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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) (Minister for External Affairs) . - in reply - It was inevitable that in introducing this bill I should leave a great deal unsaid. My long parliamentary experience has taught me not to provoke discussion. I had hoped that the lateness of the hour and the placidity of my demeanour would encourage honorable members to confine their attention strictly to the provisions of the bill, as I did myself; but it is possible to expect too much. I apologize to honorable members for not divulging the reasons which caused the Government to select Salamaua as the new administrative headquarters instead of Lae as recommended by the committee of experts. I can give the reason in a sentence or two. The committee appointed by the Government insisted that even though Lae became the new capital a seaport would be necessary at Salamaua. That being so, the Government could see no good and sufficient reason why the new capital should be located at Lae. I do not pretend that Salamaua is ideally situated. But I remind honorable members that although Babaul is a veritable Garden of Eden we had to flit from it because of the fear of volcanoes. We did so with the utmost regret. It is possible to provide some protection against earthquakes but nothing can be done to cope with volcanoes. It was therefore essential to move from the thin crust of earth which covers the northern side of the mainland and the islands of New Britain and New Ireland Volcanic areas of that kind were not suitable for the establishment of towns. As a port was essential, the Government considered it advisable that the administrative capital and the port should be centred at Salamaua. It is not denied that Lae has certain advantages over Salamaua, but it also has serious disadvantages.

The honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr) said that the Government should construct a road to the Ramu plateau. That will probably be done some day; but. the Government could not possibly neglect the insistent and persistent requests that have been made during the last twelve years for the construction of a road from the gold-fields area to thesea. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has reminded us that gold valued at £10,000,000 has already been extracted from the Bulolo Valley which is one of the richest gold areas in the world. We owe something to the people who have won this wealth from the earth. They want a road to the coast, and it should be provided for them. It has been said that this gold country will one day be exhausted. That is so. It is nothing new to exhaust gold-fields. Much gold was mined at Ballarat, and at Bendigo, and those fields are not what they once were ; but the adjacent country has proved of considerable agricultural value. It is estimated that the life of the rich Bulolo Valley, for mining purposes, is fifteen years; but it is also estimated that the provision of a road to serve the very large area of 8 dwt. land in that region would extend the life of the field for eight years. A road from Salamaua is not only necessary in the interests of Wau, but it is a sound economic proposal.

Obviously I cannot give honorable members any information as to the exact route which the road will take. That is a matter for decision by the engineers, and I shall be advised by them. All I say is that I shall make a road. If I were Peter the Great, I would take a ruler and rule a straightline across the map, but I am not Peter the Great. I shall take the route recommended by the engineers.

Mr Beasley - They ought to recommend the route before the right honorable gentleman gets his bill.

Mr HUGHES - Come, come. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) should not make interjections of that kind. They are not helpful. The route is to be determined by the engineers. The honorable member made a point which he elaborated a great deal that the amount of money set out in the bill is £150,000. That is true. The amount is so fixed because that was the amount that those who want the road estimated that it would cost. We cannot guarantee an unlimited amount. Supposing that the road does cost £180,000, that will not stop it from being built. The guarantee is for £150,000 and no more. The resources of the Administration or other resources can be called upon to make up any deficiency. The Commonwealth will not be called upon to pay a penny. The period of the loan is to be determined by the Treasurer. The toll will be at such rate as will cover interest and sinking fund.

I very much regret the tone of criticism of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I am sure that he did not mean what he said, but his remarks could be construed in a way that would do this country infinite harm. I venture to say that no country in the world has ensured better conditions for the natives over whom it has control than has Australia for the people of New Guinea. To talk about exploitation in relation to those people is absurd. There is exploitation in Australia, but there is none in New Guinea. Our policy is New Guinea for the New Guinea natives. I have been one of the strongest supporters of the White Australia policy but I am no less a supporter of New Guinea for the New Guineans.

Mr Brennan - " New Guinea for military purposes and hang the native ! " That was the right honorable gentleman's policy. I have not forgotten it. I was a member of the same Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Batman must refrain from interjecting.

Mr HUGHES - I never dreamt that the honorable member for Batman would break out like that. He is really wonderful ! There is no exploitation of the New Guinea natives. No one is compelled to work in New Guinea. That cannot be said of Australia where the people have to work or die - unless they go on the dole. There is no scarcity of food in New Guinea. There is an abundance of everything. The natives have theirhunting grounds and their gardens. If they work it is because they want to work. Whatever their wages are in money is not to the point - it is what their wages will get them.

The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) made some very pertinent and useful observations. He said that safeguards should be provided in any contract or any provision that is made for the construction of this road. I agree with him. I shall seethat the provisions which he seeks arc made to ensure the payment of a fixed wage, medical attention, housing and food, and, in short, to ensure that care which is essential for the well-being of the natives. I give an assurance that those provisions will be inserted, so that care will be taken as far as possible to make ideal the conditions under which the natives labour.

I hope that if I have overlooked any point that has been taken, honorable members will bear with me. I recommend the bill to the House as a tardy recognition of the needs of Wau and of the people who have done so much to develop this great territory of New Guinea.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Thursday30, June 1938.

Sitting suspended from 12.7 to 12.40 a.m.

In committee:

The bill.

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