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Friday, 3 November 1905

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH (Western Australia) - When this question was last before the Senate, I, amongst others, strongly supported the prohibition clause, which had been placed in the Bill by another place; and I wish to say at once that I am as strongly in favour of absolute prohibition in British New Guinea as I was in the past. But I have come to the conclusion, as the result of my second visit to the Possession, and after the most careful inquiries there, that the means which I was the first to suggest to attain prohibition would not prove effective. I would even go further than that, and say that a provision in favour of legal prohibition would be likely to cause an aggravation of the evil - if evil there is - which is said to exist at present. In other words, I am forced to the conclusion, as the result 6t my inquiries in British New Guinea, that legal prohibition would really amount to illegal profusion. When I returned from the Possession, after my first trip, I advocated in Parliament, and in the press, that we should institute absolute prohibition ; that we should, in other words, make it illegal to import any intoxicating liquors, except for medicinal purposes. I felt so strongly on the matter that I addressed the annual meeting of the Council of Churches upon it, with the result that a resolution was carried in favour of prohibition. I also spoke at the annual meeting of the Victorian Alliance, and I drafted all the petitions which the Senate received from various temperance bodies in Australia. I thought then that as there was only a handful of whites in British New Guinea, if we imposed prohibition at once, those few would have to sink their own personal feelings in the interests of the larger number of coloured people, and that any whites who went there in the future' would go on the distinct understanding of the limitations which were imposed upon them in that direction. I admit that I was somewhat staggered when the Minister of External Affairs called for expressions of opinion from British New Guinea, and I found that not only were the official, commercial, and industrial classes, and the white people generally, opposed to absolute prohibition, but that every missionary, with one exception, and every temperance advocate, opposed the proposal as it appeared in the Bill. In a matter of this sort we must, 'I think, give great consideration to the opinions of the missionaries. It will be readily admitted that they have no ulterior object, and no personal reason for the attitude which they take up. The missionaries have gone to British New Guinea, dedicating their lives to mission work in those fields, and their only object is, and can be, to do what is in the best interests of the natives. I admit that when I read their views, I was led to reconsider seriously the attitude that [ had taken up. I knew that not only were they opposed to prohibition, but that thev had an intimate knowledge of the conditions prevailing there. Some of them, like Dr. Lawes, have lived there for nearly twenty years. They have a thorough knowledge of the natives, and were in a better position to speak on the matter than I was. T recognised that my object in desiring to prohibit the introduction of liquor could not have been a more worthy one than theirs, because they had absolutely the interest of the natives at heart. I resolved On my second visit to British New Guinea to make full and exhaustive inquiries regarding this matter for my own information, and to ascertain the reasons of the missionaries for the decision to which they had come. I resolved to ascertain whether their reasons were well founded. I was speaking to a missionary of the Wesleyan denomination in British New Guinea, who was, I think, one of the most strenuous teetotallers I ever met. It might almost be said that he was a fanatical teetotaller. He refused to have liquor kept at the mission-station, even, for use in cases of illness. He said that he would not have the stuff there at all. Moreover, he had been a prominent worker in. the prohibition cause in New Zealand, and was a most enthusiastic friend of the teetotal movement. I may add that he was one of the most earnest and hard-working missionaries in the Possession. I said to him : " Of course you are in favour of the clause in the Papua Bill prohibiting the importation of liquor into New Guinea." He informed me that he would be only too thankful if it were possible to secure absolute prohibition, but that a mere legal enactment would probably lead to the illegal importation and manufacture of liquor, and that while we were actuated by the best intentions, we would bring about a result which would be absolutely injurious to the natives. When I was at the Solomon Islands I learnt something which threw additional light on this matter. There is complete free-trade in the Solomons, and consequently liquor is very cheap. You can buy a quart bottle of Hollands gin for is. The traders, when I was there, evinced considerable interest in the prohi- bition movement relating to New Guinea. They said to me : " How is the prohibition movement getting on? We hope you will carry that clause." I said : " The matter has not been absolutely decided yet; we cannot agree upon it." They said: "We hope you will carry the clause, because we are only a couple of days' sail from British New Guinea, and we think that there are great possibilities of a very lucrative trade." When I went inland in British New Guinea - and I tramped some 250 miles through the interior - I began to realize the motives which actuated the traders. I visited all the principal mining camps. The miners told me at once, without any equivocation, that if the Parliament of the Commonwealth differentiated' between them and the people of the Commonwealth - if it denied them the right to purchase liquor locally, and at the same time retained the full right for the people of Australia to purchase and consume it - they intended, if They could not import liquor surreptitiously, to make it. It is useless for us to say, if we know the conditions prevailing, that it is impossible for them to obtain liquor illicitly. I do not believe that it is possible- -at any rate there is the greatest difficulty about it - to smuggle liquor into the inland mining camps, because goods have to be carried inland on the backs of natives, and it is quite easy for the officials to examine the packs, and to see if they contain liquor. But the statement of the miners that they would make it is one that they could easily carry into effect. There is no difficulty in that country in carrying on illicit distillation. When one travels inland one goes, perhaps, for seventy or 100 miles, and finds only a little nest of white people carrying on their mining avocations on the banks and in the beds of auriferous rivers, surrounded by hundreds of miles of primeval forest, by the densest jungle and scrub, and mountains and ravines. It was perfectly evident to me that there could be twenty stills in. the space of a few miles without the Government officers knowing anything about them. On most of these mining camps there are two Government Officers - a resident magistrate and an assistant resident magistrate, or two assistant resident magistrates. In a place like the Yodda gold-field, or at a mining camp like Maclachlan's Creek, which the Government officials, perhaps, do not visit more than once in twelve months, it was perfectly evident to me that, whilst smuggling over- land would be difficult, the manufacture of liquor would be quite simple. The sinister aspect of the matter