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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr BARNES (McPherson) (Minister for External Territories) - by leave - In harmony with the Government's approach indicated in the Governor-General's Speech the Government intends to introduce some immediate changes within the provisions of the present Papua and New Guinea Act which will give Ministerial Members drawn from the Papua and New Guinea House of Assembly increased powers both individually in relation to the functions of their departments and collectively as members of the Administrator's Executive Council. During the parliamentary recess there were Ministerial discussions in Canberra with the Territory Select Committee on Constitutional Development, which were helpful to both sides.

Following the recommendations of the Select Committee on Constitutional Development set up by the first House of Assembly the Papua and New Guinea Act was amended in May 1968 to provide for further constitutional development in Papua and New Guinea. The main changes made at that time provided for increased participation by elected members in the executive government of the Territory through a system of Ministerial offices and the replacement of the former Administrator's Council by the Administrator's Executive Council. It was emphasised that these arrangements were essentially transitional in character. It was stated that under section 25 the role and functions of Ministerial Members and Assistant Ministerial Members could be adapted in the light of experience.

The Act sets out that the functions of Ministerial office holders are generally to assist in the administration of the Government of the Territory to the extent and in the manner provided by arrangements approved by the Minister for External Territories under section 25. In 1968 in accordance with the amendments to the Act 7 Ministerial Members and 8 Assistant Ministerial Members were appointed from elected members of the House of Assembly.

These office holders were selected from elected members of the House jointly by the Ministerial Nominations Committee of the House and the Administrator before being nominated to the Minister for appointment. There are Ministerial Members for Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries, Education, Labour, Posts and Telegraphs, Public Health, Public Works, and Trade and Industry. At present Ministerial Members share responsibility with the departmental heads for overall departmental activities and for the framing of policy proposals including proposals for expenditure.

The Government considers that the time has now come to invite Ministerial Members to assume more responsibility in the administration of the government of the Territory. New arrangements have therefore been approved for Ministerial Members under section 25 of the Act. I table the approved arrangements. These include also the arrangements applying in respect of Assistant Ministerial Members. Subject to the overall responsibility of the Minister for External Territories, acting through the Administrator, these approved arrangements provide that a Ministerial Member will be fully responsible to the Administrator's Executive Council for the day-to-day running of the department instead of, as at present, acting jointly with the departmental head and sharing the responsibility with him.

As set out in the approved arrangements a Ministerial Member will within the framework of broader Government policy make decisions regarding policy and administration in day to day activities related to the matters for which he is responsible. He will formulate plans and proposals for departmental expenditure including draft departmental estimates. It is the Government's intention that these changes should come into effect in practice at once and without waiting for amendments to Territory Ordinances which will be necessary.

The Government looks to officials who may now hold statutory powers by delegation or otherwise to exercise these with the concurrence of the Ministerial Member in the spirit of these arrangements.

Some changes are also being made in relation to the Administrator's Executive Council. Again these changes are within the framework of the existing Papua and New Guinea Act. The Council has been exercising increasing authority over the past 2 years and its scope is now being further enlarged. Under the present arrangements the Council advises the Administrator, who is broadly free to accept or disregard the advice. However, the Government has been consulting the Council on a widening range of issues and has increasingly accepted the Council's views. In future the Council's authority will be enhanced in 3 ways: Firstly, it will be consulted on all significant policy issues; secondly, it will advise on the more important departmental questions referred to it by a Ministerial Member; thirdly, it will have a greater voice in the procedures for the framing of the Territory budget, as explained later. May I interpose that I propose to delegate powers which will be advised at a later date.

Apart from these specific matters the Government has been giving and will continue to give increasing weight to the views and advice of the Administrator's Executive Council. This increase in the power and. influence of the Council is qualitative in character. It is not to be measured in terms of specific powers, individual acts of administration or areas of policy or increased financial delegations, but it will be apparent by the degree to which the Administrator's Executive Council in future influences the Government's attitude on important issues. An example of this kind of increasing influence is the recent reference to the Council by the Minister of the question whether the Papuan Medical College should become part of the University of Papua and New Guinea. This is a matter related to the responsibilities of the Ministerial Member for Health. The Council concluded that it was highly desirable for the Medical College to become part of the University provided arrangements could be made for Government controls to be maintained over costs and the broad direction of the medical course. Such a formula would meet the difficulties previously seen by the Government and the Government has said it accepts the Council's conclusion so that if the University agrees to the Council's recommendations they will be put into effect.

Having regard to the changes I have mentioned, regulations will be made under the Act to govern some procedural matters including the recording of Council decisions and their transmission to the Commonwealth Government There will also be changes in the procedures by which the Territory budget is framed so that elected members of the House of Assembly will have a greater say in the budget. The Administrator's Executive Council will be invited to establish immediately an Estimates Sub-committee. Officials of the Territory Treasury will keep the Sub-committee closely in touch with plans and progress in respect of the forthcoming financial year's estimates. The Sub-committee will be invited to discuss the draft estimates with the Minister for External Territories before these are finalised. After those discussions no important alterations will be made in the draft estimates without the knowledge of the Estimates Sub-committee and without their having a full opportunity to comment. Throughout the period during which the budget is being framed it is expected that the Estimates Sub-committee of the Council will keep in touch with the existing Budget Committee of the House of Assembly, a body made up wholly of elected members, with a view to informing themselves of any points which members of the House may wish to have considered in the draft estimates for the following year.

Self government will not be forced on the people against their wishes. Nevertheless the Government considers steps should be taken now so that the elected representatives of the people take on additional responsibilities in the government of the Territory. The Government is satisfied that the changes now proposed accord with the climate of opinion of the House of Assembly and of the Territory generally. The changes I have outlined reflect the Government's approach of progressively transferring responsibility to elected members of the Territory House of Assembly. The new arrangements are a definite and material step along the road to self government.

Further constitutional changes to be put into effect later this year are now under examination. None of the changes I have outlined requires amendment to the Papua and New Guinea Act. Important or major changes in the constitutional arrangements for Papua and New Guinea of the sort that might be expected to require substantial amendment to the Act should in the Government's view await consideration by the Territory House of Assembly of the report of the Select Committee on Constitutional Development so that such substantial amendment of the Act would be decided upon in the light of the views of the Territory people.

I present the following papers:

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