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Friday, 15 June 1906

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH (Western Australia) . - A .matter that has not been touched upon during this debate, although it is one of the greatest importance to the Commonwealth, and has lately attracted considerable attention in Australia and New Zealand, is the question of the control of the New 'Hebrides. Unfortunately, it has recently assumed a phase most unsatisfactory to Australia I have always held that our external policy should not be one of extra-territorial aggrandisement, but that we should use every endeavour to keep foreign nations from forming a cordon of strategic bases around Australia. ' It should certainly be our effort to keep foreign powers from closing in upon Australia and establishing strategic bases that must always be a menace to our safety.

Senator Higgs - If the honorable senator were living in Germany or France, he would be paralyzed by the number of foreign nations round about him.

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH.The honorable senator may disagree with my views on this question. I am not professing to speak on behalf of the Senate ; I am merely expressing my own opinions, and they are fortified by authorities far more capable than I am. Captain Mahan has laid it down that the United States should endeavour to keep other nations in the Pacific at a distance of at least 3,000 or 4,000 miles from its shores, since cruisers are ineffective when at a greater distance from their coal supplies. The British own all the! islands in the Pacific to the east of Australia, with the exception of New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. The ownership of the New Hebrides, which is in dispute, would be absolutely of no importance to Australia, but for the: fact that there are in the group some excellent harbors suitable for use as strategic 'bases. It is unfortunate for the' Commonwealth that those harbors exist. So far as the territory is concerned, we do not want it, and it is evident, from their action, that the British authorities do not want it. The point is that not only are the New Hebrides within striking distance of Australia, but that they lie on the flank of what will be Australia's principal trade route, when the Panama Canal has been completed. If those islands fall into the hands of a foreign power, our principal trade route will be menaced, and we shall be liable to be cut off by a strong foreign power possessing magnificent harbors on our flank. The blame for this has been laid with . wonderful unanimity at the door of the British Colonial Office ; but any one who has studied the history of the NewHebrides during the last fifty years, will recognise that Australia is equally blameworthy. We have done nothing except complain of the inaction of Great1 Britain. It is quite evident! that the New Hebrides are of special importance to Australia, whilst, speaking generally, they are of no value to Great Britain. Notwithstanding this, we have refused to do anything in our own behalf ; but have been content to complain incessantly of the failure of Great Britain to take decisive action. Twentyfive yea rs ago the New Hebrides were practically owned and controlled by the British people, yet the French residents there now outnumber the British residents, and the French trade preponderates. A year or two ago, the Anglo-French agreement was arrived at, but Australia has always been kept in the dark by the Department of External Affairs as .to what is being done, and we do not know what despatches, have passed to and fro. Before the representatives of the different powers met to consider tha terms of the proposed agreement, I urged that the New Hebrides should be exchanged for territory in Senegambia, as well as on the banks of Lake Tchad, which the French were exceedingly anxious to secure, in order to make more effective their vast African possessions. I made that suggestion, not on my own initiative, but upon that of a prominent French authority, M. Paul Leroy -Boileau who suggested that the New Hebrides should be exchanged for those small territories. When the text of the Anglo-French agreement was published, I was much aggrieved by the discovery that apparently nothing had been done by Australia to give effect to this suggestion, and that Newfoundland had jumped our claim, settling her difference with the French - which had been going on since the Treaty of Utrecht - by means of the handing over to the French of the very territory that should have been exchanged for the New Hebrides. In the absence of any statement that such an exchange was urged on behalf of Australia, it must be admitted that we have been very lax. The agreement is a self-denying ordinance, in which both powers agree not to annex the New Hebrides. That being so, it is impossible for us to ask Great Britain to abrogate a clause in the agreement which her representatives have signed. It must remain in force until conditions in the New Hebrides change so completely as to make the agreement untenable. The position will then be altered bv one or other of the nations obtaining what is known as effective occupation. The French Government have used every endeavour to induce their people to go to the New Hebrides. On the other hand, Australians who have gone out there have not received fair treatment. I venture to say that Australians are better colonists, man for man, than are the French. The AngloSaxon is a better colonizing power than is the French, but our colonists in the New Hebrides have been subjected to the most appalling disabilities. Whilst the French have placed the islands on the most favoured colony basis, we have shut our doors to those whom we have' sent out there. Prior to Federation, when their produce obtained free entry into New South Wales, they were doing very well, but since then the position has been changed. The agitation for Federation was initiated because of the position in regard to the Pacific Islands, and yet, strangely enough, as the practical result of Federation, British colonists in the New Hebrides are in a worse position than before. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. The unfortunate Australians who have gone out there have been practically marooned ; they have been left without help. The French give the produce of their colonists free entry into New Caledonia, whereas the produce of the Australian settlers is shut out, not only from Noumea, but from the Commonwealth. As a last resort, they must either sell their lands to the French or take out naturalization 'papers, and become French subjects.

