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Wednesday, 18 July 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I think it is rather unkind for the majority of the Senate not to give me the opportunity which I requested of adjourning the debate.

Senator Guthrie - The motion has been on the notice-paper for four weeks.

Senator PLAYFORD - It is not a question of whether it has been on the noticepaper for four weeks or not. I do not load my brain with material affecting questions which may at some time arise in the Senate until I know that I have to use the information. I did not know that I should have to speak upon this question to-day. I did not expect that the motion would be reached to-day. As it was reached, I thought I should be allowed the ordinary courtesy that is always extended to the leader of a legislative chamber, andbe afforded an opportunity to obtain the necessary information to explain the position fully to theSenate. At the present moment, I cannot answer the very first question that was put to me - that is to say, how it is that ten months have elapsed, and that the Papua Act has not been put into operation. It is only due to the Government, and to the Senate, that I should be in a position to answer a question of that kind. Here is a charge against the Government, that it has, apparently, neglected its duty in not bringing the Papua Act into operation, although some ten months have passed ; and the leader of the Government in this Chamber is not allowed an opportunity to obtain information to enable him to answer it. The administration of Papua is not a concern of my Department. I do not profess to be fully acquainted with it. Yet honorable senators do not allow me to have an opportunity to obtain the necessary information from my colleagues, so as to be able to satisfy the Senate if I can, or, at any rate, to give them some reasons for this apparently unaccountable delay. I say that that is hardly fair to me. .

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator's supporters on the Opposition side are cheering him.

Senator PLAYFORD - So far as they are concerned, they have the instincts of those who would like 'to deal out fair play all round. I can thoroughly understand the position which my honorable friend, Senator Symon, takes up. He has -done what is always done bv the leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. The leader of the Opposition there always restrains his followers when any particular question comes up as to which he sees that if Be were to vote in a certain way he might be faced with the same position, and have the same difficulty to encounter, if he occupied the position of leader of the" House. Senator Symon knows what carrying on executive government means.

Senator Higgs - I rise to order. The question of the adjournment having been decided, is the Minister in order in discussing it?

Senator PLAYFORD - I am not discussing it. I am discussing the sneer that was launched at me because Senator Symon supported my motion for the adjournment of the debate, and I am showing why I should imagine he took up that position. I should certainly do the same if I were in his place. This is a question of interference by Parliament with the duties of the Executive. That is the real point at issue. I am sorry "to notice that there are many members of the Senate who appear to think that it is right and proper for Parliament practically to do the work which the Government ought to do, and ought to take the responsibility for doing. If we are going to carry on responsible government, and are to pass Acts of Parliament which give certain patronage to the Ministry of the day - give them the right to make certain appointments - the Government should be left to carry out those Acts of Parliament and make those appointments. I believe that it is very unwise for a Parliament to take upon itself the duties of the Executive.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - This is instructing the Executive, which is worse. Besides, no leader of an Opposition ever refuses the request of the leader of the Government for the adjournment of a debate in such circumstances.

Senator PLAYFORD - I will not discuss that point any more, but will say a word or two about the motion itself. The gist of it lies in the second paragraph. So far as this paragraph is concerned, honorable senators know that T am in favour of appointing Australian citizens wherever possible. In spite of considerable opposition .'from a number of people connected with the Department over which I have the honour to preside, I determined, in the appointment of officers, to give the positions to Australians in preference to inviting the assistance of imperial officers. To show my determination in this connexion, it has been made plain and unmistakable, by means of a paragraph in the Governor-General's speech, that in the future the Government intend to give preference to Australian officers, other things being equal. I do not mean to say that we shall not occasionally go outside 'for information. There may be times at which some specially qualified Imperial officer might with advantage be called in to report and advise as to the best methods to be adopted in the administration of the Military Forces ; but in order to encourage our own men we ought not to appoint outsiders so long as we can obtain officers of equal ability and experience within the borders of the Commonwealth. I believe that we have such officers in Australia; but there may be- exceptional circumstances. All I know about Sir William McGregor is that I was informed by the Prime Minister that he had communicated by telegraph with that gentleman, and that the latter1 felt inclined to take the position.

Senator Findley - That is not giving encouragement to Australians.

Senator PLAYFORD - A general rule may have exceptions at times. The position is that we require some one as LieutenantGovernor of New Guinea, where, we know, there is some trouble. Charges have been brought against the present Administrator by a certain officer, and there has been an inquiry, the result of which has been placed before honorable senators in the form of a report. No doubt, there is a little disorganization amongst the officials of the Dependency, and we want, if pos- sible, to get the very best man as LieutenantGovernor. We have had inquiries made, and standing head and shoulders above every likely man is Sir William McGregor. The affairs of New Guinea have been specially noted by an honorable senator who has visited the Dependency, and has expressed his views in writing; and he points to Sir William McGregor as the Governor par excellence in years past. If the position be that the affairs of New Guinea are crooked and require straightening, the man most likely to carry out the work is one who knows the place, and has already been a successful Administrator there. By such an appointment, we shall be more likely to get a good result than by selecting a man within the Commonwealth, who, although he may be possessed of all the necessary brains, may not have the required experience. We want the best man possible under the special circumstances ; and what I have indicated is the position the Government assume. I believe the Prime Minister is actuated only by the one motive of obtaining the best LieutenantGovernor at this particular troublesome juncture in the history of the Dependency ; and he is perfectly justified in seeking the services of a man who is in the prime of life, and whose past experience will be invaluable. We want the best man ; and, under the circumstances, that man appears to be Sir William McGregor. I should have liked to be able to tell honorable senators the exact position - how far the negotiations have progressed, and so forth.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The Minister ought to ask to be permitted to continue his remarks on another occasion.

Senator PLAYFORD - What would Senator Higgs say to that suggestion?

Senator Higgs - I say that the Minister of Defence could not make a better speech than he is making now, if he postponed his remarks for three weeks.

Senator PLAYFORD - Does the honorable senator desire information, or does he not?

Senator Higgs - We do not require any further information.

Senator PLAYFORD - Then I shall conclude my remarks by saying that the Government have no option but to oppose the motion. I do not suppose that the amendment will be insisted on, seeing that it suggests what the Government are really doing, now. All things being equal, of course, appoint an Australian.

Senator Findley - If an Australian is good enough to control the Military Forces, an Australian is good enough to administer New Guinea.

Senator PLAYFORD - That may be, but we must have an Australian equal in experience to Sir William McGregor.

Senator Findley - According to reports, New Guinea is a back number, anyhow.

Senator PLAYFORD - I take the amendment to mean simply that if we can get an Australian of equal ability, an Australian shall be appointed ; and, therefore. I ask Senator Mulcahy to vote against the motion. An amusing point about the motion is that the Australian citizen to be appointed must be "in touch with the aspirations of the Commonwealth." What does that mean?

Senator Findley - He has to have national sentiment and spirit.

Senator PLAYFORD - How can it be ascertained whether an otherwise eligible person is "in touch with the aspirationsof the Commonwealth " ? He may be in touch with Senator Findley's aspirations, but not in touch with mine - we all have different aspirations. Can anybody define the "aspirations of the Commonwealth"? Would it not be a great deal better to say straight out, without any padding, that an Australian citizen shall be appointed? Any Government, even a Labour Government, would be bound to oppose a motionofthis character, which seeks to take away their rightful executive duty.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - And their responsibility.

Senator PLAYFORD - And their responsibilty. I hope Senator Higgs will not press the motion to a division.

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