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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 50

[summary of February 5, 1886 meeting]

Friday, February 5, 1886.

The New Hebrides Question—The New Guinea Question—"War Indemnities—Federal Council Documents—Hobart chosen for next Session of Council—Standing Committee, Appointment of-Order Discharged—Proposed Establishment of an Australasian Arsenal—The Recidiviste Question—Royal Assent to Bills—Report of Finance Committee—Australasian Corporations Bill, Discharge of—-Termination of Session, Closing addresses—Adjournment.

The President (Hon. James Service) took the chair at 11 o'clock.

The New Hebrides.

Mr. Griffith brought up a draft address prepared by the select committee appointed to prepare an address to Her Majesty with reference to the islands of the New Hebrides, and moved that it be read by the Clerk.

The draft address was read by the Clerk as follows:—

"To Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen.

"We, your Majesty's loyal and dutiful subjects, the members of the Federal Council of Australasia, assembled at Hobart, in the colony of Tasmania, beg to assure your Majesty of our continued loyalty to your Majesty's Throne and person.

"2. We have heard with alarm that arrangements have been entered into between the Governments of Germany and France, which may seriously affect Australasian interests in relation to the Islands of the New Hebrides.

"3. Your Majesty's loyal subjects in Australasia have always taken an especial interest in these islands, and have regarded it as a matter of grave importance to your Majesty's Australasian colonies that they should not fall under any foreign dominion.

"4. We place full reliance upon the assurance conveyed by Lord Derby, then one of Your Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, in his despatch of 21st April, 1885, addressed to the Governor of South Australia, to the effect that any proposal having for its object the annexation of the New Hebrides to France would never be entertained by Your Majesty's Government without consulting the Australian Colonies.

"5. At the same time we beg respectfully to urge upon Your Majesty the increasing necessity that the understanding arrived at in 1878, between Your Majesty's Government and the Government of France, recognising the independence of the New Hebrides, should give place to some more definite engagement which shall secure those islands from falling under any foreign dominion.

'James, "Service"

, President."

Mr. Griffith: I ask permission to move, without notice,—

"That the address brought up by the select committee be adopted, and that His Excellency the Governor be requested to transmit the substance of it by telegraph to Her Majesty."

The address, Mr. President, has been prepared, as of course addresses to Her Majesty usually are, in a strictly formal and respectful form. The colouring to be given to a page 118 matter of this kind may, I think, be added either by the speeches that are made in moving the adoption of the address, or by independent communications from our Agents General to the Colonial Office. But an address to Her Majesty should, I conceive, be in some such form as that of the address prepared by the select committee. Reference is made in the draft address, to a despatch from Lord Derby to Governor Robinson, dated the 21st April, 1883, which it may be as well to read. It was as follows:—



—I have had the honour to receive your despatch of the 20th of February, transmitting a memorial addressed to you by the Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of South Australia respecting the New Hebrides, together with a paper containing the remarks of the Moderator on the occasion of its presentation.

"The memorialists express concern that there should be a probability that the islands of this group will be annexed to France, and a hope that they will be either left as they are, or that Great Britain will assume the protectorate over them

"I request that you will inform the memorialists that Her Majesty's Government will not lose sight of the considerations brought forward in their memorial, and that you will draw their attention, as representing the views of Her Majesty's Government, to the statement made in Parliament by the Under-Secretary of State for this department on the 12th ultimo, of which a report will be found in The Times of the 13th, to the effect that any proposal having for its object the annexation of the New Hebrides to France would never be entertained by their office without consulting the Australian colonies, and without securing conditions satisfactory to those colonies; and that no Government of this country would ever think of giving over the New Hebrides to France without taking care that they would never become a penal settlement.

"I have, etc., "(Signed)



