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Friday, 24 November 1905

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) - The speech of Senator Smith has been a valuable contribution to the debate on the government of British New Guinea. The honorable senator has devoted special study to the Possession, and his remarks with regard to it are always received by the Senate with the attention and respect that they deserve. I most heartily agree with the greater part of what he has said, and think that his criticism should be taken into serious consideration by the Government. This Commonwealth has undertaken a great obligation in assuming the government of British New Guinea. That obligation should not be shirked by us in any way whatever. We should determine to do our duty by the natives of the country, as well as by the white inhabitants. We should be resolute to see that the interests of the natives are in no way sacrificed or jeopardized. It is not possible to get actual statistics as to their number, but it is generally supposed that they amount to about half-a-million. In other words, roughly speaking, the native population is about equal to that of the population of the State of Queensland. It must be remembered that these natives are not absolute barbarians, such as the aboriginals of Australia were. They live in village communities. They cultivate the soil, and they are capable in some respects of a remarkable degree of development. I think, for my own part, that it is highly important they should be encouraged to progress on their own lines if those lines are apparently the best for their own circumstances and character. We ought not to endeavour to impose our civilization upon them hurriedly or in a haphazard fashion. If we do, it is possible that we shall simply accomplish the same end as we have done in the case of the aboriginals of Australia - that is to say, we shall practically conduce to the extermination of the race. I agree with Senator Smith, that whatever our policy is, it should be pursued with a view to preserve the rights of the natives ; because, undoubtedly, a people who have advanced to the stage that they have are capable of advancing to very much higher stages. It should be our earnest desire, our worthy aim and' object, to enable them to do so by every means in our power. As to theadministration of British New Guinea generally, it must be remembered that Australia is contributing a subsidyof £20,000 per annum in addition to the revenue which is raised by Customs taxation and licence-fees, which amounts to a similar sum. In all, the government of British New Guinea is costing something over £40,000 per annum. I should like to know - I wish some one would get up and tell me - what we have to show for that large expenditure. I believe that it is almost all wasted - I use the word advisedly, because we have nothing to show for it - in payments to officials. Senator Smith has pointed out strongly and feelingly, from his own personal observation, the difficulties of the men who are doing more to open up the country than any other class. I refer to the miners. He has spoken of the almost total absence of any roads or tracks. It seems to me that a considerable portion of the revenue ought to be expended in such works as that. But, as I have said, nearly the whole of the revenue is swallowed up in payments to officials. If a track is required to be made in order to facilitate the labours of 'those who are doing so much to develop the country, there is no money available. That is not the proper way to carry on the business of the Territory. In my opinion, fully onehalf of the revenue should be spent in opening up the country. What are we paying those officials for? It appears to me that a close reserve has been established amongst them. A well-known writer, who recently visited the Possession, Mr. Randolph Bedford, has said that the place reeks with bureaucracy, and that corruption is rampant. Judging from letters received by me from reliable men in British New Guinea whom I know personally, I am satisfied that the utmost dissatisfaction exists amongst the white people at the manner in which the Government is conducted. For my own part, I believe that most of these officers were not appointed on account of any special fitness, but simply for political reasons. I know of one case in which a man whom I personally knew very well - and I have no fault to find with him in his ordinary capacity as a citizen - was appointed a resident magistrate in the Possession for no other reason than that he happened to be related to a person in a very high place. I say that that man was in no way fitted by his attainments or his private or personal life and character for the position to which he was appointed. The Public Service in British New Guinea should not be regarded as an avenue by means of which the ne'er'-do-well friends and hangers-on of men occupying high places may be able to get a living. It should not be regarded as a place to which such persons may be sent, in order that they may not bother their highly-placed relatives any more.

Senator Clemons - Would it not be as well for the honorable senator to name the man, in order that an injustice may not be done to others?

