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Thursday, 9 December 1965


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- Honorable members opposite do not seem to catch on to the difficulty that we have placed before the Parliament. The fact is that it is not just the Nauruans that we are concerned with, although the Bill is concerned, and the Government's actions are concerned, principally with Nauruans. We are also concerned with the other half of the people on the island, most of whom are the ones who do the work. That was the point made by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) and other speakers on this side of the House.

I was interested in the philosophy of the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs), who seemed to epitomise the conservatism of honorable members opposite. His attitude was - and I think these were his words - that the Australian community has been subsidising the people of Nauru for many years, that taxation is good for the moral character, and that these people must show that they are fit to govern themselves. This philosophy is expressed by a member of a party which in many respects regards most people as being unfit to govern themselves. For confirmation of this attitude we need only look at the archaic attitudes towards electoral matters that members of the Country Party express, and also their attitude towards the proposed Curtis Island settlement with which I hope to deal in the next few minutes.

Nauru seems to me to present all the problems of the world in microcosm. First there is the racial problem. There is a tiny group of indigenous Nauruan people representing about half the total population. Then there is another group of nonindigenous people, about 2,500 in number, who have been imported. I will tell the House later how long some of these people have been there. This is a community that is small in numbers but has a being of its own. It lives in a world characterised by tremendous numbers, a world of large nations and of small nations. It is one of the tiniest representatives of national groups that are small in numbers but have some entity of their own. It is isolated, and this no doubt produces all kinds of social and cultural attitudes. They are isolated in such a way from the community of the world that they have probably spent a good deal of time considering their own troubles and talking about them. They are a group of people living en a tremendous asset which is needed by powerful nations which have large numbers of people. Finally, they are a group of people faced with a problem concerning sovereignty and the ownership of their own soil.

All these difficulties are faced by this small group of people, and in order to achieve a solution of these problems I believe we will have to bring a fresh approach to bear. It seems to me that our approach to problems of this kind has been to aggravate them or to expand them in such a way that we eventually consider them insoluble. We on this side of the House want to see a new approach to this question. As the honorable member for Fremantle pointed out, there are three signatories to the second schedule of the Bill. There is the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) in this Government. There is his counterpart in the Government of New Zealand and, I think, the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They are the representatives of three very powerful groups of people. Even New Zealand with its two or three million people represents a very large group when compared with Nauru. These three nations have made decisions concerning the lives of the people of Nauru. It may well be said that we have had discussions with the Nauruan leaders, that we have had their representatives here and that they have had a very powerful and effective advocate in their Head Chief. But, I ask: Why is there no Nauruan signature to be found in the second schedule to this Bill?

Honorable members opposite will say: "There he goes again, the simple soul. He thinks they own the land on which they have lived for such a long time, whereas the sovereignty, the legal right, does not lie with them but with the successors to the previous German occupiers and conquerors and, I think, the Pacific Phosphate Company from whom the British Phosphate Commission bought the deposits in 1919." But this again points to difficulties we face. Here is a natural deposit important to people in other parts of the world. What are the rights of the people who live there? What are our duties to them and what are the rights of the people who dig out the phosphate rock and whose labour it is that makes the green grass grow for the farmers of the Country Party - that is, if there are any farmers left in that party? What should those people be paid? Those are the questions that we should be answering.

What we are saying to honorable members opposite is that they should not simply stand up in this chamber and spend their time, as the honorable member for Bowman did, in pointing out how fantastically wealthy the average Nauruan is becoming, when getting an income probably a third or a quarter as great as that which the honorable member used to get in his own practice. It is of no use to spend time in saying how well off the Nauruan people are, how kind to them we have been and how progressive we have been. I agree that in some respects we have been progressive, for instance in health services. I see from the report of the World Health Organisation that Nauru has one of the highest ratios of hospital beds per 1,000 people, and that there is one doctor for every 614 persons. The island is, therefore, well off medically speaking. But this is a social, political and economic question with which we are concerned, and that is the point I want to emphasise. The honorable member for Fremantle moved his amendment in these terms - this House .... regrets that the Nauru Agreement .... contains no terms which provide for the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the indentured labourers in the phosphate industry.

