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Wednesday, 11 August 1926

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - I move -

That Ordinance of the Northern Territory, No. 18 of 1926 - Crown Lands - be disallowed.

Among the very useful and interesting publications which I receive from time to time from Government departments is the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. It is difficult to say whether that publication or Hansard is the more interesting. I take a great deal of interest in all that appears in these very valuable public documents. Last week,. I received the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. 77. I notice in it that it is proposed to amend the Crown Lands Ordinaince 1924-25, of the Northern Territory. The Minister for Home and Territories at the time (Senator Pearce) regarded that ordinance as of such vital importance to the Commonwealth that, instead of submitting it in the usual way, he very courteously, and, I think, properly and wisely, introduced it to the Senate in the form of a bill, which was discussed clause by clause, and, despite the opposition of honorable senators of the Labour party, ultimately adopted. The outstanding feature of the measure was the proposal of the Government to abandon the leasehold principle in relation to the lands of the Northern Territory, and in its place to adopt the fee simple method of disposing of land. The Minister made it quite clear that it was not his intention to permit very large areas to be changed from leasehold to freehold, and that he would exercise considerable care whenever any transfers were being effected. It is impossible for any one to grasp the significance of the alteration that is proposed by this ordinance. I am not at all surprised that the present Minister (Senator Glasgow) should quietly, unostentatiously, and innocently place the document upon the table, so that it would become law after it had lain there for 30 days. Having perused it, I realized what was behind it, and I deemed it my duty bo direct the attention of the Senate to what was being done. The only way in which I could do this was tosubmit this motion. It is many years since the Commonwealth took over from South Australia the control of the Northern Territory. Since that time it has constructed a certain length of railway, and agreed to the construction of another line from a point in South Australia into the Northern Territory at a cost estimated at a few million pounds. I have no doubt that that estimate will be very greatly exceeded. ' Although Senator Pearce has frequently offered' to place, at my disposal facilities for visiting the Northern Territory, I very much regret that I have not had either the time or the opportunity to do so. But, by paying attenton to reports which have been furnished by the Minister, the Administrator, the Public Works Committee, and other organizations, I have arrived at the conclusion that it is not at all a bad place, and in many respects it is an excellent piece of country. The only reason that population has not gravitated to it is that an easier living can be found in the southern latitudes and on the western and eastern seaboards of the Commonwealth. The climate is similar to that of northern Queensland and the north-west portion of Australia. We learn from reports that the Territory possesses several magnificent rivers, and large tracts of very good country. Not long ago Senator Pearce, upon his return from a flying visit to the southern portion of the Territory, informed us that the country was so good that a foreign nation, which was capable of existing on a rice diet, could stock its commissariat without any trouble once it had obtained a foothold in Darwin, and it would then have complete control of that portion of the Commonwealth. He may not have been very wide 'of the mark. The South Australian Government a number of years. ago leased areas of that country in stations so- large that the boundaries are defined not in the usual way, but by parallels of latitude and longitude. Those stations may or may not be governed by the ordinance that it is proposed to amend ; that will depend largely, if not entirely, upon the wishes of their owners. If those owners decide to come under the ordinance, they will be able to obtain an extension. of the 42-years' lease which was granted to them by the South Australian Government, on the condition that they make available certain portions of their properties for what might be termed closer settlement. I admit that this Parliament has decided to abandon to a certain extent the leasehold principle of land tenure in the Northern Territory. I think that it made a mistake when it did so. I submit, in all earnestness, and with a thorough belief in the correctness of what I state, that nothing has had such a detrimental effect upon the welfare of the British people as the manner in which their lands have been held. With all its boasted advantages, there is amongst the population of Great Britain, to-day 1,500,000 persons who, unfortunately, are unable to secure any employment, and must be maintained by those who are a little more fortunate. That is due almost entirely to the fact that the lands of England are privately held. Although the Labour party in Great Britain is favorable to the nationalization of the mines, it maintains a deadly silence in regard to the nationalization of all lands.

Senator McLachlan - It knows that the lands do not pay.

Senator GRANT - The facts are entirely against the honorable senator. The author of a small book which I received only a few days ago, Dundas White, estimates that the unimproved rental value of the lands of England amounts to no less a sum than £3,000,000,000 per annum. It is, therefore, idle for the honorable senator to say that they do not pay. They pay most handsomely, and provide a living for tens of thousands of men and women.