Senator GIVENS - I refer to a brotherihlaw of Lord Hopetoun, the first Governor-General of Australia. I have no hesitation in mentioning the name. He was, a brother of Lady Hopetoun - Mr. De Moleyns. I have nothing to say against him in his capacity as a private citizen; but, from my personal knowledge of him, I say that he is totally unfitted for the position of a police magistrate in that country. It is high time that the present system of conducting the business of the Possession was made the subject of strong criticism. We have been told that corruption is rampant, and that the service is a little close corporation. If incompetent men are appointed to responsible positions, it is easy to see that such results must occur. Since Sir William McGregor left the Territory, I have never heard any one who has returned from it speak well of the Administration. While Sir William McGregor was at the head of affairs, every one who returned from British New Guinea had a good word to say for the Administration. I think that we should appoint some strong, public man in Australia to go to the Possession and organize the Administration. He should be intrusted with ample powers to carry out a system of reform. Until something of that kind is done, I am afraid that there will be very little hope of securing anything like satisfactory government in British New Guinea. Take the case which is now subjudice - that of the suspension of Mr. Richmond. That gentleman was formerly at the head of the Lands Department of British New Guinea. You, Mr. Chairman, in your capacity as a senator, asked some questions about his case a day or two ago. The only information that we have is that Mr. Richmond made certain charges against the head of the Administration, Captain Barton. Rightly or wrongly, he was suspended. I have no quarrel about that. But he desires to visit Australia while under suspension. What has happened ? He has been refused leave. Why ? Simply in order that - this is obvious on the face of it- the circumstances of the case shall not be ventilated in Australia.

If there is nothing wrong, and nothing to conceal, why is not Mr. Richmond, during his suspension, allowed to go where he pleases ?

Senator Clemons - Who refused him leave?

Senator GIVENS - The Executive Council or the Administrator. The reply of the Minister to Senator Higgs on this point was that the application by Mr. Richmond for leave to visit Australia was refused by the Administrator! - the very man against whom the original charge was made. That is altogether a wrong course to take in regard to Mr. Richmond. A man under suspension is not a criminal, and should be at liberty to go where he pleases.

Senator Clemons - Was he suspended for any definite term?

Senator GIVENS - I do not know. The information given in reply to the questions by Senator Higgs is very meagre, though we are promised full information in the "sweet by-and-by."

Senator Clemons - Is Mr. Richmond practically a prisoner ; cannot he- get away ?

Senator GIVENS - I have told the honorable senator all I know about the matter. The point I wish to emphasize is that Mr. Richmond has been refused permission to visit Australia by the Administrator, against whom he brought a charge which, if true, is exceedingly serious. Mr. Richmond occupied a very high position as a member of the Executive Council, and the head of the Lands Department, and the charge he made was that the Administrator had destroyed certain public documents. Why were those documents destroyed? The only possible reason can be that ..those documents referred to matters which certain persons did not wish to have made puBlic; and an official who calls attention to such an occurrence performs a public duty. The close coterie of officials, with their policy of standing by each other, proceeded to inflict every hardship on this gentleman, and prevent him from ventilating the case; and some very drastic action should be taken to insure that this objectionable state of affairs shall not be allowed to continue. Although an Act has been passed for the government of the Possession. we cannot relieve ourselves from our responsibility for its proper administration, and I shall do everything I possibly can to insure that that administration is as clean and pure as every honorable senator would desire. We are told, as I say, that we shall have all information in the "sweet by-and-by" ; but what will be the good of information after the Estimates have been passed, and there have been twelve months of forgetfulness ? This matter has been hanging over since September last, and I enter my emphatic protest against such a method of doing business.

Senator Clemons - It would be equally fair to tell the Government that the Estimates will be passed in the "sweet byandby."

Senator GIVENS - Unless some tangible reason is afforded for not supplying us with the information, I am quite prepared to go the full length suggested by Senator Clemons, and tell the Government that, so far as I am concerned, they shall have the Estimates passed in the "sweet by-,and-by." The representative of the Government in this Chamber should not tell us that, because these or other matters are not in his Department, he therefore knows nothing about them; he ought to come armed with full information on every item on which information mav be desired. Strange as itmay appear. I find that even in regard to the affairs of his own Department, the information possessed by the Minister of Defence is not very full. There are one or two other remarks I should like to make in reference to New Guinea. I have in my hand a report by Mr. Atlee Hunt, the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs. That gentleman paid a flying visit to the Territory a little while ago, and on his return, prepared- this voluminous report as a result of his observations and the information he gathered. I do not desire to minimize the value of the report unduly, but, considering that this was a flying visit, and that Mr. Atlee Hunt was necessarily in the hands of the close coterie of officials nearly all the time he was there - that the information he gathered, and the opportunities he had for observation, were so very limited - -the report cannot be accepted as absolutely reliable. Perhaps, so far as Mr. Atlee Hunt had opportunities for personal observation and obtaining correct information, the report mav be very good ; but a report, based on such a short visit, and on such tainted sources of information, should not be valued very highly by this Chamber. But apart from all that, I disagree in toto with some of the conclusions arrived at by Mr. Atlee Hunt. In fact, he goes out of his way, on more than one occasion, to tell the Australian Parliament that it is doing something which it ought not to do. There are some of the most cheeky observations in the report that I have seen for some time. A public official ought to be loyal to the Parliament, and not go out of his way to say that it has done wrong.

