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Thursday, 9 December 1965


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- This measure deals with an agreement by three governments concerning the setting up of a system of government on the Island of Nauru. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) in his statement said that it was an agreement between the three governments and the Nauruan people. We accept this as true in the sense that discussions took place with the Nauruan people, but the second schedule to the Bill is actually an agreement between the three governments. The Nauruan people, in this context, means actually about half the people resident on the island of Nauru at present - in effect, the original Nauruan race. The Bill sets up a Legislative Council which will consist of the Administrator, nine representatives of the Nauruan community - not representatives of the migrant population which provides the labour force for the phosphate industry, but nine representatives of the Nauruan community in the sense of the original Nauruan race - and five official members. With this the Opposition agrees.

The Bill reserves to the Commonwealth Government the subjects of defence and external affairs and matters related to the phosphate industry. The ordinances of the

Council will be subject to veto in the first instance by the Administrator and then by the Governor-General. This is analagous with the arrangement that was made in Papua and New Guinea, not in respect of the present House of Assembly there but in respect of the former situation. For the moment we regard it as entirely justifiable that the Governor-General should have reserved to him questions of defence, internal security, the maintenance of peace and order, external affairs and matters associated with the phosphate industry. The measure also provides that the GovernorGeneral's ordinances will prevail if in conflict with those of the Legislative Council. The Governor-General's ordinances must be tabled in each House of this Parliament and will be subject to disallowance by either House. We have no criticism to offer of this arrangement for the time being.

An interesting new feature is the decision to set up the Executive Council - a form of Cabinet - consisting of the Administrator, two elected Nauruans and two official members. This is an experiment that the Opposition regards as justifiable. The functions to be conferred on the Executive Council will be determined by the Legislative Council and the Executive Council will be able to deal with other matters referred to it by the Administrator. This appears to us to be a good measure too.

At present on Nauru there is a court of appeal consisting of a judge, and a central court which must consist of a judge or three magistrates. Provision is now made for appeal to the High Court of Australia from decisions of the court of appeal. This is to us a surprising provision. We make no adverse comment upon it. In the interests of justice it may be a great improvement, but when the island is pressing for independence and when the leaders of the Nauruan community have said that they want independence by 1968 it seems surprising that a new legal link is being forged between Australia and the island of Nauru in the form of an appeal to the Australian High Court. This is rather like the imperial system of the appeal to the Privy Council. We regard as surprising this new enactment at a stage when independence is being sought. We do not think that human right is lost by it - there may be gains - but it is a surprising provision for the Government to make and we hope that the Government will explain it.

The central court must consist of a judge and not the three magistrates if it is having a matter involving interpretation of this Bill when it becomes an act or if the question at issue is the qualifications of a member of the Legislative Council. The BUI provides that existing laws continue and that Australian law applies if it is so specified in an Australian act or if it is deliberately applied by a proclamation of the GovernorGeneral. With all of these things we agree.

The Governor-General has reserved to him the right of pardon, remission and commutation in the case of death sentences. The Administrator may exercise these powers in respect of other sentences. I suppose that so long as the Administrator exercises power within the Constitution of Nauru, this is justified. I wonder, however, whether responsibility towards other communities will not be one of the biggest difficulties that the Nauruans will face later when independence comes. In dealing with these intensely human problems it may be interesting to see how the Nauruans on the Executive Council exercise the prerogatives of mercy, particularly towards other communities. It might have been an interesting experiment in self-government if they had been given that responsibility. After all, two of the five members of the Executive Council will be Nauruans.

