Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - I bring two subjects of considerable importance to the notice of the Government. The first relates to a form

vi.   mutiny by native troops in New Guinea, of which I believe the Government is aware. I consider it to be essential that steps be taken to prevent any recurrence of the trouble. On the 13th March I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) whether he was aware that a mutiny of native troops had occurred at Rabaul. The right honorable gentleman replied that he was not aware of it, but would have inquiries made and advise me of the result. As I have heard nothing from the Prime Minister on the subject since then, I was inclined to believe that there could have been little foundation for the statements that had been made to me. However, I have received advice from other sources which suggest to me that the Government is adopting a form of evasion in its replies. The disturbances in New Guinea appear to me to be of so serious a nature as to threaten the lives of certain service and civil personnel. 1 have received advice from the executive of the Pacific Territories Association to the effect that reports obtained from reliable sources indicate that acts of insubordination have been committed by* natives of the New Guinea Infantry Battalion at Rabaul. The executive of the association is of the opinion, in view of these reports, that the arming of certain natives of New Guinea and Papua is contrary to the be3t interests alike of the natives themselves and of the territory. I understand that these views were conveyed to the Minister for External Territories (Mr. "Ward) in a letter from Mr. Adelskold, secretary of the Pacific Territories Association, dated the 4th February last. The association stated in its letter that reports from, reliable sources indicated that a very unsatisfactory state of affairs existed. It also forwarded to the Minister for External Territories information of specific instances of acts of insubordination and of abuse and threats directed by members of the New Guinea Infantry Butta lion against Australian officers. As the letter indicates the extent and seriousness of the mutiny and of the general situation I shall read it.

Last Saturday week, 1]th inst., a party of N.G.I.B. boys went by truck to Kokopo and entered areas out of bounds. When Lieutenant Dean tried to remove them they threatened him and called him "a bloody Angau bastard", &c; &c, and said that they had ,won the war here and elsewhere, and that the Australians always ran awa}', and so on.

The A.D.O. at Kokopo, Captain Johnson, went with Lieutenant Dean to the N.G.T.B. Head-quarters to complain to the officer in command in the absence of Colonel Allen in New Ireland, but only non-New Guinea officers were there who had no idea of dealing with the situation.

The N.G.T.B. boys surrounded their car and tried to prevent them from seeing the O.C., threatening them with tommy guns, axes, bayonets, &c.. and again called them various so-and-sos. They also stole Lieutenant Dean's revolver out of the Jeep.

This Saturday the performance was repeated at Kokopo, whore they released N.G.I.B. prisoners and demonstrated threateningly against the A.D.O. and officers whose lives 1 consider to be in grave danger unless strong action is taken.

In Rabaul, on the same night, the N.G.I.B'. guard on the Japanese prison compound left their posts with their Bren guns, &c, and demonstrated against the O.C. Native Police, Major Eon Hicks, using similar bad language, threats and boasts. They then released N.G.I.B. and other native prisoners from the calaboose.

This morning there was a conference be- . tween the G.O.C., General Eather, Brigadier Graham (just arrived from Lae), the District Officer, Major Bates, and others. I have not heard' what transpired, but I believe they are awaiting the return of Colonel Allen before taking action.

This N.G.I.B. business seems to be entirely unnecessary and undesirable, and I think that, in view of the happenings, it should be disbanded and the Native Police Force should be built up to sufficient strength for police purposes and other activities not performed by the Australian garrison troops. If drastic action be not taken there will be serious trouble and possible loss of life, and general disaffection of the native population. If the Government were trying to create an " Indonesian situation " here they could not be doing better towards that? end.

