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Thursday, 13 October 1949

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- I assume that honorable members may discuss the activities of any department for which works are tobe carried out.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - That is so.

Mr WHITE - I propose to discuss the New Guinea branch of the Department of Works and Housing. I have received a letter from a resident of New Guinea of some 25 years standing who has just returned to Australia, which reads as follows: -

I think that, of all the scandalous evidence of maladministration in New Guinea, the prize must be awarded to the Australian Department of Works and Housing.

In every port visited by the ship on which I travelled, they told me funny stories about the muddle and waste of the teams planted in the different places by Works and Housing. Take Samarai for example. For 9 months they have had a Works and Housing team averaging 10 men in Samarai. They have had material lying there for a similar period. Yet, believe it or not, nothing worth mentioning has been done in Samarai in the way of either works or housing. Samarai was destroyed during the war. They are still without a wharf and I could not find evidence that even one European bungalow had been built in the place.

Mr Ward - Would the honorable member read that again?

Mr WHITE - If the Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward) interjects again I shall refer him to some timber matters that might interest him. The letter continues -

There have been teams of Works and Housing men in Lao for a long time and it is at least 12 months since a supply of steel plates was delivered there. Yetpractically nothing has been done to provide Lae with wharfage accommodation.

When the honorable member for Franklin (Mr.Falkinder) mentioned that matter to-day, the charge was denied by the Minister for External Territories, who said that everything at Lae was going on well. The letter continues -

Furthermore, the port of Lae seems now to be run by Europeans and native wharf labourers who have fanciful ideas about the rights and privileges of workers.

The experience of the Burns Philp liner Bulolo at Lae very recently is worth quoting. She had 400 tons of cargo and many passengers for Lae. She arrived on a Thursday morning and she should have been out of the place within 24 hours, but on Saturday morning the barges still had not completed unloading and they knocked off on Saturday afternoon and Sunday because presumably the weekend is sacred in this workers' paradise. So Captain Rothery, unable to get any guarantee when his ship would bo unloaded, sailed off to Dreger Harbour ( Finschhaf en ) and other ports and was obliged to call at Lae on his return trip in order to complete discharging. That is typical. There is not only the enormous cost of discharging by barge, because the Government has failed to supply a suitable wharf, but there is also the further heavy cost of lazy and inefficient labour. There are similar conditions in Port Moresby and Rabaul . . .

High officials of the Administration are quite aware of these unsatisfactory conditions, but they have no authority whatever over works and housing. Works and housing in Papua and New Guinea is directly under the control of the Brisbane office of this Federal Department and the Administrator at Port Moresby seems to have no authority at all in relation thereto.

As I have said, my informant is a man who has resided in New Guinea for 25 years and who knows the difficulties with which the white residents there have to cope. Perhaps the Minister can explain why this state of affairs exists. I mention such matters to show that in this important outpost of Australia, there is too much centralization. That fine country has been administered in a dictatorial way by the Minister for External Territories, of whose peccadilloes we have some knowledge. He is ruling New Guinea in such a tyrannical way that to the Australian people it might be Siberia for all the inside information they can obtain about it. We know that the Minister for Work's and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) is an industrious Minister but when he tries to administer a branch of his department so far away from Canberra, and when he is compelled to be, as it were, so much beholden to another Minister, he cannot expect to get the best results. I suggest that had he called for tenders for most of the works which he has put in hand, in both Australia and New Guinea he would have accelerated their completion. New Guinea deserves better treatment than it has received at the hands of this Government. It is not only a bulwark in our defence but also a possible stepping stone for the invasion of Australiaby a hostile power. It is the nearest of our possessions to one-half of the population of the world. It is on the edge of the teeming millions of Asia. Portion of New Guinea has already been taken out of our control and handed over to the Trusteeship Council by the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt). Next year a deputation from the United Nations is to visit New Guinea to carry out an inspection.

Mr Ward - We shall welcome it.

Mr WHITE - Including the Russian delegates? New Guinea should have been held by Australia under a strategic trusteeship arrangement similar to that made by the United States of America in respect of the Marshall and Caroline Islands.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable member must not discuss that matter.

Mr WHITE - These sittings of the Parliament are drawing to a close. Within a comparatively short time the Parliament will rise for the last occasion and the people will be given an opportunity to say what kind of government they will have in the future. This Government has been notorious for its policy of meddle and muddle in regard to New Guinea. Soon, however, there will be an opportunity to end the " Edwardian " era. I trust that the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) will be able to give me an assurance that conditions in New Guinea are not so bad as they have been painted by my informant. A large amount of money has been provided in these Estimates for expenditure in New Guinea. No doubt much of it will be expended on " window dressing " works to impress the members of the international deputation.

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