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Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (Hindmarsh) . -I was disturbed to read in one of this evening's newspapers details of the report of a United Nations sub-committee which criticised Australia and urged that Australia abolish special and reserved seats in the New Guinea House of Assembly, eliminate disparities in wages of the indigenous people, permit more selfgovernment in municipal matters and speed up efforts in economic and educational fields. I do not have time to deal with all of the matters raised in the sub-committee's report. If I did have time I could say a lot to discredit this Government. But 1 have time to deal with that aspect of the report in which the sub-committee urges that Australia eliminate disparities in the wages of the indigenous people.

I have made inquiries into the wages paid to native workers in Papua and New Guinea. I have placed on the notice paper questions on this subject and have asked the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) questions without notice about it so that his replies may be on record and so that other honorable members may have available accurate details of the true position in the Territory. I hope that honorable members will take note of what is said tonight because many people to whom I have spoken cannot believe that conditions in the Territory are as bad as I say they are or as the Minister says they are. The Press should tell the people of Australia how badly the Government is behaving in the Territory as far as wages paid to native workers are concerned, because if Australia does not do a lot more in the Territory, then, as a member of the House of Assembly, Mr. Don Barrett, said, the Territory could become a hotbed of Communism. It would then be far too late for the Press and the people of Australia to bemoan that we had not done something about the causes of Communism earlier. Mr. Barrett, who is a planter, said -

The conditions that exist and are becoming prevalent in New Guinea today will prove ripe for Communist propaganda. Very soon there will be trouble because the numbers leaving school are unable to find work. They are not taught technical skills at school or told that money comes from the land.

Mr. R.T. D. Neville, another member of the House of Assembly - nobody can say that be is opposed to the white people in the Territory - has said -

Unless material progress goes hand in hand with education you will produce a group of people best described as Mau Mau for lack of a belter word.

The position in New Guinea is serious. It is getting worse each year. The Government is doing nothing about it. The Government's behaviour is nothing short of scandalous as far as wage rates for native workers are concerned. One day we will wake up and find, because of our complete indifference to wage rates in New Guinea, that we have a very serious situation there. The people of Australia should be told the facts.

I propose now to give some figures. These figures are not based on hearsay; they have been supplied by the Minister. Recently in answer to a question the Minister told me that of 380 native labourers employed by the Commonwealth/ New Guinea Timbers Limited, a company in which the Commonwealth owns the majority of shares, 196 were paid only £19 10s. a year or 7s. 6d. a week plus keep and accommodation. The clothing provided for these natives consists of lap laps. Their food consists of sweet potatoes. Their accommodation is of the most primitive kind. The Minister's own estimate of the total value of accommodation, keep and clothing is £71 a year. You can add that to the remuneration if you like, but you will still have only the miserable rate of 7s. 6d. a week for wages and something less than 30s. a week, on the Government's own estimate, for accommodation, keep and clothing. The Minister said that twenty of them were paid at the rate of £22 15s. a year or 8s. 9d. a week, and seven were paid at the rate of £26 a year, or 10s. a week. Of the balance, 119 were paid at the rate of £39 a year or 15s. a week, and the other 38 were paid amounts ranging from 12s. 6d. a week to a maximum of £4 a week. The maximum of £4 was paid to only one solitary person.

On the same date, the Minister admitted that the only paid holidays to which these native workers are entitled from this company, are Good Friday and Christmas Day. They do not receive payment for any other holidays throughout the whole year. The Minister went on to say - this is reported in " Hansard " on the same page - that they are not entitled to any annual leave at all. And mark you, these rates and conditions are authorised by the Government's own Native Ordinance 1958-1963. There has been no review of these minimum wage rates for native workers since the 1958 rate of 6s. 3d. a week was increased to the present rate of 7s. 6d. a week in 1963. I refer honorable members to page 674 of " Hansard " where I am reported as having asked the Minister to say whether the Government intended to review the wage rates fixed by the Government's ordinance for native workers. The Minister's reply was -

Reviews are made from time to time, and, from my recollection, these wage rates were reviewed a few months back. When the next review will be made, I would not be able to tell the honorable member.

I took the trouble to follow up this matter. On 16th September 1964, as reported on page 1212 of " Hansard ", the Minister said that the present rates were fixed when the existing ordinance was passed in 1958. I was not satisfied with this and I then asked why, if this was so, he had told me that they had been fixed recently. The Minister then said, in effect, " I did not mean what I said then ", or, " You misunderstood me. I was talking about the ordinance of 1958."

