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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - In order to facilitate the business of the committee, several Estimates have been grouped together. That meant that at one and the same time honorable members may be discussing votes relating to the Australian Capital Territory, the external territories of Australia and the Northern Territory. This arrangemen places something of a strain upon the imagination and the mental agility of honorable members. At one moment we may be talking about the great advance towards civilization taking place in countries such as New Guinea, and in the next moment our thoughts may be led back by a succeeding speaker to the primitive jungle of bureaucracy at Canberra. At one time, in imagination, honorable members may be in a land where people spend some time shrinking one another's head, and a little later their thoughts may be directed to a place where every head has a tendency to become a little swollen.

The contrast becomes very pointed when we throw our minds back to the fact that this afternoon the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) was making a point, quite cogently, about the expenditure of £7,000 in order to provide a supply of drinking water for the people al Tennant Creek. He was followed by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), who directed the attention of honorable members to the fact that in Canberra a sum of £200.000 was spent to build a bathing pool in which people could swim. That contrast between the immediate problem of getting water to drink in a place like Tennant Creek, involving an expenditure of £7,000 on exploration for water, and the expenditure in Canberra of £200,000 for people to have a swim, bears a moral for all Australian people. T am sure that my friend and colleague, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), will not misunderstand me when I draw that contrast. He has his responsibilities, which are very great, towards the Australian Capital Territory, and I have my responsibilities towards the outlying territories.

The first point I should like to make in special reference to speeches made byhonorable members on both sides of the chamber this afternoon is to express appreciation of the words - I think well-deserved words - that they spoke in praise of the Australian officers who are serving the people of Australia in the territories, particularly the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. They also made reference - again I think well deserved references - to the attitude of settlers, the attitude of mind and the sense of responsibility that so many of the people who live in these places have in regard to the great Australian national task that is being done there. These people are not in government employment and are noi bound by their salary, occupation or any other tie to support government policies but, because of their realization of the nature of the situation in which they live, they look at these things in exactly the same way as does the Government and appreciate that their own personal conduct and their own personal relationships with the people of a different race among whom they live will be determining factors in deciding that there shall be a happy outcome of our relations with these people and that there shall be a successful result of the efforts that we are making in the Territory.

In passing, I should like to refer briefly to the remarks of the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan). I know that he holds his views sincerely and firmly, but just as his views differ profoundly from mine, my views differ equally profoundly from his. I am quite unashamed and unrepentant in my idealism on this racial question. I should like honorable members to look at our attempts to advance the primitive people of New Guinea towards civilization, and to give an opportunity to the Australian aborigines of the Northern Territory to live as we do, not against any strange background but with exactly the same state of mind as they would look at any Australian question. One thing of which we as Australians are proud and for which wc have fought and striven since our forefathers came here is that in the kind of society we are building every man and woman shall have the chance to be the best that it is within them to be. My idealism is simply this: What is true of a white Au>tralian is true of every human being, and it is part of the responsibility that is laid on us in our administration both in Nev> Guinea and of matters affecting the Australian aborigines that not one man, woman or child shall be barred from the opportunity to be the best that that person can possibly be.

There was a suggestion that these matter." are less urgent than certain other matters and that, if there is to be a choice between avenues of expenditure, there are certain practical things to be done which are more important than the spending of a little bit of money on the health, education or social advancement of a coloured person. I differ from that viewpoint. My view, which is quite simple and straightforward, is this: When one is dealing with a human being and one fails to do something this year or next year, one is not merely losing a year out of a programme of administrative action but is stealing a year from a person's life. If there is a child of ten years of age who could benefit by going to school this year and we fail to give that child the opportunity to do so, we rob that child of a year of school life and the child will never get that year back again. If a person is suffering from an incipient disease and we fail to take measures to safeguard the health of that person, it is not a question of losing a year out of our parliamentary proceedings or that the debate will take place twelve months later than it otherwise would have done; it means that that person's life has been robbed of twelve months. So, I believe there is a real urgency if we think about these things in human terms.

