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, 9 December 1965

Dr GIBBS (Bowman) .- I heartily support this Bill and am unable to accept the Opposition amendment. Before speaking to the Bill I should like to say that 1 am at one with the Government in wishing the Nauruan people everything of the best. We hope sincerely that their many problems can be solved. I hope that with mutual cooperation they will be solved. Anything I say should not be construed as criticism of the Nauruan people because I fully appreciate their very real problems. I know that they, with our Government, are endeavouring to overcome them.

I am continually disappointed in the Opposition we have in this House. It seems to choose the very worst times to attack and criticise the Government. This morning we had the spectacle of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) commencing his speech with a very lucid description of the purposes of the Bill but then losing conviction because of the amendment that was foisted upon him and upon this House. The amendment makes so much nonsense when it is considered objectively. The position in which I find myself is that I am no longer able to accept anything that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) says in this place, because I find it is so often misleading and skirts round the facts. I should like to examine this Bill from a factual and objective point of view, which is what the House should be doing instead of engaging in political bickering over so important a matter.

The honorable member for Fremantle stated the purposes of the Bill. It establishes a Legislative Council and an Executive Council, and it alters the judicial framework on the island to make it better organised. It retains the district court, establishes a central court and the court of appeal and provides that the High Court of Australia shall be the final court of appeal. I feel that this legislation is the product of the training that the Department of Territories has given to the Nauruan people in recent years, particularly since the war. Honorable members will recall that the Nauruans were removed from the island during the war and were interned by the Japanese on the island of Truk. Consequently, there was a considerable gap in the continuity of their rise to nationhood. I pay a sincere tribute to the magnificent work of officers of the Department of Territories. When I visited Cocos Island I was filled with admiration for the manner in which the officers are carrying out their duties. There must have been very few instances in history of such flexible, objective and unselfish colonial work as that performed by officers of the Department of Territories. This attitude has been brought to bear on Nauru. As a result, in just a few years Nauru has been brought to the stage of self-government. To evidence the cooperation that exists between this Government and the Nauruan people this Bill has been brought before the House during a busy period - when we are about to rise for the Christmas recess - expressly at the request of the Nauruan people because they have an important anniversary in January - the anniversary of their return from internment - and they wish to have their Legislative Council established on that day. This Government is co-operating fully and is extending its legislative programme so that this wish may be fulfilled.

This is not the only thing that Australia has done for the people of Nauru. We have heard a very misleading speech from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I should like now to remind the House of some of the facilities and amenities that the Nauruan people currently enjoy. They enjoy a free health scheme, including free drugs.

Mr Whitlam - Socialism.

Dr GIBBS - Whether or not that is good for them is an entirely different matter. I am relating what the people of Nauru are currently enjoying. Should they require health treatment in Australia they receive it free. They are transported to Australia free. Their education is free. Should they want advanced education in Australia they come to Australia free and their accommodation is provided free. Nothing could be better calculated to bring a country more rapidly to self government than such a scheme to enable the people to be educated.

They receive generous child endowment as well as invalid and age pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits. The inhabitants receive the highest wages in the Pacific Islands. They may rent an excellent house for 10s. 9d. a week. They do not usually need to use buses because, as has been already stated, almost everyone on the island has his own means of transport, but, if an islander wishes to use the bus, the fares are very cheap. The only duties or taxes are upon cigarettes and alcohol. In this regard I should like to read a brief extract from a report to the United Nations Trusteeship Council. The Council can never be regarded as favorable to people who are trustees of underdeveloped nations. The report states - . . poverty is virtually unknown in Nauru. There is a high standard of living: necessities and even many luxuries are imported. The stores and shops are well stocked with goods. Few people walk in this Territory, which has an area of Si square miles and a circumference of 12 miles: there are over 1,000 motor vehicles (not to mention bicycles) for a total population of 4,914, including 2,661 Nauruans (at 30 June 1964).

This is what a committee of inquiry of the United Nations Trusteeship Council had to say about conditions on Nauru. This does not entirely fit in with the picture painted recently of an oppressive Australia squeezing the Nauruan people for its own benefit. The question may be asked: How are all these amenities paid for? They are paid for by royalties that are paid to the Nauruan people on phosphate which is obtained from Nauru. A cash royalty of 3s. 3d. a ton of phosphate rock is paid to land owners; the Nauru Landowners' Royalty Trust Fund, which is invested for 15 years on their behalf, receives 4s. 3d. a ton; a royalty of ls. 6d. a ton is paid to the Nauruan local government council to supplement its community revenues; the Nauruan Community Long Term Investment Fund, which is invested for the benefit of Nauruans when the phosphates are exhausted, receives 8s. 6d. a ton and in addition the entire cost of administering the island is borne from sales of phosphate rock, and this currently averages lis. a ton. In all, 28s. 6d. a ton is paid by the users of phosphate to the people of Nauru for the use of that phosphate. For every ton of superphosphate the Australian farmer uses he is subsidising the people of Nauru to the extent of 18s.

