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Thursday, 23 August 1906

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) , - I shall not labour this question, because 1 have already spoken upon it. In my opinion, the Government have not kept faith with honorable members iri appointing this Royal Commission. Knowing one or two of the Commissioners, I do not think that the best men have been chosen- The white people who have gone to New Guinea have, no doubt, done so to further their own interests, but they cannot do that without developing the resources of the Possession, and they have not received that, consideration from the Administration which is their due. It is all very well to talk about the consideration that has been shown to the natives. I do not think that any one has found fault with the way in which the natives have been treated. Although Mr. Atlee Hunt has described the miners of Papua as a rather rough lot, he had to pay them the compliment of saying that they have co-operated with the Administration in keeping intoxicants from the natives. They cannot be verv rough, since they will not descend to making use of native labour for the carrying of their tools and rations. ->

Mr Johnson - Miners are always a chivalrous class of men.

Mr WILKINSON - Exactly. It seems to me that those who have been sent to Papua to inquire into the conditions of life there have shown a certain degree of pre.judice tin characterizing these Chivalrous men as a rough lot. Mr. Hunt, in the concluding paragraph of his report, says: -

I hope that full recognition will be given to the two duties to which reference has been made as being imposed on us by our acquisition of British New Guinea : tha one to our dark-skinned fellow-subjects - to give them the advantages of civilization, divesting them, so far as we are able, from the evils that too often follow in their train ; the second to ourselves - to make the fullest use of the goodly heritage it is our privilege to possess.

I do not think that the people of the Commonwealth know what a goodly heritage the Possession is. Hitherto the Administrators of the Territory have not done their best to develop it. I have no personal knowledge of Captain Barton, and therefore have no feeling against him or his predecessors ; but, in my opinion, while they have been trying to bring the natives under the influences of European civilization, and to get them to conform to our customs and habits, they have not given that attention to the development of the resources of the Territory which they should have given. There are in the Possession indigenous plants of high economic value that will grow and yield a large return with a minimum of labour. But what has been done? The revenue of the Possession falls short of the £20,000 which we are paying for its upkeep. It amounts to a little more than £19.000. The condition of affairs should" be verv different in a country like Papua, where the possibilities are so great, and where the soil is equal in fertility to any in the world. When we compare what has been done in Papua, with what has been accomplished in German New Guinea, we have every right to declare that the administration of the former has not been- a success. The Germans have accomplished infinitely more than we have done, although the possibilities of their territory are not so great as are those of Papua. It is a matter for regret to me, as an Australian, that Germany was ever allowed to set foot upon the island. Like many other persons in Queensland, I was politically opposed to the late Sir Thomas Mcllwraith, but I recognise him as one of our . Empire builders, because of the action which he took in connexion with New Guinea. He did the right thing at the right time, but Britain did not support him. If it had not been for the remissness of the Imperial authorities upon that occasion, we should have been in occupation of that portion of New Guinea now held by Germany, and we should not have had a power, which may possibly become hostile - although I hope not - within easy reach of our shores. To our shame be it said, that Germany has developed her portion of the island, whilst we have allowed our Territory to remain in a state of nature, and have contented ourselves with trying to induce the natives to conform to laws which they do not understand.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - According to the honorable member's argument, Germany should have taken possession of the whole of the island.

Mr WILKINSON - My argument is that we should change our policy, and maintain the prestige of the British race, which has been the great colonizer of the world in modern times. I think that Great Britain is losing her prestige as a colonizing power when she permits another nation to get ahead of her upon territory adjoining her own, and possessing smaller potentialities. In every other part of the world where Britain has planted her Colonies she has been successful.

Mr Henry Willis - Papua has not been a. failure. <

Mr WILKINSON - It has been a failure so far.

Mr Henry Willis - - I think that the Administrators have done remarkably well.

Mr WILKINSON - They have done so well that some of the plantations laid out bv Sir William McGregor became so hidden in the scrubs that it was only within the last year or two that they were rediscovered. I freely admit that the new land ordinances will remove many of the evils of which we have complained, but I think that the Prime Minister will grant that no matter how good the law may be, it will not prove effective unless it is administered by sympathetic officials.

Mr Henry Willis - No laws will remove the malaria from the country.