Although, as I said, I respect the sincerity of his views, 1 also differ profoundly from the honorable member for Gwydir when he suggests that, in taking these measures to improve the conditions of coloured people, whether they be Australian aborigines or persons in New Guinea, we are laying the foundation of race conflict. I say that the foundation of race conflict is laid when one sets up two different sets of privilege and when a native, if one may use that term without any of its connotations, feels that he is the person who is excluded, who is shut out, and who is not going to have the opportunity that other persons have. But there is no race conflict when, as we and so many of our admirable and idealistic officers are trying to do in Papua and New Guinea, people stretch out a hand and say, "This hand is here to help you ". There is no foundation for race conflict in the helping hand. That is a point on which - and on this matter I differ from my honorable friend from Gwydir - I venture to say that the view of the Administration is shared by the very large majority of the persons who are in private trade, in private agriculture or private settlement in Papua and New Guinea. This afternoon one honorable member quoted briefly from a charter that was prepared by the Highland Farmers and Settlers Association. That charter, which has been endorsed and accepted by the equivalent in New Guinea of those whom the Australian Country party represents here - by farmers or persons engaged in agriculture - is as firm and idealistic an expression of our aims and achievements as we could wish to see drafted anywhere.

Having made those remarks, I feel that 1 should say something quite briefly about one or two of the points that have been made during the debate. This afternoon several honorable members referred to the future of western New Guinea. It is not within my province to comment on international relations; any statement regarding our relations as a nation towards the Dutch or the Indonesians will be made by my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). However, I want to say - and this is a point on which I agree most emphatically with the remarks made by honorable members this afternoon - that in deciding what is to happen in the long term in western New Guinea there seems to me to be one paramount consideration and that is the interests and the rights of the indigenous people. The imperialism of Indonesia, or, if you like, the imperialism of the Dutch, is a lesser consideration in deciding how to do the right thing than are the rights and interests of the indigenous people. I think that that is the one factor which, in international discussion, is being forgotten and overlooked. Every one talks about the Indonesian claim, the Dutch claim or somebody else's claim, but how seldom do people ask, " What is best for the indigenous people? " T. could develop that point to express my own views but, as at the moment we are dealing with our own territories, I shall not trespass further on the field of international relations.

Another point which I think must be faced very squarely and which was raised' by certain honorable members this afternoon is the question of the future of the comparatively small Territory-born Chinese population in Papua and New Guinea, but mostly in the trust Territory of New Guinea. With a few exceptions, their present status,, as was explained this afternoon, is that of Australian-protected persons. In our administrative policies, we have tried to give to those people opportunity to participate in local enterprises, local political affairs, and local government affairs, so that they will feel most clearly and definitely that their future lies with Australia and that, by taking part in the task that Australia has to perform in the Territory, they will find the most hopeful and satisfactory future for themselves. But as honorable members saidthis afternoon, if we embark on that line of thinking we shall have to apply ourselves to the question of what is to be their status - whether citizenship as Australians or some other status satisfactory to them. That, I believe, is one of the questions which, although it does touch upon the traditional immigration policies of Australia, has to be faced and considered very thoughtfully, very carefully and very sympathetically by the Australian people.

I turn now to the remarks that have been made about Norfolk Island. I think this is the first time that this Parliament has devoted so much of its time to the affairs of Norfolk Island. I was very pleased that that should be so, because few more pleasant experiences await any Minister for Territories than to visit Norfolk Island and meet the exceptionally friendly, hospitable and delightful people who live in that delightful and pleasant land. The particular problems mentioned' by the parliamentary delegation in connexion with Norfolk Island were small in comparison with the problems to be found in other territories. It has been said that the people of Norfolk Island have no social service benefits. That is so because they pay no taxes, and our social services legislation does not extend to them. However, we do make certain payments as an act of grace to take care of aged and indigen' people who may need assistance, and such assistance is given out of public funds t<< a number of elderly people on the island.

Reference was made to the problem of establishing industries on Norfolk Island. I suppose behind that problem is the basic question of communications and transport. The tourist industry is a good example, but if a tourist industry is to flourish, there must be cheap and convenient means of getting to the island. At present the only way a tourist can get there is by air, and the return air fare is about £100. The sort of person who will spend £100 on a fare in order to have a holiday, wants a type of accommodation that cannot be provided without considerable expense. The existing air service does not carry enough people to justify anybody investing in the building of a luxury hotel on the island, and the absence of a luxury hotel makes it impossible for the airlines to engage in publicity to attract tourists. That is the dilemma that we are in with regard to the establishment of a tourist service on Norfolk Island.

