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Wednesday, 18 July 1906

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I am in rather a difficult position in regard to this motion. I have recently visited the north of Queensland, where I came in contact with a number of men who for years past have been living in New Guinea, and have taken an active interest in the management of affairs there. The opinion they expressed to me with regard to the proclamation of the Papua Act was that the majority of the white men resident in the Territory are opposed to that proclamation under existing conditions. Their objection is that elective representation has not been provided for in the Constitution, and they are opposed to the proclamation of the Act until provision for it has been made. I was asked to bring the matter before Parliament as soon as I possibly could. If I vote for this motion, and it is carried, and if the Government follow the instructions of the Senate in the terms of this motion, the proclamation of the Act will take place at once. I am, however, anxious to see the matter settled now, and I do not see why there should not be a settlement of it. I think we are in a position to express our views. I have given a very good reason why I should vote against the motion. As I have pointed out, I have, I will not say received instructions, but I have been asked by residents of New Guinea to state their opinion of the Constitution which has been passed for the government of the Territory.

Senator de Largie - What action does the honorable senator propose to take to amend the Constitution?

Senator STEWART - That is a matter for the Government.

Senator Higgs - The honorable senator might ask that in being submitted to the Senate, the motion be divided, because it is a complicated one.

Senator STEWART - With respect to the second portion of the motion, I might say that probably no matter df greater importance has ever come before the Senate than the appointment of a LieutenantGovernor of New Guinea. I say without fear of contradiction that in the Government of New Guinea we have a problem to solve that has not been solved successfully by any Government I know of. No Government has so far ever succeeded in ruling the native races of any country as they should be ruled. Senator Playford desired to know what the Australian sentiment is. So far as I have been able to discover it, the Australian sentiment with regard to New Guinea is that the rights of the natives of that Territory must be jealously conserved. We must try to succeed in governing that country without demoralizing the natives. That is the object which, I think, every true Australian has in mind with regard to New Guinea. If that be taken for granted, then I say that we should get the very best possible man obtainable as LieutenantGovernor of the Territory. In the circumstances, I do not know that I should be prepared to vote for the appointment of an Australian before any other man merely because he is an Australian. I have heard the name of an Australian mentioned in connexion with the position. I have the very highest respect for the gentleman, and for his ability, but I can assure the Senate that his appointment would not be heralded very, heartily by a large number of the inhabitants of New Guinea.

Senator de Largie - Why?

Senator STEWART - I 'am not going to enter into the reasons. If we are to appoint an Australian as LieutenantGovernor of New Guinea, we should appoint a man who has had some acquaintance with tropical conditions - a man who has lived in the tropical portion o'f Australia, and not a man whose whole experience has been gained in the southern quarter' of the continent. That is all I need say on. that point. Now, with regard to Sir William McGregor, if the Government can secure his sendees, I think they ought to do so. No man who has ever governed New Guinea has done so successfully as did Sir William McGregor. He gained the confidence of the natives, and enjoyed the re- spect of the Europeans, and every person of the Island was exceedingly sorry when he left it. Holding these opinions, I regret extremely that I shall be compelled to vote against the motion.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. GOULD(New South Wales) [6.25]. - A little time ago I moved the adjournment of the debate, believing that after the statement of the Minister of Defence that he desired an opportunity to post himself up with information on the subject, honorable senators, even if they had no respect for the Government, would record their votes in. favour of the motion. Although Senator Playford had spoken, Senator Keating could very well have given us the information, when it had been obtained. The Government find themselves in a most peculiar position in connexion with this motion. Honorable senators who usually support them have on this question turned their backs upon them, and those who are conscientiously opposed to them on general policy haw voted with them because they thought that it was only fair and reasonable that the debate should be adjourned.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - That only shows that honorable senators opposite are always in the wrong.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. GOULD.-Perhaps so. Apart from the way in which the Government have been treated in regard to the proposed adjournment of the debate, honorable senators should be satisfied from what has already been stated that it would be a very grave mistake to insist upon carrying such a motion. Before entering upon the merits of the question, I will assume, for the sake of argument, that by a majority of one or two the Senate determines to accept the motion. Does Senator Higgs, or any other honorable senator, believe fdr. a moment that the Government would feel themselves bound bv it? Dr> they think' that unless the other House, after a full and fair debate, arrived at a similar determination, there would be the slightest hope that the Government would adopt the course they suggest? What would be thf position of the Senate if this motion were carried? It would be held up to ridicule as a body that passes motions at which the Government snap their fingers. We all desire that the Senate should carry considerableweight in the legislation of the Commonwealth, but I ask whether the passing of such a motion is likely to place the Senate in that position? I ask honorable senators whether they do not recognise that it would, on the contrary, be calculated to place the Senate in a position which would lessen the influence and power which we desire it should exercise in connexion with Commonwealth matters? If, after full debate, Senator Higgs can secure a substantial majority for his motion well and good, but what is now desired is that a snatch majority may be secured without sufficient debate and without sufficient knowledge of the question. I think that Senator Higgs interjected that he did not desire any more information, but, as a member of the Senate, I say that I do desire more information before dealing with so important a matter. It is utterly absurd to submit such a motion, and then say that we are prepared to vote upon it without any further information.

Senator Findley - If we were to adjourn the debate now, the next thing we would hear might be that Sir William McGregor had been appointed.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- If Sir William McGregor is appointed, and his appointment is not considered a suitable one, honorable senators who object to it will have a means of dealing with the Government who make the appointment. If this motion has been introduced merely in order to oppose the appointment of Sir William McGregor, whether he is the best man or not, every honorable senator who desires that we shall adopt a reasonable course will be justified in voting against it. During the debate, it has been shown, I think, that Sir William McGregor is not likely to accept the appointment, and is not in the running for it, and if that be so, the gentleman who is administering the Government of the Territory to-day, and who, so far as I know, is administering it fairly well, should receive proper consideration.

