Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr MACKINNON (Corangamite) . - I did propose to discuss some of the points raised in the censure motion by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) but I have consulted the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) who feels that he is more directly informed on them and so, by arrangement, he intends to cover them. There is, however, one general point I would like to make in regard to Papua and New Guinea. I think we would be doing the future people of Papua and New Guinea a very bad disservice if we were to train them according to principles that have been observed in some parts of West Africa where some people are adopting a most extravagant method of living.

We have seen cases of them squandering money, in many cases for their own personal benefit on consumer goods, and in other ways setting an extraordinarily bad example. I agree basically with the point the honorable member has raised, that it is difficult to push this argument correctly and in a logical way to the person on the receiving end of its effects. I can quite understand that that type of thing does create a difficulty. But at the same time, by avoiding the difficulty, as is the suggestion in the tenor of the remarks of the honorable member, are we going to do these people, in the long run, a real service or a great disservice? I think that is the crucial point we have to face up to. While I accept the points that the honorable member has made, I think that the attitude of the Government on this matter is, unfortunately, the only correct one and, unpalatable as it may be, I agree that in the long term view it will be proved correct.

However, I do not propose to go into this matter because I want to say something about Nauru. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity of visiting Nauru. Opportunities of that nature are pretty limited. But I do believe that the problem of Nauru is of far greater significance to our primary industry than people realise. The condition of Australia's present relations with the tiny population of the trust island of Nauru has not been eased by the recent visit of Chief Hammer de Roburt and the other members of the party which came to inspect Curtis Island and Fraser Island and also to consult with the Government on the future of the Nauruans.

The problem of the re-settlement of the Nauruans, approximately 2,700 in number, is a responsibility that has been undertaken by Australia on behalf of the administering powers, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. With the wholesale reduction in the number of trust territories in the last four or five years, the concentration of supervision of the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations has been directed on those territories remaining, including Nauru. It is obvious that the problem of Nauru's future has become one of the main subjects remaining for discussion by that body. Although it might seem fantastic to most people, that such a small population should aim and be encouraged by an official world body, to seek governmental independence, this is certainly what is very shortly to be forced on the administering powers. Whether we like it or not and whether we think that it is a good thing or not, it is obviously going to be the trend in the very near future.

The significance of Nauru to Australia's economy, through its only product, phosphatic rock, cannot be exaggerated. The deposit at Nauru is one of the finest single deposits of this nature in the world and at the present time it forms the main source of the rock which is the basis of the Australian phosphate fertiliser industry. Honorable members know that the whole of the rainfall area of our primary industry depends very largely on the availability of phosphatic rock at economic prices to the fertiliser industry. Again, it is impossible to over-emphasise the vital part that superphosphate types of fertiliser have played, and continue to play, in our economy generally, not only for pastoral purposes but also for our farming industry, for the growing of wheat and other cereal crops. Our main farming industries - grain growing, dairying and many lesser forms of production, as well as the production of meat and wool - depend very largely today on the availability of superphosphate at economic prices and the Government has recognised this problem in the rainfall and higher cost areas of Australia by introducing the recent subsidy on superphosphate.

I believe it is very necessary that we should try to understand the psychology of the Nauruan people and their attitude towards being moved to some other place when the present deposit of phosphatic rock is exhausted. If the present intentions of the British Phosphate Commissioners, who extract the rock from the island and finance the whole social structure there, are carried out of raising the rate of extraction to about 2.5 million tons a year, the life of the deposit will be about 23 to 25 years or until about 1987 or 1989.

It is understandable that the Nauruans have a real difficulty in making up their minds on a move when some consideration is given to the income and amenities provided for them by the British Phosphate

Commissioners. In royalties, surface rights and other payments to the community and the land owners, at the present extraction rate, an average income of over £2,000 per annum is available for each of the 500 families on the island, and this makes this small population amongst the three or four richest communities in the world. Total payments to the islanders for 1963-64 were in the vicinity of £1.2 million and that figure did not include salaries and wages of about £98,000 paid to those Nauruans employed by the commission. This is an extraordinary situation. This population is, as I say, amongst the three or four richest communities in the world. This island is very isolated and before the phosphatic deposits were discovered the people subsisted on a very low standard of living common to most of the small Pacific islands. There was practically no opportunity to trade and as the requirements of the few hundred people were not great they were easily satisfied by tropical fruit, a little tropical farming and a little fishing. Since World War I the standard of living has improved out of all knowledge as a result of the activities of the British Phosphate Commissioners and the Australian Government. Those activities have brought about a continuing increase in population. Even without the phosphate extraction which has reduced the availability of land on the small island, the little cultivated area that is available will be completely inadequate to supply the needs of the growing population. That also indicates the future need for another home to support the estimated increase in population.