Senator Staniforth Smith - It must be remembered that the Papua Act had not been passed when the report was prepared.

Senator GIVENS - But the Act had been passed when the report was put into our hands.

Senator Staniforth Smith - But not when the report was written.

Senator GIVENS - The date of the report is the 25th October, of this year. The leasing principle was embodied in the Papua Act after very full and mature consideration; and Mr. Atlee Hunt, in the report, goes out of his way to suggest, sometimes under cover of saying that somebody told him so, that that is altogether a wrong principle on which Parliament should not have acted. It is the duty of a public official like Mr. Atlee Hunt, who is very generously treated by Parliament, to loyally carry out the wishes and behests of Parliament, and not to proceed to throw cold water on its legislation. If Mr. Atlee Hunt is of opinion that he could manage the parliamentary affairs of the Commonwealth much better than they are being managed now - if he is dissatisfied with his duty to carry out the wishes of Parliament, because they are not in accord with his susceptible conscience - he has his remedy. If Mr. Atlee Hunt is of opinion that Parliament is not good enough to be his employer, and that he is asked to do something of which he disapproves, he can refuse to continue in his present position. That would be a perfectly legitimate remedy ; but, so long as he is the head of an important Department, he ought to be loyal to Parliament, and not try to discredit our proceedings.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - What did he say?

Senator GIVENS - On page 17 of the report there are four or five long paragraphs, which honorable senators may read for themselves. Mr. Atlee Hunt at first shelters himself with these words -

The majority of those I met were unanimous in expressing their belief that the inability to obtain a freehold tenure would act as a serious hindrance to the opening up of the Territory.

He goes on in that strain for some time, and then winds up with the words -

I would respectfully submit that if the Bill be passed in its present form -

That is afterhe has cited all the objections he can think of - no objection should be raised to the local Administration offering land on long leases, even up to 100 years, and either rent free or at very low rents for the earlier years. If, after a fair trial, such liberal terms fail to attract settlers, it will be, I think, a proof that, whatever may be the case in other places, the policy of nonalienation is unsuitable to New Guinea. On the other hand, if it is found that these leases are readily being taken up, it may be found possible to shorten the terms and increase the rents.

In view of these expressions of opinion, people who desire to invest in enterprises, the basis of which is possession of land, will conclude that they have Mr. Atlee Hunt on their side, and will feel that it will be only necessary to do nothing for a year or two in order to induce the Government to abrogate the leasehold tenure in favour of freehold. What would be the result? The same result that has followed a similar policy in Australia. I venture to say that if lands are sold in New Guinea the rights of the natives will be altogether overlooked. Greedy landgrabbers will take care to secure all the choice lands, whether or not they be required by the natives ; all the desirable lands, with easy access to market, will be monopolized within the next twenty-five years.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Endeavours in that direction have been made already.

Senator GIVENS - I have the personal observation of Senator Smith to support my opinion. Here we have Mr. Atlee Hunt going outside his proper functions, and criticising the proposals of the Commonwealth Parliament. IT is no part of Mr. Hunt's duty to say what shall or shall not be done in the matter of land legislation for New Guinea ; and he exceeds his duty when he recommends that a principle, which is not material to the question, shall be engrafted on the Constitution of the Possession. We ought to remember that this land belongs primarily to the native population, and that if they are unjustly deprived of it under a freehold tenure there can be no remedy in the future. On the other hand, if the land be only leased, it may. if considered desirable or necessary, be subsequently restored to the natives. Notwithstanding Mr. Hunt's opinion. I thinkthat the leasehold system is the best for New Guinea. That gentleman also, in the report, goes out of his way to object to the proposals made by this Parliament to have the liquor traffic of the Possession placed under Government control.

