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Thursday, 21 May 1970

Mr BARNES (McPherson) (Minister for External Territories) - For the information of honourable members I present a copy of a speech, made on Wednesday, 13th May, by Dr J. D. Gunther to the Fourth Waigani Seminar on the Politics of Melanesia, entitled 'Background to the House of Assembly'. I ask for leave to make a statement on this subject.

MrDEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr BARNES - On 15th May I undertook to make a statement concerning some allegations made in an address at the

Waigani Seminar by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Papua and New Guinea that there had been interference with the proceedings and deliberations of the House of Assembly select committees on constitutional development. On the day that Dr Gunther's remarks were published in the Australian newspapers a Press conference was held in Canberra for the Papuan and New Guinean advisers about to depart for the Trusteeship Council and for Mr L. W. Johnson, the AdministratorDesignate who will be the special representative at the Council. It is unfortunate that the newspapers which gave wide coverage to Dr Gunther's criticisms did not report Mr Johnson's comments. These were in form of the answers to questions:

Q.   Do you have any comment to make on the remarks of Dr Gunther as reported in today's Australian'?

A.   Well, I haven't seen Dr Gunther's remarks and 1 would like to read what he has said. The Constitutional Committee, the current Constitutional Committee, consists of 14 members, of whom 2 were official members. I was one of them. This is a more or less standard practice in the formation of Standing and Select Committees in the House of Assembly - that there is proportionate representation on these committees. There are tcn official members in a House of 94. All standing committees of the House reflect the composition. So if you have a Standing Committee of ten or so you can expect one or two official members on it. The role of officials is really advising It is not the job of officials to initiate or direct discuss-on in any particular direction. I think it would be inappropriate for an official member to take a personal initiative.

Q.   Without having seen Dr Gunther's statement can you see any justification for his claim about the present committee?

A.   Well Dr Gunther was an official of the 1964 Committee and perhaps he is referring to that. I was a member of the current Constitutional Committee and in fact I was Deputy Chairman. This was at the specific request of the members. 1 was reluctantly deputy chairman because 1 thought it was inappropriate that this position should be held by an official member. 1 regarded it as nol my province to take the initiative or to put up idea.s lt is obvious that the Government does have a viewpoint and the role of official member is to make sure it is known. It is inappropriate to direct discussion in any direction. I was never asked to do so, nor did I.

Mr Johnson'sviews accord with the Government's position. Both the previous Select Committee and the present Committee sought the Government's views on constitutional development in the Territory and on proposed developments in the Territory which might have a bearing on Australia itself. On 26th November 1965 the previous Select Committee, chaired by Mr Guise, presented its first interim report to the House of Assembly. Dr Gunther had resigned from that Committee on 24th November - only 2 days earlier. The report said, inter alia:

The Committee is at present considering how these various alternatives can be put to the people in such a way that the people can understand the different possibilities and make a wise choice.

The Committee is also concerned that the policy of the Australian Government with regard to constitutional development in the Territory should be clear before the people of the two Territories are asked to choose their future. Many of the choices affect the future of Australia as well as the future of Papua and New Guinea.

Thus the Committee feels that it would be unwise to present possible alternatives to the people without first establishing just what future associations with Australia would be acceptable to the Australian Government. It is obvious that in all constitutional development of this Territory the Australian Government would have the closest interest.

The Committee considers that it should have exploratory discussions with representatives of the Australian Government particularly on the matter of the range of special relationships between Papua and New Guinea and Australia that would be acceptable lo Australia.

I first met the Select Committee on 17th January 1966. At this meeting the Chairman indicated a number of matters on which the Select Committee would seek the Government's views. I replied that many of the matters ra sed would need Cabinet consideration and suggested a later meeting with Ministers in Canberra.

In a statement in the House of Representatives on 3 1st March 1966 1 informed the House of the wish of the Select Committee for exploratory discussions. I said that the Committee wished to discuss particularly the range of special relationships in the future between Papua and New Guinea and Australia which might be considered by the Government of the day.. I also said:

Any proposals for changes in the composition of the House of Assembly would need to come before the Commonwealth Government this year for consideration so that if legislation to amend the Papua and New Guinea Act were decided upon it could be brought before the Parliament in due time and so that any legislation relating to proposals for adjustment of the Territory electoral boundaries may be considered by the House of Assembly in time to enable all actions necessary for holding of the elections to be taken.

On 21st April 1966 I made a detailed statement in the House on the discussion which had taken place earlier that month between Ministers and the Select Committee.

