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Thursday, 23 August 1906

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (Minister of External Affairs) . - The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has made some reference to possible aspirants for this position that demands attention before the main question is dealt with. We all know that a member of this Parliament has paid special attention to tropical countries, and the best methods of dealing with native labour and tropical products. The Government have received recently from the honorable senator in question a very valuable report, and prior to that he had given the best evidence of his practical attention to these questions. I suppose 1 see more of the honorable senator in this building than most honorable members. During the refreshment hour he occupies a seat close to me, and I have often seen him on business matters outside this House. Never at any time, however, has he directly or indirectly suggested to me any ambition of his own to occupy such a position as that of Administrator of New Guinea.

Mr Watson - Nor so far as I am concerned has there been any canvassing.

Mr DEAKIN - It is only due to the honorable senator who has been so directly indicated that his name might as well have been mentioned, to say that at no time has he taken any step, directly or indirectly, or so expressed himself, as to indicate any effort to secure such an appointment. At no time has he attempted to influence my judgment in connexion with Papua.

Mr Kelly - I never said that he had.

Mr DEAKIN - That is so. So far as I know he has not attempted to influence the minds of my colleagues.

Mr Kelly - I said that some honorable members were anxious to secure his appointment.

Mr DEAKIN - That may be because they think he is the best man they know for the position ; it may be for other reasons besides his undoubted ability. The question as to the way in which the products of Papua shall be dealt with by the Commonwealth will be a practical one at no very distant date. At present it is not. With the exception, perhaps, of a little coffee, the Papuans are producing nothing that is affected by the Commonwealth Tariff. But when we seek to develop the agricultural resources of the Territory, we shall be confronted with the question of what encouragement should be held out to the white settlers whom we hope to see planted there. That will become at no very distant date, a practical question ; at present, unhappily, it is not. May I point out that the whole history of this Possession has been marked by illfortune. In the first place, it includes only half the area that we ought to have obtained : in the next, when, in consequence of pressure from Australia, control was accented by the Imperial Government, it was used unwillingly and in the most grudging fashion. Whatever was accomplished during the early years, when Sir William

McGregor was Lieutenant-Governor, was due entirely to his own energy, initiative, and courage, and not to the stimulus he ought to have received from the Colonial Office. During the time it remained under the care of Downing Street, British New Guinea was a foster-child. It was unwillingly adopted, and received scant consideration. Then, in my opinion, it was prematurely forced upon the Commonwealth. In view of the action previously taken by the people of Australia, we could not refuse ' the obligation, nor would we have sought to refuse full control, when free to give it the attention it deserved. Unfortunately, we had to fake over nominal control, and to accept our share of a dual responsibility at a period when, owing to pressure of other responsibilities, this Parliament was quite unable to give to the' questions affecting Papua the careful attention they required.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We accepted it by our own act.

Mr DEAKIN - Only in consequence of insistent pressure. We were perfectlywilling to accept it; but it was forced upon us too soon. The Imperial Government declined to continue the administration of the Territory, and required that we should, within the shortest time, take over responsibility for it. A delay of a few years would have been immaterial to them, but would have meant much to the Possession. When we acquired authority, we were confronted, not only with the difficulty of the dual control, as it may be termed, but by the fact that we had not the time or the opportunity to deal with the land, labour, or liquor laws. Fortunately, the latter needed no amendment. No new laws were promulgated pending the passing of the new Constitution. That passed last year, and will come into operation on the 1st prox. In a technical sense, it has not been proclaimed; but the Governor-General in Council has authorized the issue of the proclamation. Strictly speaking, the proclamation will take place on the 1 st of next month, when, from being a Crown Colony - governed according to the wishes of the .Government of the Commonwealth, but through the GovernorGeneral as representative of the British Government - Papua will become the first Territory of the Commonwealth under our Constitution, and under this Parliament. As honorable members are aware, we have lately taken the steps necessary to add to the Legislative Council the three members whom we were authorized to appoint. They will be representatives of the three small communities in the Territory. The new laws which have already been drafted and revised by us will be submitted to the new Council, on which the nominees are men who, so far as we can judge, would have been chosen if an election had been authorized. There are in Papua not quite 600 whites, of whom from 1 20 to 130 are women, and a few children. -

Mr Watson - The honorable and learned gentleman says that these men would have been selected, " so far as we can judge." He means so far as the Administration in Papua can judge?

