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Wednesday, 24 March 1965

Senator CORMACK (Victoria) . - I come into this debate because once again this matter has been raised in the Parliament. The allegation is, in fact, that the indigenous people of this area have been fooled - that is what it amounts to - by a connivance on the part of the Administration to carry out a corrupt act against them. That is the essence of the allegation.

Senator Wright - Senator McClelland said that he did not allege any malpractice.

Senator CORMACK - In essence, this amounts to an attack upon the Administration in that it is suggested that the Administration has connived in a situation, to put it in normal parlance, to shake down the people of this area. This is the essence of the charge. This allegation has been rebutted once already in the Parliament by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes). I am quite convinced that the remarks by Senator McClelland tonight will bring forth from the Minister for Territories a suitable reply.

I am bound to make the observation that, in my own experience - and from what I have been able to discover - any attempt to prise away the land or the assets of the native people, who hold those areas in common, by the Administration from time to time when it wishes to alienate land for the benefit of the indigenous people is an almost impossible task. There is, in fact, in the precincts of the Parliament at the present moment one of the most experienced administrators in the whole of Papua and New Guinea, the present Speaker of the House of Assembly in the Territory. Talking to him last year, I was told that it is almost totally impossible to persuade the indigenous people anywhere in New Guinea to alienate any land or any assets which are held in common. That gentleman spoke not only from his current experience but from the wealth of his experience before he was elected as the member for North Markham, including his experience as District Commissioner for Morobe. This being the case - and this is a common situation in New Guinea - I fail to see how it was that the people in this area holding this timber in common were able to be persuaded to sell this timber under the pressure, apparently, of the Administration and alienate their assets in a way that leaves them bereft of that which is their just entitlement.

I go further than that and say that it is a common occurrence when land is obtained by consent for alienation for the advancement of the people of New Guinea, for the people in these areas who hold land in common to say that the community elders had no right to make an agreement for the disposal of the land or other assets held in common by the tribe, clan or people of that area and that, as far as they are concerned, the deal is off. In other words, an agreement having been obtained, I am assured by the Department of Native Affairs which is most vigilant in the protection of the assets of these people, that the indigenous people of New Guinea tend to reject unilaterally the undertaking that has been given. The honorable senator, from his surveys and experience in New Guinea, would know that this is a constant problem that is occurring in New Guinea at the present moment. Tribal lands are alienated with the consent of the people of the area and the people obtain the money for their land. It is their money and they spend it in whatever way they wish. They then reject the agreement and declare it to be null and void and there is agitation to have the matter reviewed. 1 have a strong suspicion that that may have happened in relation to this particular problem. I say that so that the Senate will not immediately regard this series of allegations, honestly made by the honorable senator, as reflecting on the probity of the Administration of Papua and New Guinea and of the officers who are charged with protecting the interests of the indigenous people.

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