W. C. F. Robinson."

We should, sir, I think be able to place full reliance on an assurance of that kind. There have been changes of Government since then in Great Britain, but I do not think the changes that have taken place are likely to weaken the position to be taken up by the future administrator of the Colonial Office in Great Britain. I think that a formal remonstrance by the Federal Council in pursuance of the powers conferred by the Act may be forcibly backed up by the Agents-General in England. I shall conceive it to be my duty to communicate with the Agent-General for Queensland on the subject. I trust, sir, that there is no real reason for alarm, but at the same time when we see Germany and France making an agreement in reference to islands with which Germany at least can have no concern, there is reason to feel a little disturbed. I hope, in anything we do in this matter, we shall let it be seen that we understand what we are doing, that we are firm, and that we regard the subject as one in which unfavourable action would be a cause for deep regret—I will not say resentment, because I hope it will be a long while before the word resentment enters into our feelings with respect to our relations with the Imperial Government—but I do hope that we may make them understand in moderate language that we are really very much concerned about these matters. It is very unfortunate that all the colonies should not be unanimous on this subject. In the past, as you are aware, there has not been absolute unanimity, but I think it is highly important that what is done should be done unanimously, and that it should be understood we are not vapouring, but expressing our strong, well-considered, and well-matured opinions. I think that, if the Imperial Government do understand this, they will attach so much weight to our opinion that they will not, if they can possibly help it—and I am sure they can help it—allow such things to be done as would cause inconvenience and danger to Australasia, such as which might follow from the action we are now endeavouring to avert. Of course, the fact that Germany has an agreement with France does not necessarily affect the agreement already entered into between France and England. I hope it will not, but it seems to me that this is a fitting opportunity to remind Her Majesty's Government of what has taken place, and to impress again upon them the wishes of these colonies. The last paragraph of the address practically adopts the same language that was adopted by the convention, of Sydney in 1883 after great consideration, every word being carefully chosen, and may be regarded as a repetition of that remonstrance, with the substitution of the words "increasing necessity," for "extremely desirable." I think that the address as prepared may be adopted. Some hon. members may think it lacks warmth of colour, but I think that may well be omitted in addresses of that kind. As to the second part of the resolution, that the Governor be requested to communicate by telegraph, I think that will be admitted to be desirable

Mr. Douglas seconded the motion.

Mr. Berry: I very cordially support the motion. I thoroughly concur in the remarks made by the hon. member for Queensland, that the information that we have received, is sufficiently alarming to justify the course which the Council now propose to take, and that it may also be concurrent in that in the address to Her Majesty, the language used should not be coloured, but should be plain and simple, and should state exactly the matured and earnest feeling of this Council. Looking at it from that aspect, I think that the address that has been prepared, will fairly represent the unanimous sentiments of all the colonies. I am aware of no section of public opinion in any of the colonies that would be opposed to the sentiments embodied in the address to Her Majesty. The gravity of the question must be admitted on all hands because, Mr. President, it is not only a question of the possible annexation of these important islands to a foreign power which the Australian communities and representative gatherings have invariably protested against, but we can scarcely regard it without reference to another subject which is far from satisfactory at the present moment. You, sir, are aware, and members of this Council are aware of the strong feeling that was evinced in all the Australian colonies, and in the various Parliaments at the proposal made some two years ago by the page 119 French Legislature to deport to their possessions in these seas large numbers of their habitual criminals. That bill passed into law, and long discussions took place, many papers were written on the subject, and representations and protests were made which seemed to exhaust the subject, and more by accession than from any other reason the question has not been so prominently before the minds of these colonies of late as it was originally. But, sir, as I took the opportunity of reminding the Council the other day in the discussion that arose incidental to this question, really nothing has been settled in the direction of giving assurance to those communities that the danger they protested against, and which they regarded as imminent and highly dangerous, has in no way abated. The last paper that reached us, and from which you, sir, read extracts from, went to show that what was spoken of as individual relegation would go on to New Caledonia just the same as was proposed in the original bill, and that individual relegation really is a part of the French proposals, which is the most serious to these colonies. The criminals so transported are to be without restraint, except so far as they cannot return to France. They are to be in a possession to earn their own living by the knowledge of some trade or calling, by which, if honest and industrious, they can earn their living. Those seem to be the only conditions, but they are criminals from habit, and there is no guarantee, although they may possess the means of earning an honest living, that they will do so. They will be essentially a criminal class without restraint, and without breaking any French law they can leave New Caledonia and find their way to the various Australian colonics. That danger exists now just as imminent as it was when the first outburst of indignation took place in these colonies, when it was understood that the provisions of the first law was insisted on. I mention this to show that if the New Hebrides was acquired by France it means not only the loss of these islands to a foreign power, but it is extending the area to which a third-rate foreign power may send the worst of their criminals to permeate by and bye the various Australian communities. I am at a loss to know what subject we can have of any interest that can be of greater importance than the matter we are now discussing. I can clearly understand that to Her Majesty's Government and to Her Majesty's subjects in other parts of the world this might appear so trivial as to be balanced by some concession somewhere else. It might be looked upon as only one of a large number of subjects on which the two Governments may differ, and in regard to which they might negotiate diplomatic arrangements. The question is important, sir, to the communities settled here whose lives and property are at stake, whoso children will be surrounded by the danger. It is something more than a political question—it is a social one that enters as much into our daily life and into our ideas of safety and comfort as any problem which can be brought before our notice. I think, sir, these considerations highly justify this Council in taking the protection it is proposed to take by this address to Her Majesty. I agree with the hon member for Queensland that we cannot do more in our present circumstances than state in respectful language our ideas of this possibility. I am only speaking of it as a possibility. I would be very sorry to have to regard it as a probability, but, taking it as a possibility, this Council, representing for the first time in the history of Australasia a force of power which is recognised by the Imperial Government emphatically in this address, the new powers conferred by the federated colonies in the 26th section of the Enabling Bill, I say that the information to hand justifies the exercise of those powers, which never have been exercised before. We may have had local Legislatures telegraphing their individual opinion, but we have never before had a Legislature uniting five colonies, to which had been referred special subjects of this nature, in Parliament assembled, adopting an address to the Queen upon such a matter. I think it is not so much in the language of the address as it is in the circumstances surrounding it, and the facts that have been made known in the last few-days, contemporaneous as it fortunately has been with the session of this council, which enables us, in our character as a federal Legislature, to enter a protest against the course which has just been indicated to us by the telegraphic intelligence of the last few days. It is not necessary for me to dwell on the importance of the New Hebrides not falling under the dominion of a foreign power, as those I have mentioned are overwhelming in their importance, and can scarcely be added to by any political considerations whatever. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the motion, that the address as read by the clerk, be forwarded to Her Majesty. Before sitting down I would like to read to the Council a letter that has been written on the subject, but I cannot lay my hand upon it just at present. It would have shown the importance that is attached to the New Hebrides by the missionaries there, who view with the greatest alarm, the possibility of the annextion of this Island to France. From that point of view, the information we have received is also of high importance, but it can scarcely to my mind exceed the importance that is attached to the whole transaction, or the possibility of a transaction of the nature we are afraid of, from the point of view in which I have already communicated it to the Council.

