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Wednesday, 17 November 1976
Page: 2766

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Kingsford) (Smith) -! note with interest the Government's decision on this matter. It is a matter of record that certainly there is a need for a quarantine station off-shore from Australia for the reasons that have been mentioned. For these same reasons Australian primary industry has been under some disadvantage because of advantageous genetic strains which could not be obtained by artificial insemination and the like. The House will recall that there was a select committee dealing with these matters. At one stage it was discussing the question of Christmas Island because that Island is under Australian ownership and control. For some reason which may or not be valid now it was suggested that it would be wrong to have the quarantine station there because it could affect the extraction of superphosphate. It could be that diseased superphosphate would be brought into Australia and that it would affect Australia's primary industry. I very much doubt whether that was a valid premise. I certainly think the problem could have been overcome. For that reason, apparently, it was suggested that Cocos Island would be more suitable. I think that is the position. No superphosphate is available on Cocos Island.

However, what I think has been the great tragedy of Cocos Island is the fact that the people there are not able to lead a normal life. They become the property of the Cocos Island Estate. They do not have normal industrial conditions. They are not paid in money. The whole of their private lives, property and affairs are subject to the peculiar situation which is applied by the people who virtually own most of those islands. I am not too clear what the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has in mind when he says that it is intended to negotiate with the Clunies-Ross Estate on all issues concerning the availability of the site. We certainly think it would be far better to put the quarantine station on the island which we as an Australian nation now own. We should not place a quarantine station on some part of the islands which is the property of the CluniesRoss family. If, as envisaged, this quarantine station is the source of employment for the Cocos islanders I think it is more important that they should be paid directly an appropriate and proper wage. There should be a guarantee that that wage will go to their bank accounts which they will administer. We should not have the dreadfully unsatisfactory situation which has prevailed for years where government contracts are let to the Clunies-Ross Estate and the proceeds of those contracts are paid to the CluniesRoss Estate, not to the people. The people themselves are merely given some sustenance from the point of view of everyday livelihood.

When I had a chance to look at this situation I encouraged the then Government to open bank accounts for the islanders to guarantee that the full amount of the proceeds of the contract was paid to them, so that they in turn could remit whatever portion they thought fit to the CluniesRoss Estate for their other needs such as food, lodging or rent. We would not then have the reverse situation which had prevailed for so long under which they had no rights at all. They were subject to a virtual dictatorship. Their freedom was inhibited and they had no access to or control over their own money. Underlying this situation was the fact that there were no adequate educational opportunities on Cocos Island until the Australian Labor Party Government took a definite stand. This also meant that young people had no opportunity to advance themselves in life or to get proper employment on either Cocos Island or Christmas Island or in Australia. We would welcome these people as suitable immigrants.

Accordingly, if this project is to proceed we would like a firm undertaking from the Government that those people employed in the quarantine station will be paid the proper adult award wage and that that wage will be paid to thenbank accounts. We would like to guarantee that nobody else will have lien or charge over any portion of that payment. Unless we get that guarantee we say to the Government that we will not support the establishment of a quarantine station under the types of conditions which otherwise would prevail. We believe that those conditions of the past ought to be altered to a new set of conditions. These people should have their own entitlements, rights and standards. They will be paid the money which will be their property. No part of the money will be paid to the estate in any form unless there is some valid reason with which the islanders , agree. I again suggest, with all the problems in my mind, that another look at Christmas Island would not go astray. I am certain that we could overcome all the difficulties which will obtain where the ownership of the island is not ours and where substantial sums of money will be paid to a small group of people who do nothing for Australia, except for their own gain. If one may say so, these people have done very little to promote the interests of the people of Cocos Island.

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