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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- When the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) was introducing this proposed amendment of the Papua and New Guinea Act he implied that it was an unimportant matter and one which this House ought not take long to determine. But the more I examine what the Minister proposed to do, the more suspicious I become about the whole procedure. As a matter of fact, the Minister has not given us a great deal of information. In effect, he has said that recently some doubt was created as to the qualifications of the members of the Legislative Council which functions in the Territory. He said that the Government desired the Parliament not only to remove this doubt as to what the council may do in thefuture in respect to the qualifications of its members, but also to validate past acts of the Legislative Council.

Certain information should be given to members of the Opposition before they can pass proper judgment on this legislation. In the first instance, we would like to know how this doubt arose. What were the particular circumstances that were brought to the notice of the Government and which obliged the council, in the first place, to seek legal opinion? Why has not the legal opinion been produced so that members of this House can be fully informed on the matter? The last Labour government established the Legislative Council of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea to meet the then existing circumstances and I should have imagined that after the expiry of almost ten years any amending bill would contain some provision for altering the structure of the Legislative Council. Quite a deal has happened since the Legislative Council was established by the preceding Labour government, which then restored civil administration in the Territory. That was approximately ten years ago, and in the meantime there has been a large increase in the European population and the development of the Territory. I should have imagined that this would be an appropriate time for the Government to extend the field of representation for the local residents in the Territory- itself . The Legislative Council cannot be regarded as being a completely satisfactory instrument of government for all time. It was merely introduced by Labour because of the difficult circumstances which existed when we restored civil administration in the Territory.

The Minister has spoken about a doubt as to the qualifications of the members of the Legislative Council, but that does not apply to every member of the council. The Minister would try to imply that because of some situation which has arisen, the details of which he has not advised us, some doubt has arisen- as to the qualification of the members of the Legislative Council in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Let me tell honorable members - or remind them, because they probably know - the constitution of the Legislative Council as provided for by the Labour government. We proposed a council, of 29 members, seventeen of whom would be the Administrator and sixteen public service officers of the Territory. They would be members appointed without any reference at- all to the wishes of the people in the Territory and would automatically constitute the majority of the Legislative Council. I should hope that the Minister was not implying in his speech that the qualifications of this particular section of the Legislative Council might be in question. The Minister contends that there is some doubt as to the interpretation of the disqualification which we placed in the act against anybody who had any contractual arrangements with the government of the Territory or was doing business of any kind with it. According to some opinion which has now been provided to the Government - for which we have only the Minister's word, because we have not any advice before us - some doubt now exists whether this does not extend to a person who leases some land or rents a property to the Administration or engages in a transaction of that description. But surely that would not apply to the sixteen members directly nominated and appointed by the Government! In my opinion it is obvious that they would not be engaged, or should not be engaged, in any transaction of that type.

There are also three non-official members and these, no doubt, are the ones to whom the Minister is particularly referring as possessing such qualifications as are provided by ordinance and are elected, as provided by ordinance, by the electors of the Territory. At the moment, they are the only three out of the 29 who are elected by any section of the community in the Territory itself. There are three non-official representatives of Christian missions in the Territory. I do not know whether the Minister is suggesting that these would be disqualified by this doubt which has now arisen. There are also three non-official native members and three other non-official representatives- who obviously are nominated by the Minister and appointed by the Government.

When the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was in the Territory recently, several requests were made to him which he rejected. I want to make it clear that the people residing in the Territory are not satisfied with the present Legislative Council. They may have been satisfied with it initially, when we appointed it and civil administration was restored in the Territory. As a Labour government, we provided for native representation, which had never before existed in the history of the Territory. No one would suggest, however, that a Legislative Council appointed ten years ago - even with the best purpose in mind - would be satisfactory for the requirements of the Territory to-day in view of the great development and increase in population that have taken place in the intervening decade.

The Prime Minister, when he recently visited the Territory, received a number of requests, from these- people, and to give an idea, of how they were received, I shall read from a newspaper circulating in the Territory; called " The South Pacific Post ". I refer to a report under the heading, " Menzies said 'No, no, no' to major issues ". It appears that he rejected every request that the people of the- Territory put to him.

