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Thursday, 23 August 1906

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - The Committee must be grateful to the Prime Minister for the many interesting particulars he has given as to the climatic conditions and the general administration of Papua. I think, however, that he has failed to justify the appointment of the Commission which is shortly to leave Australia for the Territory. He has stated that the staff at present ex- isting there is as capable and as experienced a staff as we are likely to secure for such an out-of-the-way place. And yet the Government, in order that they may determine what shall be the administration of the future, propose to send to Papua a Commission which, however capable it may be, has not the experience nor that intimate knowledge of local conditions which is possessed by many of the officers - to whom he has referred as being capable men - now in the Territory. Those officers have devoted years to the study of the conditions of the Territory, and to the carrying out of the policy which first emanated from Great Britain, and was subsequently continued by the Commonwealth. In these circumstances, surely they are in a better position to arrive, at a conclusion as to questions of administration, as to the laws most desirable for the natives and the whites, than are gentlemen who at the most can remain there for only a few months, and will have to form their conclusions from the rapid survey of the conditions which they can make during that short period.

Mr Deakin - The officers do not agree.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As to that point, the Ministry have on the Commonwealth staff officers who have possiblymore experience of such matters than have the members of the Commission. Such an officer should be as capable of judging and dealing with all these matters. He could give more time, if necessary, to their consideration; his inquiries would cost less than will those of the Commission, while his conclusions would be far more likely to be reasonable and satisfactory.

Mr Deakin - A Commission of one man ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If these Possessions are to be governed as they ought to be, we shall have 'to trust largely to one man, and the Government will have to put themselves behind that man. lt has been the giving of support to the men selected for the administration . of territory too distant for those at Home in Great Britain to be able to say what is best to be done that has helped to' build and maintain the Empire.

Mr Watson - - We should pick our man, and back him up.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That must be the principle adopted. Let us remove our official if we have cause for dissatisfaction ; but, so long as we have faith in a man, and believe that he is acting rightly, we should support him, and let him take responsibility.

Mr Higgins - Does the honorable member think that an officer in close touch with the Minister is the right person to authorize to make inquiries?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are officers in our service who, without disparagement of the Commissioners, have greater experience of the conditions existing in places like New Guinea, and are in that respect more capable of conducting an inquiry such as is needed.

Mr Page - Does the honorable member think that one officer should be appointed to inquire into the conduct of another officer ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Certainly. The Minister who controls the affairs of New Guinea has a perfect right to satisfy himself, either by means of a personal visit or by the sending of a trusted officer, that things are being properly conducted there. I do not say that an officer should be appointed to come to any determination, or to award punishments; but he might very well be asked to put the case clearly before his Minister. He would act as the ears and eyes of his political chief, and, after making inquiries in various directions, would report the situation as he found it. If necessary, more than one officer could be sent. The inquiries of an officer could be more extended than those of the Commissioners are likely to be.

Mr Higgins - Is there not safety in numbers in' these cases ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that it is necessary to appoint any large number of persons to make an inquiry of this kind. I would rather leave it to one man, whose previous experience had qualified him for the work. I am sure that the honorable and learned member would not regard himself, as I should not regard myself, as well qualified to make an inquiry of this kind. The person sent should have lived under conditions similar to those existing in New Guinea, in some other British Crown. Colony, and should have had to do with native races and their management. It will be most unfortunate if we have to send Commissions to New Guinea whenever there is a quarrel between officers there. No doubt the excuse for asking the Commissioners to report upon the present disputes is that they will be upon the spot, and therefore it is desirable that they should report on the subject. If, as I suppose, the letter which has been laid on the table is merely an elaboration of the terms of the Commission, the inquiry will have a very wide scope, and will require more time than, I think, the Commissioners will be prepared to spend in that climate. The dispute between Captain Barton and Mr. Richmond has been already dealt with by a Board, which has come to a decision in regard to the matter.

