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Friday, 24 August 1906

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) . - I wish again to bring under the notice of the Senate the action of the Government with regard to Papua. We were told some weeks ago that the Government were negotiating to secure the services of Sir William McGregor as Administrator of the Possession. We were told that Parliament would be consulted before anything definite was done. The negotiations failed probably because there was sufficient influence to induce the Imperial authorities to object to Sir William McGregor returning to Papua, that influence being exercised in the interests of a person already there. We understood that if the Government could not obtain Sir William McGregor thev intended to appoint some person within Australia to fill the position. The Government has not made any such attempt, but has, instead, appointed a Royal Commission to inquire how far and in what manner the Government of Australia can assist the development of the Possession, and whether the existing personnel and methods of administration should be altered, and, if so, to what extent. It was a brilliant idea to appoint a Royal Commission. I am much surprised that the press of Victoria - especially the Argus, which has had . a great deal to say about the appointment of Royal Commissions by the Federal Government at other times. - has not had a word to say in criticism of this new Royal Commission, which has been appointed, I think, for the purpose of endeavouring to whitewash Captain Barton. The members of the Commission are.' first, Colonel Mackay, of New South Wales, a gentleman whom I do not know personally, but who I understand is not the kind of man whom any one would select to give an independent opinion.

Senator Walker - He is a CB., remember.

Senator HIGGS - The second member of the Commission is Mr. Parry-Okeden, a charming gentleman personally, who has recently retired from the position of Chief of Police in Queensland, and whose friends appear to have been very anxious to get him something to do. The third member is Mr. Herbert, an officer in the Northern Territory. What experience have these gentlemen had which would entitle them to go to New Guinea, make investigations, and lay down a policy for the development of the Territory? There are members of both Houses of this Parliament who have given a great deal more attention to Papuan affairs than either of the gentlemen named. In my opinion, the appointment of a Royal Commission is entirely superfluous. The Minister of External Affairs is in receipt every year of a report from the Acting Administrator, based upon reports received from the Resident 'Magistrates, of whom there are from 14 to 17. Everything that could and can be known about the administration, the necessity for a developmental policy, the treatment of the natives, and how best to develop the mining fields is at present in possession of the Government. If there were a necessity for the appointment of a person to' lay down a policy for the Possession upon the information already at hand, and upon the views of the officials1,; the gentleman to undertake that duty should have been the new Administrator. What was the use of passing the Papua Act if we are to hang it up until a Royal Commission has inquired into the affairs of Papua? If it were necessary to appoint a Royal Commission, that should have been done three years ago, as soon as it was proposed to take over the Possession.

Senator McGregor - The Commission is only appointed at Captain Barton's request.

Senator Playford - Yes; at his request. "

Senator HIGGS - At Captain Barton's request ! This brilliant idea must have originated in the mind of some other person than Captain Barton. Any one whohas read Mr. Atlee Hunt's memorandum can see from internal evidence that he wasput up to ask for the appointment of a Royal Commission. . He has deemed it necessary to say that Captain Barton made a " spontaneous request " for a RoyalCommission. A spontaneous request ! Whoever would have dreamed that Captain Barton would apply for a Royal Commission except spontaneously ?

Senator Playford - Surely the honorable senator would not have Mr. Atlee Hunt say that Captain Barton made the request if he did not make it?

Senator HIGGS - The gentlemen whoare endeavouring to put Captain Barton in the position of Administrator were at their wits' end to know how to keep him there. Then this brilliant idea struck them - reappoint a Royal Commission, to which were to be given extensive powers. Mr. Atlee Hunt's memorandum is accompanied' by a suggestive letter, drawn up by him for the information and instruction of the members of the Royal Commission. I should like honorable senators to note the modesty with which Mr. Atlee Hunt refers to himself in this document. In paragraph 6, he says: -

In 1905 the secretary of this Departmentvisited the Possession, and presented a report,, copies of which I annex. I should explain that Mr. Hunt's views, as expressed in that report,, are personal to himself, and are not to be considered as departmental. They will be doubtless of interest to you as the opinion of an officer who has given much attention to the question.

There is not a word in this letter to the Prime Minister about the reports, far more valuable, of a prominent member of the Federal Parliament who visited Papua on various occasions. One would have thought that if Mr. Atlee Hunt wanted t> give information to the Royal Commission, he would rather have suppressed hisown work, and would have referred to the work of gentlemen whose reports, as I havesaid, are far more valuable. Senator Pulsford has said that Mr, Atlee Hunt has-, given a great deal of attention to this subject. I have read his report. It is cer- tainly a very good literary production. No one can deny that. It is done very well indeed. But any one who has also read the reports that have been furnished at various times by the Administrators and the accompanying letters of the resident magistrates, will recognise that Mr.' Atlee Hunt's report is largely based on information which he gained from reading those documents, and not from any information which he was able to acquire during the royal progress which he is reported to have made when he visited Papua. The suggested draft letter drawn up by Mr. Atlee Hunt does not merely cover an inquiry as to whether Captain Barton's conduct is such as to entitle him to continue as Administrator, but also an inquiry into everything connected with the Possession. The Royal Commission is even asked in paragraph 1 of the letter to review the Papua Act passed by the Federal Parliament, and it is invited, I suppose, to make suggestions as to how the Act should be amended. The Commission is also asked to inquire into the best means of developing the mining, industry; the prospects of agricultural development; the best method of treating the natives, and so on. All this, I submit, is work that should be done by the new Administrator, and by the Legislative Council to be appointed under the Papua Act. The action of the Government is so objectionable to me that if it were within my power to put them out of office to-morrow I would cast a vote to do so. A Government that is capable of appointing a Royal Commission of that kind under such circumstances is, to my mind, not worthy of the confidence of the members of this Parliament. I wish to say a word or two about the influence that is being brought to bear in the interests of Captain Barton. There is a gentleman in the Commonwealth, a high official, who in the position which he holds is doing his best to further the interests of Captain Barton. I remember once saying to a member of the Federal Parliament that I hoped to see the day - and I still hope to see the day - when Australians will fill all positions that are available within this Commonwealth. I said that I hoped the time would come when even the posts of -State Governors and of Governor-General would be filled by Australians.

Senator Walker - What is the special virtue about Australians?

Senator HIGGS - The honorable senator may have a very poor opinion of himself, but I do not consider that Australians are entitled to have such little confidence in themselves as to think that they are not capable of filling positions within the Commonwealth, whatever they may be.

Senator Walker - Surely we are not going to monopolize things for Australians.

Senator HIGGS - I shall cast my vote in that direction, anyhow. I believe that Australians should hold these positions, and that to appoint them to high offices would encourage that national sentiment without which Australia will never be the country that it ought to be. The argument commonly advanced against such a proposal is that Australians, if appointed to these positions, would interfere in politics. In this very case we have a gentleman who has not only interfered in the past in State politics, but is now interfering in Federal politics, with a view to get Captain Barton appointed to this position. I am somewhat circumscribed in mentioning this gentleman, because one of our standing orders prevents me from speaking disrespectfully of His Majesty's representative within the Commonwealth. I am not sure whether our standing order does not refer especially to the GovernorGeneral.

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