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Thursday, 9 December 1965


Mr BENSON (Batman) .- I support the Bill and I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley). I think some honorable members have got off the rails a little, and perhaps it would be as well if I read the amendment moved by the honorable member. It is in these terms - "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."

Is there anything wrong with that? I would like to say something about the indentured labourers. I do not say that they have been treated harshly or anything like that. The indentured labourers who have come to Nauru from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands are members of the Commonwealth, but the conditions under which they go to Nauru are different from the conditions that apply to a person from any Commonwealth country who goes to another Commonwealth country. For instance, a Britisher who comes to Australia has full voting rights from the time of his arrival. However, if a person from a Commonwealth country lives and works on Nauru for three years - he can do that by renewing his contract from year to year - he is not entitled to any voting rights. The honorable member for Fremantle referred to this point. He said that something should be done for the indentured labourers who are being brought from another Commonwealth country to Nauru. I can see nothing wrong with that. If the indentured workers are to be regarded as members of the Commonwealth they are entitled to the same rights as any other member. The difficulty is not insurmountable. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that these things will be overcome; I hope they will.

I want to pay my tribute to the Administration, the public servants in the Department of Territories, and the British Phosphate Commission for what has been achieved in Nauru. I want to keep my remarks on a non-political plane because both political sides here have played their part in establishing and re-establishing Nauru. If I may be permitted to put in just a small plug for my own party, let me say that the House will remember that in 1946, when we went back to Nauru, the place was a shambles. It was as a result of the efforts of the Government then in office that re-establishment took place. The work that has gone on since then in Nauru has been of the highest order. This says a lot for our professional men and our technicians who have worked very well indeed. Special ships have been built solely for the Nauruan trade. They are ships that are seen in no other part of the world. They have special bows to enable them to lift buoys which are laid at a depth of 300 fathoms- that is very deep - so that the ships can be held away from the cantilever. AH this sort of thing was done with the know-how and the brains that exist in Australia. One of the most modern cantilevers in the world was erected at Nauru for the loading of phosphate. Everything has been done with very great efficiency by the Department that has been responsible for the welfare of the people of Nauru. I have seen a little of this achievement and I know that the Department has done an excellent job.

The time has come when the Nauruans want their independence. They are entitled to it, but lots of things have to be considered. I do not know whether the Nauruans have gone fully into the matter. I have met some of them in Australia. I know that they have approached people on all political sides to get their opinions. Whether they have received the correct advice is a matter that I am not going to debate at present. That is a matter for the Nauruans. We must consider that there are only 2,661 Nauruans on the island out of a total population of 4,914 people. The only people who will have voting rights as the result of the passing of this Bill will be the 2,661 Nauruans. They are the people who at this stage say that they want their independence, and if they want it, they are entitled to it. My party believes in giving self determination to these people as soon as possible, and that applies to the people of New Guinea as well. I do not think, however, that it is right to draw a comparison between the people of Nauru and the people of New Guinea. In New Guinea we are dealing with 2 million people and in Nauru with only 2,661.

As I said previously, a lot of specialised treatment and know-how has been put into Nauru that has not been put into any other place in the world. Specialised shipping was planned in Australia, built overseas and used in the phosphate trade. In 1963-64 97 British ships and 81 foreign ships - a total of 178 ships, with a gross registered tonnage of 1,625,889 tons - visited Nauru. For a small island that is a lot of traffic because there are certain times of the year when t is impossible for a ship to lie alongside the cantilever. When the westerly winds are blowing the ships have to cast off and drift until the weather is good enough to come alongside again. Overcoming the problems involved is something that has been achieved over many years. I can remember the time when ships used to go to Nauru and the phosphate was lifted on to flat top barges, shovelled into baskets and loaded into the ships. Sometimes because ships drifted off as they were being loaded it could take as long as six weeks to load a ship. Now the loading time has been cut down to as low as six hours. This should be remembered by the Nauruans.

The average rainfall for Nauru is 77 inches a year. Most ships that visit the island carry water because, Nauru being a small island, the catchment area is not large enough to accumulate sufficient water. If we are going to keep 4,000-odd people on the island it will be necessary to continue to take fresh water to the island. That is something that has been foreseen by both Governments concerned. Fresh water will still need to be taken to the island. The employment figures show that 594 male Nauruans and 88 female Nauruans are employed - a total of 682. Out of the whole population of 2,661 Nauruans 1,979 are not employed, but they exist very well on account of the money that is paid for the phosphate which is shipped out of the island. Of the non-Nauruans, 163 European males and 26 European females are employed. Those people are doing all types of work. Some are technicians, some professional men and some labourers. I did not have time to take out the detailed figures. There are 796 Chinese males and one Chinese female employed. Of the Gilbert and Ellice Islanders, 698 males and 17 females are employed. This makes a total of 1,701 people, other than Nauruans, working on the island. In other words, of the 2,235 nonNauruans on the island 1,701 are working and 534, mainly children, are not employed in any useful work.

Figures relating to pay are rather interesting. In October 1963 the basic wage for Nauruans was fixed at £9 12s. 8d. for males, with females receiving 75 per cent, of the basic wage. Nauruans working for the Administration receive a margin for skill and also an added amount calculated on length of service. During the year increases were granted to people working for the Administration, ranging from £18 to £338 per annum. Nauruans working for the British Phosphate Commission receive the basic wage plus a margin for skill and an added payment for length of service. They receive overtime payment at one and a half times for the first four hours and then double time. This is the point I am coming to. The Chinese and Gilbert and Ellice Islanders receive a wage of from £13 io £22 per month, ranging from the unskilled to the skilled wage. On top of this they receive free housing and rations. There is a big difference between receiving £13 a month which is a little over £4 a week and receiving the basic wage which is set for the Nauruans on the island. This to mc appears to be quite marked discrimination.

During 1963-64 Australia imported from Nauru nearly one million tons of phosphate. Actually the figure was 961,530 tons. New Zealand imported 480,650 tons and the United Kingdom imported 212,800 tons. The total for those three countries was 1,654,980 tons of phosphate, all of which was shipped from the island. It means that over the years a lot of Nauru has been moved to Australia. I do not want to detain the House very long. I just wanted to point out, as the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) said, that something should be done for the indentured labour going to Nauru from the outlying islands because, after all, they are all part of the Commonwealth. I will leave my remarks at that and hope that the Minister will have a look at the position of our other fellow Commonwealth citizens and see whether they can be put on the voting list with the Nauruans when a vote is taken.







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