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

Mr DEAKIN (BALLAARAT, VICTORIA) - The Administration has made the care of the natives its main' object. It has acted in accordance with the traditions of the Colonial Office, which, I think, we mav fairly claim are the best in the world, in regard to the treatment of the coloured peoples. We may not be very well satisfied with all our past dealings' with subject races, but the task beyond all others to which the Administration in Papua has devoted itself has been the extension of the sphere of peaceful control of the natives. I am sure that we are all in accord that this should continue to be the main object. A number of the white residents say - and some of the officers, too - that whilst continuing paternal care for the natives, and protecting them as at present, we can bring the unused lands of Papua under tropical cultivation. They urge that this should be done, not only with a view to the profit of the whites, but in order to enable the natives to lead' a healthier life. It is an undoubted fact that since village has ceased to war with village, the physical condition of the natives is deteriorating. Nearly every village may be said to be occupied by a separate tribe, and prior to British occupation of the Territory outbreaks used to occur, almost yearly between them. This kept up the stamina of the natives, and maintained them in better physical condition than, they show when thev are mere idlers no longer called upon to protect themselves. There are signs, especially commented upon by the Administrator and his officers, of deterioration among the residents of those villages which have been longest under our control. The one exercise that the natives had previously was the exercise of arms in which they indulged, because of the necessity of protecting themselves against aggression. Now that this necessity is removed they have next to nothing to do, because, being a chivalrous people, they prefer to leave to their wives the task of cultivating the ground, and of providing the supplies which they are graciously pleased to consume, as a favour. Consequently, critics have the support of the Administration when they say that under present conditions the physical condition of the natives is not likely to be maintained at the standard of the old days, and that the encouragement of tropical agriculture coupled with a close control of native labour, such as that how observed, would not only develop the riches of the country, but would provide a measure of beneficent employment for such of the natives as could be tempted to undertake it. Not only would the country be developed, but it would be settled bv white men, who would help to insure its protection.

Mr Johnson - What about providing a market for the products of the settlers in New Guinea?

Mr DEAKIN - That will become a practical question as soon as we encourage white settlement in Papua.

Mr Johnson - I think that it is a practical question now.

Mr DEAKIN - Except for a little coffee produced in Papua, we do not receive from there anything that is dutiable. When Papua produces something besides copra, which is free, and a few other articles, which are of no concern, we shall have to consider the question of providing a market for the products of the Territory. I have no doubt that the House will then be prepared to cope wilh it. It has to be admitted that in Papua there are two currents of opinion, towards one of which the white population inclines, and towards which I think this Parliament is also bound to incline. I think that honorable members will be in favour of adopting an Australian policy of development for the Possession. We already have a considerable area of unused lands, and could easily obtain more without depriving the natives of the very large tracts reserved for their use, which are carefully guarded against encroachment. We have abundance of land for white settlers, and if we had been content to accept a chartered company as a tenant some years ago, we should long before this have had a large area settled and rendered highly productive. The Australian people were unwilling to place any portion of the lands or the labour of Papua in the. hands of a chartered company. They preferred to proceed by the slower means of encouraging white settlers to make their homes.. It must be admitted that, according to the statement of the miners and many of the traders, mining and settlement have hitherto received scanty encouragement. Although there are difficulties which no Administration could overcome, the charge that there has not been a sufficient amount of sympathy on its

Dart towards the development of Papua bv means of white settlers has still to be substantiated or disproved.,

Mr Wilkinson - It has not been want of sympathy, but want of capability on the part of the Administrators.

Mr DEAKIN - If the fault has been due to the Administration, I would rather suggest that it was due to that want of initiative and energy characteristic of those who have their vitality burnt out of them by years of residence in malarial districts.

The man who can sustain two or three attacks of malarial fever yearly, and preserve his energy unimpaired, is little short of a marvel. Recently a visitor landed at Port Moresby, and found every official down with malaria.

Mr Wilkinson - That is why we want to appoint as Administrator an Australian, who will be inured to malaria.