Mr. Dickson: Mr. President, I desire to say a word or two in reference to this important subject. I am thankful that the news of this intended action on the part of France was received whilst the Federal Council was in session, so that the opinions of hon. members might be directed to this question, with the result that they could adopt the remonstrance which has been drawn up by the committee of the Council. There is no doubt that the information is of a disquieting, I may almost say, alarming nature, and I am glad that the opportunity has been afforded to the federated colonies to give immediate expression to their opinions in the shape of this remonstrance against the actions of a foreign power, which, I think, have not been altogether unforeseen for some time past. I believe, Mr. President, that the extension of French interest, or French possessions, to the New Hebrides, would be a very serious injury to the political and social interests of Australia, and I do hope that the action taken by this Council page 120 will have some weight with the statesmen who are directing the colonial affairs of our Empire, in inducing them to listen to the views and recommendations of this large dependency of the Empire. These remonstrances are not based on any rivalries, jealousies or desire of aggrandisement on the parts of the respective colonies, but are based on the desire to prevent any future disturbance amongst the islands of the Pacific, and in view of the fact that the progress and prosperity of the Australian community might be seriously interfered with, should war occur amongst any of the European Powers. The representations made in the remonstrance are of such a character that they will heartily be concurred in by the colonies at present outside the federation, and that is by no means the least important feature of the present address. It is extremely undesirable that an address of such a character as might possibly be more in accord with the views of some of the hon. members present; it is highly undesirable that an address of a dictatorial character should be framed at the present time, as it might afford the opportunity to the other colonies, which are not yet in the union, to feel justified in having absented themselves from the Federal Council. I regret, Mr. President, that it is stated to be a subject for mutual complaint and accusation between two of our leading colonics that by the action of one in endeavouring to obtain too much, and of the other, in not endeavouring to obtain anything at all, that the present unhappy condition of affairs in respect to New Guinea and some of the neighbouring islands of the Pacific should have obtained. It is, therefore, necessary that whatever we do in this direction should be of such a character as would be sanctioned, and meet with the cordial approval, of those colonies which have remained outside our union. The address presented is of that character, and I am sure will be concurred in by every statesman of Australia. I am convinced if the colonies individually and collectively maintain a persistent and respectful remonstrance, and fully represent to the Imperial Government the feeling which actuates these colonics in continuing to make these remonstrances, that no English statesman can refuse to lend an attentive ear to such remonstrances or cease to be instigated by a desire to direct attention to the administration of colonial affairs in accordance with the wishes of Federated Australasia, or ignore the necessity and importance of looking further into the future in regard to the settlement of the islands of the Pacific than seems to be done at the present time. I heartily approve of the address that has been drawn up, and I am glad that the Federal Council has had the opportunity of addressing this remonstrance to the Imperial Government.

