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Thursday, 13 September 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) .- The law on the statute-book in regard to Papua is that there shall be a Legislative Council for the Territory, consisting of the LieutenantGovernor and of the members of the Executive Council, together with such non-official members as the GovernorGeneral appoints under the seal of the Commonwealth, or as the LieutenantGovernor, in pursuance of instructions from the Governor-General, appoints under the public seal of the Territory. Then so long as the white resident population is less than 2,000, the number of non-official members shall be three ; but when the white resident population is 2,000 or more, an additional non-official member shall be elected for each , 1,000 of such population in excess of 1,000; provided that the total number of non-official members shall not exceed twelve.

Senator Trenwith - Elected by whom - by the white residents?

Senator PLAYFORD - Yes. Then it is further provided that any non-official member may be removed at any time by the Governor-General, and shall vacate his seat at the end of six years from the date of his appointment, but may be re-appointed.

Senator Givens - They are not to be elected by the people.

Senator PLAYFORD - I am now only stating what is the present law. What Senator Stewart proposes is that all the members of the Legislative Council shall be elected.

Senator Stewart - Not all.

Senator PLAYFORD - Well, at all events, a considerable portion. So far as I have been able to gather, from glancing at the reports of the debate, when the Bill was before the Senate, the suggestion in regard to the elective principle was not pressed. The European population of British New Guinea is divided into Government officials, missionaries, traders, and miners. Honorable senators have seen the plan which has been issued, and which shows that the largest portion of the Territory is under no control. There is an immense extent of territory with an exceedingly sparse population. There are three principal coast settlements, namely, Port Moresby, which is the Seat of Government, and is situated ' about the middle of the south coast ; Samarai, which is unsuitably placed on a small island in the China Straits, at the eastern end' of the Territory ; and Daru on- an island not far from the estuary of the Fly River. There are one or two small settlements on the goldfields, of which Tamata, on the Mambare, in the northern division, is perhaps the most important. The Government officials consist of the central staff, numbering nineteen ; the magistrates and the assistant magistrates, numbering fourteen, and other officials, numbering ten. The missionaries represent chiefly four societies - three .Protestant and one Roman Catholic. The Protestant missions do not overlap, as by an old arrangement the London Missionary Society occupies the south coast, the Anglican mission the north -eastern coast, while the Wesleyans occupy the islands which lie to the east. The Roman Catholic Mission has its centre at Yule Island, near Hall's Sound, east of Port Moresby, and works chiefly in that vicinity. The traders are scattered about, often in isolated places chiefly on the coast. Excepting those who aim principally at supplying the wants of the white population, and reside at Samarai, Port Moresby, and on the goldfields, they are mostly engaged in barter with the natives obtaining trepang - beche de mer - pearl shell, sandalwood, and copra. The mining population is found on the various alluvial fields which lie in the eastern and north-eastern parts, and also at Woodlark Island, where there are quartz reefs and a battery. Many of these men work alone or in small parties, and being of mixed character have, at times, caused trouble to the natives and the Government. On the whole, however, thev are a law-abiding _ set of men. and crime amongst them is rare. That is the information I have received from the Department dealing with the affairs of New Guinea. I have here a return showing the number of white persons at present representing British New Guinea. The European population of the Central Division numbers 192 ; the Eastern Division, 176 ; South-eastern Division, 147 ; Southern Division, no; Western Division, 1 1 ; and North-eastern Division, 6 ; making a total of 642, of whom 150 are females. Honorable senators will see that the total white population- of the Territory at the present time does not reach anything like the figures referred to in the Papua Act. When the Papua Bill was under consideration in another place, at the time Mr. Reid was Prime' Minister, an amendment was moved, in which it was' proposed that the members of the Legislative Council f;f New Guinea should be elected by adult suffrage of the white resident population. Speaking to that amendment,- Mr. Reid said - i am sorry I cannot accept the amendment. I hope the time will come when some form of election will be used in connexion with the government of this interesting dependency, but as matters stand we have to remember that the great mass of the people in Papua belong to the native race, and are subject in many respects to the domination of a few white people. We all know that when a small number of white people are living under white institutions, with a very large number of black people, the questions which arise between the blacks and the whites often involve a conflict between the direct money interests of the whites, and the just rights of the blacks. In view of the enormous preponderance of the black population, none of whom will be allowed to take part in the proposed elections, I do not think we should adopt the elective principle. The main object of the Government is to exercise the most beneficent influence upon the natives.

