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Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr GIBSON (Denison) . - I wish to address the Committee on the future of university education in Papua and New Guinea. Let me say at the outset that I join issue with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) on his amendment As I noted his words, the honorable member said that one object of his amendment was to have the Government proceed promptly with the establishment of a university in New Guinea. Such a statement is, of course, an oft-repeated tilt at the Government in its administration of the Territory. In fact, I looked at the Monthly Chronicle of the United Nations for July 1964 and in it the same sentiment is expressed.

Referring to the Trusteeship Council, it stated -

The Council reiterated its previous recommendation concerning the immediate need to provide a substantially increased number of New Guinean students with training at university level, whether at the institutions of higher education already established in the Territory or at universities overseas.

I would not seek to disagree with the honorable member for Fremantle that there should be a university in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. In fact I think most honorable members would agree that there is a need for the university - a separate autonomous university - in the Territory. But the basic issue is not that. The basic issue is when this new university should be established. I would like to remind honorable members of the words of the resolution read in the House today which came from the House of Assembly of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I will read those words in their entirely because I think they should be remembered by all honorable members when they are discussing these estimates. The words are these -

We the elected representatives of the people of Papua and New Guinea desire to convey to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Trusteeship Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, the expressed wish of the people that they, the people, and they alone, be allowed to decide when the time is ripe for self-government in Papua and New Guinea, and the form that such government will take and the people's further firm conviction that the road to self-government can best be travelled with one guide - and that guide the Administering Authority, and that undue pressure from without can lead only to that disruption, chaos and bloodshed which the people have observed with great alarm in certain newly independent countries.

That is the resolution read in the House today and I would like to lay emphasis on it because, with great respect to certain members on the Opposition side, when discussing this whole question of our administration in the Territory too much attention is given to the views put forward at the United Nations. Of course, one does take notice of the United Nations but one should also bear in mind the fact that there are nations who use that organisation when it suits them. Before my attention was drawn to the resolution that was read - and this was at dinner this evening - I had come across a report in the Sydney " Daily Telegraph " of Friday, 4th September of an interview with a member of the House of Assembly in Port

Moresby, a 39-year-old New Guinea school teacher, Matthias Tutanava Toliman. He, on that date, had called on the world and on the United Nations in particular to cease all interference with Australian policies in Papua and New Guinea. Referring to Mr. To Liman, the report stated -

He has warned against outside pressures for early independence in Papua-New Guinea and has flatly announced that Australia is the only nation which can have any outside say in the future of his people.

Now, we cannot afford to ignore this expression of opinion from the very people whom it is our responsibility to look after. I believe that we do a disservice to them if we go ahead and are unduly influenced by expressions from outside bodies, even responsible bodies such as the United Nations.

Having prefaced my remarks by saying that, I would like to deal this evening with the report of the Currie Commission on Higher Education in Papua and New Guinea. In order to get that report in its true perspective, honorable members should look at the history of the moves for a university in the Territory. In May 1961, the then Minister for Territories directed that the whole problem of tertiary education and higher training should be investigated by a committee consisting of senior officers of his Department, the Prime Minister's Department, the Australian School of Pacific Administration and the Administration of Papua and New Guinea. As honorable members are aware, that committee reported back to the Minister in August 1961. It recommended, amongst other things, that a university college linked with an Australian university should be established in Port Moresby not later than 1966.

On 8th April 1962 the United Nations Visiting Mission arrived in New Guinea. By coincidence, on that same date the then Minister for Territories released a Press statement in which he said that part of the June Valley site on the outskirts of Port Moresby had been reserved for a university college. He also said that preliminary talks between officers of his Department, the Prime Minister's Department and the Australian National University would be held in the near future to discuss in greater detail the possible interest and assistance of the

Australian National University in the new university college. He further said that the date of tie foundation of the new university college would depend largely on the potential size of the undergraduate body of all races, but that it was hoped that its establishment would be justified in the next four or five years. He went on to say that in the meantime any indigenous students who matriculated would be assisted to attend Australian universities.

I do not wish to bore the Committee with figures, but I believe that it is necessary to give some figures in order to appreciate fully the problem that we have in respect of university education in Papua and New Guinea. In 1962 - at the time when the then Minister made his statement in relation not to a university proper, not to an autonomous university, but to a university college - there were three undergraduates from Papua and New Guinea at Australian universities. Honorable members will be pleased to know that this year the number has risen to eight. There are estimated to be 550,000 indigenous children of school age in the Territory. Of those, only 179,000 are attending primary, secondary or technical schools. In 1962 the number of children receiving secondary education was 3,076. Of course, honorable members will be pleased to know that 'today that number has increased to 5,498. I emphasise that it is only 5,498 out of an estimated total number of 550,000.