Senator Higgs - But Mr. Atlee Hunt was asked to report - to give his opinion.

Senator GIVENS - He was asked to report on the general administration of New Guinea.

Senator Higgs - If Mr. Atlee Hunt had been circumscribed by what Parliament had done, his report would have been greatly limited.

Senator Playford - He could not have given a fair report unless he had been at full liberty to express his own opinions.

Senator GIVENS - This is not a report of what is good for New Guinea, but a concise statement of Mr. Hunt's political opinions and principles, which he suggests shall be applied, notwithstanding our better judgment. With regard to the liquor traffic, Mr. Atlee Hunt, after pointing out that prohibition would not be acceptable to the people, says on page 18 -

To the suggested alternative of Government control not much opposition would be offered by the residents, as, provided they can get what they want, they do not much mind through what channel it comes.

It will be seen that he does not base his objection on the ground that the people of New Guinea object to the system, or that it is not good for New Guinea, but on entirely other grounds. He suggests that a Government agent would have to be appointed for the sale of liquor, or that the present hotelkeepers should be appointed agents. There is no necessity for doing anything of the kind. He also expresses the opinion that the Government would not be able to establish public-houses - that there would be no possible chance of (fitting proper hotel accommodation in the way of board and lodging, if there were not private public-houses. There is no difficulty of the kind.

Senator Playford - He has a perfect right to express his opinions; he was asked to do so.

Senator GIVENS - Then I have the right to criticise his expressions of opinion ?

Senator Playford - Undoubted! v.

Senator GIVENS - And I shall exercise the right.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator ought not to say that Mr. Atlee Hunt had no business to do what he has done.

Senator GIVENS - Mr. AtleeHunt has no business to impose his political convictions on us.

Senator Playford - He was asked to report and advise.

Senator GIVENS - Why does he endeavour to place in our way difficulties which do not exist? The Minister seems to think that I desire to criticise the report unfairly, and that being so, I shall .read the whole of this part of the report, so that honorable senators and the country may know the truth. On page 18, Mr. Atlee Hunt says -

To the suggested alternative of Government control, not much opposition would be offered by the residents, as, provided they can get what they want, they do not much mind through what channel it comes.

That is not the point of view of the residents, who have not objected to State control of the liquor traffic.

But there are very grave difficulties in putting any such system into force while the white population is so small and so scattered as it is at present. Only at Samarai and Port Moresby are there any hotels.. These being distributing ports for passengers, as well as cargo, have always some floating population, who use these hotels as boarding houses. If the proprietors are compelled to forego the profits hitherto made from the sale of liquor, they must either go out of business, or substantially increase their charges for board and residence. Either course would be productive of great inconvience, and would provoke resentment.

Where would be the inconvenience or the ground for resentment? Could not the Government do exactly as the hotel-keepers are doing? If they had control of the liquor traffic could they not establish public houses giving every facility for board and residence to travellers, in just the s,ame way as private hotelkeepers do, and as is done at the present time in the State hotel at Gawler in Western Australia? It is ridiculous for Mr. Hunt to try to manufacture difficulties of this kind, which could not exist under any proper system of administration. Mr. Hunt goes, out of his way to discredit State control of the liquor traffic, as he has done to discredit other suggestions made in this Parliament, and it is, not a proper thing for him to do. If such conditions existed, he would have a right to bring them under the notice of Parliament; but no such conditions could exist under a proper administration, though if Mr. Hunt were Administrator of New Guinea, holding the opinions he does., such difficulties would exist if the Commonwealth took over the control of the liquor traffic, because this gentleman would probably manufacture them. He goes on to say -

At other places, e.g., on the gold-fields, liquor is sold at the general stores ; the storekeepers would be faced with similar alternatives, with the result that the cost of living, already extremely high, would be materially advanced. '

Why? Because liquor was sold by the Government instead of by an hotel-keeper? On the contrary, I am inclined to think that the cost of living would be materially reduced, and the public would have a Government guarantee that they would get nothing but sound, wholesome liquor. Mr. Hunt says further -

The only way to prevent these difficulties from arising would be for" the Government to appoint the persons now engaged in the business as its agents, and pay them at a rate equivalent to the profits of which they would be deprived by the change of system. This would mean that Government control resolves itself into a mere question of the supervision of accounts.