The point the right honorable gentleman made was that the white population was an exceedingly /small one, and frequently came into conflict with the native population, and if the whole management of the Territory were placed in the hands of the white population it was possible that the natives would not receive the justice to which they are entitled. I shall not argue whether that was a right or a wrong view to take.

Senator Stewart - That is not what is proposed now.

Senator PLAYFORD - -Mr. Websterinterjected, in the course of Mr. Reid's speech -

We are legislating for years ahead. and Mr. Reid, in reply, said -

I do not regard the matter in that light. I look upon this measure as making a start is regard to a very difficult subject, and I look forward to the time when we shall greatly improve on the Constitution provided for .in the Bill. I do not see my way to accept the elective principle at the beginning of this experiment ; although it may be worthy of consideration later on. In starting this dependency, I think that fi t is safer for us to follow the lines which have been carefully thought out by two previous Governments.

The reference there was to the Watson and Deakin Governments. The elective principle, as suggested in that amendment, was not carried, and it was resolved that the provisions of the law as we now have it should be given a fair trial. 'Provision is made in the Act to bring the elective principle into operation when the white population increases. I am informed that an election of members to the Legislative Council of Papua would involve very considerable expense, owing to the scattered nature of the population, and to the fact that there may be only two or three people living in certain localities. The Papua Act has had no trial so far. I understand that provision is now being made for the nomination of persons to fill these positions.

Senator Givens - And nice nominations they are, too.

Senator PLAYFORD - I do not know what they are. I think that the present is too early a stage in the history of the Territory at which to ask' us to alter the law which has been passed, and which received consideration at the hands of three Federal Governments. Practically, the proposal which Senator Stewart has brought before us was debated and rejected in another place. It was not debated in the Senate, though some allusions to the principle were made. In the circumstances, I think I am justified in asking the Senate not to pass this Bill at the present time.

Senator Dobson - Can the Minister say how many children are included in the total of 642 white people ?

Senator PLAYFORD - I have not that information. I have here the following memorandum on the subject which I have received from the External Affairs Department -

The provisions of section 29 of the Papua Act were only inserted in the original Bill after much consideration. It was the desire of the three Governments who had- the matter in hand to provide for. elective representation, if possible; but consideration of local conditions, particularly the small number of white inhabitants, and the fact that thev were scattered over a very considerable aTea of- the Possession, induced Ministers to put aside the idea as premature. The matter was referred to on many occasions in the debates on the Bill, and was dealt with at length in the House of Representatives on the 3rd November, 1904 (see Hansard, pages 6506, 6ji6). In that debate honorable members from all parts of the House took part, and a considerable difference of opinion was expressed, but it was eventually decided to allow the clause to remain as printed. The matter of course came before the Senate, but it appears to have been allowed to pass without discussion in Committee on 2nd December, 1904, although several references were made to the principle of elective representation on the second-reading debate. The measure has only now come into operation, and it is submitted that it would be unwise to proceed to amend it until experience has shown whether its working is beneficial or otherwise.

I think the Bill ought not to be agreed to, on the ground that the existing white population is very small, that the cost of an election would be very great, and that we have had no experience of the working of the existing Act. I have said that provision is made in the Act bv which, when the white resident population reaches 2,000 or more, an additional non-official member shall be elected for each 1,000 of the population in excess of 1,000. It would be unwise to alter the existing Act until we have seen how it will work. I am satisfied that the time will come, and, perhaps, speedily, when it will be necessary to adopt the elective principle in connexion with the Legislative Council in Papua, but at present it would be very costly to do so, as it would require provision to be made to enable a few persons scattered in different localities to record their votes. In all the circumstances, I ask Senator Stewart not to press his motion to a division.

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH (Western Australia)]. - I was surprised to hear the leader of the Senate state, in his opening remarks, and repeat at the conclusion of his speech, that when the population of Papua attains certain proportions, the existing Act makes provision for the adoption of the elective principle.

Senator Playford - Partially.

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