Senator Higgs - Why did they leave Australia ?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - When they left here the produce of the islands could be imported free of duty into New South Wales.

Senator Higgs - But why did they leave here? There was plenty of land for them in Australia.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Why have men left Australia for South Africa? Every man has a right to determine for himself what occupation he will follow. An old-established British planter in the New Hebrides has just returned there with the intention of changing his nationality, since Australia has treated her colonists there so badly. Let us contrast the policy which has the approbation of Senator Higgs with that of the late Mr. Richard Seddon, who was just as good a protectionist as he is. What did he do in like circumstances? He knew very well that the all-important question was that of defence, and when he secured for his Colony the islands lying between New Zealand and Panama, he did not raise any miserable, petty-foggy question about the free entry into New Zealand of a few bags of maize from the Cook Islands. He allowed absolute free-trade between the Colony and those islands.

Senator McGregor - There is not much maize grown in New Zealand.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - The quantity raised there is far greater than is that produced in the State of which the honorable senator is a representative. The quantity produced in the New Hebrides by Australian settlers is so small that if it were exported to Australia it would not affect the price of make by one farthing per bag. The quantity we import from New Zealand at present is larger than that which would come from the New Hebrides if it were admitted free of duty. I proposed some time ago that we should allow maize grown on land owned by Australians in the group to come in free for a period of five years, by which time their cocoanut trees would be in bearing. That proposal was rejected. Each successive Minister for External Affairs said that nothing could be done, but when Mr. Seddon came over here and proposed that some action should be taken in this direction, every one said at once that it was most necessary that a decisive step should be taken.

Senator Higgs - Every one did not say so.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - I sincerely hope that decisive action will be taken by the Commonwealth, and that something will be done to prevent these important harbors from falling into the hands of a. foreign power, and being used against us in the future. The two strategic bases in the New Hebrides are Havana. Harbor in Sandwich Island and "Vila Harbor on Mallicolo Island'. These are superior to Noumea Harbor; in fact the latter is not a safe harbor for a strategic base, because when the wind is blowing in a certain direction it is not safe for shipping, and therefore the French cain not form an effective strategic base which could be used against Australia., unless they get hold of the New Hebrides. The Anglo-French agreement, owing to the composition of the Board, has been decided in a way which is most injurious and detrimental to the interests of Australia. Monsieur St. Germain, the Chairman of the Board, when it was all over, said that the French had achieved an unhoped-for success. If the French were so jubilant at the result of the agreement, we may be very sure that the British came off very badly. In fact, the British were absolutely out-manoeuvred in the whole of the negotiations. If we glance for a moment at the composition of the Board we can see easily what was the cause of that result. The Frenchmen on the Board had lived in New Caledonia and the New Hebrides, and possessed a practical knowledge of the whole of the requirements. Of the British representatives on the Board not one had ever been to the New Hebrides', or knew anything about the group personally. Monsieur Picanon, Governor of New Caledonia, had toured through the group every quarter, and was thoroughly au fait with the conditions and aspirations of the residents. He was recalled by the French Government, and made a member of the Board. Captain Bourge, who was commander of the steamer Pacifique, which runs between Sydney and Noumea, and is a thorough authority upon harbors and seaway, was another Frenchman on the Board; with a full practical knowledge, while Monsieur St. Germain had lived for a number of years in the New Hebrides. France was represented by three experts with practical knowledge, while Great Britain was represented by men who had never seen the New Hebrides, and naturally the French over-reached the British in their negotiations. The result is that thev made a proposal with regard to a judicial tribunal, which is most injurious to Australian interests. They propose that the Court shall consist of one British subject, one French subject, and a chairman who shall be neutral; and appointed by perhaps Holland or Spain. The system proposed is - first, that disputes between French and British subjects shall be settled by the mixed court : secondly, that disputes between whites and natives shall be settled by the mixed court; thirdly that disputes between French, subjects and natives shall be settled absolutely bv a French Judge; and fourthly, that disputes between British subjects and natives shall be settled by a British Judge. Any one who is acquainted with the local conditions will know that the French people are pushing their way by selling guns and spirits to the natives. If French subjects are to be tried by a French Judge, we may be quite sure that they will get off on some technical point ; and if British subjects are to be tried by a British Judge, we may be quite sure that they will not get off. We know the traditions of the British people there, and their actions in past times, and, therefore, we may be satisfied that British offenders will be heavily fined. We can never put down rum and arms selling there unless every case be tried by one mixed Court. If a British subject were being tried, then the British member of the Court could explain the British system of law, and the three members could come to a decision as to the facts of the case. If a French subject were being tried by the mixed Court, the French representative could explain the French law, and the three representatives could come to a decision on the facts. But as the Court is now constituted, it will accentuate the present inequality between the powers of the French and the

