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Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- I move -

That the proposed expenditure for the Department of Territories be reduced by £1.

As an instruction to the Government -

(i)   To desist from its policy of reducing the salaries of indigenous public servants of Papua and New Guinea and to allow a just policy on the question to be formulated by the House of Assembly.

(ii)   To proceed promptly with the establishment of a university for Papua and New Guinea end to develop a rapid programme of expansion of primary and secondary education.

(iii)   To take effective steps to improve the conditions, pay, quarters and uniforms of the Constabulary of Papua and New Guinea and the Pacific Islands Regiment, and to restore morale.

(iv)   To inquire into the deaths of 500 Aboriginal infants in the Alice Springs area in the last 3½years;toshowthattheGovernmentreactsto this,oneofthebiggestinfantdeathratesinthe world, as it would to a similar death rate among European infants and take drastic steps in hygiene, living conditions and housing to reduce the rate.

(v)   To clarify its wages policy for Aborigines of the Northern Territory; in particular -

(a)   to pay proper wages to its own employees;

(b)   to explain why Aborigines are not consulted on wage questions, and to consult them in future;

(c)   to ensure that provisions regarding slow workers are in fact on " well recognised industrial principles ", as is claimed, and not on a race basis, as is apparent;

(d)   to ensure that the problem of the missions' claimed inability to pay adequate wages or the prescribed minimum wages is solved;

(e)   to ensure that the Aboriginal wage rate meets the normal needs of an average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilised community.

(vi)   To ensure that the recent deaths of six Aborigines from starvation can never happen again by the establishment of adequate food depots and the institution of more frequent patrols.

(vii)   To transform the hygienic conditions and employment opportunities in Government settlements and missions.

(viii)   To formulate a policy recognising an Aboriginal title to some adequate land.

(ix)   To ratify the International Labour Organisation Conventions the subject of the questions and answers reported in the proceedings of this House on October 15th 1963 as the result of a question on notice by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

The administration of the Department of Territories is becoming an ideological menace to the security of Australia. This is why the Labour Party is moving this motion at the present time. When I was in Papua-New Guinea in 1962 it was a matter of pride on the part of the Administration that to public servants of PapuaNew Guinea the same salaries were paid, regardless of race, for equal qualifications, with one proviso, that there was, of course, an additional allowance to expatriate officers because of the disability involved in living overseas from their homeland. This was a perfectly defensible differentiation, but in the salaries position there was a basic recognition of the equality of human beings.

Now, at a stage when the Government is claiming that it is removing from the statutes of Australia everything savouring of race discrimination, we take a step backwards in the direction of race discrimination. The Government's argument defending this would be more impressive if the House of Assembly in the Territory had had the whole question referred to it and if the initial steps had not been taken in a dying Legislative Council. It would also be more impressive if the Government were as strongly seised of the need for the establishment of a university as a preparation for independence as it is seised of the need to cut salaries as a preparation for independence.

We are concerned also at the renewal of unrest in the forces of law and order in Papua-New Guinea. We believe that all these things are related questions. First, we complain of the Government's complete ideological stupidity when, in a world of rising race tension, it comes out with a straight proposal to cut the salaries of people on the ground of race. Secondly, we are impressed with the constitutional impropriety of the Government's action - that it started this action in the Legislative Council of Papua-New Guinea when that body was in the process of dissolution and disappearance. Thirdly, we are impressed by the Government's political folly in not having this matter raised and thoroughly discussed in the House of Assembly itself in a real process of consultation with the people of Papua-New Guinea. Every sign that is coming from Papua-New Guinea seems to be that this Administration is developing a Midas touch of failure.

When I was in Papua-New Guinea two years ago the then district officer at Lae - the authority at Lae who has now gone into the new House of Assembly and who is one of its most distinguished officers - Mr. Niall, spoke to me about the unrest in the police force at Lae, but he indicated that the unrest was general. He said: First and foremost there is a small grievance. Members of the police force regard themselves as dressed out in a uniform which has no dignity. Secondly, they resent the fact that an officer can be brought up from the South - meaning from Australia - paid a very high salary, put in authority, undertake none of the unpleasant police duties at all, and be given very good living quarters whilst they are struggling year after year to try to get the Government to provide some sort of decent quarters for the indigenous police. Finally, there are their complaints about their inadequate wages.

This police force in Papua-New Guinea had to take action against the Pacific Islands Regiment when the latter was dissatisfied about its pay, conditions and quarters. Two years after Niall indicated this unrest among the police in Lae we had a police mutiny in Rabaul, on exactly every one of the grounds that Niall had mentioned to me two years before. This shows that the causes of unrest were thoroughly well known to the Administration, which was still dragging its feet about rectifying them.

