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Thursday, 13 September 1906

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - Recognising as I do the great difficulty in the way of a private senator getting a Bill through in the very brief time available. I will make my remarks as short as possible. If it were not for my strong desire not to stand in the way of the Bill becoming law, I should like to have a great deal to say upon it. I do not think that any one at this time of day will advance any arguments detrimental to such an elementary democratic principle as elective representation' in any country by the people of that country. We are all agreed that elective representation is good, and that it is impossible to secure anything like satisfactory government for a people unless they have a voice in the making of their own laws, and the management of their own affairs.

Senator Millen - It is not proposed to apply that principle in Papua, except to a section of the people.

Senator GIVENS - That remark opens up a very large question into which I cannot enter at present, except to say that no one would propose to give a vote to. children who would not understand what it meant or its effectiveness. It would be like putting a sword into the hands of an idiot, and would be more likely to do him harm than good, and with regard to the franchise, the natives of Papua are in a somewhat analagous position. The Minister of Defence, in speaking upon the Bill, read from a memorandum to the effect that the Papua Act was before the Senate last year, and that no serious attempt was made to insert in it such a provision as is now proposed. Now, there was a reason for that, and it is as well that the Senate should recall what it was. We were then assured that if we attempted to meddle with the Bill to any serious extent we should be likely to lose it, with the consequence that the people of Papua would be for so much the longer time without a Constitution. It was said, "Let us pass the Bill, and once the Constitution is placed upon the statute-book, honorable senators can proceed to amend it in any directum they desire." That is the course that Senator Stewart has very properly taken. Now that we have an opportunity we should proceed' to amend the Constitution in a direction in which it is at present very defective. The first point which I desire honorable senators to consider is that we should endeavour to give effect to the wishes of the white people m this outlying Territory of the Commonwealth. They are people who have gone to Papua with their lives in their hands, they have braved all the dangers incidental to the occupation of a mew country, they have endured all the hardships, pertaining to a severe climate, they have risked all the illnesses incidental to life in such a land, they have foregone most of the comforts and many of the necessaries of life, and they have undertaken a most valuable work in opening up the Territory, not only for the benefit of themselves, and of this Commonwealth, but of the whole Empire. They are men' of the class who have added country after country, island after island to the British Empire. They merit the greatest respect for what they have undertaken, and their wishes should receive the utmost attention from a Parliament constituted as this is. I propose to read a petition which I recently had the honour to hand to the Prime Minister on behalf of' the white residents of Papua. The signatures' to it, though numbering only forty-four, are, I should explain, merely supplementary to a large number qf signatures attached to similar petitions. It is addressed to " The Minister of External Affairs, Melbourne," and reads as follows: -

We, the undersigned miners, traders, and business people of British New Guinea, respectfully request that there be embodied in the Papua Bill provision for the exercise by the people of adult suffrage, without class or divisional embargo, one adult one vote, one vote one value, of the principles and privileges of (1) elective representation ; and (2) trial by jury ; (3) elective representatives - four non-official members elected by the residents of the Territory, of European lineage, to be elected for a term of six years, two retiring in rotation alternately every three years.

I direct the attention of the Minister of Defence to the next part of the petition, because he has referred to the cost of holding an election. These petitioners ask for-

(4)   electoral rights and postal ballot voting.

That would enable the elected representatives to be chosen without great expense.

Senator Playford - That is a dangerous system of voting.

Senator GIVENS - We have adopted it in the Commonwealth to a large extent.

Payment of non-official elective representatives of the people should be made from the Papuan Treasury. In conclusion, we need not point out to you, sir, that trial by jury needs no argument to support it, and that for various reasons too numerous to mention, elective representation is Absolutely necessary. Therefore, we sincerely trust that you will accede to our request. And your humble petitioners will ever pray.

Then follow the signatures. That petition embodies the wish of the white people of the Territory. Unless there are elected representatives, it is impossible to ascertain the wants, wishes, and aspirations of the people. They can never be voiced by representatives chosen by officials. The Minister has stated that it is not desirable that there should be elective representation at the present time, for the reason that the white population is small, whereas the black population is large; that the whites and blacks are likely to be brought in contact with each other; and that friction might arise, which might induce the whites to pass repressive laws unjust to the coloured people..

Senator Playford - That is an argument of Mr. Reid, which I quoted.

Senator GIVENS - The Minister put it forward as a good argument.

Senator Playford - I did not put it forward as my view.

Senator GIVENS - The Minister read it as a justification of his attitude in regard to this Bill.

Senator Millen - Unless it be a justification, no justification has been put forward.

Senator GIVENS - Quite so. That argument, however, can easily be demolished. The non-official representation on the Legislative Council is to be only one-third of the whole number of members. That is all the representation that the petition from the white people asks for. Would it be possible for one-third of the members of the Council to dominate the whole? Could they compel the Council to pass repressive and unjust measures? Undoubtedly not. But they would be able to impress upon the other members of the Council the views and feelings of the people whom they represented. Whatever proposals they brought forward, they would have to prove to their colleagues the justice and reasonableness of their demand. But there is a further safeguard which entirely disposes of the Minister's contention. Every law and ordinance of the Legislative Council of Papua is subject to veto by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth. Is not that an absolute safeguard? It effectively disposes of the Minister's argument against the Bill. Further, is it- to be presumed that the white race in Papua, members of our own community who have gone there to open up the country, are so saturated with selfishness, and with the spirit .of injustice,, that they are likely to desire to inflict hardships on the coloured population. Is there anything in their past conduct to warrant such an assumption? I do not think that any man would- hold for a moment that' the white people are likely to be guilty of any conduct of the kind. Then we are told that we should give the present Act a fair trial. But last year we were urged to pass the measure in a hurry, on the understanding that we could amend it afterwards. That is why we refrained from taking any action which would have delayed the Bill. That fact is known to the Minister, and, therefore, we are seeking now to give effect to what we believe to be a proper reform in an entirely legitimate and constitutional fashion. As to the question of cost, the whole election could be conducted on the postal system, with practically no expense whatever. In the Commonwealth, distant and scattered populations are enabled to. avail themselves of the postal voting, and I do not see why the same privilege should not be extended to the people of Papua. We were asked by the Minister to give th-e present Act a fair trial, and to judge by results ; and I mav say that we already have an instance as to how the law works. Certain non-official members have been appointed to the Legislative Council as representatives of the white people, and it is within mv knowledge that one of these representative members in no way represents the ideas or opinions of the miners and others in his district - indeed, he is entirely repudiated by those whom he is supposed to represent. The reason that this nonofficial member was appointed was because he acted as the apologist of the Adminis- tration in a case which occupied the attention of this Chamber for some time. In that he acted entirely contrary to the wishes of the white people of his district, and, indeed, I may go so far as to say that the only reason for his appointment was that he acted as a toady to the Administration. It is desirable that such causes of dissatisfaction should be removed, but they are always possible under the present Act. The people of New Guinea are undergoing untold hardships in opening up and developing the country, and we should accede to their wishes, and give them that electoral representation which they believe to be their due. We shall accomplish something if we .make those people content, and cause them to realize that we are inclined to give them what they regard as " a fair deal." To that end, I hope the Senate will assist, but I can assure honorable senators that anything short of elective representation to the extent proposed will not suffice.

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