I would now like to refer to the matter raised by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) with regard to the by-election for the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory. The facts as he presented them to the committee are quite true. One of the elected members of the council - one of the members representing Darwin - decided to accept an appointment with the Government, and was so appointed. Thereupon, having incurred a disqualification, he resigned from the Legislative Council. His resignation was necessary under the laws covering the election of members of the council. In the normal course of events, a by-election would have been held, but that particular case led our legal advisers to examine the whole position of the council. The result of their examination was advice to the effect that it was extremely probable that some of the remaining members of the Legislative Council were also disqualified, and then, when we applied ourselves to that problem, we found that we faced another, inasmuch as the existing legislation provided no machinery by which a question of that kind could be resolved.

One could say, theoretically, that the Legislative Council itself could decide whether or not a member was qualified to hold his seat, or whether he should vacate it. However, inasmuch as there was considerable doubt whether all the members were qualified to hold their seats, there would be doubt whether any action that they took would be valid. Then,, we looked at the question whether or not all the actions that the council had taken were valid, or whether they needed validation.

The legal advice that we had was that they probably were valid and not open to claim, but that, to put the matter beyond doubt, it would be advisable to pass some sort of validating law. An examination of the whole position reveals that action will have to be taken, not by the Legislative Council, but by this Parliament. That is the question which has been engaging the attention of the Cabinet, and I am hopeful that, as a result of the careful consideration of the many ramifications of that situation, we will, before the present sitting of the Parliament ends, bring down for the consideration of honorable members some legislation to set the matter straight. Until we do set the matter straight, it is impossible for us to hold the by-election, because part of the question at issue is the question of the qualifications of a member of the Legislative Council. The honorable member for the Northern Territory will know as well as I do that if we apply too rigid and narrow a set of qualifications to the election of members of the Legislative Council, we might deprive ourselves of the services of some of the best citizens of the Northern Territory.

I shall give an example to illustrate my meaning. Many of the settlers in the Northern Territory accept an annual sum from the Commonwealth to maintain airstrips on their pastoral properties. That is an innocent action and would not affect the impartiality of a member in his parliamentary duties, but, on a strict interpretation of the law, that is a pecuniary interest in some sort of contractual arrangement with the Crown. There are few substantial people in the Northern Territory who might not be touched at one point or another by such disqualifications. That is a problem which needs examination, and I am hopeful that, as a result of the examination to be made, we shall be able, during the current sittings of the Parliament, to introduce legislation to deal with the position.

So as not to trespass on the time of the committee further, I shall not deal with any of the particular questions raised in respect of the various Territories, but I assure all honorable members that each one of those questions will be carefully considered and, so far as possible, will be taken into account when we are shaping our administrative action. 1 think that the majority of honorable members who have spoken in this debate have spoken about Papua and New Guinea and, in closing, I want to say, personally, how much I share the pride that the members of recent parliamentary delegations to that Territory have shown in the way in which our officers are carrying out their responsibilities on behalf of Australia. It is a very heartening experience not only to hear the tributes brought back by members of parliamentary delegations, but often to have conversations with distinguished citizens or representatives of foreign countries who go there, and to appreciate the unanimity with which they praise the calibre of our officers and the standard of the work being done, and, above all, to appreciate the way in which man after man will point out that the thing that surprised him most was the existence of that trust and confidence between the indigenous people and the European, whether he be a settler or an official. I think that that trust and confidence, which does exist over so many parts of the Territory, and between so many people, is the brightest seal that could be set on the work Australia has been doing there for half a century or more. It is also the most valuable thing that we can preserve in the Territory.

Mr Ian Allan - 1 rise to make a personal explanation. While the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) was referring to some of the remarks I had made earlier this evening, he said that there was a suggestion that money should be spent on more practical things than bringing medical services to the natives, or words to that effect which, I believe, implied that I had expressed some view along those lines. In actual fact, my views are completely the reverse of that, and I think the Minister has misunderstood me in respect of the example which I quoted of the lack of fly wire at a hospital. My statement in that respect was an example of my view that money should be spent on medical services for the natives. Surely when we are spending £12,000,000 in this Territory we can find enough money io buy fly wire for a hospital.

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