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Wednesday, 23 November 1960

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) raised two questions relating to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I shall deal with the second of those questions - that relating to road-making - first. During recent weeks, the honorable member for Hindmarsh has placed a series of questions on the noticepaper, and I have replied to them with courtesy and in good faith. Apparently, the honorable member for Hindmarsh does not believe what I say. That is a situation for which I am not responsible. I have answered in good faith. I believe that every word of every answer I have given has been true, whether based on my own personal knowledge or on the reports 1 have received from officers of the Administration. So far as his challenge to the truth of the answers given in concerned, I .leave that matter in your custody, Mr. Speaker, and in the custody of the House.

I -do want, however, to say something about the general question of road-making in the Territory. Road-making in the Territory ,is carried on at very many different levels. There are some roads that are built by engineers and by contractors. They are built in much the same way as any other engineering work is undertaken. They are the major roads and, as I say, they are built in much the same way as roads are built in Australia.

In the more remote parts of the Territory and -some of the places where roads do not carry heavy traffic, roads are perhaps built by the Administration, but an obligation is laid by law on both the native residents and the European residents, whose properties might adjoin the roads, to clear secondary growth and weeds from the bits of road that adjoin those properties and to maintain them. This is an obligation that is placed on them by ordinance, not in all parts of the Territory but in some parts. It applies to people who have land adjoining what is called a trunk road.

In addition to that, in newly opened areas, for administrative purposes we have embarked in recent years on a most dramatic and rather romantic programme of roadbuilding with the co-operation of the native people. This has resulted in the building of perhaps anything up to 500 miles of new road over previously trackless country in the course of a year, and has added as much as 5,000 miles of such earth roads to the communications of the Territory.

The procedure is something like this: A district officer a district commissioner or a patrol officer goes out and talks with the native villagers in a newly opened area - usually an area in which there are no Europeans. The officers point out to them the advantages from their point of view of having a road. They tell them that a road will mean that medical services can be brought to them. If they have any journeys to make, either with produce for market or to bring their reports to the district office, a road will make travelling easier. In the case of ordinary social gatherings, this communication will also be of value to them. -In a discussion of that sort, the native people realize the value of a road, and they will enter voluntarily -into an arrangement regarding the -building of the road.

The arrangement made varies from place to place, according to the nature of the topography, the size of the population and the distance of the road; but it is a voluntary arrangement made 'between the native village people and the Administration. In some cases, it may be as simple as this: The patrol officer will say, " I will bring along shovels, spades, crowbars and barrows and we will work together and make this road ". In other cases, it is more complicated. He might say, " We will provide trucks and the money with which we will pay you for the hours you spend on the road ". It is an arrangement made for mutual advantage. There is no case that I know of in which the native people have not co-operated very freely and willingly, and with a sense of real achievement on their own part, in helping to put a road through previously trackless country to serve their own villages. Once such a road is established, it definitely becomes the obligation of the Administration to see to its maintenance, and at that stage trucks are provided. If I had time, and if I had had notice of this question, I could give the House and the honorable member for Hindmarsh a very detailed account of the number of vehicles and the amount expended on those roads.

I want to leave that matter and turn to the question of the conference that is being held at Rabaul. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has tried to suggest that the exclusion of the press - if there has been exclusion, and I have no knowledge of that - has had some sinister purpose. The point I should like to make very clear, Mr. Speaker, is that this conference is, in very large part, a .training exercise in our efforts to promote the political advancement of the people. As honorable members know, during recent years we have put an intensive effort into promoting native local government councils. That effort has been rewarded by some quite remarkable results. and a number of local councils has been formed.

In order that the people who are engaged in the local government councils will be able to lift their eyes beyond their village and take in a wider region, on two occasions - this is the second occasion - the Administration has organized a conference of delegates from various councils. The delegates come together and talk about their particular problems which, customarily, they deal with only in their local government areas. They elect their own chairman and they find their way through an agenda, perhaps in a halting way and perhaps also with a certain amount of guidance, but gaining from the experience some familiarity with the process of conference. There is an opportunity to discourse over a larger field about things which they customarily deal with within the limits of a village.

This conference is certainly not what the honorable member for Hindmarsh misrepresents it to be.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why are you afraid of the press?

Mr HASLUCK - If the honorable member pretends that this is a conference which is discussing broad matters of policy over the whole national field, I tell hrm that it is nothing of the sort. He suggests that we are trying to keep out the press for fear that the natives will criticize the Administration. That is a complete bogy, because that situation does not arise. It is not that kind of conference, and rt is not the kind of conference at which a discussion of that sort would take place.

As I have said, I have no knowledge of whether or not the press is admitted to this conference. If it is not admitted, that may be the result of a decision by the Administration because it feels that what I have called a training exercise would proceed more smoothly if it were conducted in private. It may be because the native people themselves do not wish to have the press present. I have been present at gatherings where I have put to the native people the question, " Do you want the press here? " It is a regrettable fact that although we are trying to teach them democracy, the behaviour of the press has led a majority of the native people in the Territory to distrust the press.

Mr Whitlam - I would not blame them for distrusting the " Pacific Post ".

Mr HASLUCK - I do not want to differentiate between one newspaper and another; but I have been at gatherings where a native has said, obviously with the approval of all around him, " Man nius igottim brain bilong dog ". When I have spoken to him and asked him to elaborate, it has appeared that he believed that a newspaper man was just like a dog because he ran about from place to place and was never satisfied until he had something to snap up into his jaws. That is a regrettable fact. I do not mention it to embarrass the press or to express an opinion of my own. But at a time when we are trying to lead the native people in democracy and to present to them the advantages of a free press, it is regrettable that so many of them distrust the press.

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