Mr Deakin - It has been dealt with only on the papers ; no evidence was taken. Mr. Richmond has appealed.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If every officer who appeals after the consideration of his case by a 'Board is allowed the appointment of a Royal Commission, we shall have Commissions going to New Guinea every few months. The only excuse for re-opening this case is that, as the Commission has been appointed to visit the Territory, we may as well take advantage of the opportunity to examine Mr. Richmond and his witnesses. In addition to a number of other matters to which the Prime Minister has alluded, the Commissioners are asked to report 'how far and in what manner the Government can assist the development of the Possession, whether the existing personnel of the administration should be altered, and, if so, to What extent. It is stated, in regard to the natives, that -

There appears to be no reason to believe that in the past their interests have been to any noteworthy extent diregarded, but any suggestions from you that will tend to enhance their wellbeing will be welcomed.

The Commissioners are also told that the question how to further the mining industry will doubtless receive their best attention. Some of them, no doubt, have had no experience in connexion with mining, and none of them know anything of the conditions under which' it is being carried on in New Guinea.

Mr Page - Mr. Parry-Okeden knows a little about mining. He has had experience in Northern Queensland.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Commissioners are to report on the state of the law in regard to mining. They are also told that the agricultural development of the country largely depends upon the land laws and their administration. This forms another subject of inquiry. The letter concludes with the statement that it is the desire of the Government that the Territory shall be rendered self-supporting at as early a date as possible, under which head suggestions will be looked for in the report, while its contents are not to be regarded as in any way attempting to limit or regulate the scope of the inquiry, but simply as pointing out the directions in which improved methods are possible. I do not know when the Commissioners will come to the end of an inquiry such as they are asked to undertake. They cannot deal with all these subjects in the time at their disposal.

Mr Deakin - They will consider all that thev think it necessary to consider.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - After their report has been received the Ministry must deal with it, and then it must come before Parliament. When are we to get finality ?

Mr Deakin - We are only just making a start.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In my opinion, we are beginning wrongly. It would have been better to appoint an efficient Administrator, and leave matters in his hands. A policy of drift has existed since the Commonwealth took control of the Territory, for which both the Ministry and Parliament are responsible. In 1902 the Prime Minister assured us that it was necessary to take speedy action in legislating for the administration of the Territory, but the Papuan Constitution was not passed by this Parliament until 1905.

Mr Page - Would the honorable member blame Parliament for that?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not say how the blame should be apportioned -between the Parliament and the Ministry, but, in view of the fact that Parliament includes the Ministry. I take it that Parliament is mainly to blame. I think that some reproach attaches to those honorable members who elevated a comparatively small matter into a position of the first importance, and prevented the Bill from becoming law until that matter was settled. With regard to the proposal that an Australian should be appointed as LieutenantGovernor of Papua, I should be very pleased to see an Australian appointed, if we could feel assured that he would prove a. successful Administrator. We must procure the services of a man who has had experience in the handling of native races. Our treatment of native races has not been such as to indicate that a purely Australian policy would result satisfactorily to the coloured inhabitants of Papua. I am sure that the desire of this Parliament is that the natives should be treated as they have been in the past, under British control. The treatment of the natives in Australia in the past, even up to the present day, has not been such as to lead us to believe that an Australian would necessarily prove the best Lieutenant-Governor who could be chosen for the Territory. I am not reflecting in any way upon Australians. I believe that they are capable, and that many of them would be animated bv a desire to govern the Territory to the satisfaction of all concerned. But I think that in the first instance we should indicate the policy that we desire to be carried out, especially as applied to the natives, and then select the best man that we can find, whether he be an Australian or otherwise. We know that Sir William McGregor's great success was due to the fact that he was able to handle the natives with the most satisfactory results. It was his capacity in this direction more than any other that made him such an able administrator. If a spark were kindled by a tactless act on the part of the LieutenantGovernor, the whole Possession would be ablaze, murders and outrages would follow, and peace would be restored only by the use of the rifle and sword, the resort to which we do not desire to see. The first qualification of. the LieutenantGovernor, whether he be an Australian, or not, should be capacity to handle native races. If the Government lav down the dictum that it will be impossible to outline a policy for Papua, except bv means of a Commission, thev will go a long way towards admitting that the Possession should be governed by a Commission. I hope that no consideration will be given to any suggestion of that kind. Personal government has been shown by experience in British possessions of this character to be the best and most successful. I should have been very glad if Sir William McGregor had been able to undertake the government of the Territory, which he so ably administered in days gone by. As the Government have not been able to secure his services, and as it is clear that they are not satisfied in all respects with the present Administrator, thev should have grappled with the question themselves, without falling back upon a. Commission. When the report of the Commission is received, Ministers will have to decide two matters, namely, as to whe ther the present Administrator shall be retained, and as to what weight should be given to the Commission's recommendations. They will further have to decide whether we should appoint a new LieutenantGovernor before we give, effect to the recommendations of the Commission.

