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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - in reply - The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) undoubtedly has a lively mind and undoubtedly a very active imagination, but I was rather grieved to find to-night something of the signs of decline in as much as his memory appears to be failing. The honorable member referred to the Legislative Council as something which had been established and appointed by the previous government. Of course, as my predecessor in office as Minister for External Territories, the honorable member should be well aware that what happened was that during the term of the previous government an act was passed by this Parliament providing for the establishment of a Legislative Council for the Territory of Papua and New Guinea; but no such council was established. It was only after the change of government took place - a period of about two years after the change of government took place - that the present Government, considering the situation in Papua and New Guinea, did what the previous government had failed to do. It took action under the act passed by this Parliament to actually inaugurate the Legislative Council and to bring into being a Legislative Council, which, until this Government took that action, was merely something written down on paper. This Government established that Legislative Council in accordance with the provisions of the act which had been introduced, and presumably had received the blessing of our predecessors in office.

Then the honorable member for East Sydney professed to find something rather deep and doubtful about the reasons for introducing this particular bill. The history is quite simple. Some time ago in the Northern Territory - not in Papua and New Guinea but in the Northern Territory - a certain situation arose which led to some questioning about the qualifications of the members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory. It was disclosed that some of the elected members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory did participate in agreements with the Commonwealth or with the Administration of the Territory, and on a strict interpretation of the Northern Territory Administration Act they were disqualified from office. That circumstance was explained to this Parliament in a previous session and, having heard that explanation, this Parliament passed a bill in respect of the Northern Territory which was precisely the same as the bill which is now brought before this Parliament in respect of Papua and New Guinea. After the situation in the Northern Territory had been placed beyond all possible doubt, the legal advisers of the Government - the officers of the AttorneyGeneral's Department - quite properly, having found a defect in the legislation affecting one territory, looked at the legislation affecting other territories, and, examining the legislation affecting the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, they came to the conclusion that the same doubts which existed in respect of the Northern Territory also existed in respect of the Legislative Council for Papua and New Guinea, and quite properly the Attorney-General's Department advised my department to that effect. The matter was brought before the Government, and it was decided that the Parliament should be asked to do in respect of the Legislative Council for Papua and New Guinea precisely the same thing which this Parliament had previously decided to do, without any opposition from the other side of the House, in respect of the Northern Territory. There is nothing more sinister, nothing more deep or mysterious, than that, about the situation.

The position, as I tried to explain on moving the second reading of this bill, is that in a territory governed as these territories are governed, a great number of the activities of the community are conducted by the Government or by the territorial administration. It is almost impossible for any one who occupies a house, or has a lease or enters into any sort of daily relationships which are usually done in association with private enterprise on the mainland of Australia, to escape some sort of a contractual relationship with the Government. It is not only the elected members who may possibly be disqualified; there is also a high degree of probability that most of the nominated members would also be disqualified simply by the fact that in occupying a house owned by the Government or being leaseholders of land in a lease granted by the Government they have entered into an agreement which, in the strict terms of the act of this Parliament, would disqualify them. Because that makes it quite unworkable in a community such as the Territory, we have asked the Parliament to amend the Papua and New Guinea Act in the same way as we asked it to amend the Northern Territory Administration Act.

In the course of his speech the honorable member for East Sydney also asked why is it necessary not only to remove this disqualification or this possible disqualification of members, but also to validate the past acts of the council.

Mr Ward - I did not say anything of the sort.

Mr HASLUCK - Well, the implication of the honorable member's remarks was that in being asked to validate past acts the Opposition was being asked to do too much. First of all, in order that the acts under which the Territory is being administered should have the force of law and that force of law should be beyond doubt, it is clearly necessary that those acts should be validated. Furthermore, no injustice is being done to this Parliament - and this is another respect in which the honorable member's memory is failing - because every one of those ordinances, immediately after they were passed and assented to, was tabled in this. Parliament and it was open to members of this Parliament at any time during the past five, six or more years since the Legislative Council has been making those ordinances, to challenge any one of them. By its tacit acceptance of the tabling of those ordinances this Parliament has already agreed that every one of those ordinances is a proper ordinance to make and one which should have effect in the Territory. That is one point on which the honorable member's memory is clearly failing. He has forgotten that day by day in the sittings of this Parliament, these ordinances are actually presented to us and it is open to us to challenge them at any time.

