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Thursday, 23 August 1906

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) . - I join with the honorable member for North Sydney in expressing appreciation of the speech of the Prime Minister and of the information which he has placed before the 'Committee in regard to the resources, climate, and. other conditions pertaining to New Guinea. But I cannot refrain from remarking upon the singular unanimity which exists among the members of the Labour Party in their wholesale condemnation of the action of the Government in appointing a Royal Commission to investigate the charges of maladministration levelled against the Acting Lieutenant-Governor of the Possession.

Mr Frazer - We have a right to oppose its appointment.

Mr JOHNSON - I do not question that. But it seems to me a most singular circumstance that a Government, whose veryexistence depends entirely upon the support of the Labour Party, should be the object of such severe denunciation at the hands of that- party, which holds the Government in the hollow of its hand.

Mr Page - Has the honorable member any objection to that ?

Mr JOHNSON - Not if the Government have no objection to it.

Mr Deakin - We have none whatever.

Mr JOHNSON - Then the Government must be the most spiritless and complaisant one that ever existed. I cannot help feeling that there is something in the contention of the honorable member for Wentworth that there is a motive underlying the desire of the Labour Party to get rid of Captain Barton - a motive which, so far, has not been disclosed by them in this debate. It is true that it has been hinted at bv the honorable member for Wentworth, and honorable members are at perfect liberty to draw their own conclusions in this connexion. I have no desire to impute any dishonorable motives. ,

Mr Page - What is the honorable member doing ?

Mr JOHNSON - I am merely referring to the suggestions of the honorable member for Wentworth. It cannot be denied that the removal of a certain gentleman from another place would afford the Labour Party an opportunity for a possible accession to its numbers, which no party can afford to despise. I do not say that there is anything improper in that, but I do say that it is possible for an unconscious bias to exist in the minds of honorable members - a bias which may act prejudicially to the most capable Administrator.

Mr Page - I thought that the honorable member was not going to impute motives. Why does he not say straight out what he means?

Mr JOHNSON - Because I am precluded by the Standing Orders from expressing by direct reference what is in my mind. I repeat that we have to guard against any possible prejudice that may arise, because some honorable members may perhaps see an opportunity which would be opened up for obtaining a little more power in the legislative arena if certain contingencies, which now loom on the horizon, took definite shape. But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that specific charges have been levelled against the Acting Administrator of New Guinea. We have no means of ascertaining the truth or otherwise of those charges, except through an independent tribunal, which can investigate them upon the spot. Personally, I share the opinion of the honorable member for North Sydney, that they might perhaps have been better investigated in some other way than by the appointment of a Royal Commission. But the Acting Administrator having been made the subject of those charges, he is certainly entitled to an opportunity to clear himself of them.

Mr Wilkinson - The charge against him is not one of mal-administration, but of want of progressive administration.

Mr JOHNSON - When we come to consider all the circumstances attachingto a position of that kind we have to make very great allowances. At this distance, and in the absence of a full knowledge of all the surrounding circumstances, we cannot judge whether or not the Acting Administrator is capable or progressive.

Mr Wilkinson - Queensland is a little nearer to New Guinea than the other States.

Mr JOHNSON - Queensland may be a little nearer geographically, but it is not one whit nearer from the stand-point of communication.

Mr Wilkinson - I think so.

Mr JOHNSON -Seeing that the other States have telegraphic communication with Queensland, it will be seen that they are in just as close touch with Papua as is Queensland' itself from the point of view of obtaining news.

Mr Wilkinson - Nearly all the miners in thePossession hail from Queensland.

They know all the members of the Parliament of that State, and they take them into their confidence.

Mr JOHNSON - Are we to form our judgment merely upon the gossip of men whose view of a case may be affected by their own personal interest?

Mr King O'Malley - Does not the honorable member think that the judgment of the Commission which has been appointed is already formed?

Mr JOHNSON - No. I will not so unjust to its members - although they are utter strangers to me - as to say that. We are not entitled to cast such a slur upon any body of honorable men. This afternoon the honorable member for Bland declared that the Acting Administrator had not a proper conception of his duties.