I want to say to the Minister that that is my first criticism of the measure. I believe that this would have been an appropriate time, when the Government is preparing to amend the act, to increase the representation of the people in the Territory, lt would have been an appropriate time to reconstitute the Legislative Council to allow a bigger proportion of the- representatives to be elected by the various communities in the Territory itself. But that is not provided for. 1 ask the Minister to let us have, some details.

The Legislative Council appeared to be working fairly satisfactorily - if I can use that expression - up to this point, as. far as we are aware, and we should like the Minister to tell members of the Opposition - no doubt he had advised Government members - what issue it was that created this difficulty and upon which the Governmentsought legal, advice. Further than that, how can the Minister ask an. intelligent' Opposition to agree to a provision to validate all the past acts of the Legislative Council when we are completely unaware of what all the decisions were or the purpose of them? At least we should have some information. 1 do not suggest that the Minister should go through every minor decision, in detail, that has been made by this Legislative Council, but at least we ought to be advised of the important and basic matters which that body decided during this period when there was some doubt as to the qualification of the members.

I do not accept the Minister's contention that unless we accept the amendment which the Government now proposes, we will so seriously limit the field of choice in the Territory as to make it difficult to get adequate representation from the various sections of the community.. When all is said and done, even the Minister admits that members of the council ought to be disqualified if they have any direct interest in any matter that comes before the council for consideration. But in order that they shall be completely protected with respect to any of these decisions, the bill provides also that in the future, the people who should decide whether a member of the Legislative Council has the qualification to vote on any particular issue are the members of the council themselves.

In those circumstances it would be an easy matter to have a very close community representation in the Legislative Council who, by agreement, could get a working arrangement whereby the wishes of the various sections of people interested in contracts or providing services or goods to the Government could each, in turn, get what they required, through the Legislative Council, and if any doubt ever arose as to whether a person was qualified to vote on these issues, the council itself would decide that matter. I think that that is a very bad principle to introduce into the legislation, and 1 am hoping that the Minister will be able to give us further information, if he believes it is available, to try to satisfy us that this change should be made;

Included in the bill is a cunning provision of the sort usually inserted by an antiLabour government. Included in the amending bill is not only a provision to get over this difficulty which the Government now says arises, but also a provision which was obviously, by an oversight, left out of the last amending measure when it was before the Parliament - a provision which had been included in the previous act. We have no objection to that. It is a principle that the Labour government applied in its legislation and which, in my opinion, has obviously been left out by an oversight. The Opposition offers no objection to that, but the Minister ties it up with this other objectionable provision in regard to the Legislative Council itself.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does the honorable member think that there is anything shady in this?

Mr WARD - I will reserve my judgment in respect of that particular aspect of the matter until I hear from the Minister. I want the Minister to tell us how this doubt arose. Who brought it to notice? What was the legal advice which the Government obtained? Was it given only by the Government's legal officers or did the Government also seek outside legal opinion? If so, what are the details of the legal advice tendered to the Government? Unless we are satisfied on this point the Opposition will not be prepared to vote for this particular part of the bill to which I have directed attention. Surely there is no member of this Parliament who does not hope that some day the stage will be reached when New Guinea can have its independence. Is it always to be attached to the Commonwealth of Australia and have all its major decisions made by a nominated government majority of the Legislative Council? Or are we to see increasing responsibility placed in the hands of the people who have to live in the Territory and develop it? Amongst those to whom I refer are not only the European section of the community but the natives themselves. If, as the Minister says, the field of people who can be elected to the Legislative Council is limited, why does he not extend the representation of the missions? The missions to-day have three representatives out of 29. In my opinion - and I had some experience of the administration in the Territory - the missions have co-operated in every possible way in any worthy objective which any government has had in mind for the welfare of the Territory. The missions have played a great part in the Territory in respect of education, health, and the development of services. If the Government is having diffi culty in getting people who have no direct contracts of one kind or another with the Government for the provision of services or goods, and does not feel disposed to expand the field of elected representatives, it might consider my proposition that the missions be given increased representation, and further, that the natives likewise be given increased representation. Surely in the last ten years - the Government has been telling us about the improved educational facilities for the native population - the number of natives qualified to sit in the Legislative Council has increased considerably. I suggest to the Minister that he postpone further consideration of this legislation in order to examine the matters I have raised on behalf of the Opposition, and also to furnish the additional information which we are seeking so that we will be better equipped to pass our judgment on the measure.

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