Mr DEAKIN - Malaria is to be met with in Australia, as well as Papua, although it is rapidly disappearing from our coasts, as it will also disappear from Papua in the course of time. The two currents of opinion to which I have referred clash. On the one hand, there are the advocates of the old Crown Colony policy of protecting the natives and resting content with that. On the other hand, there are those who support a progressive policy, which, although not less regardful of the interests of the natives, aims at the development of the country, and its garrisoning by means of white men, not paid as an army of occupation, but using the land under such conditions that they can obtain a reasonable return for their labour. Papua, although it is only a portion of the island of New Guinea, is, as Mr. Hunt vividly points out, a land of contrasts. It possesses inaccessible mountains and sodden morasses. In some portions it has a heavy rainfall, whilst in others droughts prevail. It has soil of all classes, and is capable of producing a variety of products. It has great mineral resources, which ought to be tested and developed ; and presents great facilities for the development of some tropical products which ought to be profitable. Now that we are becoming directlv responsible for this Territory, the Ministry of the day and the Parliament behind it cannot evade the responsibility of deciding for one policy or the other, and of also deciding by whom that policy shall be carried out. It would have implied no personal reflection upon Mr. Barton, who has been Acting Administrator of Papua for two years or more, if a man like Sir William McGregor, so much his senior in years and standing, and possessing greater experience in the Territory itself and elsewhere, had been asked to occupy the position of Lieutenant-Governor for the next three years. It would have conveyed no reflection on the existing Administration if Sir William McGregor had been asked to set our house in order in the manner that his judgment and know ledge would have enabled him to do. When it became impossible for us to secure his services, the responsibility - whch I had no desire to evade - fell upon us to determine what course should be followed from the 1st September next. No portion of the duties that I have had to discharge as a member of this or any previous Governments has occupied more time and attention, or given me more anxiety, than those connected with the control of the affairs of Papua - a Territory 2,000 miles away, which I have never seen. Towards the place and its people I have every desire to act justly and wisely. Although I have twice lived in the tropics for short periods, and have passed through them at other times, thus gaining some experience of what life in the tropics means, I do not* feel competent, with the materials before me, to sav whether the Administration has justified itself, or whether it is open to fair challenge, for having missed opportunities and for having governed by inertia rather than progress. It was while I was thus perplexed that I received with surprise a letter from the Acting Administrator. So far as I can judge from the date of that communication I do not think that any news regarding the offer which had been made to Sir William McGregor could then have reached him. The letter was written in July last, and reads -

Sir, -An idea having, by some means, gained ground in Australia that the present Administration of British New Guinea is unsatisfactory, I have the honour to request that a Roval Commission may be appointed at an early date to visit this Territory, with a view to inquiring exhaustively into the matter.

Not only do I regard such a course as eminently necessary in order that ill-founded impressions may be authoritatively dispelled, but also in the future interests of the Possession, for unless existing charges and grievances - whether real, imaginary, or malicious - are ventilated, injustice will inevitably be done to' individuals, and the nature of this may be more far-reaching in its injurious effects than is at present evident.

I shall esteem it a favour if you will inform me, by telegram, whether my request is favorably regarded.

I have, etc.,

F.   R. Barton,


Mr Wilkinson - In the early portion of the letter he refers to " ill-founded prejudices."

Mr DEAKIN - He refers to "illfounded impressions." In the face of that letter, arriving as it did whileI was per- plexed, honorable members will see that, in justice to the Possession itself, and to the officers concerned - who were not in harmony one with another, and have recently been interchanging mutual charges as to their several responsibilities for administrative delays and difficulties - the Government could not refuse an inquiry. What possible ground had we either for confirming the continuance of the Acting Administrator and his officers in a position in which they admitted complaints - alluding, perhaps, to the McGregor rumour, or more probably to the statements which have been made in this House from time to time-

Mr Watson - They are nothing by comparison with the statements which have been made in the press.

Mr McWilliams - It was only fair to grant him an inquiry when he asked for it.

Mr DEAKIN - He did ask for it.

Mr Watson - But he can be judged by his work.

Mr DEAKIN - How can we judge it when we are 2,000 miles distant from the Possession? We cannot know how far the Administrator may have been hampered by incapable or unsympathetic officers.

Mr Wilkinson - Have not officers been appointed during Captain Barton's term as Acting Administrator?

Mr DEAKIN - Not with the exception of juniors. The Government felt bound to support the Acting Administrator, and I have never failed to lend him effective support.

Mr Watson - Whilst he remains in his present position he deserves to be supported.

