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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr SPEAKER - That can only be done with the concurrence of the House.

Mr Bamford - Mr. Speaker-

Mr SPEAKER -The matter is not open to discussion. If the honorable member for Herbert objects to the amendment of the notice of motion, it cannot be moved in the proposed amended form.

Mr Bamford - I do object. I am entirely in favour of the amendment, but 1 aru riot in favour of the motion.

Mr JOHNSON - Of course, the motton itself will really include Papua; but I only desired to specialize that territory in connexion with the New Hebrides. Upon other occasions I have spoken at some length upon the importance of peopling the South Pacific Islands with members of our own race for the purpose of establishing trade relations, which in course of time - owing to the immense fertility of a number of those islands - must become very important and considerably add to the development of our commerce in the Pacific. Honorable members are aware that at the present time there is a scheme in progress to cut a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. That scheme was projected about a quarter of a century ago, but was not then proceeded with. When it was first mooted, however, I clearly saw that, in the event of effect being given to it, a great deal of our commerce, which now flows through the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea would be diverted into an entirely new channel. I saw that a very large portion of it would be diverted into the Atlantic Ocean, and that, passing through the Panama Canal, it would cross the Pacific to the shores of Australia. I realize, as every thinking man must do, that the completion, of 'this canal must bring about a great transformation so far as both the North and the South Pacific Oceans are concerned. From comparatively quiet, unfrequented waters, they will be transformed into, perhaps, the busiest ocean highways of the world, along which the great bulk of the commerce, not only of Great Britain, but of Continental countries and the east coast of America, will flow to Australia, as well as to ports on the west coast of North and South America. The Pacific Ocean, comparatively unfrequented as it is, will a few* years hence become alive with the commerce of the civilized nations of the earth, and it is most important that Australia should consider what will be the effect of that transformation upon her commerce, and her trade with other nations, which flows across these seas. One of the first things to be guarded against is the occupation by foreign Powers of the most important group of islands lying close to what will be the main route of traffic between Panama and Australia. It is essential for the protection of our commerce on these seas that those islands shall be effectively " policed," and that cannot be done unless they are in the possession of Great Britain, or are at least under a British protectorate. With that object in view, every encouragement should be given to the people of Great Britain and Australia to settle in and develop the islands of the Pacific. We ought to grant every facility to those of our own race and blood, and who speak our own tongue, to settle in these islands, and so secure a preponderating influence im relation to any international adjustment which may have to be made hereafter in reference to their control. The New Hebrides group is not far removed from the trade route between Panama and Australia, and, in the opinion of myself and others, and particularly in the opinion of naval experts, they are, from. a strategical stand-point, the most important group in the Pacific. They are so regarded because of their comparative freedom from the dangers of navigation, in the shape of coral reefs, which characterize most of the islands in the Pacific Ocean, and because of their spacious harbors, which afford a safe anchorage for ships of large tonnage. These harbors are well sheltered, have a safe approach, and afford the best facilities for the establishment of coaling stations and for naval armament and equipment purposes. It is mainly because I view the importance of the group from that stand-point that I am induced to table this motion. As honorable members are aware, the island's at present appear to be the subject of friendly controversy between the French and the British nations. _ But unless some satisfactory basis of settlement - satisfactory to Australia, I mean - is arrived at shortly, the struggle for supremacy between these two Powers in regard to the settlement of the group, which maybe claimed late! on to give the right to proceed from effective occupation to ultimate control, is likely to develop less friendly relations between ourselves and our French neighbours. As the disputes in regard to land tenure, which are at present the subject of a good deal of discussion, may ultimately be determined by the question of effective occupation, it is most important that we should encourage British and Australian' settlers, bv every legitimate means, to take up land in those islands, and assist in the development of their resources. I must certainly give credit to the Prime Minister for the statesmanlike attitude he has always adopted in regard to this question, and for the interest he has invariably displayed in it. It is d!ue to him also to say that an arrangement was entered into between his Government and Burns, Philp, and Company, by which the latter were to take up certain land in the island, and afford facilities for the immigration of Australian settlers there. The company carried out that arrangement, so far as they were able to do so, and conveyed a number of Australians to the islands, either free of charge, or at nominal rates. The outcome of this arrangement was that a number of Australians took up land in the New Hebrides with the intention of developing the resources of the group. As honorable members are aware, copra is the principal article of export, and it is necessary that the settlers, while waiting for their cocoanut trees to reach maturity, shall have some means of obtaining a livelihood. It takes from seven to ten years for the cocoanut tree to reach the bearing stage, and the settlers in the meantime have been devoting their attention to the production of maize, coffee, and arrowroot. Maize, so far, has been the principal product on which they have relied for their maintenance, pending the turning of their cocoanut plantations to profitable account. It is unfortunate, however, that while these facilities have been placed at the disposal of the settlers - whilst we have given them an improved means of communication bv increasing the mail subsidy - we have on the other hand raised a Tariff wall which prevents the introduction of their products into Australia. Increased mail services can avail them nothing so long as their products are shut out of our markets. In consequence of our action a number of the settlers in the islands have been reduced, in some instances, to absolute penury, and in nearly all cases to a condition bordering more or less on destitution. They have made several appeals to the Commonwealth Government to assist them, not by monetary grants, but by treating them as fellow Australians - as citizens of the Commonwealth, endeavouring to help in the work of building up the Empire in these seas. There is no doubt that, even under the most favorable circumstances, courage and hope, as well as skill, are needed by those who leave these shores to live under the conditions obtaining in the islands, and to do the work of pioneering there. But when, after encouraging our people to settle in the group, we deliberately set up' obstacles in the way of their progress, and close the only profitable, market open to them,tt we are guilty of something worse than folly. The effect of this action on our part is likely to be very serious. We may not feel it immediately, but there is not the slightest doubt that, unless we take steps to remedy the evil we have created by our failure to afford reasonable encouragement to these settlers, we shall realize later on, in a very unpleasant way, perhaps, the blunder we have committed. I am glad to say that in nearly all the principal newspapers of this and other State capitals articles have recently appeared expressing opinions which coincide with my own I am glad that a most instructive article of this character has appeared in the Age newspaper, because it is not often that I can speak in terms of commendation of the matter appearing in that journal!. As the writer puts the case for the settlers in the New Hebrides very concisely, I may 'be pardoned for quoting what he says. The article appeared as a leader in the Age of the 25th June last, and is as follows : -

