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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4109

Mr MORRISON (St George) (Minister for Science and Minister for External Territories) - -by leave - This will be the last time that a Minister for External Territories will address this House. On 1 December amendments to the Papua New Guinea Act recently passed by this Parliament will come into effect. Papua New Guinea will become formally selfgoverning. The portfolio of Minister for External Territories and the Department of External Territories will cease from that date.

This is an historic occasion. Seventy-two years ago this House and the Senate resolved that they are prepared to join in measures for the acceptance of British New Guinea as a territory of the Commonwealth'. Papua was formally placed under Australian administration by the Papua Act 1905 which was proclaimed on 1 September 1906. In 1920 the League of Nations conferred on the Australian Government a mandate for the government of the Territory of New Guinea. Following the Second World War the 2 Territories were unified under one administration.

In his second reading speech on the Papua New Guinea Provisional Administration Bill on 4 July 1945, the then Labor Government Minister for External Territories, Mr Eddie Ward, observed:

This Government is not satisfied that sufficient interest had been taken in the Territories prior to the Japanese invasion, or that adequate funds had been provided for their development and the advancement of the native inhabitants. Apart from the debt of gratitude that the people of Australia owe to the natives of the Territory, the Government regards it as its bounden duty to further to the utmost the advancement of the natives, and considers that that can 'be achieved only by providing facilities for better health, better education and for a greater participation by the natives in the wealth of their country and eventually in its government . . .

Today we are witnessing one of the last steps in the fulfilment of that promise.

In 2 days time Papua New Guinea will have full legal control over its own internal affairs. But less than 4 years ago the then Australian Government regarded self-government and independence as a remote possibility. The visits in 1970 and 1971 of the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), broke the nexus. His proposal for early self-government and independence was met with official hostility and public dismay. But the course and flow of events in Papua

New Guinea were dramatically and irrevocably changed. Papua New Guinea has attained self-government and is moving to independence by orderly constitutional procedures. The Labor Party, having noted the reluctance of colonial powers to give up their colonies - a reluctance which led to wars of national liberation, subversion and bloodshed - was determined that the distresing lessons of history should not be repeated in Australia's colony - Papua New Guinea.

As a political party, we firmly believe that the decisions affecting the people of any country should be made by the representatives of the people of that country. The people of Papua New Guinea will want to measure their own steps and to set their own course. The National Coalition Government, under the leadership of Mr Michael Somare, has already re-oriented the economic and social development of Papua New Guinea in line with the 8-Point Improvement Program. I am sure that all of us wish the Chief Minister and his Government well in guiding their own country to nationhood. There are problems, some of them daunting, particularly for a young country; but, in the words of an old Persian proverb, Only your own fingers can find the itch'.

The character of any nation is determined as much by the manner in which problems are resolved as by the nature of the solution arrived at. Australia will, as the Prime Minister has stated publicly and unequivocally, continue to provide assistance to Papua New Guinea up to independence and beyond. We will not leave Papua New Guinea in the lurch. The assistance will be applied to the objectives and priorities established by the Papua New Guinea Government. By the very nature of our past relations and the agreed tasks, it will be substantial. But I believe it is important for both countries to recognise that the relationship of donor to receiver is just as complex between nations as it is between people. It is a relationship that requires a sensitive understanding on both sides. A heavy dependence on foreign aid can only be acceptable to an independent country if it is not too long lived. The Papua New Guinea Government, in acknowledging this, has ranked self-reliance as one of its major objectives.

The very closeness of our relations can create problems. The Australian Government recognises that Papua New Guinea will continue to occupy a special position in Australia's policy, but we do not see Australia as seeking or asserting an exclusive relationship with Papua New Guinea. Let me quote another national proverb, this time from Malaysia: Even good friends must keep their distance'. Papua New Guinea will want to find its own place in the international community. It will want to determine its own relations with Australia with due regard to its own national interests. Australia will want to do the same. There could be conflicts of interest, but the test of our friendship will be in the amicable resolution of any such conflicts.

The attainment of self-government for Papua New Guinea is also the occasion for the disbandment of the Department of External Territories whose staff has worked tirelessly and with dedication in the interests of Papua New Guinea's future. The contribution it has made is without parallel in the Australian Public Service. Officers of that Department have served successive Ministers for External Territories well and I would like to place on record my appreciation for their support and advice during a very demanding year. To the many thousands of Australians who have served and are serving in Papua New Guinea, we extend our appreciation for their contribution to the development of Papua New Guinea.

At this stage, I wish to read an extract from a letter that I received this morning from His Excellency, the Governor-General. This letter is intended for an occasion that we are to have tomorrow evening - a wake, I suppose one would call it - for the Department of External Territories. In this letter, His Excellency says:

In the continuing labour of government the ending of one job only means the beginning of a new job. There is still a great need for the Australian Government to draw on the training, experience and knowledge gained by its public servants in handling matters related to Papua New Guinea and I trust that full and intelligent use will be made of this asset in the coming years.

It is. too early for an historical judgment to be made on what Australia has done in Papua New Guinea. At this time it is enough to remember with pride, and record with honour the patient and devoted labours and the good intention of Australian public servants. The length of their service gave continuity and the depth of their experience gave better understanding of the wide range of problems and the many changes in situations which successive Australian Ministeries had to face.

That, Sir, is a compliment - I believe a well earned compliment - by His Excellency, who, for many years, was the Minister for Territories and in charge of the affairs of Papua New Guinea for the Government of his day.

I think that it would be appropriate for this House, in taking note of a landmark in its own history, to express to the people of Papua New Guinea through the House of Assembly its warm wishes in the form of a resolution. I ask for leave to move a motion accordingly.

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