Those are very serious statements from a reputable source. In the light of information I had received, I asked the Prime Minister to inquire as to how far the mutiny had spread, and what disciplinary action had been taken; but I have not received any advice from him. The Pacific Territories Association wrote to the Minister for External Territories on the 4th February, and on' the 6th February that honorable gentleman promised to take up the matter with the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). On the 12th February, the association again wrote to the Minister for External Territories, stating that, as the result of nets of insubordination, senior officers of Angau had suggested the disba.nd.ment of the native unit, which constituted a threat to the lives of officers, and possibly to those of returning civilians. Angau stressed that this was not merely a passing phase, but a movement that might grow, because the native troops were armed. The Minister replied on the 14th February that, he had forwarded the additional information to the Minister for the Army. On the 21st February, the association received a copy of a letter from the Minister for the Army to the Minister for External Territories, acknowledging his letter of the 14t,h February, and stating that an endeavour would be made to furnish an early reply. This incident occurred in January. The Government has ignored -the questions that have been asked in this House, and the representations of the Pacific Territories Association and Angau. The

House and the country are still waiting to learn what disciplinary action has. been taken, and what the Minister intends to do to preserve the peace of the community. The Minister might now be able to tell the House whether the trouble has passed. Was disciplinary .action taken ? Has full control of the natives been restored to the officers who were insulted? Have the theft of the revolver of a responsible military officer, and many other acts of violence, been investigated and dealt with in accordance with military law? Coloured peoples who have learned of the uprising in Indonesia must be in a state of unrest. What steps does the Minister propose to take for the disarming of the natives, with a view to preserving the peace that has always been observed in the territories held under mandate by Australia?

This morning I questioned the Prime Minister in connexion with the cancellation of orders for Australian goods of a value of more than £6,000,000 that had been placed by the Dutch Government, because of the failure to secure their delivery in the Netherlands East Indies. I know it will be said that shortage of shipping has been one of the causes of this failure. But the trouble goes deeper than that. It had its origin in the refusal of members of the Waterside Workers' Federation to load all Dutch ships, including mercy ships that were intended to carry food and medical supplies to the Netherlands East Indies. Those ships might have been used in a shuttle service for the carriage of the goods that had been ordered from Australia by the Dutch. The Prime Minister has said that goods to a value of not more than £2,000,000 have been kept in Australia by reason of the failure of the ships to leave our ports. The more recent advice we have received proves that orders to a. value of £6,000,000 have been cancelled by the Netherlands East In dic8 Government export and import organization, under the authority of the director, Mr. Jan Van der Noordaa, ' Dutch ships have been held up in Australia since last September, due to the black ban imposed on them by Aus.tralian waterside workers and seamen.

It is natural to expect the Dutch authori-lies to be bewildered .and disgusted by the attitude of the waterside workers, and the failure of the Government to enforce the law. Dutch nationals, in the persons of Indonesian seamen, may have originated the trouble by walking off the ships. Had that shipping been available, food and manufactured articles of an estimated value of £20,000,000 would have been sent from Australia to the Netherlands East Indies during 1946. That statement has been made by one of the Dutch authorities. The Prime Minister, in reply to me this morning, said that factors other than those that I had mentioned might be involved; for example, . the Dutch authorities might not have sufficient purchasing power to obtain goods from Australia. I have no knowledge of that. But I do know that the statement by Mr. Jan Van der Noordaa leaves no doubt in .the minds of those who have read it that these orders were cancelled, not because the Dutch were not able to purchase the goods, but because shipping was not available for their carriage. Honorable members will recall that Lord Louis Mountbatten, while in Australia, played an active part in this matter, and spoke in strong terms. He had come straight . from Java, and was acquainted with the sufferings of both the white and the coloured peoples. He realized the urgency of their being supplied immediately with food and other essentials. Notwithstanding his representations, the position remains where it was before he intervened. Last February, a D'utch official said -

Surely the Australian Government realizes the grave damage being done throughout the East to Australia's political prestige and to her trade relations! It would seem that the best thing we can do is to cease trying tn do business with Australia. We have suffered a succession of disappointments and humiliations.

