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Wednesday, 8 March 1961

Mr HASLUCK (CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Territories) - The Leader of the Opposition will recognize that matters relating to the administration of the Pacific Islands Regiment come under the Department of Defence and the Department of the Army and that it would not be within my province to make any statements in connexion with them. As he has raised the question, however, I should like to say, as Minister for Territories, that so far as our knowledge goes, these incidents were peculiar to a local situation and must not be read as having any significance in connexion with the feeling in the Territory as a whole. I think that possibly the significance of these incidents has been slightly exaggerated. I can give some information about the situation at Rabaul immediately.

Mr Calwell - If the Minister would permit me to interrupt him, what I had in mind was that the House should be presented with the facts relating to both situations and that the House should then have the opportunity of discussing the policy being pursued by the Government with respect to them.

Mr HASLUCK - I think that in itself would exaggerate the importance of both incidents, neither of which was of great significance when considered against their background. What happened in Rabaul was that there was a small, detached group of native people which had been practising a cult which became known as the helicopter cult. It was believed that on a certain date some helicopters would land among them bringing them gifts and benefits of a general kind. This helicopter cult was ridiculed very extensively by the native people in the surrounding villages who felt so strongly about it that they carried their ridicule to such a point that the members of the cult, in self-justification, or in resentment at the ridicule to which they were being subjected by their own people, took violent steps against one of the native leaders from another village who was ridiculing them. When this native leader ridiculed them for the silly nonsense that they were talking, they beat him with sticks. In order to avoid a situation of disorder developing, the district officer made certain arrests for public disorder and brought in the offenders. They appeared before the court and were sentenced.

Now that the proceedings are over I do not think that it would be improper for me to venture the opinion that perhaps the sentences imposed were a little heavier than we, administratively, thought necessary, because we did not take the matter seriously. But the question of sentences is left to the discretion of the magistrate, who, on this occasion, apparently took a more serious view of the matter than we, administratively, would have taken.

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