About the, time the Commonwealth was created there was so great a danger of the New Hebrides passing completely under the domination of the French that the Government was obliged to take practical steps to avert an issue so menacing to Australian national interests. Strong representations were made to the Imperial authorities, and soon afterwards an agreement was entered into between the Commonwealth Government and Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Co., whereby the lands belonging to that company in the group were thrown open for British settlement. In consequence about sixty Australians were induced to settle in the islands and undertake the cultivation of cocoanut. The situation was thereby temporarily saved, for the influx of the new colonists turned the tide in favour of British supremacy. They* 'set about the task of establishing themselves m the most sanguine spirit, and a bright future apparently lay before them. The idea was that they should derive their main income from copra - the product of the cocoanut - but as the cocoanut palm does not come into bearing for about seven to ten years after being ' planted, they expected to make their living in the meanwhile by growing maize and coffee for the Australian market. It was that prospect which persuaded them to leave. their homes on the mainland and embark their capital and enterprise in the work of asserting and maintaining Australian interests in those lonely Pacific islands. The Commonwealth Parliament at once proceeded to reward them for their patriotism by breaking all its implied promises and treating them as outcast aliens. It passed a Tariff which very properly put a high duty on foreign grown maize and coffee, but as it neglected to provide any rebate on British grown produce entering Australia from die New Hebrides, it showed in the most practical fashion that it regarded the British settlers it had enticed there as no better than foreigners and enemies. That Tariff still stands unaltered. The fact has already produced results injurious to the Commonwealth. Twothirds of the Australian colonists have exhausted their capital and have been compelled to abandon their embryo plantations and quit the islands for want of a market in which to dispose of the products of their toil. Australian selfishness has ruined them, and those who still survive are being brought nearer to the same ruin, by the same cause, day by day. The French settlers, on the other hand, are flourishing. They are subsidized by the French Government to the extent of ^34,000 per annum; their produce is allowed to enter Noumea practically duty free, and they enjoy the full rights of French citizenship. France realizes the enormous strategical importance of the islands, and is willing to make any reasonable sacrifice to secure them. She has lately offered British settlers the same rights and privileges as their French rivals now enjoy if they will become naturalized as French subjects.

