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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) (Minis ter for External Affairs) .- I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This is a measure to give effect to a decision of the Government to guarantee a loan to be raised by the Administrator of the Territory of New Guinea to construct a road between Wau and Salamaua on the mainland of the Territory of New Guinea, over which a mandate was given to the Commonwealth by the League of Nations in 1920. At that time the territory had a white population of 3,000 and an estimated native population of about 750,000. In 1926, gold was discovered in the Morobe district, and the prospectors made their way through the dense forests of New Guinea towards that place which is now known as Wau. The track through this country is extremely rough. The mountains tower more than 6,000 feet high, and the track winds its way through precipitous gorges and dense tangled undergrowth. The hazardous journey took ten days, and prospectors suffered great hardships. Many of them died. From the very earliest days there was naturally a demand for better means of access. I, myself, introduced deputations, representative of the companies and individuals interested in the leases in the Morobe district, to Ministers in various governments, including that led by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). It was suggested by some that a railway should be constructed, and by others that a road should be built. Neither railway nor road has been built from that day to this, but it has been found possible to adapt the aeroplane to the purposes of transport, and the achievements of the aerial services in New Guinea have been little short of miraculous. They have done, and are doing, wonderful things; but though this form of transport is speedy, it. is also costly. Originally, the cost of freight from Salamaua to Wau was £100 a ton. It was gradually reduced until it stood for some time at £27 a ton, and at the present time is £21 a ton, or 2¼d. per lb. Everything that is brought up from the coast to Wau, and everything that is taken back from the gold-fields to the coast is carried by aeroplane. Prodigious loads are carried by air. Only a few days before I arrived at Wau, five cows were taken by air to Wau in one load. This conveys some idea of what aeroplanes can do. Some of the largest dredges in the world, immense dynamos, material for bridges, and huge pieces of machinery which, for their size, would attract attention even in our great cities, have all been carried,- in sections of course, by aeroplane. Honorable members will realize, however, as do the people of Wau, that high freight rates are hampering, and, indeed, altogether preventing, the development of the lower grade gold propositions. A road to the coast is essential to the economic development of the country. When I was in Wau recently, several deputations waited on me, one presenting a petition signed by more than 1,000 white residents, urging the immediate construction of a road from Wau to Salamaua. It was pointed out to me that Wau has the largest white population of any town in New Guinea, and it. is severely handicapped by its isolation.

The amount of wealth produced from the Morobe gold-field is astonishing. Just before I arrived there, £40,000 worth of gold was sent out from one mine alone for one week's work. No less than £10,000,000 has been won since the field was first discovered, and, on the average, £160,000 worth of gold is sent down to the coast every month. Some mines, notably that at Edie Creek, which is at an elevation of 7,500 feet, are being worked at great disadvantage because of their inaccessibility. Some of the leases cannot be worked at all. It is a wonderful tribute to the energy of people of our race that they have succeeded in doing what lias been done at Edie Creek. The people of Wau want a road to be constructed. They suggest that the money for this road should be raised in the territory by way of loan guaranteed by the Commonwealth, interest and redemption charges to be met by a toll. I was informed that a. road could bc constructed at a cost of £150,000, and, that it could be finished in from two to three years. It is anticipated that when tho road is completed, the freight rate will bc reduced to £5 a. ton, plus toll charges. Only this morning I was waited upon by ft deputation representing interests at Wau and they re-affirmed what had been said to me when I was at Wau some little while ago. The members of the deputation were quite definite regarding tho practicability of constructing a road. They pointed out what I had, indeed, learned from my own observation, thar although the country is almost incredibly rough, roads can, in fact, be built. I have seen a great many roads in this and other countries, but the road' from Wau to Edie Creek is worthy to "be classed as the eighth wonder of the world. It .has been constructed ,by native labour, and the grade is one in nine. From Wau, which is 3,500 feet high, it rises in a distance of 12 miles to an elevation of 7,500 feet at Edie Creek. It winds around the top of seemingly bottomless abysses that sicken one to look down upon. It is a triumph of engineering. Improved access to the sea is essential if this country is to be developed. Several alternative routes for the road have been suggested. Some are more or less direct, while others are more circuitous, and it is for the engineering experts to decide which shall be chosen. One of tho longer routes has the advantage that it would serve better to open up the agricultural country which stretches along the Markham Valley for 150 miles to the Ramu Plateau. It is- not for me to indicate which route shall be chosen. It is enough to say that the road should be, and must be, constructed.

Mr Beasley - How can an estimate of the cost be made if tho -route has not been chosen ?

Mr HUGHES - Those who are qualified to give an opinion estimate that a road could .be constructed for £150,000. Some say that it could be done for as little as £S0,000.

Mr James - Who will pay the toll?

Mr HUGHES - Those who use the road, of course.

Mr James - Will the niggers have fo pay toll, too?

Mr HUGHES - I do not know whom the .honorable member means by "niggers ". There are no niggers in New Guinea. I am assured that the tonnage to be carried over the road will .return sufficient revenue to pay interest on the loan, and provide a. sinking fund. The residents of the Morobe district have done tremendously valuable pioneering work under conditions of almost incredible difficulty; surely they deserve something in return. Many of them are returned soldiers, and nearly all are Australians. They have shown themselves in that country, as their fellow-Australians- have done here, to be men of resource and energy, and they are now asking that this most populous centre in New Guinea shall be connected with the seaport, which the Government has decided shall he the future administrative capital of the Territory.

I am convinced that the proposition is a sound one, and that it is supported by all the people of Wau. 1. was waited on by deputations representative of every section of the community, including the Labour party. With one accord they urged most strongly that a road should be constructed. The promise of this road has been dangled before them for years, but nothing has been done. It is not for me or for any other honorable member to criticize past administrations. It is only fair to point out that the administration of the territory is called upon to develop a huge country with very slender revenues. The importance of gold in the economic life of the territoryneeds emphasizing. The value of the exports from the Territory of New Guinea for the year 1936-37 was £3,389,000, of which £2,020,000 represented the exports from the Morobe gold-fields. The revenues of the territory are more than half made up of royalties received from those goldfields. It is clear, therefore, that, because the administration of the territory is an agency of this Parliament, an obligation rests on the Commonwealth to do something for the people of New Guinea. I ask the House to support this measure, because it is a practical proposition that imposes no monetary obligation on the Commonwealth. The loan will be amply secured by the toll. Those who pay the toll will provide the freight on the road, and will be paying themselves back, as the toll receipts will be used to provide those who subscribe to the loan with interest and redemption payments, so that the loan will be repaid in the period for which the money is to be advanced. I arn satisfied that this is a sound proposition, and I recommend the House to accept it.

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