British. The French will continue to sell their liquor and arms in the New Hebrides, and the British rightly will be -prohibited from doing so. Then we come to a proposal with regard to municipal government. The British, who are nearly equal in number to the French, are scattered throughout the island, while the French are congregated round the principal strategic bases, and the inevitable result of this municipal system will be that, under the municipal laws, the french will absolutely control every port in the group which is of any importance. They will control Vila and Port Sandwich ; they will also control the only harbor in the Island of Santo - the most northerly and largest one - because the French are settled nil round there, and, naturally, at an election their- representative will be returned. That system will practically hand over the government of the New Hebrides «to the French people. Another matter which I think will interest Senator Higgs, . who, I observe, has disappeared, is the question of the renewal of the importation of criminals into New Caledonia. In that island there were two newspapers called La France Australie and La Caledonie, one of which was strenuously opposed to transportation, and the other strenuously in favour of the system. The French have been talking lately with re- gard to the necessity of getting rid of their criminals, and sending them to New Caledonia, and it is very significant that the whole press of New Caledonia is now absolutely in favour of the proposal. I do not know whether the Government of the Commonwealth have taken any action in the matter; if they have, Parliament has had no notification of it, and I presume that even Senator Higgs will agree that the question of the renewal of the transportation of the offscourings of the French gaols to the Pacific is one which could well be considered by the Government. I do not intend to dwell further upon that subject, but to speak about the defences of our principal strategic bases within' the Commonwealth. I was very much surprised to hear a proposal that the strategic base of Albany should be practically abandoned! in favour of the port of Fremantle. There is not in all Australia a more, important strategic base than Albany. It is a magnificent harbor, suitable for holding the largest squadron of battle-ships. It is the only port which is right on what is, andi will be, our principal trade route. All our commerce - our wheat, our gold, and our wool - goes past Albany to Great Britain and Europe. Yet some individual has said that this base should be practically abandoned, and that we should devote our attention in Western Australia solely to Fremantle. If we take the opinions of the ablest experts who have reported upon the defence of Australia - I allude to men like Sir Peter Scratchley, Sir Bevan Edwards, and Sir Edward Hutton - it will be found that they all insisted upon. the immense importance of Albany as a strategic base, and pointed out that Sydney, Thursday Island, and Albany are the three strategic bases of Australia. Yet some person not half as competent to judge as those experts, who were paid to give these reports, is now calmly proposing the practical abandonment of Albany - a port which is in railway communication with the most important parts of Western Australia, and one which any nation would like to make its base, if there were a concerted attack upon Australia, -while it is the most favorable base from which to destroy our ships and commerce. We rightly fortified Fremantle, and I hope that when the guns are obtained for that port they will be 9.2 guns, and not the 6-inch guns which it was previously thought would be sufficient there.

Senator Playford - They were 7.5 guns which it was previously agreed to order.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - What guns does the Minister propose to put in there now ?