Not only are the French settlers in the New Hebrides subsidized by "the French Government, and by a company operating from France, but their produce is admitted into French ports practically duty free, because, while in the first instance duty is charged upon it, a very large rebate is allowed, and the balance collected is returned to the French authorities in the islands, to be expended in improvements, such as the making of roads, and the providing of wharfage accommodation, and other facilities for the transport of commodities to market. The British settlers, on the other hand, are heavily handicapped, because they cannot send their produce to French ports without paying heavy duties, and Australia, instead of giving them treatment similar to that given to the French settlers by France, has raised against them a Tariff wall, which keeps out their products, and these are then thrown back on their hands, often to rot, because in that climate maize cannot be kept very longwithout being spoiled. Therefore, not only are great inducements held out to the British settlers to forget that they are Britishers, and to remember that they are being treated by Australia as aliens and outcasts; but the people are being tempted by the fear of starvation and destitution to avail themselves of the undoubted advantages which would follow French naturalization. The article continues -

So far this offer has been refused, but there is good reason to fear that it may some time be accepted. The British settlers are growing tired of being penalized and ruined for their patriotism. For five years we have been denying them the means of livelihood, although they exiled themselves to serve us. We shall have our own negligence and niggardliness alone to blame if they turn round and assist the French to obtain sole control of the group. It is said that such a proposal has been made, and' that there is grave danger of the matter being seriously taken up.

We are loth to believe that anything could induce a body of British subjects to renounce their nationality; but there can be no doubt that the British settlers in the New Hebrides are very sore at the unjust treatment which the Commonwealth has meted out to them. At the present time a petition is in course of signature in the islands which is intended to be forwarded to Mr. Deakin, asking for preferential tariff treatment of British grown produce. We are, however, very well aware of the duty we owe to the petitioners, and it will be a lasting memorial to our discredit if we wait for the arrival of the petition to transact it.

Coming from an organ like the Age, which cannot be charged with leanings towards freetrade, these are very strong sentiments, and show the unwisdom of looking at the question from a fiscal stand-point. We should approach it with the desire to do what is best in the interests of the Empire, of Australia, and of the settlers themselves, and regard it as altogether outside fiscal considerations. The article concludes -

The Federal Government should immediately introduce a short Bill granting a substantial rebate of the Tariff on all British grown produce entering Australia from the New Hebrides. It could be passed in a single' sitting, for we doubt if one member could be found to vote against it. This is a matter that concerns our national honour, which we pledged to the settlers whom we persuaded to go to the islands, but which we have yet failed to redeem. For other reasons we cannot too soon put this matter to rights. Interests which go to the very root of our future national welfare demand that British occupation of the New Hebrides should be paramount and permanent. This can only be effected by opening our markets to the British settlers. In no other way can British development of the islands be .promoted. The men who are fighting our battle for us there ask nothing but the rights of Australian citizens, and many of them are Australians. They must live while they are struggling for a foothold. Hitherto we have watched their efforts without lifting a hand to help ; indeed, we have done what we could to foil and hinder them and bring them to starvation. .In a word, we have been playing blindly into the hands of France, lt is not yet too late, perhaps, to remedy our folly, but we cannot afford to waste a single day in setting about it.

