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Friday, 24 November 1905

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) - I do not intend to deal with the general question of the administration of British New Guinea, which has been so fully discussed ; but some matters have been introduced about which I think I ought to say a word. Senator Givens in his criticism of Mr. Atlee Hunt's report has, I think, been a little severe on that gentleman. At the same time, we owe a debt of gratitude to him for directing attention to certain points in the report, even though the emphasis which he laid upon his argument, might have been somewhat subdued. We must recollect that Mr. Atlee Hunt was sent up to report upon the administration of the Possession, and the best means of promoting settlement. In the prefatory letter accompanying his report, I find that he anticipates possible criticism in relation to the emphatic form in which he expresses his opinions upon very debatable subjects. Practically, he begs to be excused - making his apology beforehand - and setting down that characteristic of the document to the wideness of the instructions which were given to him.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator think that that absolves him from criticism ?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Not at all j and I think that a great service has been done by Senator Givens. I agree with much that he said. I merely state that Mr. Atlee Hunt is, if anything, rather to be commended for being perfectly plain in the opinions which he expresses, whether we agree with him or not. The very fact of his extreme plainness gives room for the criticism which in any case we should be disposed to apply to him. I should like to say in a sentence or two why I concur in very much that Senator Higgs has said as to the desirableness of having in charge of the Possession as Administra.tor some one who is in touch with Australian sentiment and feeling. In connexion with the Crown Colonies and Dependencies of the mother country men are sent out to fill high official positions who are supposed to be experienced, and to be in sympathy with the policy of the British Government that appoints them, and it would be an excellent thing if we adopted a similar policy, and sent to British New Guinea men who are imbued with the Australian sentiment in relation to the system of government I hat ought to b? applied, and the methods of administration that ought to be brought into play. An additional reason for that is that there is another great Terri: tory which is in some respects even more favorably situated than British New Guinea, and which will at some time be brought under Commonwealth administration. I refer to the Northern Territory. I dare say that honorable senators have seen a most statesman-like article, that was published in a journal with which we are well acquainted, some few weeks ago, dealing with that question. It is well for us to be particularly scrupulous and critical in regard to the administration of British New Guinea, seeing that we ought to, and may, take over the control of a great portion of this continent which is awaiting development, which is rich to a degree almost " beyond the dreams of avarice," and in which this Commonwealth may do a great deal to establish literally a new province. It is therefore important that we should be critical in regard to our administration in British New Guinea, because we shall require to apply the same principles to the Northern Territory, although not, perhaps, in the same way, because we are not confronted there with the same native races, and we should be going into a partially developed country. We must all, I think, have experienced a shock at some of the things - assuming them to be correct - which have been stated by Senator Higgs in regard to the Richmond case. The first point which ho made was that there was an accusation of want of loyalty made against Mr. Richmond. I am unable to see, if all the facts have been placed before us to-day, any ground whatever for suggesting that there was any disloyalty on Mr. Richmond's part. If Mr. Atlee Hunt was sent to British New Guinea for the purpose of making an investigation, and reporting on the government of the Territory, surely he was the person to whom any one had a right to make complaints.

Senator Givens - Mr. Richmond would not have been loyal to the Commonwealth if he had not made them.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - At any rate, it was his duty to tell- the truth, if it was necessary for him to make any statement to Mr. Atlee Hunt. Surely there is no blame attachable to a high official - and he was a member of the Council - in making complaints to an accredited officer of the Commonwealth, who was there for the express purpose of investigating and listening to complaints. Of course, I reserve my judgment until the full facts are known, but I see no grounds whatever for suspecting that Mr. Richmond was disloyal ito the Administrator. The worst feature is, however - if the facts are as Senator Higgs pointed out - that practically there was a packed meeting of the Council for the purpose of suspending this man. That certainly was not a proper thing to do. If the accused was debarred from taking part in the meeting of the Council, surely the accuser ought to have been debarred also. That was not a right thing to do. It strikes one as a matter for investigation, and I join with Senator Higgs in saying .that the subject ought to be thoroughly inquired into. It also appears that, after Mr. Richmond was suspended, he desired to come to Australia. Whatever the reasons may have been, that permission was refused. Mr. Richmond has been practically a prisoner in New Guinea. He is interned there. He is told that he must not go beyond the bounds. That also requires investigation'. A fourth point, which appears to me to be the most important of ail, is that these events seem to have occurred months ago. Why is a man to be accused, and to have these charges kept hanging over him for so long? Why. is justice delayed? Why is the investigation of the case put off from day to day? I think that Senator Higgs is justified in pressing the question - whether the man is liable to censure, or punishment, or not - why these things have occurred. The matter ought to be investigated and determined, and the accused ought to be put out of his suspense by being either acquitted or condemned. These points appear to me to be of so serious a character in connexion with the good government of the Territory, and the esprit de corps which ought to exist amongst the officials and those in authority, that I earnestly hope that a full investigation will take place, and that the accusation in respect of which Mr. Richmond has been suspended will be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. I feel especially called upon to say so much, as the officer who received these reports from Mr. Richmond was one whose mission was sanctioned, if not actually ordered, by the Administration of which I was a member.

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