Australia has developed a very big manufacturing capacity, and requires overseas markets for what it produces. If we do not' wish to revert to unemployment and depression, we should endeavour to produce more in order that we may take advantage of the markets that are open to us. Some persons, regard the Netherlands East Indies as our best prospective market. Last January, the Netherlands Government announced the cancellation of orders for flour that had been placed with Australia. The orders were then placed in America, which is a competitor of Australia in eastern markets. Before the war, Australia supplied 99 per cent, of the flour imported by the Netherlands East Indies, totalling approximately 100,000 tons, of a value of from £1,500,000 to £2,000,000. Honorable members who have - studied the trade statistics in relation to eastern markets know that America is the largest supplier of . the Netherlands East Indies and other eastern countries, because it knows how to ensure the transport of the goods to their destinations. Australia is closer to those markets, and has not the long haulage which America has to undertake. We do not need to approach the Dutch for orders, because they are taking the initiative. Yet all that we say is, "We are very sorry. Because the. waterside workers have' boasted that the ships will not go to you, we cannot do business with you ". I pleaded with the Prims Minister to preserve the national economy in relation to our trade with the Netherlands East Indies, and was left completely confused by his answer. On the 16th January, Mr. Van der Noordaa said that Australia was losing an export trade to the Indies of a value of £11,000,000. He went on to say that we would have lost the whole of that trade by the end of February, and added, " It is even possible that some of this trade may be lost permanently ". Large orders for salted fish, rice, dried fruits, tinned vegetables, butter, tinned milk, biscuits, cheese and animal fats which had been placed in Australia would have to be placed elsewhere, according to a Dutch authority, who added that all purchasing in Australia had ceased. The Netherlands East Indies requires industrial produce, and would have, purchased from Australia machine and hand tools, rice cultivating implements, blankets and woollens. All this trade has been lost to ns, and the loss is due almost entirely to industrial unrest, which the Government seems powerless to combat. Not only the great strike which occurred during the Christmas period and lost to Australia, production and wages worth millions of pounds, but also successive strikes on the coal-fields, have been the means of creating an industrial situation which must immediately react to Australia's disadvantage. The failure of the Government to take action must have encouraged the waterside workers in their recalcitrance. An indication of the loss of trade from which Australia is suffering because, of dislocation resulting from industrial trouble is contained in the statement of Mr. W. S. Wong, the leader of the Hong Kong trade mission, which came to Australia in February last. The Hong Kong traders wanted to pay cash and provide shipping for a wide range of Australian products, but the goods were not available, and the disappointed mission had to return to Hong Kong. Dr. Wong said -

The shortage of goods in Australia will force us to buy in America, where goods are more plentiful. Even a. token shipment would have kept Australia's name-before Hong Kong retailers.

Thus, industrial trouble is preventing, us from, filling orders and is destroying our commercial goodwill with the islands and nations to the north. Industrial stoppages have also prevented the manufacture of goods for the use of our own people, apart from the building up of reserves for export. The more recent action of the waterside workers in preventing the sailing of mercy ships with food and medical supplies for the unfortunate people of Indonesia has kept those ships idle, so that they have not been able to lift £6,000,000 worth of goods ordered by the Dutch. When the Prime Minister was answering my question this morning, it appeared that he completely failed to recognize that we had any obligation whatever to the Dutch. He did not saythat action would be taken to enable the Dutch ships now in Australian ports to carry goods to the Netherlands East Indies. Evidently, he failed to realize that the Dutch had placed their fleet between us and the Japanese in the battles which took place to the north of Australia when Japan was casting covetous eyes on this country. The Dutch have been good allies to us. Indeed, there has been developed a blood brotherhood between us, and we owe them something more than mere lip service. During the war, Holland lost. 200,000 of its people as the result of German action. Nearly 140,000 persons were deliberately murdered in concentration camps, and a further 20,000 were shot or starved to death. The total war casualties amongst the Dutch amounted to 22 per 1,000 inhabitants, whereas, even in the United Kingdom, the rate was only 7 per 1,000. It is the duty of the Government to see that the law is observed and that the waterside workers load the Dutch ships so that relief may be sent to the people suffering in the Netherlands East Indies. Now the Dutch have said, in effect, " If you cannot make the waterside workers obey the law and work our ships, we shall place th err at your disposal to bring to Australia the British brides of your servicemen ". There is a subtle irony in that gesture which the Government seems unable to appreciate.

In conclusion, I again urge the Government to give attention to the two matters which I have raised, the mutiny of armed native troops in New Guinea, and the need to take some action to enable trade with the Dutch carried on, so that the economy of the country may lien efi t.

Suggest corrections