Mr King - It is not the other way round at all?

Dr GIBBS - No, it is not the other way around. It is the Nauruan people who could be construed as exploiting the Australian farmer to the extent of 18s. a ton on superphosphate. This means that at the current rate of usage the Australian farmer last year paid almost £14 million to the Nauruans as a subsidy. The New Zealand farmers paid about £750,000 and the farmers of the United Kingdom would have paid rather less than £200,000. In other words, the people of Australia are substantially supporting the Nauruans in an unprecedentedly high standard of living. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has agreed, there is no legal obligation on the Australian people to do this.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition submitted that the practice of taking their phosphate rock does not accord with practice in civilised parts of the world. I would ask: What would be the situation if an Australian had minerals on his property here in Australia? Suppose that oil was discovered on his property. How much would he receive in royalties for that oil? I should like to give the homely example of a small farm that I own. Since I acquired the farm the Moonie pipeline has gone through my property. I received ludicrous compensation for this. Now a great power grid will run through the property and I assume that I will receive inadequate compensation in respect of this. If oil were discovered on the property I would receive practically nothing. So if we draw a strict analogy we must agree that the people of Nauru have been more than generously treated.

We should look at this matter very closely. In what way has the normal livelihood of the Nauruan people been disrupted by the mining of phosphate? Before the phosphate was mined there was nothing in the region of the phosphate deposits except a few trees and a few struggling coconut palms. The only area of Nauru that is at all fertile is a small coastal strip which has very little to do with the phosphate deposits. This area has not been disturbed at all. In fact, there are deposits of about 2,000,000 tons of phosphate rock in this area which the Phosphate Commission has decided not to mine on the ground that mining operations would disturb the Nauruan people. So an asset which was not being used and which would be of no use to the Nauruans is being mined. All of their problems arise from the extremely generous gift which they are receiving from the British Phosphate Commission and the people of Australia. The Nauruans are losing their native skills as a result of this generosity. I appreciate their difficulties. I hope that some agreement may be reached whereby their problems can be ironed out, but I will not accept the inference in the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that we are exploiting this island. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in my view, a great pity that the Opposition should bring these political matters into this discussion.

The Opposition has moved an amendment which deals with indentured labour, as though we are neglecting the indentured labour on the island. The United Nations Trusteeship Council committee which visited Nauru made not one mention of indentured labour on the island. Honorable members may rest -assured that the committee would have cast a very critical eye on the situation. It did not refer to it for the simple reason that it does not present any problems. This is a matter cooked up by the Opposition for political purposes. Let us look at the situation factually and truthfully. The indentured labourers are free to go to Nauru as they please. They are not under compulsion to go there. I was amused by the references of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) to people being uprooted from their homes, because we all remember what happened in Great Britain during the last episode of socialist government when there was direction of labour - when people were directed not only into industries which they did not want to enter but also to different parts of the country. We all know how reluctant the people of the British Isles are to leave their native environment. The honorable member's remarks were amusing and were somewhat in conflict with the tenor of his subsequent remarks.

Dr Mackay - He had to find an argument somewhere.

Dr GIBBS - That is so. How could the indentured labour have a council or a committee to speak on its behalf? No doubt the indentured labourers have their spokesmen, because there is an industrial group on the island. I do not want the House to be misled on this matter. The indentured labourers have full representation in this respect.

The figures given by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were typically misleading. The report for 1963-64 of the Territory of Nauru shows that far from there being 16 females of non-Nauruan origin on the island, in fact there were 237 non-Nauruan women on the island. Since that time there has been an extensive building programme. First-class homes have been constructed, equipped with stainless steel sinks and vinyl floors. Concrete construction has been employed and the homes are fully sewered. These are for the indentured labour. It may be assumed that the figures I have given are now out of date. Undoubtedly more indentured labourers and their families are coming to the island. A similar building programme is under way for the Nauruan people themselves.

Indentured labour is indentured from year to year. This is done to preserve the nationality of the Nauruan people. Many of the indentured labourers are unmarried lads who come to Nauru to work in the phosphate mines. Some come for the money and some come out of a spirit of adventure. These youngsters have no families to bring with them. A married person may decide to go to Nauru. He may not wish to uproot his family by taking it with him. On the other hand, if he wishes to take his family he may do so at no cost to himself provided that the family does not remain on Nauru for longer than six years. The period is reduced in the case of Chinese.

Obviously indentured labour is a very temporary feature of Nauruan life. If Nauru were to obtain independence undoubtedly the Nauruan people would make their own arrangements about indentured labour, but at present it cannot be said that this Government is not looking after the indentured labour - that the full rights, industrial and otherwise, of indentured labourers are not being protected.

