Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 23 August 1906

Mr CROUCH (Corio) .- I regret that the honorable member for Herbert, in his criticism of the administration of Papua, said that he is sorry that the Commonwealth has taken over that Territory. Great Britain has been described as a weary Titan. Her burdens of Empire are so enormous that her statesmen may be pardoned for sometimes regarding them as too great to be borne. But we shall not live up to our duties and responsibilities if, after five short years, we, a vigorous and thriving young Commonwealth, adopt a tone of pessimism in regard to our only Territory. The honorable member's remark was certainly not made in the spirit of an Empire builder; this is not the note of Empire. The position occupied by the United States of America is not quite the same as ours, because its Governments have always had to control Indian populations, and have thus acquired considerable experience in dealing with subordinate races. It is only since the recent Spanish war, however, that that country has acquired territory outside her own borders, and in the Philippines has now to govern a small minority of whites living in the midst of a large majority of coloured peoples. The United States have made mistakes, and the Tait Commission was appointed to inquire into the administration of their oversea territory. No doubt the Commonwealth, too, will make mistakes in its administration of Papua. Democracies and republics arc not ready enough to recognise that a benevolent autocracy is the form of government best suited to coloured peoples. To apply constitutional democratic methods is to court failure. What is necessary is the strong man with the strong hand, whose internal administration - as long as it is fair and just - will be uncontrolled. While the 600 whites in Papua understand constitutional democratic government, the natives there have always been accustomed to be ruled by brute force. Their traditions and their laws teach them to recognise the Government which is seen to have force and power behind it. In regard to the O'Brien case, I do not know who was in the wrong, but I would point out that on the confines of the Empire we cannot govern in kid gloves. A white man cannot be allowed to flout law and order merely because his gaoler is a black man, and should not expect to be treated in Papua exactly as he would be treated in Melbourne.

Mr Watson - But the authorities should keep within the laws laid down for their guidance.

Mr CROUCH - Sometimes what appears the most illegal process is the wisest and best to pursue. I understand that O'Brien was locked up on a charge of assault, and made his escape in defiance of the authorities. If that is so, it was the duty of the magistrate to assert his position, so as not to allow the natives to think that white men or black can flout the power of the Commonwealth. O'Brien should have been shown that he would not be allowed to break the law merely because his gaoler was a black man.

Mr Watson - No one objects to observance of the law being required ; but the magistrate said that, O'Brien might be shot on sight.

Mr Johnson - Is there any proof of that?

Mr Watson - Yes; the fact is stated in the papers.

Mr CROUCH - Apparently the man was declared an outlaw, but no doubt the King's authority had to be maintained.

Mr Watson - The honorable and learned member would not have tolerated it had he been concerned.

Mr CROUCH - I can conceive of circumstances in which, if I were a magistrate, I would feel it my duty to act very summarily, and ho doubt the honorablemember for Bland would support me in. doing so. It is regrettable that the Royal. Commission has been appointed at the request of Captain Barton, though I do not link that it is intended to be a whitewashing Commission. If the Ministry think that information is required which can be obtained only by this means, well and good. The fact that its report" cannot be presented before the dissolution of the present Parliament is immaterial, because the next Parliament will have a free hand to deal with the whole matter, and its members will be fortified with the evidence placed before them by Commissioners whom I have not heard spoken of as either incapable or objectionable. For my own. part, I shall welcome information in regard to the best way in which to administer Papua, no matter whence it comes. We have no right to criticise those who are administernig this Territory, unless we have full knowledge of all the facts. They are engaged in performing a very difficult task, and if we weaken their hands by adverse criticism without knowing the real facts, we shall not only injure them, but shall injure the Commonwealth, too. A white population, living in the midst of a large black population, is always inclined to be turbulent, and discontented, because its members have been used to constitutional government, and are not favorably disposed to other methods. Consequently, the Administrator and his officials have a very difficult task, and it is our duty to see that, so long as they do right, thev are assisted in upholding and asserting the supremacy of the flag and the authority of the Commonwealth and of the Empire.

Suggest corrections