I thoroughly indorse what I have read. The clangers pointed out are by no means imaginary; they are only too real. In that opinion, I am supported by the statements contained in letters sent by British residents in the New Hebrides to friend's in Australia, and, in particular, by a letter which I have received from the brother of a settler, who has been kind enough to give me a good deal of information about the conditions of settlement in the New Hebrides. The amount expended by France in the development of these islands is wholly out of proportion to the return which she gets from the French settlement there. But the European nations now realize that the Pacific may be the scene of the 'naval conflicts of the future, and therefore recognise the importance of guarding, their interests by securing territory there. A generation ago, most of the Pacific islands, with the exception of those over which Great Britain exercised a more or less careless protectorate, were in the undisturbed possession of the aboriginal inhabitants, but to-day, owing to the want of foresight and activity on the part of the Downing-street authorities, foreign nations have established possessions in many places within a few days.' journey of Australia, and at a convenient striking distance, should unfriendly relations between them and Great Britain arise. We cannot blame these nations for taking advantage of the situation, but we should reproach ourselves for not having been sufficiently alive to the value of the islands from a strategical, as well as a commercial, stand-point. At that time no national complications could have arisen from the hoisting of the British flag upon islands which are now in the possession of foreign Powers. In many cases where the British flag was hoisted, the British authorities did not appreciate the hold that they had upon the islands, and' some were afterwards practically filched from them. I need only refer to Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa, New Caledonia, and German New Guinea, over all of which the Union Jack once floated. I have the authority of the late Mr. Seddon for the statement that the New Hebrides were included in the original charter to New Zealand. And it is indisputable that they were largely discovered, surveyed, charted, and missionised by British effort, and at British cost. Gradually the islands to which I have referred have passed away from the British sway, and have been brought under foreign control. At present there is no chance of the New Hebrides being taken under the sole protection of Great Britain unless at the cost of some great sacrifice, either of money or territory, or probably both. The islands are now under dual control, and France strongly desires to take" complete possession of them. If we are not very careful, they will pass away absolutely from us, by reason of there probably being in a short time no longer any British interests in the islands to be safeguarded. I wish to quote a "letter which I have received from a settler in the New Hebrides, who says -

The situation in the group, from a British and Australian stand-point, is one of extreme gravity. And on the question of prompt action or otherwise by the Commonwealth Government the fate of the group on the score of national control now virtually' hangs. The French Government see what an 'immense advantage they have, in the fact that Australian settlers here are treated by the Australian Government as aliens and foreigners, and their products shut out of their only market by prohibitive tariffs. This has already practically ruined many settlers, who, after exhausting their small capital, have had to abandon their plantations. Small wonder that these ruined men are bitter in soul, and in the struggle between patriotism and destitution, are strongly tempted to yield to French inducements to change their allegiance from the British to the French flag. Surely the small amount of produce that the Australian settlers send into the Australian market cannot seriously be regarded as competition that can hurt Australians, who are their brothers. And look at the issues at stake from the nation's stand-point. The Australian settlers cannot hold out much longer against the templing bait of the better trading opportunities offered them by the French authorities, and once they yield, the case for French control, on the ground of effective occupation and French trading interests being paramount, will be unassailable. So for God's sake do try to get the Australian Parliament to realize what apathy or neglect must mean. The control of these islands by a foreign Government means practically that the Gibraltar of the Pacific is, through sheer folly, stupidity, and apathy, lost to our nation, for whatever nation holds the New Hebrides holds the key to the whole of the Southern Pacific trade routes once the Panama Canal is an accomplished fact. But this you know as well as I do, because you have often proclaimed the same fact.

The writer is in a very unfortunate position. He sold out his property in Australia, and invested all his money in the New Hebrides. He assures me that he has practically lost everything, but he is still endeavouring to prevent others from falling into the snares set bv the French settlers in the direction of inducing them to accept French naturalization. Another letter has been addressed to Senator Smith by a New Hebrides settler, who, in reference to the petition sent to the Prime Minister, says -

The main point dealt with is the unsatisfactory condition of British development here, owing to the abandonment of plantations in embryo by men who have exhausted their capital, and find it impossible to continue planting, through the lack of a market to which they can send their produce, such as maize, millet, &c. Another argument touched upon is the danger of a movement being inaugurated among British settlers to assist the French in their efforts to obtain complete control of the group. Such a proposal has actually been made, and I have reason to believe that there is grave danger of the matter being seriously taken up. . . .

To renounce one's nationality is a grave step to take, but under the peculiar circumstances it is an Act that would find condonation even among the most patriotic. One's sentiment of patriotism is apt to become deadened when one's own country refuses to regard one as anything but a foreigner. This is a particularly sore point with Australians here, especially as we claim to be trying to colonize in the interests of Australia. ....