I now wish to say something which I do not intend as criticism of the Nauruan community. However, it should clearly understand this matter. The Nauruans go before the United Nations, in a sense, representing themselves to be and feeling themselves to be one of the new emerging communities or nations. They need to face the fact that there is a query to their relationship with subordinate races who are on the island. This query touches on the matter of independence. It is fine for their spokesmen to come here as spokesmen for what are, in a sense, colonial peoples. While I do not question their right to determine who are citizens of their island, they need to see that some attitudes which appear to be developing are rather analogous to those of, say, planters of the southern American States who, before the Civil War, were determined that their labourers would never be citizens. I do not press that analogy too far. I do not think the Nauruan people should be swamped by migrant communities, but it is surprising that absolutely nobody from outside has been granted citizenship over the years when the islanders could have granted citizenship, if I may use that expression. This leaves some doubt in one's heart about their attitude towards people whose work is essential in order that the Nauruan people may draw their royalties. It is very good that the Nauruan people are acknowledged as having possessive rights in the phosphates, but those phosphates would mean nothing if they were not extracted by labour. I would be interested to find out whether there is any Nauruan view, apart from one of exclusion, regarding the people who are employed as labourers, because if independence came to Nauru the Nauruan people might very well nationalise the phosphate industry. Then the interesting question would arise as to how well trained they were in the problems of handling labour and how sensitive they were in granting justice to the migrant community. I think it might be quite a sharp corrective to some of the things said by Nauruans in the -United Nations if certain spokesmen of the labour force on the island were also to be heard in the United Nations. It is very easy for Nauruans to strike the pose of being a subordinate race and then expect no criticism in the other stance of being a paramount race over other labouring races. Their treatment of another race could very well be called into question.

The Legislative Council is to have appropriation ordinances recommended to it by a message of the Administrator. There is to be an audit of Territory accounts. The Administrator's salary is to be a charge on the revenue of the phosphate industry. All of this we are interested to support. At the same time the measure seems to be brought forward as an interim one. The Nauruan community is pressing for independence by 1968 and in a sense the provision of a Legislative Council of this character must be out of harmony with the ultimate aspirations of the people. I do not say that as a criticism of the Government's going this far. I understand that the Nauruan people support this measure thus far but consider it to be the opening of a door for something very much more extensive later. The Opposition, however, feels that it will be an essential part of the education of the people of Nauru that they should see the three governments which now have complete authority over the labour force taking into account in the full trusteeship sense the needs and rights of that labour force. I do not say that we should force representatives of the labour force into the Legislative Council, but I think it is an omission in the agreement that we have the Administrator having ultimate political authority, as it were, over the phosphate industry but the agreement does not set up any authority to speak to the Administrator for the migrant community in the compound. If this is going to be the example we leave to Nauru I think we may well be the architects of various problems on the island when independence comes. If they do not see as an example from us a structure guaranteeing the social rights of the migrant community while it is on the island, the social education of Nauruans for independence will be defective.

The Opposition supports the motion for the second reading but wishes to urge a broader conception of trusteeship on this Government, the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of New Zealand. This kind of agreement, which seems to be drafted as if the migrant community did not exist, should not continue. Accordingly I move as an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill -

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - " this House, while not opposing the passage of the Bill, regrets that the Nauru Agreement between the three Governments set out in the second schedule contains no terms which provide for the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the indentured labourers in the phosphate industry ".

In explaining this amendment, I should like to say that I am not acting on the assumption that no education is available for the few children of the migrant community who live on the island. I know that there are schools for them. But we have been repeatedly asked by the Government to be sensitive to the rights of the Nauruan people and to this country's duty to provide for the political, social, economic and educational advancement of the Nauruan people. That has been done. At the apex of the educational advancement of the Nauruan people is the provision of some 80 scholarships tenable in Australia for Nauruan scholars. But are there scholarships for the children of the people who have been brought to labour in this industry? They ought to be our concern too.

I am afraid that the practical political fact is this: The Gilbert and Ellice Islands are very poor in resources. The chance to go to Nauru and earn about £5 a week, which is very meagre by comparison with the affluence of the Nauruan community, represents a substantial social advance for them and the money they remit home is a very important part of the economy of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. We recognise that the phosphate industry will cut out and the most elaborate precautions are being taken to ensure that, when this happens, the Nauruans will not suffer. But what will happen to the Gilbert and Ellice Islanders? Does it not matter that they have laboured for our agricultural industry and for the Nauruans at what are low wages and that their low wages have helped to make possible the whole system of royalties that is enriching the Nauruans? We have no plan for them when the industry peters out. If that is our attitude, and if that is the attitude of the Nauruan community, it means that we are saying: " If you have a right in an industry by owning something, we will go to the utmost lengths to safeguard you; if you have a right in an industry by providing the labour that makes the product available to the world, we are not concerned to safeguard your future and your rights when the industry cuts out".