Mr DEAKIN - We severely punished the officer to whom the honorable member referred - Chief Surveyor Richmond - and he has certainly accepted his punishment like a man. He has gone out to the backblocks to take up his work, appealing for an opportunity to be heard orally, with a view to clearing himself of what he regards as an unjust decision.

Mr Johnson - A very manly stand for him to take.

Mr DEAKIN - I admit that. When an Administration is rent asunder by such dissensions, how can it be confirmed in office or dealt with by dismissing either one party or another, without a proper investigation being conducted upon the spot?

Mr Cameron - Did not Mr. Atlee Hunt report upon the conditions obtaining in New Guinea?

Mr DEAKIN - These difficulties began to come to the surface just about the time that Mr. Hunt was leaving the Possession, and only ripened afterwards, I think that we have had enough Royal Commissions appointed recently - not that I am opposed to their use in obtaining information. Certainly nothing but the extreme remoteness of the Possession, and the difficulty of arriving at a just decision in regard to its present deadlock, would have led the Government to appoint the present Commission.

Mr Frazer - What is the scope of the Commission ?

Mr DEAKIN - I will read it. Its purpose is summed up under two headings, namely, " How far, and in what manner, the Government can assist the development of the Possession ?" We put that consideration first. Mr. Atlee Hunt stated in his report that there was no definite policy pursued in the Territory. Out of his knowledge, he recommended the adoption of a policy. His recommendations have been criticised by the Administration, and we have also ideas of our own concerning a suitable policy. The Government consider their first duty to the Possession is to lay down a consistent line of policy, which should be pursued with a view to its development. The second matter into which the Commission will inquire is, " Whether the existing personnel and methods of administration should be altered, and to what extent ?" Honorable members will recollect that the Administrator with three or four chief officers, is located at Port Moresby. There are only two resident magistrates within easy reach of him. Some of them are visited only at long intervals. Each has practically a kingdom under his control. These kingdoms are peopled in parts by hostile tribes, which require to be treated with firmness. We have, therefore, to risk mistakes being made. Undoubtedly, Mr. Griffin made a mistake in the O'Brien case. Mistakes must occur when we have officials who are only visited once a year by the Administrator, and many of whom never see a white face in twelve months. These officers live amidst surroundings from which most white people would fly. Yet they remain. They have heard, as Kipling writes, " The East a'calling," and thev have sacrificed home, family, friends, and, in some instances, the prospect of a career elsewhere, in order to undertake a task, always ungrateful, and which can only be carried on at great cost to health. I omitted to mention to the Committee that these officers are not under the Colonial Office. They have no pension. They have no claim to any consideration, unless in the future we may decide that a gratuity shall be given to officers who have served in the Possession for some years. Therefore, every man endeavours to cling to his post. At the present time, we are faced with the difficulty that some of these men are approaching the age when their retirement will be rendered necessary. So far as we can judge, from the discord between the officers, some of them must go. The question therefore arises, " How are those to be dealt with who go and how are those to be dealt with who remain ? " Can these problems be solved upon purely documentary evidence 2,000 miles away from the Possession?

Mr Watson - The Government have an Administrator, and they should either support him or appoint somebody else.

Mr DEAKIN - But we must act upon evidence. The Administrator himself has been censured, and now asks for an inquiry. Even the honorable member for Moreton must admit that it would be hard to find men who have had a wider experience than have the members of the Royal Commission which has been appointed.

Mr Wilkinson - Will they be the guests of the Administrator in New Guinea ?

Mr DEAKIN - No. A special residence has been provided for them, and their requirements will be supplied independently of any officer whatever. That has been done to enable the Commissioners to speak their minds in the freest possible way. Mr. Herbert, the Government Resident of the Northern Territory, has lived there for a number of years, and is a barrister by profession. Mr. Okeden, to whom reference has been made in this debate, has had long official experience in Queensland. Colonel Mackay has been a member of the New South Wales Cabinet, while in South Africa and elsewhere he has seen a good deal of the black races, and is acquainted with the best methods of handling them. Certainly, the Commission will not be a whitewashing one, so far as any instructions which have been issued' can control its decisions. Its members will be sent to New Guinea perfectly free. They will assume nothing either for or against any officer, but will satisfy themselves on the spot as to the natural conditions which have to be surmounted, as to the work which has to be done, and deal with the charges which will be formulated in connexion with the re-hearing of Mr. Richmond's case, a re-hearing to which he is certainly entitled by every rule of justice. When they have dealt with the official complaints, they will examine the methods of administration pursued, and criticise them fearlessly. They have nothing to hope or fear from their recommendations, which will neither govern the Government nor the House, unless they commend themselves to us by reason of the case which the Commission are able to make out. We must trust to the members of that body a great deal, because they will have opportunities of acquiring knowledge personally which practically none of us enjoy.