Senator Guthrie - The Minister admits that there is any amount of trouble arising out of the present administration.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - I dare say thatfor many years to come there will be trouble arising out of the administration of New Guinea, but it is not shown that any of the trouble existing at present is due to the gentleman who is now administering the government of the Territory. If that gentleman has proved himself to be incompetent, the duty of the Government is clear.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - In his speech Senator Stewart pointed out that there is a very strong feeling amongst residents in Papua against the Act which this Parliament passed a few months ago being brought into operation. Whether their reasons are good or not it means that there are a number of persons in the Possession who are dissatisfied with the Act, in consequence of what they consider to be grave defects. In these circumstances it is well that the Senate should pause while defects of that character are being fairly considered by those who are responsible - the Government.

Senator Higgs -Thehonorablesenator knows its defect. Would he vote for electoral representation?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The present question is not whether I would vote for electoral representation or not. Senator Stewart has pointed out that that is the reason which is operating in the minds of some persons, but there may be other reasons for their holding the view that the Act should not be brought into force. I feel quite satisfied that the Parliament held the belief that it was the best Act which it could pass for the government of the Dependency, and yet there may be reasons for its reconsideration in some important particulars. But, putting that matter on one side, we have to look at the second para graph of this motion, in which we are really asked to dictate to the Government the way in which they are to select a LieutenantGovernor. I am not going to relieve any Government of the duties and responsibilities which are cast upon them. It would be a monstrous thing if the Senate were to attempt to set up a doctrine of that character. We might just as well say to the Government, " Whenever you want to make important appointments, submit the names of those whomyou wish to appoint. We shall submit other names, go to a ballot, and see which would be the more popular appointments." Honorable senators will see at once that that would put an end to our system of responsible government. We know what the views of the Government of the day are in regard toany appointments within their gift. And we may safely conclude that every member of the present Government would be prepared to appoint an Australian citizen to any position within their gift if he felt sure that he was the most suitable man available. While I have a. strong belief in the rights of Australian citizenship, having lived in the Commonwealth all my life, I contend that if an Australian wants to get a position of an important character which is in the gift of the Government, he should get it upon his merits, and not merely because of his place of birth. And if a man. from the other end of the world is more suited to fill a position under the Commonwealth than any man who can be found in Australia, it is a fair thing to appoint him.

Senator Henderson - Every one would say that.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .-Iamvery glad to hear that interjection, but from the way in which the debate has been carried on it would seem that we are to look upon Australians as the only persons who are entitled to get any positions within the gift of the Commonwealth Government.

Senator McGregor - But that is because we believe that they are as good as, any other persons.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - Other things being equal.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .-Thenwhat is the good of supporting the motion? Even if honorable senators on the other side were to submit a motion to the effect that other things being equal an Australian should be appointed what would it come to? Do they think that any Government would go out of the way to appoint a person who was altogether dissociated from Australia in preference to a person who was resident here, and cognisant of the interests of Australia? It is an absurdity to believe for a moment that any Government would do anything of that kind. The Government are entrusted with a responsibility. We desire the affairs of the public to be properly administered, and we expect the Government to make the best possible appointment in order to carry out that wish. Whether the person appointed is an Australian or an Englishman matters not to my mind. I want the best man for the position of Lieutenant-Governor of Papua, as I want the best man for every other position. We should leave to the Government the responsibility of making this appointment. I would appeal to Senator Dawson as an exMinister whether it is not a reasonable thing to leave the Government to make a selection free and unfettered. If the members of the Labour Party have confidence in the Government cannot they trust Ministers to make an appointment of this character? But if they have no confidence in Ministers why do they support them?

Senator Guthrie - We did not.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Not on the question of adjourning the debate.

Senator Guthrie - But the honorable senator did.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - The honorable senator and his friends did not support Ministers when they asked for an adjournment of the debate in order to give more information to the Senate than is now in their possession. What was their object in doing that? The object was transparent. They thought that they had a majority in favour of the motion. They did not care about any reasons which might be offered against it. They only wanted to get to a vote. I congratulate the Government upon having a band of supporters such as these honorable senators, who have shown on many occasions that they are prepared to kick them from pillar to post when it suits their sweet will.

Senator Pearce - Senator Playford is happy now, because he has a majority.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Whether Senator Playford has a majority or not, I submit that honorable senators who profess to support the Government, ought, at any rate, to trust them when they ask for an adjournment of the debate on an important question of this character without kicking them and declining to accede to their request. These honorable senators know perfectly well that if a vote on a question of this kind had been carried in the other House it would possibly have brought about a crisis, unless the House had been prepared to go back upon its decision. I know of cases where Governments have gone out of office on a vote of this kind, and they did quite right too. If Ministers want to exercise their independence of character, and say " We will lead. If we remain in office we shall not follow the dictates of a number of men who only care for what they can get out of us-- "

Senator Higgs - If such a crisis were to happen here the honorable senator would vote with us?

Senator Millen - No, he would not, because the honorable senator would vote the other way then.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Of course, Senator Higgs would, and therein lies the safety of the Government at the present time. I trust that the motion will not be carried, because, in my opinion, it would be aiming a serious blow at constitutional government, and would be absolutely unfair to the great Dependency of Papua, which we desire to see legitimately administered.

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