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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) .- Over a considerable period, representations have been made to me by the president and other officers of the Labour party of New Guinea that steps should be taken by the Commonwealth Government to provide a toad from Salamaua to Wau. The substance of the case presented in support of the road is that the people at Wau are now dependent entirely upon aerial transportation, which costs on the average, about £21 a ton. The resultant concentration upon the richer ground shortens the life of mining propositions, and reduces the opportunities of the average man to take up a prospect with any hope of working it economically. The capital outlay is greater than it would be if transportation costs could be reduced. It has been represented to me that, if the desired road were constructed, the cost of freight could be reduced to approximately £6 a ton, as the result of the use of diesel-engined road vehicles. It is said that this charge, together with a toll of £1 a ton, would mean a very great saving on the present cost of freight, and at the same time would defray the cost of the loan and provide a sinking fund for its redemption. My informants are quite satisfied that go important economically is the construction of this road that there would be little doubt that the white population of New Guinea would be prepared to subscribe the loan, but, as the territory is administered under mandate by the Commonwealth, this Parliament would have to take the responsibility of guaranteeing the loan. They further state that, as far back as 1926, the Commonwealth Government decided to increase the royalty on gold from. 1 per cent, to 5 per cent., to provide revenue for the administration, and also to ensure the construction of roads and services in the Morobe district. I have ascertained that from the 1st July, 1926, to the 30th June. 1937, approximately £430,000 was collected as the result of the increase of the royalty.

Mr Hughes - Not as the result of the increase. The figure mentioned by the honorable member is, I think, the total sum' collected.

Mr CURTIN - That may be so. If so, the royalty would have amounted, without the increase, to only about £S0,0O0. In any case, the increase of the percentage has resulted in a very large sura being made available which would not otherwise have been forthcoining, and the imposition of these increased charges on the mining industry was intended to provide the money required for local services such as roads and the like. L am rather surprised that the Minister is not able to indicate the route of the proposed road, because", obviously, the length of it will to a great extent determine its cost. It has been represented to me that the road will be 55 miles in length.

Mr Hughes - By air line the distance is 30 miles. 33y one route, which has been surveyed ahead, it is 56 miles, and by others 42 miles and 70 miles. The road involving the longest route might, after all, be the cheapest to construct by reason of having the easiest grades.

Mr CURTIN - The Minister said that the cost had been estimated to be about £150,000, but the information furnished to me is that the cost would be about £180,000. I should not be astonished to find that the latter sum proved to be nearer the truth, because I understand that when tenders were called about three years ago, for the construction of the road from Wau to Edie Creek, the lowest tender was £14,000. That tender was not accepted, but a contract was let at £16,000. My information is that that price enabled the contractor to make a considerable amount of profit.

Mr Hughes - The man who built that road is here in this House. It cost £24,000 for twelve miles. The grade is one in nine, and there arc hairpin bends every 100 yards.

Mr CURTIN - I do not doubt the assertions made to the Minister, but New Guinea is a long way from Australia, and other statements have been made regarding the cost of road construction there. The right honorable gentleman will be able to 'refer to the files in the department. I submit that, before telling us that statements made in Canberra are impeccable, he should have fortified himself by a scrutiny of the documents.

Mr Hughes - I have done my best in the matter.

Mr CURTIN - Are the documents here or in New Guinea?

Mr Hughes - They are here, certainly. Those who recommended this road said it could be built for £150,000.

Mr CURTIN - I can appreciate their desire to keep the price low. If the estimated (jost were high, however much the right honorable gentleman might desire to gratify their wishes, his friend the Treasurer would cast a somewhat icy eye upon the project, and ask how far it was reasonable to expect the Commonwealth Government to guarantee a loan for such a considerable sum. I am convinced that the Minister would have been more justified than he is in submitting this proposition to the House if he had been able to describe the route, and say definitely what would be the cost of the road.

Mr Jennings - How wide would it be?

Mr CURTIN - That I take it is a matter on which the engineers will satisfy themselves, and I am not disposed to quarrel with them in that regard.

Mr Jennings - The Edie Creek road is only 12 ft. wide, and it cost £2,000 a mile.

Mr CURTIN - I am more concerned about knowing the extent of the obligation which the Commonwealth is asked to accept in guaranteeing the loan. I should like some assurance from the Minister that, in the construction of this road; duc regard will be paid to the protection, of' native labour against unfair conditions, if not exploitation. I take. it. that natives will be employed under the supervision of whites. The greater part of the labour in the territory must obviously be provided by those who get their living there, but we should take care that in the engagement of labour with the imprimatur, ultimately, of this Parliament, adequate guarantees are given that the native labour will be fairly and properly treated.

Mr Hughes - I can give a definite assurance on that point.

Mr CURTIN - Will the Minister see that the contract made, presumably, by the Administrator of New Guinea, will include the requisite specifications to guard native labour against improper treatment?

Mr Hughes - No contract is let in New Guinea unless the conditions covering the employment of labour, as provided by ordinance, are embodied in the agreement.

Mr.CURTIN- If representations are made to the Minister for the tightening up of the ordinance, will he give the matter fair consideration?

Mr Hughes - I shall see that the representations are placed directly before the Administrator, and I shall do what I can in the matter, as far as my influence goes, although I am assured, and believe, that the treatment of native labour in New Guinea will compare very favorably with that of white labour in many countries, I shall see that no room is left for criticism.

Mr CURTIN - It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that he will make representations that certain things should be done. I point out that the construction of the road is to be made possible by this Parliament guaranteeing the loan. Therefore, as the Minister has invoked the authority of this Parliament for the guaranteeing of the loan, he should also guarantee that the native labour will not be unfairly treated.

Mr Hughes - I shall do that.

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