In addition to the cash payments made directly to the people and to the individual land owners which, as I mentioned, create a very high standard of living, there are other benefits which I have not mentioned. For instance, the people have provided for them free of charge splendid health and education services. Incidentally, there arc no taxes. They also have extremely good housing. For instance, the latest type of house being built by the Commissioners costs in the vicinity of £A.4,000, is paid for by the Commissioners and is let to the local people at a rental of approximately 10s. a week. That also represents a tremendous subsidy.

It is well for the people to balance all of these matters in coming to a conclusion by analysing their situation, and to appreciate the tremendous contribution that the Commissioners are making to their wellbeing. Furthermore, we members of this Parliament, as people who have some say in this matter, must appreciate the attitude of mind that such an elysian type of existence must create. We will then understand more clearly the difficulty that they face - particularly the older people - in making up their minds on whether to take this step of leaving the island, on which they have lived very happily and under delightful conditions, in the event of the island becoming completely uninhabitable.

However, I was distressed as I think many other people were, by the parting remarks attributed to their chief. They were probably induced by some smart pressman. I refer to the chief's reference to Australians being bullies in their negotiations with the Nauruans. I believe that on due consideration he will realise that his remarks were far from the truth and that in fact the British Phosphate Commissioners, with the support of the Australian Government and people, have provided the Nauruans with an existence which is hardly equalled anywhere else in the world.

One other point that we must remember is that, in support of the idea of the Nauruans remaining on the island after the deposits have been worked out, certain proposals have been canvassed. One involves remaking the island, by taking soil from the Australian mainland in ships. That would involve a haul of about 2,000 miles. Apart from the fact that the rainfall is extremely fickle, the remaining structure of the island will be very porous. Those two physical factors in the cultivation on any large scale of an island remade by the introduction of soil are scarcely diminished by the economic and mechanical difficulties in the way of implementing the proposition. For instance, the cost of taking soil to Nauru would make the land the highest priced land in the world. It would be quite uneconomic in any sense.

The other point is that because of the extremely bad anchorage - in fact, there is no harbour at all and all the loading is done by cantilevered mechanical devices which go direct from the land on to the ship - it would be almost impossible to reverse the process ip order to unload soil in any quantity. In other words, this proposal is a non-runner. I believe that that should be pointed out straightaway before the idea that it is a practical proposition begins to grow. I repeat that we must dispel that idea so that the islanders will not entertain it as something that will help them in the future.

My time is very limited. I want to raise one other point which I believe is very important, namely the future of the pastoral industry in the Alice Springs area. As you know, Mr. Temporary Chairman, for about 8 to 10 years that area has experienced one of the worst successions of droughts that have been experienced in the history of the white occupation of Australia. That must have a direct depreciative effect on the future condition of the pastoral industry in that area. I do not know what the answer is. Various possibilities exist. One is that some limitation on the stocking should be applied. But such a limitation is not always successful because you cannot ensure that the limited number of stock will spread out over the whole area. They may tend to confine themselves to a smaller area where the feed is sweeter. In that event you would not achieve any worthwhile result.

This problem has to be faced up to. Some excellent reports are available. A land survey has been made by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Unfortunately, when that report was made the full significance of the succession of dry years had not been appreciated. This is a serious problem. It could mean that the whole of the centre of Australia could develop into a dust bowl. I believe that the best minds available in the C.S.I.R.O. and the Agriculture Branch of the Northern Territory Administration should be devoted to the study of this problem in an endeavour to come up with a satisfactory solution. I regard this as a serious matter. Those of us who have had an opportunity to see this country in a dry time will realise not only the heartbreaking effect that the drought has had on the people who are trying to make a living in the area but also the disastrous effects that it could have on the whole area contiguous to it in central Australia.

Suggest corrections