Mr.Poynton. - Will the Commission have power to recommend what shall be the land policy of Papua?

Mr Watson - That has been settled.

Mr DEAKIN - We have settled the land policy under the new Act, but we shall have the criticism of the new members of the Council upon it. If the Commission choose to glance at that question they may ; they are not invited to do so unless it comes directly within the sphere of their observations.

Mr Watson - The land policy of Papua is settled by Act of Parliament.

Mr DEAKIN - That is so. If it is amended it will be in consequence of the representations of the people who live there.

Mr Johnson - We shall have control over the question.

Mr DEAKIN - Absolutely. It is unnecessary for the Commission to inquire into the liquor, land, or labour ordinances-

Mr McWilliams - Will they inquire into the treatment of the indented blacks?

Mr DEAKIN - They will if any one invites their attention to it.

Mr McWilliams - Have not the Government instructed them to inquire into that question ?

Mr DEAKIN - No; because no one has set his name to a charge of abuse as regards the indented blacks.

Mr McWilliams - The death rate of 23 per cent. ought to be sufficient.

Mr DEAKIN - The honorable member knows that was of one year, and it spoke, not of ill-treatment, but of the unhealthy conditions arising in newly-opened tropical country. The death rate, to which the honorable member alludes, was followed by a fall almost as remarkable as was its rise.

Mr Watson - These indented blacks were immigrants.

Mr DEAKIN - That is so. They came from another district. They had livedin another altitude, and were then engaged in opening up ground which had never been mined or cultivated.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - Would that account for the death rate amongst them being so far in excess of that amongst the white settlers in the district?

Mr DEAKIN - Yes, because the blacks are immediately engaged in the work of opening up malarial lands.

Mr Johnson - Does not great mortality always follow when whites undertake such work ?

Mr DEAKIN - The mortality is great amongst whites when they undertake the work of opening up new ground in tropical countries, as in Panama lately.

Mr McWilliams - Does not the Prime Minister think that the Commission might well inquire into the question?

Mr DEAKIN - We have had it inquired into by the magistrates, who took such precautions to conserve the healths of the blacks that the death-rate fell very rapidly. Since then no application for inquiry has been made; but the Commission are free to inquire into this as well as into any other question.

Mr McWilliams - The latest death rate is 6 per cent. ; that is heavy.

Mr DEAKIN - It is not heavy when we recall the fact that the Papuan is unaccustomed to continuous labour. He undertakes the work of mining and opening up new land in a new district because of the inducement held out to him.

Mr McWilliams - But surely the high death-rate ought to be inquired into.

Mr DEAKIN - It has been; and we are endeavouring to prevent natives of one district being put to work in another where their health will suffer.

Mr McWilliams - The inquiry was made by men who are responsible for the conduct of their own Departments.

Mr DEAKIN - No; it was made by magistrates, who have no interest in the mining operations. Complaint is often made of the severity of their supervision, and it is said that they have little sympathy with the miners. There is no objec tion to inquiry. I should welcome it ; but the probability is that those living on the spot are better able to suggest how the deathrate might be decreased than are men who remain for only a few weeks.

Mr Higgins - If in developing thecountry it is found that the interests of the blacks conflict with those of the whites, is the question of who shall be supreme to be considered?

Mr DEAKIN - Yes; in our opinion, Papua belongs first to the Papuans. Their well-being is to be studied in most respects even before that of men. of our own colour.

Mr Higgins - The first question relates to development, and development may be a bad thing for the blackfellow.

