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Thursday, 9 December 1965


Mr BARNES (McPherson) (Minister for Territories) . - I very much appreciate the attitude of the Opposition in not opposing the Bill because obviously, as all honorable members on both sides agree, this means a great advance for the people of Nauru. I appreciate also the contributions made by the honorable members for Evans (Dr. Mackay) and Bowman (Dr. Gibbs). They have both given sincere and intelligent study to the situation on Nauru, particularly the honorable member for Evans, who has been to the island. I suggest that his speech, when printed in " Hansard ", will be an excellent reference source on the situation in Nauru. Although the Opposition has agreed to support the Bill it has expressed concern about the indentured labourers on the island and an amendment was moved on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), who made a most thoughtful and constructive speech on the whole matter. However, I am afraid I am unable to agree with his comments on the judicial situation, particularly his reference to an appeal judge. He expressed concern that while Nauru was proceeding towards independent statehood it was inopportune to provide for appeal to a judge domiciled in Australia. He did not suggest to whom a litigant would appeal if this provision were not included in the Bill. I point out to him that the Nauruan people themselves desire this Bill. This provision is in keeping with the attitude of many of the emerging countries. I refer him to the last Commonwealth Law Conference in Sydney where this attitude was frequently expressed by delegates. If there is to be a change - and should Nauru go to independence, Nauru will gain its independence through an Act of this Parliament - this provision could be altered according to the desires of the Nauruan people.

The honorable member for Fremantle and other honorable members opposite are concerned at the alleged lack of opportunities for the indentured labourers on Nauru to have some say in the government of Nauru. I think we must get this situation clear in our minds. Nauru engages Chinese from Hong Kong and Gilbert and Ellice Islanders from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. These people are employed on a contract basis. The term used is " on annual contract ", which may be renewed. Usually they come to Nauru for 12 months only. In my view it would be quite wrong to bring these people within the system of local government because, first, they are not all of the same nationality. The people from Hong Kong and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands are of British nationality. Nauruans, on the other hand, are Australian protected persons.

There you have a difference to begin with. But the important factor is the transitory nature of the indentured labourers. They are on the island for only a short time. To suggest that they have no representation is incorrect. The Gilbert and Ellice Islanders have their council and the Chinese have their workers' committee. These bodies meet monthly with the British Phosphate Commission. On occasion the Administrator of Nauru meets with the representatives of those workers' groups. So the indentured labourers have adequate means by which to state their case.

In the progress report No. 2 of the United Nations Mission which visited Nauru it is stated -

Representatives of Gilbert and Ellice Islands, also Chinese workers, totalling 1,800, employed at Nauru by British Phosphate Commissioners have told U.N. Mission they are very happy with conditions and have no questions to raise with the Mission.

The United Nations Mission was completely independent of the local administration. It has been suggested that the present method of employing indentured labourers on the island causes a breaking up of families. This is not so. There is an increasing desire on the part of labourers on Nauru to bring their families with them. This may be due to overcrowded conditions in the countries from which they come. At 30th June 1964, 8.1 per cent, of the indentured labourers on Nauru had their wives with them. By 30th June 1965 the figure had risen to 27 per cent. The indications are that soon the figure will be 46 per cent. We are providing new accommodation for these people all the time. It is excellent accommodation and it is free.


Mr Beazley - Is the Minister now referring to Chinese?


Mr BARNES -Yes.


Mr Beazley - Where are the Gilbert and Ellice Islanders accommodated?


Mr BARNES - I believe that they are provided with accommodation but I do not know the details. Free accommodation and transport is provided for the Chinese. I have answered most of the points raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He said that we should be moving more quickly towards independence for Nauru. This claim is in keeping with the honorable member's general attitude towards this matter. He has said that he believes the people of Papua and New Guinea should have independence by 1970. The honorable member would push these people into independence without any regard for the outcome. The Australian Government will be having further negotiations with representatives of the Nauruan people.

The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) said that the report of the British Phosphate Commissioners had not been made available to this House. 1 point out that the British Phosphate Commissioners are not responsible to this House. Nauru is administered by three partner governments. Australia does not have sole responsibility in the matter. It is just the administering authority. I take great exception to the remarks of the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). He painted a most inaccurate picture of the situation on Nauru. I imagine that his speech will be quoted outside Australia to our disadvantage. In contrast to the remarks of the honorable member for Hughes, the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) pointed to the problems of affluence on Nauru. These are very definite problems. No country suffers more from the effects of affluence than does Nauru. We in Australia may have our problems, but certainly the Nauruans have greater ones. We must sympathise with them in their problems.

The honorable member lor Hughes did not advert to the funds available to the Nauruans in the future. He said that when the phosphate deposits are exhausted the people will have nothing. He did not say anything about the long term investment fund which, having regard to the present rate of royalties, will amount to about £60 million when the deposits are exhausted. Taking the present population of 2,600 and assuming an earning rate of 5 per cent., it must be conceded that the people of Nauru will be very affluent even if they do not do anything else. But I have no doubt that my remarks will not be quoted in other parts of the world alongside those of the honorable member for Hughes. It is not good for Australia that honorable members should deliberately knock our efforts to advance the Nauruans. We may be very proud of our administration of Nauru. We have pro vided the Nauruans with every opportunity to advance themselves. We offered them the opportunity to settle on Curtis Island. Such an opportunity would have been rushed by millions of people elsewhere in the world. But it is the business of the Nauruan people whether they accept our offer. We do not wish to exert any force on them. For the reasons I have given, I submit that the amendment has no relevance to the Bill. The Government cannot accept the amendment. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put -

That the words proposed to be omitted (Air. Beazley'* amendment) stand part of the question.







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