Senator McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Grazing lands can be bought in England more cheaply than they can in Australia. Taxes and other charges make them absolutely unprofitable.

Senator GRANT - It must not be forgotten that all rates and taxes are in the first place paid by the tenants. £3,000,000,000 is the amount which Britishers pay to their landlords for the right to live in a country which they call their own. That is the basis of the trouble which exists in England to-day. I had hoped that a similar policy would not bo pursued in the Northern Territory. So far, we have not attempted to interfere with the leasehold principle in relation to the lands at Canberra, but I have no doubt that one of these fine days, after Canberra has been crucified - as it is being crucified to-day-

Senator McLachlan - It is the members of Parliament who will be crucified.

Senator GRANT - When the honorable senator goes there he will find the air so healthy, and he will become so rejuvenated that he will wonder at his having remained in Melbourne so long. The Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Glasgow) should have submitted with the ordinance a memorandum. showingthe words to be deleted from the existing ordinance, as' was done by his predecessor. With the possible exception of the Minister for Home and Territories, I am sure that no other honorable senator has studied the ordinance with sufficient care to realize the effect of the proposed amendments.

Senator McLachlan - Is the honorable senator objecting to clause 77 j?

Senator GRANT - I am objecting to the amendments . which provide the machinery to give effect to the freehold principle. I do not think that clause 77 j is of more importance in that respect than many other clauses. The ordinance is divided into six divisions, namely, general, town lands, agricultural lands, garden lands, tropical lands, and miscellaneous. Clause 77 e, which relates to town lands, reads -

The lessee of any town lands, whether his lease is under this ordinance or any other ordinance repealed by this ordinance, may, at any time after the commencement of his lease, apply for the grant to him in fee simple of the land or any portion of the land included in the lease.

That gives the lessee the right to apply for the fee-simple of any town lands hitherto held under lease.

Senator McLachlan - There are large areas of freehold land in the Northern Territory. Nearly all the land on which Darwin is situated is held in fee simple.

Senator GRANT - Darwin is only a microscopic portion of the Territory, which, as Senator McLachlan should know, is about eight times larger than the State of Victoria. Clause 77F reads -

Subject to this ordinance, the grant applied for in pursuance of the last preceding section may be made if the board is satisfied that the lessee has -

(a)   complied with all the reservations, covenants, conditions, and provisions of the lease;

(b)   fenced securely the whole of the land the subject of the application;

(c)   erected on that land within the first twelve months after the commencement of the lease or such further period as the Minister approves, a residence of a value of at least Fifty pounds;

(d)   resided on that land continuously for twelve months immediately prior to the application; and

(e)   paid the purchase money and all moneys due in respect of that land.

That is to enable dwellers in townshipswhich, of course, are few in number - to secure the freehold of their land. Clause 77 j, to which Senator McLachlan referred, reads -

The maximum area of agricultural lands which may be granted in fee simple to any one person shall be -

(a)   in, the case of Class 1 lands - 1,280 acres; and

(b)   in the case of Class 2 lands - 2,560 acres.

Some of these " pocket-handkerchief " allotments may be on the banks of rivers or in the vicinity of the lagoons, where Senator Pearce said sufficient rice could be grown to feed a huge Japanese army; but whether the areas are large or small, or the conditions onerous or otherwise, the Government is apparently determined to give effect to the freehold principle.

Senator Pearce - Unfortunately for the honorable senator it is not the Government, but the Parliament that has so determined.

Senator GRANT - Unfortunately, today the decisions of the Government are the decisions of Parliament. Considering the condition of affairs in other civilized countries, where people are compelled to live on microscopic allotments, we should hesitate before we introduce into the Northern Territory a system which has been a complete failure in other parts of the world. I strongly protest against the action of the Minister in bringing this matter before the Senate a few days before the termination of the present sittings of Parliament, knowing, as he does, that unless objection is taken within 30 days, the ordinance becomes operative. The Northern Territory has been managed in such a way that it has failed to attract a permanent population.

Senator McLachlan - The leasehold system seems to have failed.

Senator GRANT - I am satisfied that the freehold tenure which it is proposed to apply to certain lands in the Territory will not be successful either. I disapprove of the ordinance, and I ask the Senate to disallow it.

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