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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr BARNES (Mcpherson) (Minister for Territories) . - by leave - I wish to inform the House that I have invited the Select Committee on Constitutional Development appointed by the House of Assembly for Papua and New Guinea to come to Canberra for exploratory discussions in the week beginning 18th April 1966. This invitation follows informal talks I had with the Committee in Port Moresby on 19th January this year. The Committee was appointed in 1965 and its terms of reference are: To draft for the consideration of the House of Assembly a set of constitutional proposals to serve as a guide for future constitutional development in the Territory.

The Committee presented an interim report to the House of Assembly in November 1965. The report said that it was reasonable to suppose that the Government would consider further changes in some aspects of the House of Assembly before the 1968 elections and that the Committee would be considering early this year possible constitutional changes before the next House of Assembly elections. The Committee was also formulating a list of the possible alternatives from which the people of both

Territories might al the relevant time choose their future. Before it sought the views of the people on possible constitutional development the Committee considered that it should have exploratory discussions with the Government. It appears that the Committee is particularly interested in 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.

The next elections for the Territory House of Assembly are due to be held in March 1968. 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 might be considered by the House of Assembly in time to enable all actions necessary for holding of the elections to be taken.

The Gevernment has no desire to press upon the people of the Territory constitutional changes which they do not want or for which they think they are not ready; nor will the Government refuse to make changes if there is strong and widespread support for change in the Territory. This is the Government's attitude to the possibility of changes affecting the House of Assembly which the Select Committee referred to in its interim report, and it applies also to possible changes in the form of executive government, that is, in the arrangements for the Administration of the Territory to operate after the next elections for the House of Assembly. Subject to these considerations, the Government would regard transitional steps towards eventual responsible ministerial government as appropriate at this stage. Without taking away from the Commonwealth Government's final policy responsibility that is exercised through the Administrator and the Minister for Territories, arrangements could be made for certain responsibilities of a ministerial character to be passed to an initially limited number of elected members and for changes to be made in the arrangements for the Administrator's Council directed to the same end. I present the following paper -

Papua and New Guinea - Constitutional Development, Ministerial Statement, 31st March 1966- and move -

That the House take note of the paper.

Mr Whitlam - I should like to move that this paper join the other . matters on Papua and New Guinea which are on the notice paper and which have not been debated since May and August of last year.

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