Any suggestion that this discussion with Ministers or that advice given by official members on the Committee had influenced elected members improperly was met by a speech by the Chairman of the Committee, Mr John Guise, in the House of Assembly on 9th June 1967 when he said:

Last night a news item from 9PA spoke briefly about the select committee and in a part of it said that the select committee was forced to restrain its recommendations for fear of offending the Commonwealth Government by asking for too much. It is good that criticism of this nature is broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is a very healthy sign and, as a member and Chairman of this Committee, I accept and welcome this criticism. However, the news item gave me the impression that the report of the select committee committee does not go far enough and that its recommendations are too conservative and would no doubt, be pleasing to the Department of Territories and to the Commonwealth Government.

Mr Speaker,it has been a basic policy of the Committee that it would seek the views of the people on the matters it was examining and be guided by those views. In the second interim report it followed the wishes of the majority of the people by providing for increased representation in the House of Assembly of 1968. The committee visited all district headquarters for the purpose of finding out what steps the people wanted taken in the constitutional development of our country.

It heard the views of our people and was able to obtain an indication of the amount of change desired. The Committee felt obliged to give effect to the views of the people and its recommendations were made in accordance with those views. The majority of the people desired to step forward. They wanted the members of the House of Assembly in 1968 to take a greater part in the future government of our country. They did not request radical changes. I am speaking of the majority view of the people. Members will, of course, be aware of the thoughts and opinions of their people and constituents in this matter and will be guided by this. Mr Speaker, the committee does not know the views of the Department of Territories at least I do not. The Committee has been concerned with the views of the people and all the local government councils of this Territory, and not those of any department whether it be the Department of Territories or the Commonwealth Government or the United Nations or any other outside body.

In his address Dr Gunther says that he has reason to believe there is interference with the present Select Committee chaired by Mr Arek. This statement is at odds with the second interim report of this Select

Committee on Constitutional Development which was tabled by Mr Arek in the House of Assembly on 12th March. It states:

5.   At its meeting on 16th December 1969, your Committees decided on a list of persons that it would wish to interview during its visit to Australia. The list included the Prime Minister, the Minister for External Territories, other Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and certain officials and other persons. Arrangements were made by the Department of External Territories for discussions in accordance with the wishes of your Committee. Your Committee visited Australia and held official talks between Monday, 2nd February and Saturday. 7th February 1970. While in Canberra your Committee took the opportunity to discuss constitutional development with Professors Davidson and Sawer of the Institute ot Advanced Studies, Australian National University. The members also had talks with the High Commissioners representing Ghana and Ceylon In Australia. Your Committee also accepted an invitation to meet representatives of the Council on New Guinea Affairs for a general discussion about constitutional development.

6.   Your committee found this visit very informative and fruitful. Members also were able to clarify a number of points with the persons with whom they had discussions. The members were met on all sides by goodwill.

7.   The House will be aware that, following on the talks which your Committee sought with representatives of the Commonwealth Government in February last, there have been announcements in the Governor-General's Speech, on 3rd March, and by the Minister for External Territories in the House of Representatives, on 4tb March X970, of steps that the Commonwealth Government intends to take immediately to give increased powers to ministerial members. The relevant part the Governor-General's Speech and the Statement of the Minister are set out in the appendices to this report.

8.   The Constitutional changes now proposed are the direct result of your Committee's Canberra talks and reflect the importance that the Commonwealth Government places on the work of your Committee. The Committee is now reviewing the constitutional position that has been reached and will probably propose further talks with the Commonwealth Government later in 1970.

So that members may follow the thinking of the people of Papua and New Guinea as expressed to the Select Committee, I am circulating reports of proceedings before the Committee. These reports are also being circulated to the Press.

It is a matter for comment that the criticism contained in the statement which 1 have tabled should come from a person who was an official member of the Committee. The difficult position in which a public servant finds himself when acting as an official member of the House of Assembly and its committees has been referred to on a number of occasions in this House. Dr Gunther is reported to have said that as official members were appointed to the Committee by the legislature they were free to enter into general discussion without being restricted to any narrow official point of view. The Government does not see it as appropriate to equate the role of a member who holds office by virtue of election with that of a public servant who is a member of the House of Assembly by appointment by the Governor-General on the nomination of the Administrator. The Government regards Mr Johnson's explanation of the role of an official member of the House of Assembly serving as a member of the Select Committee on Constitutional Development as being entirely appropriate. Mr Deputy Speaker, I present the following paper:

Papua and New Guinea - Allegations at the Waigani i Seminar - Ministerial Statement, 2 1st May 1970.

Motion (by Mr Snedden) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

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