Dr. Macgregor: I wish in a few words to express my cordial support of the address that has been prepared. It deals with a subject which clearly comes within the jurisdiction of this Council, and the matter is one of such very great importance that it would be a dereliction of duty were the Council not to take it into immediate consideration. I do not think any exception can reasonably be taken to the language used in the address. It expresses to my mind clearly what are the views and what are the wishes of this Council, and it does so in language which, at the same time, is dignified, respectful, and earnest. I cannot help stating that the annexation by France of the New Hebrides is, to my mind, at least of equal, if not of greater, importance than the question of New Caledonia. The nature of the soil and country of New Caledonia is such that permanent settlement of large numbers of convicts can be effected and maintained only at great expense to France, and in the end, New Caledonia would probably be discontinued as a penal station. But the islands of the New Hebrides are in a different position. They are fertile islands, or islands that can be used as a permanent settlement for colonists, and were they annexed by France, the probability is that convicts would be transhipped from New Caledonia to the New Hebrides, and they then would be able to establish themselves permanently in our vicinity. As pointed out to the Council the other day, in the colony of Fiji we have already experienced much inconvenience from the proximity of New Caledonia, and have unfortunately been visited by several men of the criminal class from that place, who have caused us some trouble. Now, the islands of the New Hebrides are nearer to Fiji than the Island of New Caledonia, and our colony has for a long time been in constant communication with the New Hebrides, and the probability is that the danger to which we are now exposed from these convicts would, in the event of the annexation of the New Hebrides by France be very much increased. Like several other members who have spoken upon this question, I look upon it as a fortunate thing that this event has taken place whilst this Council is in session. Recent events Mould tend to show that certain French subjects settled in New Caledonia have been pushing forward the matter of the annexation of the New Hebrides with some spirit, and the present moment is therefore a favourable one for our taking united action. No opportunity of taking such action should be omitted in order that it may be shown that this Council and the whole of Australasia is in earnest over this question. The hon. member for Queensland (Mr. Griffith) says he will consider it his duty to communicate at once with the Agent-General of that colony. I hope all the other colonies having an Agent-General in London will take the same course. (Hear, hear.) No doubt a strong remonstrance will proceed from the colony I have the honour to represent, and I shall certainly consider it my duty to urge, with all the power I can, that that remonstrance be made as soon as possible, and the whole subject be put into the clearest light. I have therefore very much pleasure in supporting the motion.

The President said: The hon. member, Mr. Berry, before sitting down after addressing the Council, referred to a letter which he had received from the Rev. Mr. Paton, the senior member of the New Hebrides mission, which he proposed to read, but which he found lie had not got with him. The contents of that letter I know something about.

Mr. Berry (producing a letter): Here it is. It was amongst some other papers.

The President: I will not read it now, page 121 but I will call attention of the Council to a letter written by the same gentleman to me which appears on the 67th page of the proceedings of the convention heid at Sydney in 1883, as published in this colony. I will read a few of the reasons contained therein in support of his statement in regard to the New Hebrides The letter says:—

"The sympathy of the New Hebrides natives are all with Great Britain, hence they long for British protection; while they fear and hate the French, who appear eager to annex the group, because they have seen the way the French have treated the native races of New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, and other South Sea Islands.

"Till within the past few months almost all the Europeans on the New Hebrides were British subjects, who long for British protection.

"All the men, and all the money (over £140,000) used in civilising and Christianising the New Hebrides, have been British. Now 14 missionaries, and the "Dayspring" mission ship, and about 150 native evangelists and teachers are employed in the above work on this group, in which over £6,000 yearly of British and British-colonial money is expended, and certainly it would be unwise to let any other power now take possession and reap the fruits of all this British outlay.

"Because the New Hebrides are already a British dependency in this case—all of its imports are from Sydney and Melbourne and British colonies, and all its exports are also to British colonies.