The honorable member for East Sydney also challenged the proposal in this bill that the council should have the power to decide whether or not a member was financially interested in a particular measure and, therefore, should be disqualified from taking part in a vote on that measure before the council. The only comment I could make on his remarks in that respect is that the honorable member seems to be actuated and prompted continually by a belief that every one except himself is a rogue. The only way in which the Government can proceed and the only way in which normal human relationships can be carried on is the :trust that we have in each other that normally most people in the community behave in a decent and responsible manner. If the honorable member is unable to accept the idea that most people in this community, including people in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, do behave in a normal and decent manner, then he should withdraw from this society, shut himself in a hermitage and groan and grizzle to himself in his solitude and his own spiritual misery.

The final point to which I wish to refer, Mr. Speaker, concerns the remarks which the honorable member for East Sydney made about the reconstruction of this Legislative Council and the general question of whether we should look towards the future independence of Papua and New Guinea or an increased measure of self-government for it. On the first of those points, I want to say this: We inaugurated this Legislative Council according to provisions which were introduced to the Parliament by the previous government. Since then, two elections have been held - the original election constituting the first Legislative Council and a subsequent election. The third election is likely to take place in a month or two at the expiration of the second Legislative Council. At any time, as Minister for

Territories, I would have been ready tt> consider alterations in the constitution of the council and I am sure that the Government would have been ready to consider them. But those alterations could only take place, surely, in the light of experience. One of the suggestions that have been made by the honorable member is that the number of elected members should be increased. There are at present three elected members. They are elected almost entirely from a. roll that is composed of Europeans, with a. certain number of the Asian community also on the roll. In the two elections which we have held, our experience is that theamount of political interest and activity in the Territory is very small.

There are three electorates, and in some electorates the votes cast are only numbered in the hundreds, and until we get a demonstration of greater political activity in the electorate itself, it is difficult to justify an increase in the number of elected members. Furthermore, as honorable members will know, we are dealing with a mixed population. The community in the Territory is composed of Europeans, a small number -of Asians, .a smaller number of mixed-blood people and a very large number of the indigenous people. Of the indigenous people, at the present stage, only a very small minority has advanced in education or in political interest to a stage where they could participate in political affairs. Most of those who can participate in political affairs participate in the management of their local village affairs or the affairs of a group of villages.

Sir, ifwe were to try to change the structure of this council, we could not change it until we did so in a manner which would give greater representation to that overwhelmingly large indigenous population which constitutes the vast majority of the community. At the present stage, it is not possible to form a comprehensive electorate by which the natives could choose their representative. At the present time, three native members are nominated, three representatives of the missions are nominated, and three representatives of other sections of the community are nominated. By that method of nomination, pending the growth of political activity in the community, we try to broaden the representation beyond that provided by the nomination of officials.

I want to repeat that the Government's view is quite clear, and I am sure it must be the view of all members of this House, that Papua and New Guinea must grow towards self-government, towards a greater measure of participation in its own affairs by all members of the Territory community. But we cannot envisage that growth as being the management of the affairs of the Territory by one section only of the Territory community; it must be the management of the Territory's affairs by the whole of the Territory community. It is part of the solemn responsibility which rests upon this Parliament to see that at no time does the management of the Territory's affairs fall into the hands of one section at the expense of any other section of the community. That is one of the things which we guard and which we must continue to guard.

I think I have answered most of the points raised by the honorable member for East Sydney. I repeat that there is nothing sinister or mysterious about the way in which this bill arose. It arose out of an actual situation in the Northern Territory and by the proper and legitimate activity of the officers of the AttorneyGeneral's Department of examining, in the light of the Northern Territory experience, the situation in Papua and New Guinea and consequentially giving advice to the Government that the doubts which had existed in the Northern Territory and which had been removed by this Parliament also existed in Papua and New Guinea and, therefore, should also be removed by this Parliament in the way in which this bill proposes.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Disqualification for membership of, or voting in, the council).

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