Mr WILKINSON - The honorable member should not air that old fad. Malaria was once prevalent round about the Hawkesbury River, in New South Wales, and the settlers at Botany Bay and Sydney were at one time at the point of starvation, and had to await the arrival of provisions from England. The first case of malaria and fever and ague of which I ever heard was contracted on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Wherever virgin soil is turned up, malaria becomes prevalent. It is not peculiar to the tropics, but is met with in the Arctic regions. _ I have heard people speak of New Guinea fever and Gulf fever and malaria as if a white man could not live in tropical regions where such diseases are known to exist. Some of the best men in Australia, however, are living well within the tropics. We are, however, dealing with the administration of Papua, and not its climatic conditions. The Government have admitted that the present administration is not satisfactory, inasmuch as they have approached Sir William McGregor with a view to inducing him to accept the position of Lieutenant-Governor. If that gentleman had consented, Captain Barton would have been superseded; Sir William McGregor cannot, however, make it convenient to come here.

Mr Henry Willis - Why not?

Mr WILKINSON - I cannot tell the honorable member.

Mr Henry Willis - He can read between the lines.

Mr WILKINSON - It is quite possible. Perhaps he knows that, if the Government appointed him, they would act against the wish of Parliament.

Sir John Forrest - Why does the honorable member say that?

Mr WILKINSON - I think that the majority of honorable members are opposed to the appointment of Sir William McGregor.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why does the honorable member conclude that?

Mr WILKINSON - I gather that from the opinions I have heard expressed all round. The administration of Papua under the Commonwealth should be a credit to us, and the Possession should be selfsustaining. Mr. Atlee Hunt suggests the necessity for a change in the administration, and also that it should have at its head an Australian citizen, in close and recent touch with the aspirations of the Commonwealth, and with the needs, requirements, and conditions of Papua. He says -

It is not apparent that they (the Administrators) have been working in furtherance of any well-defined object.

Mr Henry Willis - Mr. Hunt was in Papua for only about ten minutes.

Mr WILKINSON - I do not care whether he was there for ten minutes or ten months. The Government are apparently acting upon his report. I think that it is about time that we began to work in furtherance of some well-defined object. Mr. Hunt further says -

It will be generally agreed that the time has now arrived when a goal should be set up to the attainment of which the Government officials should be instructed to employ their best endeavours.

At page 20 of his report, Mr. Hunt bears out my contention when he says-

It is, of course, not money alone that is necessary, but I feel confident that we in Australia can find the men possessed of the foresight, industry, and ability necessary to guide this great enterprise to a successful issue.

The Government do not take that view. They have gone to Newfoundland to secure a man to place at the head of the administration*. Having, failed in that direction, they have appointed a Royal Commission to make it appeal that Captain Barton is the best man for the position. That is how it appears to me. One of the members of the Royal Commission is well known to me in his official capacity. I refer to Mr. Parry-Okeden, the late Commissioner of Police in Queensland. He is a man of considerable ability and bush experience, the latter having been gained for the most part in southern Queensland. He has been called the man from the Snowy River. He was born upon thf slopes of Kosciusko, or somewhere in that neighbourhood, and he is to be sent to New Guinea to specially inquire into the conditions of that tropical country. Had the Government really been earnest in their desire to secure the best information concerning the development of the Possession, they would have appointed to that Commission men who were possessed of a knowledge of tropical conditions- - -men who had lived in the northern portion of

Queensland or in the Northern Territory, and who had had experience of association with a virile race of natives such as is not to be found in the southern part of Australia. They would have limited their selection to individuals who have had to establish homes in tropical regions, and to blaze tracks for others- who might come after them. It is from this class that Commissioners should have been chosen to inquire into the conditions which are. likely to lead to the development of New Guinea. The appointment of a Commission to inquire into that question comes as a surprise to those who have taken an interest in it. We were led to believe that no action would be taken until the House had an opportunity of dealing with the subject. Yet, short of the appointment of the Lieutenant-Governor, the most definite action has been taken by the Government. I am - aware that we cannot undo the appointment of the Royal Commission. That is beyond our power. But I do think that we have not been fairly dealt with in this matter, and that an opportunity should have been afforded honorable members to fully and freely discuss the position before the Government took any step such as that to which I have referred.

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