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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill.

Mr EDMONDS - With due respect, I believe that the remarks I will make are substantially connected with the bill. Although I have not yet mentioned the point - I was trying to present the facts in sequence - I should say forthwith that this man and his crew were arrested and were prisoners, and that the crew are still virtually prisoners in Samarai to-day. I believe, sir, that not only you, but also every honorable member, will agree that my remarks are connected with the bill. I will proceed with the story. Mr. Bowden, who is an ex-member of the Royal Australian Air Force, with six and one-half years' service, put the whole of his and his wife's life savings into modern equipment for this ship " Alpha ", which was under charter from Mr. Comino, and then proceeded to New Guinea for the purpose of fishing for trochus shell.

It is quite true that there has been considerable and lengthy correspondence between myself and the Minister in connexion with this matter, and I have no complaint about the manner in which the Minister responded. We are dealing with a bill for the removal of prisoners from the Territory, and connecting my remarks with the measure, I ask just exactly what people must do, or fail to do, to become prisoners in New Guinea. I wish to refer also to the manner in which prisoners are treated in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.

This man and his crew proceeded to Samarai, but before they did so he called on Captain Wall, the Harbour Master at Townsville, and asked him to indicate the procedure necessary in order to obtain a permit to enter the Territory. Captain Wall told him in all good faith that no permit was necessary, that, being an Australian, he was entitled to enter the Territory which was Australian mandated territory. He proceeded to New Guinea in complete and utter honesty. When he reached New Guinea he was told that he had no right to be there without a permit and was given - I want to be completely truthful about the matter - an opportunity to leave New Guinea waters and return to Australia. A cyclone was raging, and he felt that if he attempted to return to Australia under such conditions the vessel might sink and he and the three members of his crew might lose their lives.

It was suggested later, when this question of the elements was taken into account, that he could have sneaked from island to island and got back to Townsville in that way. I put to the House and to the Minister, who I hope will investigate this matter a little more fully than he has done, whether that was a fair proposition to have put to this man having regard to all the circumstances. However, he did not leave New Guinea, and he and his crew were arrested. I know it is not the province of the Minister to interfere with the functioning of the law. I appreciate his difficulty in that respect, but I also appreciate the terrific hardship caused to this man, the members of his crew, and his wife when he was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for three months. He was thrown into prison in Samarai for three months and each member of his crew was imprisoned for one month. For what? Each day we read in our daily newspapers about serious crimes that are committed in the States but which do not, in the mind of the courts, warrant imprisonment for a term of three months.

All this man is guilty of, unless the Minister can tell me of anything else - and I have this man's complete authority to challenge the Minister in this regard - is that he entered New Guinea waters without a permit to do so. He was imprisoned for three months as a prohibited immigrant. When the case was brought to my notice by his wife, who was very distressed, I immediately sent a telegram to the Minister. After an exchange of telegrams, Mr. Bowden was released on two- sureties of £50, with an additional £50 to be provided to meet his return fare to Townsville. The fact of the matter is that his wife was unable to obtain the extra £50. I wired the Minister informing him that the order was that he would be released on two sureties of £50 provided he left the Territory within 28 days. I put it to the Minister that once his fare was booked and he had left, the two sureties of £50 would be refunded to him and that one of the sureties could be used for the purpose of repatriating him.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member is getting away from, the bill.

Mr EDMONDS - The fact of the matter is that these men were imprisoned in Samarai. No necessity exists for this bill or any other bill in order to return them. When they were released this man returned, at his own expense, of course; but the other three men are still virtually prisoners because they are not allowed to leave the ship which is under confiscation' at Samarai. The Minister has told me that was done at the request of the owner of the ship. I spoke to the owner and he is exceedingly anxious that the ship be returned to him. 1 realize that this matter is not absolutely related to the bill, but the debate has given me this opportunity to express my disgust at the manner in which this ex-member of the services has been treated. He could easily have been given a permit in New Guinea when he got there. That would have been only a formality, I understand. Why was this man thrown into prison at Samarai when a little bit of common sense and tolerance could have overcome the whole matter? The whole of his life's savings are gone. The ship is still tied up at Samarai. The three members of his crew are virtually prisoners because they are not permitted to leave the ship. The man who owns the ship cannot get it. I should like the Minister, if he would be good enough, to have a much closer investigation made into this matter to see if the imprisonment of this ex-serviceman is justified or not.

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