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Wednesday, 3 October 1956

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - The life-long enthusiasm of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) for railway matters made him sound more and more like an express train the further he went with his speech. 1 do not wish to differ at any point with his remarks. My purpose in rising is to say something by way of introduction to the Estimates for the Department of Territories. As honorable members are aware, the main debate on the Territories will take place at a later stage. The items in Division 116 concern only expenditure in the central Department of Territories in Canberra and Sydney. I want to make two remarks about this comparatively small expenditure.

The first item on which I want to comment is the item relating to visits to the Australian Territories by members of the

Parliament. Honorable members will recall that, some years ago, they had a travel privilege which entitled them to visit the Territories at their own will, under certain conditions. As the result of an inquiry into parliamentary privileges, that privilege was withdrawn. At that time, 1 approached the Treasury and got it to agree to a scheme under which, each year, we should send to the Territories delegations selected by both sides of the Parliament. 1 think that those tours by members of the Parliament have produced very good results. Although a recent inquiry by an independent committee has resulted in the restoration of certain travel privileges to honorable members in respect of the Territories, it is proposed that we should continue to send official delegations, year by year, to each of the two larger Territories and, occasionally, to the smaller Territories. I feel that experience has shown us that in the organized tours, lasting for two, three or four weeks, and conducted by officers of the administrations of the Territories, we are able to place before members information and opportunities to see what is being done that are more comprehensive, perhaps, than would be the case if they travelled individually under parliamentary privilege. Of course, if any honorable member exercised his parliamentary privilege to visit a Territory independently, we should do what was within our power to make facilities available to him.

The other item to which I wish to refer relates to expenditure on the Department of Territories. I want to refer to that item because there is a mistaken idea of the way in which the Territories are administered. This mistaken idea is expressed in the phrase " remote control ". In a question that was raised earlier this session, it was suggested by one honorable member that all the strength of administration was in Canberra, and that none was in the Territories. That is quite contrary to the facts. The position is shown quite clearly by the figures. The officers of the Public Service who are working on Territory affairs in Canberra and Sydney number 188. In the Northern Territory, there are over 500 public servants working on the administration of the Territory, and in Papua and New Guinea there are about 2,200. If we fake all of the Territories - that is, the Northern Terri tory, Norfolk Island, Papua and New Guinea, Nauru and Cocos Island - the position is that something less than 200 officers are engaged on territorial affairs in Canberra and Sydney and that about 3,000 are engaged on territorial affairs in the Territories themselves. Those figures reflect exactly the sort of way in which we are trying to discharge our responsibilities, as a government, to the Territories.

There is also some misconception about the role which the Department of Territories in Canberra and Sydney plays in respect of the Territories. The officers in Canberra and Sydney do not attempt in any way to administer the Territories - that is. to carry out the task of government in the Territories. They do, however, perform certain services for all of the Territories - for example, procurement services. If the Territory of Papua and New Guinea wants orders to be placed for tractors, our officers in Sydney see the suppliers of the tractors, place the orders and attend to the shipping arrangements. If some one wants a permit to visit a territory, the application can be handled in the Sydney office. A great number of services of procurement, supply and so forth are carried out by the officers of the Department of Territories, on behalf of the various territories.

In addition, the department acts as a central secretariat on all territorial matters. It tries to bring together and prepare for presentation to the responsible Minister, to Cabinet or to this Parliament matters which affect all or any of the Australian Territories. The task of acting as a central secretariat and, while doing so. serving the Minister, as all departments do. occupies a great deal of the time of the Department of Territories.

There is a third field of service in which, I think, the officers of the Department of Territories in Canberra, particularly the more senior officers, render a great service to the Territories. They assist them to overcome their problems. To take an example, one of the larger territories - let us say, Papua and New Guinea - grappling with the problem of the preparation of its annual estimates, may require the assistance of some one skilled in financial procedures. Quite readily, the Department of Terri.tories will send men to Port Moresby to stay for a period of weeks, to sit down beside the administrative officers and help them, in a spirit of co-operation, with their particular problems. Again, if some other particular emergency arises, and the existing staff in a territory is not able on its own to grapple with that problem, a departmental officer might go to the Territory and help them with it.

I wish to insist, and to emphasize as clearly as I can, that it is not the function of the Department of Territories to govern the Territories, to administer the Territories, to run the Territories - that is something that is done by the territorial administration. In my experience of this portfolio, the Department of Territories has never presumed to go beyond its proper function and, of course, the responsibility of any Minister for Territories, no matter who he may be, is to ensure that these two units of government - the department in Canberra, and the territorial administration - run together and work together as a team, neither of them trying to supersede the other or to ride on the back of the other, but each assisting the other as opportunity arises.

I should like to take this opportunity of saying in public what I am sure every honorable member who has had an opportunity of seeing this phase of the administration will endorse. I pay a tribute to the single-mindedness and devotion of this group of public servants - as is the case with other groups of public servants - to the work in hand. I am sure that every member of this committee will agree that, in connexion with these great Territories which we administer, both on the mainland of Australia and overseas, we have a great national responsibility, and we face a very deep challenge - n challenge calling for the best that is in us as a nation. I should like to pay a tribute, on this occasion, to those officers who, selflessly, obscurely, patiently, and a! the cost of many long hours of arduous work in the Department of Territories in Australia, are helping Australia to advance its Territories, in accordance with its national responsibility.

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