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Wednesday, 7 December 1938

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Assistant Minister) (3:15 AM) . - I do not think that the honorable member would expect me to answer every one of the complaints which he has made this evening, complaints based in the mainon information contained in a letter which has been sent to me, and a copy of which was sent to him. In raising these matters that are obviously of a nature requiring investigation, the honorable member has unwittingly forced me prematurely to make a statement on the matter contained in the letter. Before I deal with these complaints in detail, however, I shall answer some of the observations madeby the honorable member. He suggested that slavery exists in the territory. Every investigation which I have made in regard to the territory concerning the employment of natives, convinces me that the natives are adequately protected, not only under the ordinances but also by the officers of the administration. Incidentally, the reports of those who have investigated the treatment of these natives on behalf of the League of Nations are so commendatory that I am led to believe that the statements made by the honorable member with regard to slavery are gross misrepresentations. I refer particularly to the Native Labour

Ordinance of 1935-38, which contains special safeguards for the protection of natives from undue exploitation by white men. Those safeguards cover his hire, the signing of his contract, and his treatment upon concluding his contract until he returns to his village. The employment of natives is mainly under indenture, but where contracts are made apart from indenture, similar safeguards are provided. It is insisted in all cases in which a native enters into a contract that he must first have volunteered his services as an employee, and an officer of the administration is called upon to satisfy himself that the native has so offered his services, and that he understands exactly the terms and conditions of the contract before he signs it. The officer is obliged to satisfy himself that no force whatever has been applied in order to recruit the native's services. Furthermore, the native has explained to him the conditions under which he will be obliged to work, and the conditions which will apply to* his services in regard to housing, rations, and medical attention. All of these things are fully explained to the native, and all kinds of penalties are provided in respect of breaches of this ordinance. Inspections are made regularly, and in the flogging case mentioned by the honorable member the ill-treatment of the native was discovered by an officer. On going to one of these plantations he found that the boy was not present, and in response to his inquiries was told he was over the river on another plantation. When the officer visited that plantation he made further inquiries for the boy, and it was due to his diligence that the case to whichthe honorable member has referred, was discovered. It can at least be conceded, therefore, that the officers of the territory are seriously concerned with the welfare of the natives, and take every care to preserve their rights by seeing that the regulations are strictly observed. Dealing with the honorable member's allegations that wholesale floggings take place, I refer him to sections 110 and 111 of the Native Labour Ordinance, which provide -

Any person, being in authority over a native labourer, who inflicts flogging or other corporal chastisement upon thenative labourer is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of £100, or imprisonment for six months, or both.

I also draw the honorable member's attention to the fact that, in cases in which assaults on natives have occurred, appropriate remedial action has been taken by administrative officers. For instance, in 1936-37, 29 persons other than natives were convicted for assault upon natives in the territory. Thus, the honorable member's sweeping allegation that administrative officers take no steps whatever to prevent the flogging of natives is entirely unfounded ; it is in conflict with the evidence in the possession of the department bearing on this case. The honorable member also referred to recently promulgated ordinances which, he said, had imposed a penalty upon even the person who complained on behalf of the natives. He stated that his informant had received a. summons for acting in the interests of the natives. Here is a statement supplied to the department by the Administrator -

I lie papers include si statement by Mr. laines Dowsett. supported by, his affidavit and Hint of his brother, Alfred P. -Dowsett. in which he. stated that, on the 22nd November. l!i:fi. "1 met Mr. T. Wallace at the Native Labour Market, and accused bini of forcing an indentured labourer of in inc. named Stirling, to make a complaint against mc." Wallace walked with me to my car which was parked near the. Electric Light .Company's office. and. in the, presence of my brother, Alfred Dowsett. who was seated in the car. he remarked ihat he was very sorry for any personal discomfort caused to nic. through his (Wallace's) action, and offered to pay my fine with all costs. He also stated that he was using me in order to get at the. District Office and thu District Services, and that he was particularly anxious to get Mr. Waugh, Mr.

Evans and "that white-headed old.-

Mantle ". " f am reporting this matter in fairness to your staff, and as 1 am of the opinion that Wallace is acting in a malicious vindictive and under-hand manner, and is also endeavouring to stir lip disaffection among the natives."

That statement is supported by an affidavit, and we may assume that the person referred to has been guilty of inciting the natives. I deplore the fact that Mrs. Wallace, having sent to me a letter containing a series of complaints, did not allow sufficient time for me as a new Minister, to investigate them, but sent a copy of the letter to the honorable member to be made public in this House. That is not the proper way in which to seek information from the department. That, in itself, would appear to be evi- dence that the writer is trying to create disharmony.

It was stated that there was great loss of life among the natives from pneumonia following measles. The department receives a quarterly report from the territory regarding the health of the natives, and of the population generally, and beyond the fact that a mild form of measles, causing incapacity for only three or four days, has spread among some of the natives, there is nothing to indicate that there has been a severe epidemic. However, in case there may be some later information to be had, I have caused inquiries to be .made to ascertain whether hu epidemic causing loss of life has" occurred. This information has not yet been obtained.

Reference was made to the sentence of five years imposed on To Kone, and to applications which have been made for his release. He has not yet served the full term of bis sentence. We do not know the circumstances surrounding his case. He may not yet have acquired the necessary good conduct marks to justify his release, or there may be other reasons preventing his release before the termination1 of his sentence.

Mr James - The mau who flogged a native to death was released after serving only half his sentence.

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