Mr.King O'Malley. - Did not the Prime Minister admit that by endeavouring to secure the services of Sir William McGregor ?

Mr JOHNSON - No; that does not by any means necessarily follow. The present Administrator is only acting, and the Prime Minister has explained the object which he had in view. The fact of an offer having been made to Sir William McGregor was not tantamount to an expression of want of confidence in . the present Acting Administrator. I think that the Government are to be commended for having endeavoured to secure the services of the best possible Administrator, and I hope that that policy will be pursued. I have no sympathy with the cry that we should insist upon the appointment of an Australian as Administrator of Papua. If the best man obtainable is an Australian, let us by all means appoint him ; but if a better mail can be obtained from outside, let us have him. We had first of all the cry of " Australia for the Australians " ; we have now the cry of "Papua for the Australians." Presently we shall probably have the cry of " the wide wide world for Australians." I am glad that some honorable members are beginning to have broader views. If it be necessary to make a change in the Administrator of Papua, the Parliament will insist on the services of the best man available being secured for the position. It is of the highest importance that the qualifications of the gentleman to be appointed shall be thoroughly considered.

Mr Wilkinson - Let us send to German New Guinea for an Administrator !

Mr JOHNSON - I do not propose that we should look for one in a foreign country. We are able to secure capable administrators from among our own people. The insinuation made by the honorable member is a most unworthy one. 1 propose to quote the opinion of one of the most eminent and patriotic of Australians, the late W. B. Dalley, on the cry of " Australia for the Australians." In a pamphlet entitled Federation, National and Imperial, which is in the Library, he made the following statement: -

I not only do not sympathize with the policy of " Australia for the Australians " as a just and patriotic national aspiration, but I regard it as injurious (if, indeed, it ever could be possible) to the best interests of these Colonies, to the occupation and development of large portions of valuable territories in these seas, and as hostile to the legitimate claims and rights of other portions of the world. It is, it seems to me, to shut ourselves out from the other civilization of Europe, and not only to deprive ourselves of its inestimable advantage, but to provoke its hostility ; and to do this when we are entirely without the means of occupying with advantage the territories which we should only hold for the purpose of excluding ethers.

Mr Page - That sentiment is dead.

Mr JOHNSON - It is a sound and a true one, and the truth never dies.

Mr Deakin - Dalley was referring to the exclusion policy. " Australia for the Australians " does not exclude white men.

Mr JOHNSON - The cry of "Australia for the Australians " means the exclusion of British people as well as of other white races.

Mr Deakin - As Dalley defined it.

Mr JOHNSON - I wish now to inquire what has become of the Minister of Trade and Customs, who is so frequently absent, and who has recently framed, under the Customs Act, a regulation which I consider most reprehensible, and entirely without justification. The regulation, which was approved by the GovernorGeneral on 13th July last, reads as follows : -

Regulation under the Customs Act topi.

Section151. - Re-inportation free of duty of goods, the produce of Australia.

In addition to the conditions prescribed by Regulation 103 of the Regulations under the Customs Act /90I (Statutory Rules; 1906, No. 1), the following condition shall be a condition under which goods, the produce of Australia sent out of .Australia, may be re-imported or brought back to Australia free of duty, namely :--

(d)   The Minister must be satisfied that the re-importation or bringing back of the goods will not unfairly disturb the market for the goods in Australia generally, or in the place or town where the goods are proposed to be landed.

Goods which have actually been manufactured in' Australia are, under that regulation, to be prohibited from re-entering Australia, unless the Minister is satisfied that they will not disturb the market. This is, in my opinion, a gross abuse of the powers conferred on the Minister by our legislation. I think that we are entitled to an explanation. This regulation shows the danger of placing such unlimited power in the hands of any Minister, no matter what his fiscal faith may be. Under our legislation, we have afforded Ministers power to frame regulations, and to do acts which were never contemplated. The Minister of Trade and Customs should be here to explain the administration of this Department, when we are asked to grant supplies in respect of it. I wish to repeat the statement that, in my opinion, we should not grant supply until the Ministry tell us whether they intend to deal with the Tariff question before the session closes. I shall reiterate this request for information until I receive something like a satisfactory reply.

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