I am most concerned about this as an example to the Nauruan people. If we do not bear in mind the future of the labour force, we will sew a whirlwind in two places - one in Nauru and the second in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. I am aware, of course, that there are other labourers, such as Chinese from Hong Kong; but Hong Kong is in rather a different situation. We take a mandate and then a trust in which we say that we will effect the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the people of the trust territory. Do we accept the viewpoint that the people of the trust territory do not include the temporary residents who are absolutely essential for the industry? If we do accept that viewpoint, it is a very inadequate one. The United Kingdom Government at any rate ought not to be satisfied with this because the Gilbert and Ellice Islanders, and for that matter the Chinese from Hong Kong, if they were born in Hong Kong, are British subjects. If the United Kingdom Government is willing to enter into agreements that do not safeguard the interests of its subjects who are providing essential labour on the island of Nauru, it ought to.

We move this amendment because in a sense we believe it to be a shot across the bows of the United Kingdom Government and the New Zealand Government and our own Government to remind them of the existence of these people. According to the Minister, the migrant community on Nauru outnumbers the indigenous community by 13, the figures being 2,827 to 2,814. But the 2,827 includes nearly 400 Europeans who are in a rather different position and who cannot be regarded as labourers in the phosphate industry. I think it would be a provision for the political and economic advancement of the people in the labour force on Nauru if they had a definite council, a definite structure. I do not mean a territorially sovereign one, but a council or body to speak for the community to the Administrator and to state the needs of the community. It is no use saying that these people do not have needs or the commission meets them and that no one should be recognised as a representative to speak to the Administrator on their behalf. I do not want the Government to call this body a council if that implies territorial sovereignty or a territorial position. But I do say that their political and economic advance would be facilitated if we recognised very definite spokesmen on their behalf. There is a long tradition of evil about indentured labour in the Pacific islands. While I recognise that the method of labour recruitment for Nauru has been improved in recent times, there have been times in the past when it was highly unsatisfactory. I believe that we would be displaying our sincerity if we established recognised representatives of the labour force. Such recognised representatives will be essential when Nauru has complete sovereignty and has become independent.

The amendment would also effect the social advancement of these people. Let me be perfectly clear about this. I do not like labour contracts or agreements that require a man to leave his family at home. I do not think that this is consistent with humanity and I do not think it conforms with modern ideas about the way a labour force should be treated. I recognise that many of these people are young men who are not married, but I do not think that we can assume automatically that this is the status of all of them.


Dr Gibbs - They can bring their families with them.


Mr BEAZLEY - Is that so? Well, it is astonishing to learn how very few of them have done so. I would like to be sure that they can practically bring their families with them, as well as legally, not merely because they want to do so but because they can afford to do so. Is a family transferred at the expense of the industry or do the labourers do this at their own expense? That is what I mean. It is fine to say that someone has an entitlement to do something, but it may be practically impossible for him to do it. I am speaking about their status, their social rights and the level of wages which would make it possible for them to have their families with them with an adequate standing on the island.

The other point is educational advancement. Scholarships to this country are provided for the people of Nauru. No scholarships are provided for the children of members of the labour force and no entitlement or assistance is provided to enable them to come to Australia and study here. I do not think that we can ignore these people. They are part of the system that enables us to get phosphates for our primary industries. We cannot say: "The only people we are concerned about are the people who own the island, the people of Nauru ", when they do not extract the phosphate that we use and when the labour force that does extract the phosphate is treated by us on a different and lower level. I make no demands on the Nauruan community as to the way it should treat these people at this time but the world will when they are independent. The way the Nauruan community is prepared to treat them may well be a factor in the timing of independence, but my criticism is directed at this moment to the three Governments. Their agreement does not include anything that adequately safeguards the rights and future of the migrant community. We think that this is an omission. I stress again that we believe it to be an unfortunate example to the people of Nauru, who need the example of a concern for this labour force. At the moment, the Nauruan people do not appear to me to be showing a great concern for this labour force at all. The Opposition wishes this Bill a speedy passage. It does not oppose its second reading, but I stress that Opposition members regret that the Second Schedule does not set out terms which provide for the advancement of the labour force on the island of Nauru. I think, therefore, that the agreement in that sense is an inadequate discharge of the trusteeship, even if it is acceptable to the Trusteeship Council. I think also that a clear statement along those lines - the intrusion of a new issue into the discussion between the Government and the Nauruan community - is overdue, because in the long run the Nauruan community is going to be respected if it shows that it is not merely concerned about its own rights and its own future but is concerned also about the rights and the future of people who have served the Nauruan community extremely well whether the Nauruan community recognises that fact or not.







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