"The islands in this group are generally very rich in soil and in tropical products, so that, if a possession of Great Britain, and the labour traffic stopped, so as to retain what remains of the native population on them, they would soon, and for ages to come, become rich sources of tropical wealth to these colonies, as sugar-cane is extensively cultivated on them by every native of the group in his heathen state. For natives they are an industrious, hard-working race, living in villages and towns, and, like farmers, depending upon the cultivation and products of the ground for their support by their plantations. The islands also grow maize, cotton, coffee, arrowroot, and spices, etc., etc., and all tropical products could be largely produced on them.

"Because if any other nation takes possession of them, their excellent and spacious harbours, as on Efate, so well supplied with the best fresh water, and their near proximity to Great Britain's Australasian colonies, would in time of war make them dangerous to British interests and commerce in the South Seas and to her colonies.

"The thirteen islands of this group, on which life and property are now comparatively safe, the 8,000 professed Christians on the group, and all the churches formed among them, are, by God's blessing, the fruits of the labours of the British missionaries, who, at great toil, expense, and loss of life, have translated, got printed, and taught the natives to read the Bible, in part or in whole, in nine different languages of this group, while 70,000 at least are longing and ready for the Gospel. On this group 21 members of the mission family died or were murdered by the savages in beginning God's work among them, not including good Bishop Patteson. of the Melanesian Mission, and we fear all this good work would be lost if the New Hebrides fall into other than British hands."

The letter referred to by Mr. Berry is one strongly advocating the annexation of the New Hebrides Group. The hands of England have, of course, been tied by the agreement come to in, I think, 1878, between it and the present Government, to the effect that the independence of the New Hebrides should be respected, and that neither one power nor the other should take possession of it. It is quite clear from the telegram of yesterday to this effect that the protocol agreed to by Germany and France that the former did not interfere with the occupation by France of the New Hebrides, that France has not given up her expectation or intention of occupying the group of islands at some period or other. I must say that I feel exceedingly strongly with respect to the New Hebrides. I have shown a very deep interest in the annexation of New Guinea, and no one expressed deeper regret than I did that any portion of the eastern part of the island should be lost to the British Crown. But I have no hesitation in saying that if I had to choose between the northern coast of New Guinea and the New Hebrides, I would decide to keep New Guinea as it is; and obtain the New Hebrides. I feel very strongly indeed upon this subject, and I say again that if I had a choice which to take I would give my vote in favour of the retention of the New Hebrides, although it involved the loss of the northern part of New Guinea. I think these colonies are very much indebted to the Rev. Mr. Paton for the arguments which he has addressed both here and in the old country on the subject of the New Hebrides, and not only for his missionary labours there, but also to his efforts for the prevention of the annexation of the islands by the French. I feel very deeply that this is a matter which should be referred especially to the attention of the Standing Committee of the Council, whilst the Council is not in session, and that the members of it be especially requested to keep their eyes open, and to take energetic action as occasion seems to require—action of the strongest possible character. I do not mean anything disrespectful or extraordinary, but, if I may coin a word, epithetic, so that the feelings of these colonies, as well as their judgment, should be represented to the Government at home, and that we should not be exposed to the evils that would result from the occupation of the New Hebrides by France. As the Hon. Dr. Macgregor very well put it, if New Caledonia is not extended by the acquisition of New Guinea or other new territory by France, it must die out as a colony. The expense of keeping it up is very great, and as it can never become self-supporting in any way, we should ultimately get rid of this penal settlement in the southern seas, but if the New Hebrides were annexed by France, or became a dependency in any way of that country, the numbers of the criminals would be immensely increased, and the danger to these colonics, as well as to Fiji, would be very much increased also. It therefore behoves us to express our feelings in the strongest possible manner, and in doing so I am sure we are only expressing the feelings page 122 of the various colonies of which we are the representatives. (Hear, hear.)

The motion was then put in the following amended form,—

"That the address be forwarded by the President to the Governor of Tasmania, with a request that His Excellency will be pleased to transmit the same to Her Majesty, through the Secretary of State for the colonies, and to communicate the substance of it by telegraph,"

—and agreed to.

The New Guinea Question.

No. 5.—The President: I have to inform the Council that I have received the following message from His Excellency the Governor:—

"The Governor, in compliance with the request contained in the address of the Federal Council of the 4th inst., transmits herewith to the President the papers relating to the establishment and administration of Her Majesty's Protectorate in New Guinea.

Geo. C. Strahan.

"Government House, "Hobart,

Mr. Douglas also tabled the papers referred to, and moved that they be printed.

Question put and passed.