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Friday, 24 November 1905

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) - I do not intend to speak at length on the vote for British New Gu'nea, because I think that Senator Smith has dealt with the question so very ably that it is not necessary for those to speak who. perhaps, have not had the same opportunities as he has made for himself of investigating its affairs. What I am anxious to speak about is the case of Mr. Richmond I baw» never met this gentleman ; but I received a letter in which his case was brought under my notice. He is the head of the

Lands Department. When Mr. Atlee Hunt visited the Possession, Mr. Richmond made to him certain complaints about Captain Barton,' the Administrator, having destroyed certain official papers, and altered others. We are not informed of what Mr. Hunt's view was as to the ground-work of Mr. Richmond's statement concerning Captain Barton. But we are told that Mr. Richmond, after having made this charge, was immediately suspended by Captain Barton, who then called a meeting of the Executive Council, and, for some reason or other, appointed two extraordinary members to confer with the others on that very occasion. The* Ministry have told us that there was no unanimity* amongst the members of the Executive Council as to confirming the suspension of Mr. Richmond. We have a right to know whether that was the reason for the appointment of the two extraordinary Executive Councillors. According to the replies I received to-day from Senator Playford, the Executive Council consists of Captain Barton, Judge Murray, Mr. A. Musgrave, the Government Secretary, Mr. D. Ballantine, the Treasurer, and Mr. J. Richmond, the Chief Surveyor.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Is he the Mr. Richmond who was suspended?

Senator HIGGS - Yes. Mr. Richmond was not permitted to be present at the meeting of the Executive Council, because he had made this charge against Captain Barton. Captain Barton, however, attended the meeting, and presumably voted to confirm the suspension of Mr. Richmond, who, it may be mentioned, was suspended for disloyalty in making a charge against his Administrator. It appears that the Executive Council refused to allow Mr. Richmond to bring forward evidence to prove the truth of his charge about the destruction of official papers, and the alteration of others. This, action, on its part, goes to show, I think, that there must have been a great deal of truth in the charges of maladministration made bv various persons, including Mr. Craig. Here is a chief officer, and a member of the Executive Council, suspended for disloyalty, because he informed the Secretary for Externa] Affairs, who was sent up specially to investigate the administration of the Possession, in what respect he thought it was being badly administered. What happened? Mr. Richmond was suspended, and, we presume, deprived of his salary ? He requested Captain Barton to permit him to visit Australia, but leave was refused. He is, therefore, confined to the Possession. If he were to leave, probably he would render himself liable to absolute discharge from the Public Service. He is kept in the Possession while his case is hung up, and we know that in the Commonwealth it is hung up - and unnecessarily hung up, I think - for a period of two months. I am satisfied1 that the Minister of Defence will recognise the injustice of keeping a cloud over an officer of Mr. Richmond's apparent ability. I was informed this morning that the Richmond case was referred on the 26th September last to a Board of Inquiry, consisting of the Public Service Commissioner, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the Secretary to the Attorney-General ; and that they asked for further information, which was handed to them on the 17th November, being the very day on which I handed in the notice of questions asking whether it was. true that Mr. Richmond had laid1 charges against Captain Barton, and had been suspended. Is it merely a coincidence that this further information was handed to that Board of Inquiry on the 17th November? Surely if the Public Service Commissioner could spare the time to investigate this case, it ought to have been dealt with long, ago, because all the Board could do, I should imagine, would be to look into the papers. They could not call evidence unless they visited the Possession, and they could hardly call upon men to come down to Melbourne. The duty of the Board, therefore, was to go through the papers and furnish a report, and if they wanted further information, it should have been supplied at once. If the Public Service Commissioner could not spare the time to take part in the inquiry, then he should not have been appointed to the Board. I imagine that he has a great deal too much work to do to be able to spare the time to indulge in an inquiry of this kind. Would it not have been far better for the Ministry to have appointed a Victorian Stipendiary Magistrate to go into the case with the two secretaries if the latter had time to spare to make the investigation? lt seems to me a most singular thing that Mr. Hunt did not act in the matter. He went to British New Guinea to investigate its administration, and it was fo him that the- charge was made by Mr. Richmond. Why did 0 -- not take part in the inquiry ? Was it because he happened to be a friend of Captain Barton? In that case, of course, he would have been quite justified in not taking part in the inquiry, because he might have felt that he would be unconsciously biased. However, I think that Mr. Hunt is somewhat to blame in this matter. Ministers have too much time taken up>. and necessarily taken up, in dealing with questions which are daily coming before Parliament, and, therefore, have very largely to trust to their secretaries. Mr. Hunt, as Secretary of External Affairs, should have endeavoured to get this inquiry pushed on, and a settlement arrived at. Imagine what Mr. Richmond's feelings must be to be held up in Papua under suspension ! In justice to him the case ought to be investigated at the earliest possible moment. I submit that it was very unfair for Captain Barton to suspend Mr. Richmond for disloyalty. Where was the disloyalty # shown? If he had in his possession evidence to prove that the Administrator had done wrong, it was his duty to furnish Mr. Hunt with the information. No offence was committed in furnishing the information, and certainly Captain Barton had no ground for suspending Mr. Richmond on a charge of disloyalty. If, as is admitted, Captain Barton suspended Mr. Richmond, and was present when the Executive Council confirmed his suspension, I think that he ought not to be administering the affairs of the Possession. He is now Acting Administrator. It appears that he belongs to what might be called the old regime, arid is not properly in touch with the system of government which would bring prosperity to the Possession. I hope that the Minister will have Mr. Richmond's case investigated at the earliest possible moment. I trust that the Government will appoint some gentleman in Australia to administer the affairs of the Possession. We ought to be able to secure the services of an Australian who is in touch with Australian public opinion, knows something about the treatment of natives, and therefore is not likely to be unnecessarily alarmed at something which might happen to him when he got to the Possession. I am quite satisfied that the officers who come from the old country to New Guinea have an inordinate fear of what might happen to them through mixing with the natives. We in Australia - especially those who have lived in country districts, and had some acquaintance with the aborigines - know that if aboriginal natives be properly treated, there is no reason to fear dangerous reprisals on their part. The whole history of native races, and all the writings of Cook, Batman, Stuart Russell, and other Australian discoverers and explorers, go to show that aboriginal natives, if properly treated, are amenable to discipline.

Senator Pulsford - It is quite pleasant to hear something good about a coloured race.

Senator HIGGS - Although the honorable senator thinks it necessary to make that observation, we are all, I think, more or less troubled as to what it is our duty, as a,n alleged civilized people, to do concerning the native^ races in various parts of the world. Those of us who think it is necessary to exclude Asiatics from Australia entertain that feeling as strongly as any one.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - What the honorable senator says, quite consistently, is that they may be excellent people in their own places. There is nothing wrong in that.

Senator HIGGS - Exactly. I objected to the Commonwealth taking over British New Guinea. I foresaw some of. the trouble that would arise. But we have got it, and we must govern the Possession as well as we can. i should offer no objection to a fair contribution from the Commonwealth for the purpose of instructing the natives, and enabling them to live better and fuller lives. At the same time, I quite agree that £42,000 per annum is a very large sum of money for a small' place. There are not more than 500 or 600 white people there. We should have a larger return for the money spent, especially in view of the results achieved by Sir William McGregor with a much smaller revenue. I believe that it would be good policy for the Commonwealth Government to appoint some Australian, who knows the Australian feeling with regard to the natives, to administer the affairs of the Possession.

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