Senator Playford - We are waiting for the report of the Imperial Council of Defence on the subject.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - I hope that the suggestion that Albany should be practically deprived of its garrison, and that it should not be regarded as an important strategic base will not be considered until we get some competent authority to report on the matter. "Before sitting down, I wish to refer to the bookkeeping system. It is evident to every one here that the bookkeeping section in the Constitution was a recognition of the unequal per capita contribution of the various States to the Federal revenue, on account of the divergent conditions. If it had not been. inserted, what would have been the effect upon Western Australia? The taxpayers of Western Australia would have had to pay to the Treasurers of the Eastern States £2,600,000, not one penny of which they would have had a valid claim to. According to the Constitution, the bookkeeping system is mandatory for the first five years and permissive afterwards. What was the clear intention of the framers of the Constitution? It was that the bookkeeping system should be continued so long as the inequalities continued. If the bookkeeping system was right, just, and necessary in, the first five years of the Federation, is it not equally right, just, and necessary during the second period of five years, if that inequality still exists?

Senator Dobson - I think that the honorable senator is wrong in his contention that the bookkeeping system was intended to remain as long as the conditions of revenue were unequal.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - I think that my honorable friend's wish is father to the thought. He is so exercised with regard to getting more revenue for Tasmania, and keeping her people, who, I may say, are the most lightly-taxed people in the Commonwealth, that he would be quite willing to put his hands into the Treasury of Western Australia, if he had the chance.

Senator Dobson - I am talking of a fact - that the words " Parliament may provide, on such basis as it deems fair," were placed in the Constitution to enable Parliament to do whatever it thought to be necessary after the expiration of the five years.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - It was impossible for the framers of the Constitution to tell that these inequalities would not disappear in five years' time. Therefore, they made the provision mandatory for five years, and permissive afterwards. Why ? Simply because they were unable to say whether the then existing conditions would continue, and they left it for Parliament to decide. I have no fear that there will be any proposal to abolish the bookkeeping provisions. I have too much confidence in the justice of my fellow Australians to believe that theywould allow such a thing to happen. I do not believe that this Ministry, or any Ministry that will come into existence, would dare to propose such a thing.

Senator de Largie - What about the States Premiers?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - We do not care about the States Premiers. It is the members of the Federal Parliament who have to act under the Constitution ; and if certain Federal members want to exploit one State for their own benefit, the Australian people will absolutely repudiate such an unholy undertaking.

Senator Dobson - Oh !

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Senator Dobson is one of those who have strenuously advocated the sweeping away of the bookkeeping system. I have read some of his speeches delivered in Tasmania. He has been posing with one hand in Western Australia's pocket and the other on his heart, saying, " Let us do justice as between State and State ! " I have not the slightest fear that any Ministry will venture to make such a proposal as he desires. But there isa fear that some Ministry may try to get behind the bookkeeping sections by proposing a sliding scale, which will be, in its results, almost as bad as if the bookkeeping sections were abolished.

Senator Best - The sliding-scale principle was adopted in the Constitution itself.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - There is not a word in the Constitution to the effect that the bookkeeping system should give place to a sliding scale.

Senator Best - There is with regard to the special Tariff.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - We are not talking about the Tariff. What is the difference between sweeping away the bookkeeping system and removing it bv asliding scale ? Simply that the one method is sudden and the other is gradual. The second method is like cutting off a dog's tail one joint at a time to save pain to the animal, instead of cutting it off all at once. The result is just the same. The only fair thing to do is to renew the bookkeeping system absolutely, and intact, for at least five years - until, at any rate, we have to consider the whole question of our finances when the Braddon section expires. If there is, at the end of that time, still a great inequality amounting to , £400,000 a year - the loss of which would mean the absolute stoppage of development in the young and vigorous State of Western Australia - the bookkeeping system would have to be continued for a longer term. But while the present inequality regarding Western Australia exists, we can take steps to have a common purse for such of the States as are anxious to have one, if their anxiety is not stimulated by their desire to exploit Western Australia. There is no difficulty about it whatever. It is quite easy to have a common purse for Tasmania, South Australia,

New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, quite apart from Western Australia.

Senator Best - Victoria has always stood by Western Australia.

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