There can be no successful efforts at development until the one obstacle, the tariff, is wholly or for the main part removed ; and our petition embodies a request for a rebate' of at least three.fourths of the amount of tariff on all British-grown produce from the New Hebrides.

The amount of produce imported into Australia from the New Hebrides is very small, and, even from the point of view of a pronounced protectionist, could' not be regarded as likely to exercise any appreciable influence upon our markets. I gather from an official return laid upon, the table, on 10th August, 1904, that the quantity of maize sent to Australia was 18,266 centals.

Mr Deakin - What period does that cover ?

Mr JOHNSON - The vear ended 30th June, 1904.

Mr Deakin - There must have been a great deal more imported.

Mr JOHNSON - The quantity I have mentioned was carried in vessels owned by Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Company.

Mr Deakin - For the calendar year 1904, the importations amounted to 34,000 centals. During the previous year a larger quantity was imported, but there has been a heavy drop since.

Mr JOHNSON - In any case, the amount imported was very small in comparison with" our requirements. The return which I have mentioned shows the produce which has been carried from the New* Hebrides to Australia in vessels owned by Burns, Philp, and Company during the year ended 30th June, 1904. I find that 2,026 tons of copra, valued at ^24,312, were sent to Sydney, and admitted duty free. Eighteen thousand two hundred and sixtysix centals of maize, of a value, including duty, of ^4,112, were imported. The amount of duty paid was j£i,37o. Of coffee, 86,480 lbs., valued at ^2,162 ci.f. at Sydney, was imported, and the duty paid amounted to ^1,081. Of the duty 6,500 lbs., valued at £50, was imported, and the duty paid amounted to ^13 10s. It will thus be seen that our importations from the New Hebrides are scarcely worth taking into account when compared with our local production, and their introduction into our markets free of dutv could not interfere to any appreciable extent with our local producers. It is of the highest public importance, not only from the commercial, but also from a strategical stand -point, that we should increase our interest in these islands. We have to consider the important position which the islands occupy in regard to the great Pacific trade route to the old country, which will be opened up when the Panama Canal is completed. Above all things, my reason for wishing to see British supremacy maintained in the islands is that effective policing of the. South Seas by the British Navy may be rendered possible, in the event of our unfortunately becoming embroiled in hostilities with any of the great naval Powers who have established themselves in the Pacific, or, in fact, with any ether Power. Let us hope that that occasion may never arise, but, at the same time, hold ourselves prepared for the worst. It would be a grave mistake to allow matters to drift, and to permit foreign nations to absorb all the islands of the Pacific, thus depriving us of any strategic base of value from which we could conduct operations for the protection of our commerce. I have included the New Hebrides group in my motion, because it possesses harbors unrivalled in the Pacific. Havannah Harbor, in the island of Vaté is perhaps one of the finest in the world. It has an entrance which is fully a mile wide, and a depth of water which is capable of floating the largest battle-ship that is likely to be constructed. Even close in shore a depth of from 15 to 20 fathoms can be obtained. It is a harbor which is splendidly situated - for a naval base, because it is almost naturally fortified. At any rate, the cost of fortifying it would be very small indeed. I believe that it might be made absolutely impregnable at a comparatively small cost. The French realize its importance to a far greater extent than do the British authorities, if we. are to judge by the apathy which they exhibit in connexion with these islands. There is another harbor in the island of Mallicollo - I refer to Port Sandwich - which has also excellent facilities for shipping accommodation and for a naval station. But the best feature about these islands is that the harbors of which I have spoken are approachable in all kinds of weather - an advantage which cannot be claimed for many harbors in the South Pacific, most of which are surrounded by dangerous coral reefs. Much more could be urged in support of this motion. I am very anxious to see British settlement take place all over the Pacific, unhampered by tariff or other restrictions, and more particularly am I desirous that it should be encouraged in the New Hebrides, in order that when the time comes - as come it must - when their national control must be determined, we may be able to demonstrate our effective occupation, and the paramoun'tcy of British interests in that group.

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