Mr Deakin - Captain Barton asked for the appointment of the Commission.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the Government are satisfied - as they seem to be - that Captain Barton is not in all respects suitable for the p"osition - although his suitability in some respects is admitted - they should face the position at once. The Commission may find that there is nothing to be said against Captain Barton - that he is not to blame for the present position of affairs. What will the Government do in that case? Will they retain in the position of Lieutenant-Governor a man with whom they have admitted that they are not altogether satisfied? I do not for one moment say whether Captain Barton is not a suitable man. I am not in a position to judge. But it would be most undesirable to retain the services of any man whom the Government think is not suitable. The position of LieutenantGovernor of Papua is a most important one, in view of the foundation work that will have to be done. Difficulties will have to be met and removed, and openings will have to be afforded for a sufficient number of white settlers of a desirable character. Care will have to be exercised to guard against the introduction of undesirable characters who mav cause trouble with the natives. The desires of the white settlers must receive every reasonable consideration, but they must not be conceded merely because requests are preferred. There is very great danger of a conflict of interests between the white settlers and the natives, especially in a place like Papua where the latter so fully occupy the ground. It might be pointed out that the natives do not find it necessary to work, and that it would be better for them if thev did work. That might be so. We can always find a reason why some other man should work. It might be claimed by some of the Settlers that thev should be allowed to engage natives to work for them, and when it was discovered that the natives were not anxious to work, it might be recommended that, in the interests of the natives themselves, they should be made to work. Then the trouble would begin. Either the natives would have te be taxed,, or else they would have to be forced to work. Therefore, we should have to be very careful in listening to the recommendations of those whose interest it is to obtain labour as cheaply as possible, so that they may become wealthy in a short time, and clear out of the country. Then again, we should be very careful in dealing with complaints preferred by settlers against officials. Very often intense feeling is excited against officials, because they will not allow settlers to make the use they desire of the natives. Once an Administrator has been approved of, we must stand behind him, unless the very strongest proof of his incapacity is produced. I say that every complaint ought not to be brought into Parliament. The Administrator should be supported until circumstances arise which demonstrate that he is unsuitable for his position. I really do think that during the short life of the Commonwealth Parliament, we have already gone far enough in the way of appointing Royal Commissions.. They are very expensive bodies. In my opinion they do not generally elicit any information which cannot be better obtained in other ways, and when they do elicit it, it is at an unnecessary cost. We must recollect that, although Members of Parliament serving upon Commissions are not paid, their travelling expenses in visiting different parts of the Commonwealth represent a considerable sum. Therefore I am sorry that this Commission has been appointed. I do not think that it will produce as satisfactory results as might have been obtained by other means. I believe that its appointment will delay the selection of a thoroughly suitable LieutenantGovernor - a selection which, to my mind, is the key of the whole position in New Guinea. The sooner such a selection is made the better. The appointment of this Commission will delay the choice of a suitable Lieutenant-Governor, and instead of the Ministry being in a better position to make such a selection after the receipt of the Commission's report, I believe that it will be in a worse one, because we shall have to decide many matters which should have been dealt with by him, but which will have been reported on by the Commission.

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