Mr DEAKIN - Those who have been chosen have taken a prominent part in local movements among the white residents, and are generally considered representative men.

Mr Wilkinson - Will the Council be elected in the future?

Mr DEAKIN - That is a matter for Parliament to determine. The new Acts have been returned with our suggestions for revision, which were laid on the table and, I think, generally approved. We are at last in a position to make a start. Ever since the acquirement of the "Territory its administrators hae had to struggle against grave difficulties, many of which are such as cannot be removed by any Constitution. It must be remembered that we are dealing with a country where a black population will probably always immensely outnumber the whites, who are few and scattered. There is no telegraphic communication with the mainland, and the Territory has to be governed from a distance of more than 2,000 miles, communications taking from six weeks to two months to go and return. In parts of Australia we have to deal with tropical conditions, and with sparse settlements, but the difficulties of doing so are very much greater in Papua. When a complaint is received from a white settler there, the map must be consulted to ascertainwhere he has made his home, and how far it is from the nearest mission station, or the residence of the nearest of our half-dozen district magistrates. The great distances, absence of roads, consequent isolation and climate, must be taken into consideration in appreciating the courage and persistence of the settlers of Papua, and the difficulties of its administration.

Mr Wilkinson - The officials have the constabulary to protect them, whilst thesettlers have not.

Mr DEAKIN - The native constabulary is an excellent force, but those who have seen photographs of its dusky members will not regard it as constituting society for white officials. As to protection, the settler gets as much as we can afford, and as much as he needs, the miner in Papua, as elsewhere, being generally well able to protect himself. Weary distances separate the homes of many of the settlers from the residences of the nearest officials and the seat of Government at Port Moresby, and it is rarely that even small boats ply along the coast. Many of the evils of the trying climate will diminish, and perhaps disappear, as the white inhabitants adopt the modern methods which are being popularized throughout all British tropical possessions; but at present malaria must be reckoned with. Neither officials nor set.lers escape its attacks, which do not tend to improve their tempers or brighten their outlook.

Mr Watson - The Yankees have got rid of malaria at Panama. '

Mr DEAKIN - They are following the lead set in West Africa, and adopting largely the methods of Sir William McGregor, who is recognised as a leading authority on tropical diseases and complaints. I ask the Committee to recollect these complex considerations in endeavouring to measure the trials of the settlers and the methods of the Administration. It has been suggested that nothing has been done to make the gold-fields of the interior of the country accessible. That is not so. A track is now open from Buna Bay to the Yodda field, a distance of upwards of 70 miles.

Mr Wilkinson - When was it finished?

Mr DEAKIN - It has not been perfected ; but it was cut through early this year.

Mr Wilkinson - Since this agitation began ?

Mr DEAKIN - It has been in progress for the last two years.

Mr Watson - Practically little of it was done until very recently.

Mr DEAKIN - A horse or mule can now travel along it as far as a stronglyflowing river, whose name I forget, where the traveller must ferry his| possessions across, and obtain another beast if he can for the resumption of his journey beyond. The work has cost a great deal of money, because it has been largely experimental, but future enterprises of the kind will be less costly. A track, 34 miles in length, leads to Sagari from Port Moresby, passable for either horse or mule. Other tracks have been marked out, and will be gradually 'cleared. Within the last month or six weeks I have been able to make £750 available for work of this kind. The Government intend that these undertakings, which are preliminary to all settlement, shall be pushed on as fast as. funds permit. The question has fairly been asked, why Ministers, while recognising the difficulties in the way of the present Administration, considered the possibility of persuading Sir William McGregor to return from Newfoundland, where he holds the honorable position of Governor-in-Chief, to a country with whose early days he was associated. Franki)-, from this distance, and with the light thrown .upon the position by official reports and conflicting communications received from time to time, it is impossible for a Minister to say how far any delay in providing means of access to the mines, or in putting settlers in occupation of land, is due to the circumstances to which I have referred - the distances, the difficulties of transit and of examining the country, and the smallness of the official staff - and how far to other causes.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did not the honorable and learned gentleman say that the land laws have been practically suspended ? .