is this: That in British New Guinea manual work is all done by native labour; or at any rate by whites assisted by the natives, the native population being indentured to work for them. If these illicit stills were brought into operation, the natives would undoubtedly be employed in the manufacture of liquor, and they would learn to manufacture it for themselves. The natives in British New Guinea, as I think is well known, have the most extraordinary powers of imitation. They can imitate the handy work and industries of white men with the most remarkable facility. If illicit stills are established for the manufacture of liquor, will not the natives be far more likely to get it than they are at present? One has to pay is. a glass for spirits at present, and white people are not likely to waste their money in giving their natives intoxicating drinks at that price. The miners said to me : " We are quite willing to pay a duty of 14s. per gallon on spirits, and if the importation of intoxicants is permitted, we intend to see that no illicit stills are set up in the Possession." I do not think that in the Commonwealth there is a body of men more law-abiding than are those miners, if (hey are treated properly. I feel sure that there is not an illicit still in the Possession at the present time, nor will there be one so long as the miners are allowed to purchase their liquor. I am very much afraid that if the importation of liquor were prohibited they would start illicit stills, and it is hard to say to what extent the evil might grow. At all times, the white population have honestly worked together to obey the laws and carry out the requirements of the Government. If the various reports on the Possession be examined, it will be found that the number of crimes by the white population - and they are all recorded - are exceedingly small, certainly as small as, if not smaller, than the number of crimes committed by an equal number of persons in any part of Australia. It is a proud boast that Sir William McGregor was able to go to an island, populated by probably half -a-mill ion Papuans, whose males were trained from childhood to the use of arms, and many of whom were cannibals and head-hunters, and continually at war, and establish a magnificent system of government, and inaugurate a splendid era of development without introducing one white soldier. Pie converted the wild natives into armed constabulary, not only to maintain law and order among their own people, and to carry out the decrees of the Government, but also to protect the lives and the properties of white men. That is a very proud boast for a legislator and administrator, but that grand result could not have been achieved unless Sir William McGregor had had the loyal and honest .support of the white population'. The success of the Government has teen the result of the influence of prestige. The prestige of the white population - a little handful of 500 persons - enables them to govern a country in which the natives are a thousand times as numerous. The white men have loyally stood together ; practically no white men have been law-breakers, and, therefore, the Papuan' has a deep-rooted conviction of the almost omnipotence of the white people. If we were to bring about a condition of affairs which led to a large number of the white population setting at defiance the laws made, and endeavoured to be enforced, by the Government, it would bring the natives practically into revolt against constituted authority, and the result would be that, having connived with the whites in breaking the laws, they would lose their present high opinion of the white population. Having travelled through the Possession, and seen the conditions in the adjacent islands, the only honest course I could adopt was to at once change my opinion, and at the first possible opportunity to acquaint the Senate with my reasons for so doing. When I saw Captain Barton, the Acting Administrator, on my return, I told him that as the result of my visit I had changed my opinion, and that when the question came before the Senate again I would state the reasons therefor, and vote against the very clause which I had previously advocated. I admit that the natives in the eastern division have no taste for liquor; they do not like liquor, and I sincerely hope that that will always be the case. But I am bound to say that the natives in the western division, who are ethnically divergent from the eastern race, and many of whom drink a native liquor called " kava," readily acquire a liking for European spirits. When they get on to the pearling fleets and go to Thursday Island, there is a very great danger of them becoming fond of liquor. If th'ey do they will smuggle it into the Possession when they come back to their villages after being discharged from the boats. Unfortunately, the boundary of Queensland was extended by a Federal Council Act to the boundary of British New Guinea. The island of Saibai is only two miles from the Papuan coast, but it is Queensland territory. It is competent for the traders to go to the island and import liquor, and thence it can be smuggled into Papua. The Resident Magistrate had to make quarantine and Customs laws and regulations applicable as between the island and the mainland, because liquor was being, smuggled across. That has resulted in a great hardship to the natives, because they go to the island for fishing purposes and other reasons. Their plantations are on the mainland ; they go backwards and forwards, and there are great disabilities put in their way. As a mere matter of administration, I would not allow Papuans, who are indentured to the pearling fleets, to land at any point in Australia. Their head-quarters are at Daru. From there the fleets are working on the Warrior Reef and at other places where they can get pearl-shell. If they were not allowed to go to Thursday Island, and the pearling luggers were not permitted to carry intoxicating liquors, this could be provided against, because there would be no clanger of the Papuans engaged in the industry acquiring the liquor habit. During my last visit to the Possession two persons were fined1 .£50 each for supplying liquor to western natives who were engaged in the eastern district. The officials use the greatest vigilance to keep the liquor from the natives, and impose extremely heavy penalties when they find that the law has been evaded in any way. This proposal is, as Senator Playford has stated, on the most advanced lines of the teetotal vanguard in Australia. We have even added a proviso which they have not advocated, namely, that no new licences shall be allowed. That is a provision which I think will work well. The white people will have the opportunity, not only collectively, but in districts, of refusing licences whenever they desire or at stated periods. In view of the fact that prohibition was insisted upon by the Senate and refused by the other House, the latter, in consequence of later information, has done well, I think, to yield on the point. I sincerely hope that, inasmuch as this modus vivendi has been arrived at, the Senate will allow the Bill to pass, so that the responsibility of this

Parliament for the stagnation and inertia in the Possession shall not be prolonged. Undoubtedly the fact that this Bill has been hung up for so long a period has injuriously affected the interests of the Possession. If it be passed this session I sincerely hope that it will usher in an era of prosperity, and that the position of the Possession will be very much better than it has been during the short time it has been under the control of the Commonwealth.

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