I should like to deal with some of the problems of the Nauruan people which should be exercising our minds rather than with the untimely political note injected into the debate by the Opposition. Apart from their wealth, which may be temporary, the main problem confronting the Nauruans is the fact that their island has a wasting asset and that eventually all of the phosphate rock will be removed, thus removing their source of income. I should like to make clear that at that stage the people of Nauru will be no worse off than they were before the British Phosphate Commission began activities on the island. What is to happen to the people of Nauru? We know that the Nauruan people could not agree with the Australian Government as to the terms of settlement on Curtis Island. They are now thinking in terms of resettling on their own island. They want us to put a coating of topsoil over the area from which the phosphate rock has been removed. This proposition has been studied by experts. Apart from certain impracticabilities referred to by the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) in terms of leaching, it would cost £36,570 per acre to put topsoil on the island. That is pretty expensive real estate in anyone's language. It would be a pretty expensive proposition for the City of Brisbane, let alone for Nauru. I do not think the proposition could be justified on any ground, economical or otherwise. However, despite the staggering cost, I understand that the Government, in trying to come to grips impartially and objectively with the problems of the Nauruan people, will send agronomists, soil experts, engineers and other experts to the island to see what can be done.

I would like to say a few words about Curtis Island. The Government agreed to give the Nauruans the freehold of this island, with full power to control their local affairs. But the Government would not consent to the Nauruans forming a separate nation on Curtis Island, because this would mean that we would have a separate nation of aliens on our mainland. Curtis Island is connected to the continent at low tide. In addition, the Government offered to grant the Nauruans full citizenship rights. I believe that the Government's offer was extraordinarily generous. I ask the House to ponder on whether any Australian would be granted Nauruan citizenship if he wished to have it. We have gone out of our way to be extremely generous. I do not criticise the Nauruans for their attitude, but I think they have been unable to see the problem from our point of view. They want to retain their own citizenship and their own separate nationality on the shores of Australia. They seemed to me to speak rather slightingly of Curtis Island. They seemed to be a little dissatisfied with the island itself and referred frequently to hordes of mosquitoes and other disadvantages that they saw. They implied that they were misled into believing that the island was a paradise. I think it could be a very satisfactory place to live and I am sorry that the Nauruan people have adopted this attitude. I wonder what the future of the islanders is. It must be one thing or the other. It must be either a future on the island or a future somewhere else. It seems to be logical that we should try to find a suitable island for them and I hope that one can be found. I hope that it will not be too close to our mainland. If it is, we will come up against the problem of a separate nation close at hand.

Another problem relates to the future of self-government of the Nauruans. It must not be taken for granted that the Nauruan people are to have full self-government. I think it would be a little premature now, because we have not given even a trial to this form of partial self-government by means of a legislative council. I want the House to bear in mind that the Nauruan people also asked for the council. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition implied that we were not giving the Nauruan people everything that they wanted. He said that they asked for independence. They did ask for independence, but only after the introduction of the legislative council. That in fact is what we have given to them. It would be absurd, of course, to give them full independence immediately without seeing how they handle their affairs with a legislative council. If we do give them independence, what will happen? Will they be given a full seat on the United Nations also? If so, will we give each of the 10,000 other islands in the Pacific a seat on the United Nations as well? This is a serious problem and will have to be tackled not only in relation to the Pacific Islands but also in relation to other small nations throughout the world that are achieving independence. If all these nations were given a seat on the United Nations, it would be possible for very, very small and possibly not always responsible national groups to dictate the policies of the United Nations. This could at times act to the detriment of the United Nations.

Would it be to the advantage of Nauru to have complete self-government without some protection from Australia? Would it not be better for the Nauruan people to accept something short of complete selfgovernment, with Australia retaining responsibility for the defence of the island and for its foreign affairs commitments? These are problems that we must seriously consider and I hope that we will come to some amicable arrangement with the people of Nauru. I hope that the present good relations will continue. I was rather disturbed to read in the United Nations report that some Nauruan people asked whether it was possible for the trusteeship to be given to a different country. I was very sorry to learn that this had been suggested and I hope that it is the view of only a very small proportion of the people. I believe that Australia has treated the Nauruan people very well. They are enjoying unprecedently good conditions and I think that this is largely due to the administration of this Government. I hope that the Nauruan people will realise that this is so and will try to look at our point of view a little more objectively. It is only in this way that we will find some satisfactory solution to their very serious problems. I hope, too, that we will be able to persuade them to move from their island to another economically viable area where they will be able to settle and eventually accept their responsibilities unprotected by all the artificial bounties that they now receive.

I suggest it would be worth considering whether, for the sake of the souls of these people, as it were, it would not be better to introduce some taxation to the country. Now that they are being given some representation, they should accept the responsibility of paying some taxes also. I admit that the island cannot be supported completely by taxation, but some token taxation that they administered themselves in discharge of some responsibilities would help to mould their characters. I think, with humility, that this appears to be necessary now because of the problems with which they have grown up in the years that have passed. I would ask the Nauruan people to reconsider their attitude to living on another site and, with Tennyson, say to them -

.   . Come, my friends,

Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Suggest corrections