In my opening remarks I pointed out that there was a problem of race. It is an interesting question. The Head Chief attacked the Australian people, saying that there were many racial attitudes in the community. One of our newspapers quoted the Head Chief, Hammer De Roburt, as saying that the Nauruan people had been aware of racial prejudice among a section of the Australian community and had therefore rejected resettlement on Curtis Island. The Head Chief outlined some of the racial attitudes that unfortunately exist in our community. They are not as serious as many people imply, particularly our overseas critics, but nevertheless they do exist. I suppose they exist in many communities throughout the world-. But he, on the other hand, does not recognise the equality of the people who live on the island, dig out the phosphate deposits and so produce the wealth. What the House is doing today is to write a charter for the continued privilege, if I may use that word, of the Nauruan people in their own community. If it passes this Bil), as I think the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Benson) pointed out, we must somehow get across to these people the idea that there must be a more expansive attitude in these days, particularly on political rights. There comes a time after a person has lived in a community long enough when he must be accepted as a political unit. In this country if a person comes here with British citizenship or from one of the English-speaking nations or from Malta or Cyprus he is qualified to vote in an election after six months. If he comes here from another country and is admitted to naturalisation after five years - and I deplore some of the Government's attitudes in rejecting applicants for naturalisation - he has certain political rights which become inalienable as time goes on. We have not received any indication that this is a problem that has been faced by the people of Nauru. lt has been pointed out to me in conversations that this is a difficult problem. People have said to me: "You may well start a riot ". I think that somehow we have to get the idea across to these people. Their island is a wasting asset isolated from the rest of the world. It is difficult for them to go anywhere else because travel services are not readily available. I think that anything they are getting from the sale of the asset of which they are the fortunate possessors is only their just due. I do not share the view of the honorable member for Bowman that we are scattering largesse. When we were discussing another matter the honorable member gave the impression that he would deplore the rentier, the man able to gain unearned increment from the ownership of land. So it is time that we brought to bear on these problems something like the attitude that we bring to bear on the problems of our own people.

I come now to the question of length of domicile on the Island. The census figures that I have are for 1961. So they are not exactly the same as those which the Minister for Territories has given in total. Nevertheless, they are indicative of the shape of the community, one might say. Of the residents of the Territory of Nauru, male and female, born outside the Territory 435 have been there less than one year and 205 have been there between three and four years. When we come to periods of residence longer than this, we find that 232 are in their fifth year of residence on the Island, 128 in their sixth year and 88 in their seventh year. People with a term of residence from 7 to 14 years number 243, from 14 to 21 years 69 and 21 years and over, 48. So a total of 576 have been resident on the Island for a period long enough for them to have qualified for naturalisation had they been in Australia.

I ask the Minister to explain why there has been no approach designed to accord political rights to these people. A number of them must be indentured labourers. There is a system of contract work but this applies only to short periods. Details of these matters have been difficult to find. I believe that the Minister, if he has not the figures available, would do the Parliament a service if he were to have a survey made and presented the results to us for future reference. I do not criticise him in this matter. This is probably just something that has not floated across the horizon. I do not think it is mentioned in the report on the administration of Nauru that is submitted to the United Nations General Assembly. However, this is the principle element of our consideration so far as it relates to the political rights of these people.

I do not consider that the Australian community can uncritically place its imprimatur on the kind of political discrimination that exists on Nauru. But more serious and more immediate discrimination is found in relation to the wages of indentured labourers. An unskilled indentured labourer receives something like £13 a month and a skilled indentured labourer up to £22 a month, or £5 10s. a week. I do not think that one honorable member opposite has mentioned this simple fact How can the Australian community - we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world - tolerate in one of its Territories a wage scale such as this? One might say that these indentured labourers go to Nauru from Hong Kong and elsewhere because they want the jobs that are offering. Indeed, I am told that Chinese in Hong Kong even pay fees to agents to get them jobs. But this is not the real question. When they step on to what is in effect Australian soil and pour out their sweat in producing a product that represents the very life blood of important Australian primary industries the very least we can do is pay them something like the Australian standard rates of wages. In the opinion of honorable members on this side of the chamber anything less than that represents intolerable discrimination.

The honorable member for Batman pointed out that there is discrimination about wages even on the Island. The indigenous Nauruans are paid one basic rate and indentured labourers are paid another. This is one of the elements of contest in the industrial sphere in Australia and has been from the very beginnings of Australia's industrial development. It was one of the elements involved in the dispute about the arrival in this country of people from Asia. To that extent there has been opposition to the import of cheap labour. If unfortunately it is necessary to raise the price of Nauruan phosphate so that it becomes more expensive in this country we may have to subsidise it or take some other kind of action. But whatever action is needed should be taken. If any subsidy can be said to be paid at present in relation to Nauruan phosphate we can say that it is being paid out of the sweat of the indentured labourers on Nauru, who in my view are being exploited. Doubtless the Minister for Territories would say that they are given so many ounces of tea, bacon, pemmican. salt and sugar, a roof over their heads and so on. But that is not enough. The evaluation of these items certainly would not bring their remuneration up to the equivalent of base rates in Australia or make their remuneration adequate.