That is a most unworthy sneer from a public officer. He says it would be a mere question of the supervision of accounts. Nothing of the kind. We could establish our own hotels, and appoint public officers to look after them, and conduct them properly, as is done in the case of the State hotel in Western Australia. There are many other paragraphs in the same strain which I might criticise as trenchantly, but I do not wish to .unduly take up time. At page 24 of his, report, Mr. Hunt makes the most astounding proposal which could come from any public official who was at all in touch with Australian public sentiment. He points out that development cannot succeed without a constant supply of suitable labour. I do not quarrel with that statement, but, taking that as his, basis, he proceeds to argue as to what is the best method of obtaining this suitable labour, and what remedy do honorable senators suppose he recommends ? It is a system of ' forced labour, by which the natives of New Guinea shall be practically turned into slaves., and compelled to work, whether they desire to do so or not. In considering the best way in which to make the nigger work, Mr. Hunt says : -

One means is to tax him. . I do not put this proposal forward only as a means towards adding to the revenues of the Possession, though in that respect it is- justifiable. Civilization has given the native absolute security ; he no longer lives the prey to constant alarm, the fear that the end of any day may find his limbs in the cooking pot of his enemy has gone for ever, and it seems but fair that he should be asked to contribute some thing towards the expenses of maintaining the system that confers this inestimable benefit on him.

Senator Smithhas clearly shown that the native contributes very considerably already. Mr. Hunt conceives another object for taxing him besides the raising of revenue, and he says -

I advocate taxation just as rauch in the interests of the natives themselves. Expression has already been given to my opinion that idleness will produce degeneracy and ultimate extinction, and it is to .save him from these that I urge that he be made to work, and I know of no other way of making him work than to tax him.

All in the interests of the poor natives, never of course in the interests of the man who wants to get labour at the cheapest and most grinding price at which he can possibly get it. In the interests of the poor native, Mr. Hunt advocates that he should be taxed and! compelled to work, but he forgets altogether that lie started out with the argument that a constant supply of reliable labour is necessary to provide for the development of the country. Its proper development, in Mr. Hunt's estimation, would appear to be that there should be in New Guinea a few big, nabobs, having the right to call upon the unfortunate natives to work and grind out profits for them. I believe that some proper system should be established under which natives who do engage in work can be assured that they will not be improperly worked, and will not be flogged by their masters, as natives have been flogged in Australia by their employers. They should receive a proper rate of wages for their work, and they should not be forced to work under conditions derogatory to their health or general well-being. Mr. Hunt explains' that his idea as to taxing the natives is not definite. He says -

No final suggestion is made at present as to what form the tax should take - whether it should be a land tax as in India, the culture system as to-day in Java, a poll tax as in Fiji, a' hut tax as in central Africa and Nigeria, or the village tax, which is apparently most suitable to the local conditions of life.

Senator Staniforth Smith - The culture system has been abolished in Java for the last" thirty-four years.

Senator GIVENS - Mr. Hunt seems to think the village tax the most suitable. Let me point out that the hut tax, a system of taxation which Mr. Hunt thinks might be adopted, was imposed in South Africa bv the big mining magnates, the greedy moneyhungering crowd of Jews from all parts of