The Currie Commission suggests that, based on those figures, Papua and New Guinea should have a university in 1966. I mention those figures because I believe that we should, to use a Roman phrase, hasten slowly. Rome was not built in a day. In my opinion, we might well adopt the Roman motto of Festina Lente; that is, hasten slowly. Indeed, the Currie Commission, in chapter II of this report, under the heading, " The Educational Background and its Problems ", dealing with the school situation in general, itself recognised the real problem. It said -

Paradoxically, it might be said that the first need of the higher education in the Territory is more, and especially better, lower education; and it would be an appalling disservice to the people of Papua and New Guinea to present them with a costly structure which, for lack of due attention to the foundations in the schools, could collapse of ils own weight.

On the figures I have produced to the Committee and on the additional figures which the Currie Commission itself provided - it took into account not only potential matriculants from schools but also potential university students from among officers serving in Papua and New Guinea - the Commission says that a university should be established immediately and should be operating by 1966. I say that there should be a university, but I counsel some degree of caution in rushing in on a society which, it is admitted, is still mainly in the Stone Age, and giving it a university immediately. Let us concentrate more on what the Americans term the grass roots. Let us first get down to a good secondary education, and then let us have a tertiary education which the people will deserve and will then know how to utilise properly.

Some 60 years ago the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, said that educational problems were in reality sociological ones, and that the shape of education should be considered in terms of the demands made by society. I would adopt those words, because I believe that in relation to the demands made by the society that we are discussing this evening - the people of Papua and New Guinea - neither the figures I have quoted nor the expression of opinion contained in the resolution from the Papua and New Guinea House of Assembly, which was read in the House today, nor the expression of opinion by the school teacher member of their House of Assembly, as reported in the " Daily Telegraph " of 4th September, provide sufficient indicia that we should rush in and immediately set up the university which the Currie Commission has recommended.

One thing that puzzles me is that, as honorable members are aware, Australian universities plan in terms of trienniums. The current triennium is from 1964 to 1966. The universities receive their grants from the Commonwealth, on the recommendation of the Australian Universities Commission. Planning for the next triennium commencing in 1967 is now in progress. The report of the Currie Commission, at page 205, states -

The Commission recommends that the following Estimates for capital spending be adopted in principle, for the Triennia 1965-67 and 1968-70.

I pause to wonder why the eminently qualified gentlemen who made this report on higher education in Papua and New Guinea did not see fit to adopt the same triennia as the Australian Universities Commission adopts. This evening we are at a disadvantage in that we do not have before us the Martin report on tertiary education. It would have been of great assistance to me in dealing with the question of tertiary education in one of the Territories that Australia administers. But, it is not before us this evening and one can only guess about its contents.

However, I can see one answer to the question that I have posed; that is, that it is not the responsibility of the Australian Universities Commission to make recommendations for any university that may be set up, if the Government should so decide, in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. But I would urge the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes), when considering the establishment of this university, to use the triennia that are used by the Australian Universities Commission in dealing with tertiary education in Australia.

As a lawyer, I am interested to see that the Currie Commission recommends that a faculty of law in the university for Papua and New Guinea should be given high priority, and that a dean of law should be among the first professorial appointments. In fact, members of my profession have taken a great interest in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The Law Council of Australia set up a special subcommittee to consider the subject of legal education in the Territory. The Council sent that sub-committee to the Territory to look at the matter first hand. I was pleased to see that the major concern of the subcommittee was that when the time came - I emphasise those words - Australia should leave behind a society accustomed to the rule of law. I hope that that is not forgotten when the question of setting up a university is considered fully. In fact, in the report of the sub-committee, which was in the form of a memorandum for the Law Council of Australia, the major question that I posed at the beginning of my remarks this evening was posed. The sub-committee said -

What is the time available? This is a question, which, involving as it does political questions on the international level, the sub-committee is unable to answer. It has, however, proceeded on the basis that the answer is more likely to be supplied by the intensity of pressure on Australia to end a colonial regime merely because it is colonial, than in any deliberate assessment of the capacity of the people's affected to shoulder the responsibilities entailed. In other words, the solution is more likely to be political than practical.

I would urge that we make our solution not political but practical. I would urge that we look at this question objectively, that we take heed of the resolution of the House of Assembly of Papua and New Guinea and that we do not bow to external pressures. We have a fine record in the Territory. Let us maintain that record. I wish the Minister the best of luck in his efforts to find a solution to this thorny problem, involving as it does the question of staff and so on arising from the setting up of a new university. I am certain that, guided by the principles we have evolved in the past, his efforts will be successful.

Mr Beazley - I wish to make a personal explanation relating to a remark of the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs). In the course of his speech he made it appear that my remarks about the infant mortality rate in the Alice Springs district referred to the Alice Springs hospital. I made no reference whatever to the infant mortality rate in the Alice Springs hospital. It would be very serious if what I had to say was turned into a criticism of the Alice Springs hospital. In fact, I referred to the registration of Aboriginal births in the Alice Springs district, which in one year was 359, and the registration of Aboriginal infant deaths in the Alice Springs district, which in the same year was 119.

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