Mr DEAKIN - No; I have already pointed out that there are many unoccupied areas that can be devoted to cultivation and mineral research without encroachment on the native lands, which are more liberally granted than anywhere else. Our labour regulations in Papua are, I believe, among the most severe in force in any part of the world. Every precaution is taken before the natives are allowed to sign on, and when they leave their employment care is taken that they receive the full amount of wages due to them. They are protected in every way. That is our first line of policy, and we have stated that fact in a letter to the Commission. I was about to say, in answer to the criticism to which we have been subjected, that we hope to see our Australian policy applied to the unutilized portions of the Possession. That means the policy of development to which I have alluded, and that it must necessarily be carried out by Australians. On the score that they are not Australians, complaint has been made of the proposal to appoint Sir William McGregor, or to allow Captain Barton to remain. Although Captain Barton is not an Australian, his experience in Papua extends over so many years that he is very like an Australian.

Mr Watson - I think he is fairly qualified on that ground.

Mr DEAKIN - No less than half of the officers under him - I admit that most of them are in the lower branches of the service - are Australians. The number of Australians on the staff is increasing every year. As men die or leave the service,' the vacancies so created are filled by appointments from Australia. In a few years every officer in Papua will be an Australian. I see no objection whatever to the appointment of an Australian to the chief office or to any other position in the Territory that becomes vacant.

Mr Johnson - Provided that he has the necessary qualifications.

Mr DEAKIN - Exactly. But it has been urged that the mere fact that a man is an Australian should be sufficient to justify or to bar his claim for an appointment. Of course it is not.

Mr Page - The policy of the Government is "Australia for the Australians."

Mr DEAKIN - Our policy is " Papua for the Papuans, and then for the Australians." So far as Australia is concerned, it is " Australia for the Australians " first and foremost, because our aborigine population is so small and so well provided for that it need no longer be taken into consideration. Four or five years hence 90 per cent, of our staff in Papua, from the chief downwards, will be of Australian birth.

Sir John Forrest - Is the Chief Justice an Australian?

Mr DEAKIN - He is, and several of the leading departmental heads are Australians. So far from Australian birth being an objection, it has been a recommendation.

Mr Page - I wonder that the Government were able to find in Australia a mar capable of taking the position of Chief Justice.

Mr DEAKIN - I think we have a number of men capable of filling the position, but there are not many prepared to live in Papua.

Mr Page - Have we not an Australian who is fit to act as Governor of Papua?

Mr DEAKIN - We shall have Australian Governors in the future. To make the Australian policy there a sound one, we need to give Papua the best possible staff, trained by men who have spent their lives in handling natives, and who have lived in tropical climates. It was for that reason I thought it most desirable to endeavour to secure the services of Sir William McGregor - a man who could have trained up a body of young Australians according to the best traditions of the dealings of the British, Colonial Office with tropical countries. I looked forward to such an appoint, ment, not as being opposed to the policy of " Australia for the Australians," but as calculated to put that policy on a firm basis. I have to apologize for having detained the Committee so long, but it is rarely that the attention of honorable members is focussed upon this distant dependency. From the 1st September next it will be part of our own territory, and we shall have to deal with it in a practical way. I make my apology only to honorable members present, and not to the Parliament, which must now take into consideration the fact that Papua is in our hands. It is a great trust. It is a country with a population of hundreds of thousands of savages, to whom we are giving opportunities of education and progress, of which advantage is being taken by the missionaries. We provide the opportunities, and the missionaries go ahead of us in giving the natives that education and assistance and training in the useful arts that will enable them to live in a higher sphere than they have yet reached. We have this great responsibility on our shoulders; we have also to face the responsibility of effectively occupying Papua with as many white settlers as possible, in order that it may be safeguarded. Poor as our progress mav seem, it bears comparison with that made by our German neighbours, who are spending twice as much as we are on State subsidies, and yet are unable to show better results. It is true that they are undertaking plantations on a great scale. They are pushing on, and will soon outstrip us unless we take vigorous action.

Mr Higgins - Is any alternative course to the Commission to be proposed ?

Mr DEAKIN - I know of none. Whilst the honorable and learned member was temporarily absent I detailed a number of complications due to the difficulties of administration, and ' pointed out that they could be dealt with only on the spot.

Mr Page - Some one will have to go there eventually.

Mr DEAKIN - Quite so. We shall send the Commission to Papua. They will submit their recommendations, and then this Parliament will decide the policy to be adopted and the persons to be intrusted with the work of giving effect to it.

Suggest corrections