Mr Barnes - And the Rabaul rates.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON - I am talking about the rates that are set out in "Hansard". On page 1616 of "Hansard" of the 29th September 1964, the Minister is reported as having admitted that there had been no amendment of the New Guinea Employment Ordinance since 2nd January 1961 when the wage rate was lifted to its present level of 7s. 6d. a week. Due to delays by the Administration in gazetting ordinances that improve workers' conditions, these have been known to take five years to be implemented,so it would not be beyond the realm of probability that the last review was made away back in late 1959 or early 1960. 1 have just said that it has taken up to five years to implement ordinances. I ought to substantiate that because it is a most serious statement to make. If it is true, then somebody ought to be rapped over the knuckles. If honorable members care to refer to page 1770 of " Hansard " of 18th October 1962, they will note that the then Minister for Territories now the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) told me - and listen to this because someone has said that we must not hasten too quickly - that the Native Employment Ordinance 1958-60 was proposed in October 1955, was not drafted until 31st August 1957, was passed by the Legislative Council on 11th June 1958, and was not fully implemented until 6th October 1960, almost five years to the day after it was first proposed. This is a disgraceful performance and the people responsible ought to be dismissed from the Service. The Minister concerned ought to be removed from office if he allows those officers to remain one single day longer in employment. The officials who allowed an ordinance that was proposed in 1955 to improve the conditions of native labourers to be delayed for five years before being fully implemented, ought to be dismissed because they have done a great disservice to this country in the eyes of the world. It is an absolute disgrace, and the Minister and the others responsible ought to be ashamed of themselves.

I want to refer now to something that is even more serious. On 30th August 1962, as reported on page 978 of " Hansard ", the then Minister for Territories told me that none of the natives employed by Commonwealth/ New Guinea Timbers Ltd. was then employed on the minimum rate of 7s. 6d. a week, and that 205 of them were employed on the higherrate of 8s. 9d. per week. Let me revert now to what the present Minister said in answer to my question only the other day. We find the Minister admitting that instead of there being no workers on the minimum rate of 7s. 6d. a week as was the case two years ago. no fewer than 196 of the natives have now been reduced to that rate. Therefore, if one can believe the statements made in this Parliament by two Ministers of the Crown, 196 natives in New Guinea have slid back from 8s. 9d. per week to 7s. 6d. per week. How can the Government get away from this? Unless the former Minister was lying when he told me that not one of the natives was on the rate of 7s. 6d. a week, then I say that the position of the natives in New Guinea has slid back steadily. What is more serious is that it has slid back in a factory in which the majority of the shares are owned by the Government.

Let me answer those who might say that the natives are not worth any more. When I visited this factory at Bulolo I observed European women - the wives of some of the top echelon of the European men working there - doing certain jobs. I saw them standing on one side of a conveyor belt opposite a row of natives doing the same sort of work. A pair of white hands would catch hold of a piece of timber on the belt and a pair of black hands on the other side of the belt would catch hold of the same piece of timber. The timber would be turned over and placed on another elevator. The white women and the natives were working together doing exactly the same tasks. I asked: "What wages are these people getting?" To get a reply was like getting-

Mr Uren - Blood from a stone.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON - It was almost as bad as that. I eventually wheedled out of the person in charge of the operation the information that the native men working on one side of the conveyor belt were getting 7s. 6d. a week, but I could not find out how much the women were getting. He kept evading the question by saying: " There is no comparison because they only work 30 hours a week; the natives work 44 hours ". I said: " Can you tell me what the women get for the 30 hours? " He said: " It would be very difficult to say ". I asked: " Who makes up their pay? ", and the reply was: " I do not know." I said: "Can you take me to the person who makes up the pay? " He said: "That would be a bit difficult. I do not know whether I can do that." I came back here, and, on 15th November 1962, in this Parliament, I said to the then Minister: " Can you tell me what these women are getting? Nobody else seems to know." The

Minister replied, as reported on page 2551 of " Hansard ", that the European women were employed at £10 7s. 4d. for a 30 hour week. The native employees were required to work 44 hours a week for 8s. 9d. I took the matter a little bit further. 1 made inquiries about the average wage rate paid to the Europeans employed by this company. 1 was told that the average wage for European employees was £30 19s. Id. and that the average native rate was £1 8s. 6d. a week.

Mr Uren - And this factory is under Commonwealth control.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON - Yes. The Commonwealth Government owns the majority of the shares in it, and wages and conditions are controlled by a Commonwealth ordinance. The profit made by this company last year was £193,000, after meeting all expenses. Does this Committee realise, and do the people of Australia realise, that the Commonwealth could have increased the wages of every one of the workers in that factory by 100 per cent, and still made a profit of £180,870? It could have increased the total wages of the highest paid as well as the lowest paid employees by 100 per cent., and the additional cost would have been only £12,130 a year. In view of those facts, it can hardly be argued that the company cannot afford to pay any more. This miserable treatment of these people cannot be justified on the basis that the company cannot afford better wages. You cannot say that there is a case for refusing the right of these people to the same wages as are paid to Europeans on the grounds that the firm would go broke. If you only doubled the existing Tales the firm would still make a profit of £180,000.

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