The Pacific Islands Regiment and the Royal Papuan Constabulary are the forces of law and order, and if they are in a state of unrest and discontent it argues a serious failure on the part of the Administration. There is a considerable gravity about these things at a time when right alongside our Territory we have Indonesia establishing radio stations and developing programmes in English which are completely and solely designed to speak to the English speaking natives of Australian Papua-New Guinea, precisely because, in general, the Englishspeaking natives of Australian Papua-New Guinea are the intellectual leadership of the country.

Perhaps we could be persuaded that the Government is concerned about the future independent Papua-New Guinea being unable to pay these salaries if, with this fearful prospect before it, the Government had not decided that there was no particular . hurry about establishing a university in Papua-New Guinea, in spite of the recommendations of the Currie Commission which investigated this matter. If you say that you are concerned about the coming problems of Papua-New Guinea to the extent of cutting salaries, why are . you not concerned about the coming problems of Papua-New Guinea to the extent of establishing a university to train the leadership of independent Papua-New Guinea? You cannot have these two arguments co-existing - that there is no hurry about establishing a university while falling over yourselves to cut the salaries of native public servants. This clumsy approach led one of the most pro-European natives of the Territory, Lepani Watson, a member of the House of Assembly, to say that the entire educated youth of Papua-New Guinea has lost confidence in the Department of Territories and the Administration.

I believe, and it is an honest conviction on my part, that the Department of Territories as it is now run is becoming a menace to Australia on all of these race issues, and the menace is not merely in Papua-New Guinea but is also in the situation in the Northern Territory. The Leader of the Labour Party (Mr. Calwell) today received a letter from a distinguished Catholic clergyman drawing attention to what we have in other ways drawn the Minister's attention to before - the high infant mortality. In the three and a half years this clergyman has been parish priest in the Alice Springs district 500 Aboriginal infants have been buried in the Alice Springs cemetery. We mentioned to the Minister that in one year there was an Aboriginal infant mortality rate of 200 per 1,000 in Papunya compared to a European infant mortality rate for Australia of 17.86. Everybody knows that if 500 European infants in that period had died in the Alice Springs area the Government would have been turning handsprings to solve this basic scourge. We Australians make these mealy mouthed meaningless statements for international consumption; we say that all Aborigines are Australian citizens within the meaning of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948-1960. This is a statement which happens to to mean exactly nothing, but it sounds good abroad, because people might think there are citizenship guarantees in our constitution the same as there are in the American constitution. Despite these fine words we never react as though what happens to our Aboriginal natives matters. We do not, and the Department of Territories does not, react in the same way to what happens to them - although they are supposed to be equal citizens - as everybody here knows we would react in the case of European infant mortality at the rate I have mentioned.

I am not making any criticisms of the Alice Springs hospital. The infant mortality rate is not usually a question of hospitalisation. The United Nations takes it as a test of the living conditions - the unhygienic living conditions - under which people live. Aborigines in the nomadic state are not normally living under hygienic conditions. It is this persistent failure of the Department of the Territories and the Government - the illprepared concentration of population - which leads to these scourges of gastroenteritis and this exceptionally high infant mortality rate. It is not good enough in 1964 for a Commonwealth Government to act on the assumption, as in fact the Commonwealth Government does act on the assumption, to judge by its actions and not by its words, that a serious death rate among Aborigines is not to be regarded as we would regard a serious death rate among Europeans.

It would also be very much more impressive to hear the Government arguing for lower wages for the natives of Papua and New Guinea on the ground that this is necessary preliminary to giving them independence in the future, and to help the State of Papua and New Guinea to develop a viable economy in the future, if it were not for the fact that there is a very unsatisfactory approach on the part of the Commonwealth Government to the wages of its Aboriginal employees in the Northern Territory. The Government is not envisaging the coming independence of the Northern Territory. Aborigines of the Northern Territory have in general a low wage rate and there is a very slow process of transforming the wage rate in the direction of equality. I recognise that in the terms of the censure we have put there is not, in a quarter of an hour, sufficient time to argue all the points. But these nine points are the opinion of the Australian Labour Party. We believe that they are nine grounds on which the Department of Territories is disastrously failing Australia, and the Minister is failing Australia. We believe that absolutely every one of these points, including the ratification of the International Labour Organisation convention, is an urgent question. We believe that every one of them is a test case for Australia. They are a test that determines whether we aTe, in fact, a white supremacist country or whether we are capable of being concerned about all Australian citizens regardless of race.

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