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Thursday, 28 July 1904

Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) - I beg to second the motion. The honorable member for Lang has dealt with his subject very thoroughly. lt may appear to some honorable members quite a new subject ; but it is really a very old one. In the early eighties, Mr. Ebenezer Ward, in the Legislative Assembly of South Australia, moved a motion affirming that the New Hebrides should be annexed by Great Britain, and the press of Victoria enthusiastically supported the proposal, which was indorsed by the South Australian Parliament.

Mr Crouch - Victoria annexed the New Hebrides in 1882.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Several annexations have been made in the Pacific since that date, but the British Government have repudiated them. At one time the Americans interpreted the Monroe doctrine in such a way that they had no wish to annex the Sandwich Islands. But we find now that America has become a Pacific Power, and has made annexations in various directions. There is indeed very little prospect of a_ discontinuance of that policy. Whenever Great Britain is embroiled, the other European Powers bring pressure to bear to secure the annexation of islands in the Pacific. The Americans and Germans have thus obtained possession of territory in the Samoan group, upon which Great Britain formerly had a lien, and the latter Power received no compensation other than the benevolent neutrality of Germany and America during the Transvaal war. It has been stated by the German Prime Minister that the time to press Great Britain is when she is in difficulties.

Mr Crouch - Great Britain got the Solomon Islands.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It was' stated at the time of the Samoan annexation by Germany and America that British influence in Tonga should not be disturbed. But Great Britain has always been paramount there, so that her position could not be improved by that agreement. Great Britain exercises a protectorate over the Solomon Islands. Germany has taken possession of certain islands off the coast of New Guinea, but Great Britain has not gone the same length with regard to the islands of the Solomon group, close by. I do not, however, wish to wander away into a general discussion of the policy of annexation with regard to the Pacific. We might have expected that, during the recent negotiations between the British and French Governments, which led to the establishment of the most friendly relations between t'hose powers, some effort would have been made to promote Australian interests in the New Hebrides. Special consideration was shown for the claims of the Dominion of Canada, and it seems to me that something might have been done to urge Australian interests at the same time. The French contention is that the New Hebrides were originally taken over by them at the time they annexed New Caledonia. Dr. Paton, who lived in the New Hebrides for many years, and who, perhaps, has done more than any other man for the people of those islands, has stated most emphatically that French interests in those islands are expanding by leaps and bounds, whereas British influence is not being increased to any appreciable extent. This is largely due to the fact t'hat the French residents enjoy very much more freedom of trade than do the British settlers. I think the honorable member for Lang is quite justified in asking the Commonwealth Government to afford every facility for Australian settlement in the islands. The best way in which this can be done is by providing the settlers with a market for their products by making special concessions under our Tariff. We might consent to admit their products at a reduced rate of duty, or entirely free. The concession would not represent very much to us. The principal article of export from the islands is copra, which is utilized here with very great advantage. Apart from that, maize is the principal product, and I do not apprehend that our producers would .be subject to any very severe competition from the settlers in the New Hebrides. The average yield of maize in Australia is 30 bushels per acre, which is very high, seeing that the average production in America is only 25 bushels. I think that we should do everything in our power to increase Australian settlement in the New Hebrides, in order that the influence of Great Britain may be extended, and so that our representations may have the greater weight when the question of the possession of the islands has to be decided. The resolution points to ' the importance of endeavouring to arrive at a more satisfactory agreement with regard to the control of the islands, and I hope that representations will be made to the British Government, through the Department of External Affairs, with this end in view. During the first Parliament, I submitted a question on this very point, and was then informed that the Government were giving the matter their serious consideration. Since that time a better understanding has been arrived at between Great Britain and France, but, unfortunately, little or no regard appears to have been paid to Australian interests. I believe that if a more active and progressive policy were adopted by the Commonwealth Government, with the object of counteracting the vigorous colonial policy of France, very good results would follow. At the first Federal Convention, Fiji was represented, and New Zealand was also invited to send; representatives. The leading statesmen' of the day evidently recognised the importance of making the Federal Union as comprehensive as possible, and it is reasonable to suppose that it would be immensely, to our advantage if we could embrace within the union not only New Zealand and Fiji, but also the New Hebrides. We have already taken steps to assume complete control over New Guinea, and I hope the time will come when it will be possible for us to take over the New Hebrides under somewhat similar conditions. I think that the honorable member for Lang is to be commended for what he has done, and I hope that he will continue to press this matter on the Government until some action is taken.

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