Mr DEAKIN - Yes; but not so as to render it impossible to grant leases, although there has been great delay even in dealing with applications for short leases. The Administrator declares in emphatic language that the Land Office has failed ir* its duties by neglecting to push forward ap=plications, while those censured have retorted that the delay on their part has; been unavoidable, the central executive being chiefly at fault. It is suggested! by the papers in the Richmond case, ant! in one or two other instances, that the officials in Papua are not working together well. But at this distance, having but a slight knowledge of the personnel of the staff and of the natural conditions of the country, it is impossible to pronounce definitely either upon the work being done or left undone. Attention has Been called to a significant sentence in the report of Mr. Atlee Hunt, who spent a month in the Possession last year.

Mr Henry Willis - Read what Mr. King says.

Mr DEAKIN - The white residents of Papua have no more hesitation about expressing their opinions in regard to official and other reports than have Australians, and their verdict generally is that Mr. Hunt's report, although based largely on the experience of others, is the best compendium we have of the knowledge available, and contains many valuable suggestions. Mr. Hunt called attention to the significant fact that no definite policy appears to have been laid down for the government or development of Papua. Sir William McGregor is a strong, resolute, capable, daring man, who carried his life in his hands from the day he landed. He did not fear to visit, alone and unattended, natives who had never seen a white man, nor heard the Eng'lish speech, and were unacquainted with the means of protection which firearms afford Europeans. Bv force of his strong personality, although sometimes acting in high-handed fashion, he dealt with the Possession in such a way that, during his tenure of office, it developed remarkably. This development was due, not to the encouragement given to him, but to his personality and energy. It seemed to us that he, having succeeded under most arduous and difficult circumstances, not in making himself the favorite of every one, but in winning recognition due to his zeal, courage, and devotion to duty, we could not do better than tn, to induce him to renew his connexion with the Possession, which he had been the first to conquer. We were aware that it would be only two or three years before his time for retiring might come, but we hoped that this period would suffice to enable him to do what no Minister residing in Australia can do, that is. to decide how far the progress of the Territory has been impeded by official inertia, mistakes, or neglect, and how far it has been impeded by natural difficulties, the existence of which must be admitted, which would have hampered anyAdministration.. With his knowledge of work and conditions in tropical climates, and his capacity for controlling men, he would have been able to step in and decide how far the existing personnel of the Administration was capable of carrying out the forward policy we desire to see adopted. The verv fact that we looked to Sir William McGregor implied a certain recognition on our part of the fact that the Territory has not made the progress we expected or desired. It is impossible, however, for us to judge how far the Administration is responsible for the tardiness of the development of the Territory, or to decide between the officers who, unfortunately, are not in unison as to the policy to be pursued, or as to the degree of responsibility to be attached to the various Departments. So far as I can see, the officials of Papua are, on the whole, a fairly efficient body of men. Captain Barton is a most amiable gentleman, very deeply interested in the care of the natives. Further, he made a most excellent officerwhen he was in charge of the constabulary. He has under him a number of other apparently good men, most of them thoroughly interested in their work. In fact, I do not know how any man could remain in such a country, unless he was interested in his work. But there are two distinct lines of thought among those who are resident in Papua, including those who are charged with official duties. Almost the whole of the miners and storekeepers claim that the administration is unsatisfactory, and is not calculated to induce white people to settle in the country or to make the best of its resources. This -is also the' opinion of a few of the chief officers of the Territory. On the other hand, a majority of the officials are of opinion that it is not possible to afford that encouragement to white settlement, which is desired bv the miners and others, without unduly trespassing on the rights of the natives or involving an amount of supervision which the present finances will not permit.

Mr Watson - Has not Captain Barton permitted to fall into disuse the regulations relating to the planting of cocoanut palms by the natives? I admit that he has done extremely well in protecting them against aggression on the part of the whites.

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