Europe, in order to compel the natives to work for them at any wage they choose to offer them. This is a system of taxation which Mr. Hunt calmly recommends that the democratic Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia should seriously consider. It is a most unworthy suggestion that this democratic Parliament should be asked to tax any man for the mere purpose of compelling him to work whether he desires to do so or not. Mr. Hunt suggests, as a further idea, that a certain number of young men should be taken out of their village communes and compelled to work. That is a dastardly suggestion. These natives are happy and contented in the communes they have established, and why should they be taken from them and compelled to work? A man is under no obligation to work, unless in order to make a living, and if these men can make a living in their own way, and are happy and comfortable in doing so, why should they be compelled to undertake grinding toil for any employer who may choose to demand that they shall work for him? It is astounding that a public official in democratic Australia should advocate a reactionary course which would, perhaps, have been more appropriate 200 years ago than it is to-day. The natives of New Guinea are presumably happy and contented in their village life. They cultivate the soil and provide themselves with all the necessaries, and with some of the luxuries of life from their point of view, by their own toil, and yet Mr. Hunt calmly suggests that they should be compelled to work for employers, in order to aid in the development of the country by the people who may engage in new enterprises in New Guinea. I hope that no such suggestion will be entertained for a moment by this Parliament. As long as I remain a member of it I shall be found bitterly opposed to such a proposal. It is practically going back to the old system of slavery. If men are compelled to work when they are content to live in their own way, such a system of forced labour is little better than slavery, and I have been astounded to find it advocated in Australia in the beginning of the twentieth century. Mr. Hunt has another wonderful specific for the well-being of the people of New Guinea which he has apparently discovered "all on his own." His idea of the best plan by which to make New Guinea prosperous is the old idea adopted by the Aus tralian States when they thought they could become prosperous by going to " Uncle Cohen," and borrowing money wholesale.

At page 28 of his report, Mr. Hunt says : -

The development of the Australian States is largely due to the loan money that has been expended to so vast an extent in making available the opportunities of wealth that nature has provided.

That statement is entirely incorrect. With the exception, perhaps, of Western Australia, there is not a single State in the Commonwealth that has not paid far more in interest than the total amount of its loans. If we had been content to go along in moderate fashion, building our public works out of revenue as we found the need for them, we should have had more railways and other public works now than we have been able to secure under the system of borrowing money. No one would consider such a system sound in connexion with a private business, and how. can it be sound in connexion with public business? The borrowing of the Australian States has left the people with an enormous load of indebtedness that hangs round their necks like a mill-stone. It has benefited only the private owners of land, whilst a majority of the people have a harder task to make a living in Australia now than they had before these public works constructed by loan money were undertaken. In North Queensland some twenty-three years, ago in districts where very few facilities were provided, where there was wild bush, and not even a made road, it was easier for a man to make a living than it is now. Men got double the wages there then that they get now. and the cost of living was not very much higher. I know that from my own experience. How have I benefited by the expenditure of loan money on public works ? I have not benefited at all, whilst the private land-owners have reaped the whole of the benefit. Exactly the same results will follow the adoption of a similar course in New Guinea. We should bear in mind, also the wasteful and improvident habits which the wholesale borrowing of money has fastened upon the Commonwealth. I should say that not more than 40 per cent. of the total amount borrowed has been expended on works of a reproductive nature. What has been done with the other 60 per cent.? It has been absolutely wasted in the building of palatial structures which we could very well have done without. The Parliament House in which we are sitting has cost about £1, 000,000, and it is not completed yet. If our people had been asked to undertake these works out of their own money they would have seen that it was not extravagantly squandered. A system of public borrowing encourages governmental demoralization, and should not be initiated in Papua, as Mr. Hunt has advocated. I do not intend to say any more on this subject at the present moment, but I desire to re-echo the words of Senator Smith that, now that the Possession has been taken over, we have incurred a very serious responsibility. Posterity will expect that our treatment of the natives shall have been commensurate with our responsibility. Posterity has a right to expect that we shall have properly discharged our obligations to the natives. I do not think that the proper way to discharge those obligations is to compel the natives to work, whether they like it or not, as has been suggested by Mr. Hunt. I consider that in order to get good government, it is essential to reorganize the present bureau officials. From all accounts, Papua is almost a hot-bed of corruption, and something should be done in order to get rid of that objectionable state of affairs. I think that a prominent public man in Australia, who has demonstrated his fitness for the position, who is thoroughly Australian in sentiment and .feeling, and could be relied upon to properly administer the Possession,, should be given, the task of reorganizing its Public Service. Until that is done, I am afraid that the Public Service will not give satisfaction, even to the people of the Commonwealth, or to the residents of the Possess:on. I hope that the Commonwealth Government will be seized of their responsibilities, and do something of which this Parliament can thoroughly approve, to make the government of Papua as good, clean, and sweet as it ought to be.

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