Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 10 November 1921

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - In connexion with the Home and Territories Department an item of £7,500 is set down towards the expenses of administration in Papua. I desire to deal with the subject-matter of a question asked by Senator Elliott to-day, as follows : -

Has the Governmentyet decided upon the policy it is to follow regarding the expropriated German properties in New Guinea, and when may a statement in regard thereto be expected to be made?

The Ministerial answer stated -

No. It has been decided, however, to sell the trading assets of the four large German companies in the Territory, namely, the New Guinea Company, H.S.A.G., Hernsheim and Company, and Norddeutseher-Lloyd, and the necessary data is now being collected with a view to inviting tenders throughout the Commonwealth for the purchase of the trading concerns.

The Commonwealth authorities have organized, and are running a concern known as the New Guinea Trade Agency, which has its head Australian office in Sydney. I wish to know if the reply furnished to-day means that the business being conducted by that Government agency is to be sold by tender to private concerns in the Commonwealth. The agency is purchasing the whole of the supplies required by the Government Departments and by the returned soldier settlers and other residents who may order Australian articles, and it is also selling in Australia the products of the Territory of New Guinea. I have had an opportunity to inquire into the ramifications of the agency, and I can say that, while there is a great deal to commend it in its work, and while I have nothing to say against the manner in which it is being conducted, particularly seeing that the agency is making thousands of pounds per annum, with the promise of its developing into one of the most prosperous trading concerns with which the Government are associated, limitations are being placed upon its activities, so that it is materially handicapped. The agency sells the copra, which is the principal product, and the money is remitted to the Territory.

Senator Russell - The Government own the four main German stores there, and I do not see why agents should be permitted to come in and make competitive profits. That remark applies, however, only to the Mandated Territories, and not to British Papua.

Senator DUNCAN - But this agency is selling the products of the Papuan plantations on behalf of the Government.

Senator Russell - I do not think that the Government are interfering with trade in any way in British Papua.

Senator DUNCAN - The term " agency " is a misnomer, because it is actually a Commonwealth service or activity. Its acting manager, Mr. Neill, knows his work well, and is doing his enthusiastic best, but the agency is not being given a fair chance.

Senator Russell - Very few sales of copra are being made to-day.

Senator DUNCAN - There are big sales.

Senator Russell - The quotation has dropped from £40 to about £15.

Senator DUNCAN - Only this week I saw a contract in respect of sales of copra, and the net price was £21 odd. Copra is bought and sold in Sydney at world's parity prices1. One would suppose that the Government, having appointed an officer, and having made him responsible for the s*le of the whole of the produce- of the Mandated Territories, would undertake that he should be kept in touch with the world's prices. The truth is, however, that if the manager wants to ascertain the parity he has to go to the only competitor of the Government, so far as copra is concerned - I refer to Messrs. Burns, Philp and Company - in order to ascertain the price. And his position is rendered the more unhappy in that this firm is frequently the one with which he is conducting a sale.

Senator Russell - Is the honorable senator prepared to prove that?

Senator DUNCAN - I am prepared to prove every word. The conditions are not fair to a trusted and valuable officer. He should be provided with, necessary information to enable him to successfully compete with the Commonwealth Government's competitors.

Senator Russell - 1 am surprised to hear the honorable senator's comments, because the manager is a trusted officer who was sent around the world, examining documents and probing various conditions, to see that the Government were not being cheated through the Customs,

Senator DUNCAN - Mr. Neillis one of the best officers in the service of the. Government.

Senator Russell - Has the honorable senator seen his instructions ?

Senator DUNCAN - 1 am prepared to tell the Minister in private the full facts of the position; but it is wrong that this official should not be kept in touch with the world's quotations for copra day by day. With regard to the purchase of supplies through this agency of the Government, it ought to be possible for the Administration of Papua to advise at least three months beforehand concerning the nature and extent of their requirements.

Mr. Neillwould thus be given an opportunity to make inquiries with various firms and, if necessary, in various States, in order to get the very best quotations possible. But he is asked to forward a shipment, for example, of necessary medical supplies and chemicals, and he has only a few hours in which to make the purchases.

Senator Russell - But I suppose that he has had all. the prices tabulated months beforehand.

Senator DUNCAN - As the Minister should know, the prices of these commodities vary from week to week, and often from day to day. If the officer in charge could be given longer notice of requirements, hundreds of pounds would be saved in the purchase of supplies.

Senator Russell - Is the honorable senator referring both to British Papua and to the Mandated Territories generally?

Senator DUNCAN - My references are to the Territory, or Territories, for which the agency purchases its requirements. I know that Mr. Neill makes very considerable purchases, and that the agency is placed in such circumstances that it often has to pay very much higher prices than necesssary. That, I repeat, is due entirely to the system under which it is worked. It is not fair to the agency or to the officer in charge. The concern is making thousands of pounds per annum for the Government, but it would be possible for it to give still better results if conducted along lines of commercial intelligence and common sense.

Suggest corrections