We come to a different question, of course, when we consider the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. In that Territory there is a large indigenous community of about two million people which is developing in its own right. The people of Nauru, especially the indentured labourers, are working for us. Some 60 per cent, or 70 per cent, of their labour produces material that is important to this country. There is no excuse whatever for the kind of discrimination that occurs.

The political problem, I know, is even more difficult to solve because of the psychological and emotional elements that enter into it. This is the point that we on this side of the chamber are trying to get across. Another point concerns the sovereignty and ownership of Nauru. The problem here is not so difficult to solve. I believe that some difficulties have been manufactured concerning the proposal for the settlement of the Nauruans on Curtis Island, which is Australian territory. The honorable member for Bowman mentioned this proposal and other speakers on the Government side may have dealt with it also. I notice that the Premier of Queensland has made some comment about it and the Minister has made statements from time to time. I suppose that as good an expression of view as one could find from a reading of material on the subject is to be found in an issue of the " Australian " newspaper of September last which stated -

From Australia's point of view, a self-governing enclave on Curtis Island, supported economically by the Federal Government, would create an impossible situation. At low tide, one can walk from the Queensland mainland to the island.

I doubt how much we would have to contribute to the support of the Nauruans if they were settled on Curtis Island. 1 understand that revenue from their investments will be something like £1 million a year. How difficult would it be to create on Curtis Island a self governing enclave? I do not know what research honorable members have done on these matters and what they know about the subject. What is the position in various other parts of the world? ATe self governing enclaves of this sort remote, and difficult to find? Certainly not. If one looks at " Whitaker's Almanack " one finds that the entry for Andorra begins in this fashion -

A small, neutral principality situated on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, between Spain and France, with an approximate area of 180 square miles and population between 10,000 and 12,000.

The entry then explains the machinery of government, which is complicated but allows the people of this principality a very large degree of sovereignty. The same sort of thing applies to the principality of Liechtenstein and to a certain extent to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. We have also the celebrated instance of Monaco. I have no doubt that honorable members opposite, with their rather odd economic attitudes, would foster the sort of enterprise on which Monaco depends. There is also San Marino. The world is not short of examples of small enclaves of people who retain their national, cultural and religious heritages despite the existence of surrounding populations of tremendous size. I believe that if we look at the United Kingdom we find similar examples perhaps in some respects in the relations between the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and the rest of the United Kingdom.

What I should like to see in relation to Nauru is an exploratory approach based on a more adventurous spirit in an endeavour to solve these psychological and emotional problems that arise. The first matter is the political question. How are we to solve this problem of the political and social rights of the folk who are brought to Nauru to work the phosphate deposits? Then there is the problem of resettlement which will involve the right of the Nauruan people to retain their national unity. The fact that there are only about 2,500 of them is of small moment. Indeed, it makes the problem perhaps easier to solve. I am sure that if we brought any kind of adventurous spirit to bear on the problem it would be easy of solution. Then there is the question of the wages of the indigenous people. This is the first time that I can recall, having examined United Nations documents and speeches made in fine fighting spirit by people throughout the world who make speeches on these matters, when this matter has been raised in public discussion as a matter of public interest.

Then we come to the question of the operations of the British Phosphate Commissioners. Can they afford to pay more to those who work the phosphate for them and not raise the price of their product? I suggest that honorable members look at the last report to the United Nations General Assembly on the administration of the Territory of Nauru. If they turn to page 76 they will find the trading account and balance sheet of the British Phosphate Commissioners for the year ended 30th June 1964. If one uses a slide rule, two or three computers and a crystal ball one may be able to work out what the Commissioners do with their money. These accounts certainly do not tell us how much of it is paid out in wages and salaries. I am interested to note that in 1964-65 the Commissioners handled funds totalling £5,558,467. This is shown in the trading account. The balance for the year was £2,794. The balance for the year ended 30th June 1963 was £1,561. 1 am not a man of a suspicious mind. I am naturally broad minded about these matters. But when I find an organisation handling accounts totalling more than £5i million annually and making them balance out to these minute proportions I wonder where some of the funds are concealed and what is happening to them. If we received detailed accounts, we could see whether higher wages could be paid without the price of phosphate being increased.

I suggest to the Minister that the British Phosphate Commissioners should submit detailed accounts to this Parliament. I have had some difficulty in trying to find information concerning their operations by inquiries made about the place. I do not know whether there is available a report of the operations of the Commissioners that is more detailed than this one. I should think that as this is an operation in which this country has a big investment, both in terms of cash and importance to Australian primary industry, it should be brought before the Parliament as a document which we can examine down to the last full stop. I hope that honorable members opposite will take the opportunity on this occasion to support the amendment moved by this side of the House to show that the Parliament is determined that no problem created by self inflicted unrest about rights will prevent us from doing justice to both peoples on the island and seeing that their future is assured.







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