter thoroughly, and we were satisfied that, on equitable grounds, the lessee had a very strong case. We agreed that it was not right that the Government should take advantage of a technicality to prevent him getting his title. This Bill was introduced accordingly, and the legal proceedings have been suspended pending the decision of Parliament. The measure has been already agreed to by another place.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Charlton) adjourned.

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