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Thursday, 5 July 1906


Mr POYNTON (Grey) .- I move -

That, in the opinion of this House, all possible steps should be immediately taken to acquirethe Northern Territory from South Australia.

I am pressing this matter upon the attention of the House because I think it is decidedly unfair to the State of South Australia to permit it to remain in abeyanceany longer than is necessary to enable us to arrive at a definite decision.

I think, furthermore, that it is essential for us to consider what control of the Northern Territory may mean to Australia as a whole in the future. I wish to correct any misapprehension that may exist in the minds of honorable members that the Northern Territory is a barren and profitless waste. Judging from the statements of those who have had experience of the Territory, its prospects from a mineral stand-point are exceptionally bright ; it possesses fertile tracts which are second to none in Australia, and certain areas outside the tropical belt which are eminently adapted for agricultural purposes. In order that honorable members may realize the immense area of the Territory I would point out that it is twenty times as large as Tasmania, six times as large as Victoria, four and a half times as large as Great Britain, two and a half times as large as France, and that it embraces an area of 325,000,000 acres. In an article recently published in the Australasian Traveller, the position of the Territory is indicated in a very few words. The writer says : -

The Northern Territory may almost claim the distinction of being regarded as the problem of the Commonwealth. The very hopelessness o£ always ignoring it has led - paradox as it may seem - to its having been practically ignored up to date. For our statesmen of the preCommonwealth era it was, from any serious point of view, n.n impossibility. They lacked the apparatus to deal with it - perhaps, considering the magnitude of the issues involved, not altogether to their regret. Its control by South Australia has never been more than a makeshift, undertaken by the Central State in the best spirit n doubt, but, still, with "tentativeness" writ large over it from the beginning. It now confronts our Commonwealth statesmen as something that insists on adequate handling. From the defence stand-point, it is the " Achilles' heel " of the Commonwealth, and this fact, in itself, would make it of paramount interest.

I think that the difficulties which South Australia has experienced in dealing with the Territory would disappear if it were brought under the control of the Commonwealth. The State referred to, with a population of only 360,000, has found it impracticable to embark upon enterprises which could well be undertaken by the Commonwealth with its population of 4,000,000. I find that in March last the population of the Territory was 3,791, the Europeans numbering only 1. 313. Compared with the previous year, the European population showed an increase of only 308. Between 1880 and 1905 the exports of minerals from the Northern Territory represented an aggregate value of £2,186,000. Gold represented £1,922,702, silver £52,575, copper £87,753, ti" ore £100,390, and the other minerals exported included wolfram and mica. The exports of pearl in 1905 were valued at £14,000, and the 21,000 cattle exported were valued at £107,877, whilst the 378 horses exported were valued at £4,364. I may mention that in the Territory to-day there are 247,000 head of cattle, 16,760 horses, and 64,000 sheep. I venture to say that no part of the Commonwealth presents greater facilities for the breeding of horses than do various parts of the Territory. Some of our protectionist friends argue that the prosperity of a community is to be measured by the extent to which the value of its exports exceeds the value of its imports. I find that the imports into the Territory last year represented a value of £86.878, whilst the exports were valued at £22.1,97.1. Thus the imports represented a value of £22 16s. per head of population, whilst the exports represented a value of £58 5s. 2d. per head.


Mr Johnson - What are the exports?


Mr POYNTON - Gold, silver, copper, tin, wolfram, horses, cattle, and a number of other things. Honorable members will probably be specially interested to learn that the revenue collected during 1904-5 was £73,125, whilst the expenditure was £61,675. The latter amount does not cover the whole of the outlay for the year, because interest charges have to be added to the sum. Recently Mr. Brown, the Government Geologist of South Australia, reported upon various phases of the back portion of the Territory. In his report, he deals with the auriferous, the coal-bearing, the metalliferous, and alluvial country. In the coastal region he estimates that there is, approximately, a metalliferous area - that is, an area in which gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead are to be found - of 4,336,000 acres. He further sets out that there are some 5,400 square miles, or nearly 3,500,000 acres, of coal-bearing country, in addition to a tract on the Gulf coast, which has not yet been fully defined, but which is probably of vast extent. Speaking o'f the interior of the Territory, Mr. Brown states that the metalliferous area embraces something like 21,000 square miles, and he estimates that the alluvial, or river flats, which are suitable, for cultivation, comprise 25 pei cent, of the total tropical area, and 10 per cent, of the remainder of the Territory. In addition, he says that upon the tablelands, consisting chiefly of open downs, there are, approximately, 30,000 square miles of alluvial country. He further estimates that there are 5,000 square miles of volcanic origin. In connexion with the commercial possibilities of the Territory, I wish to quote the views of a few gentlemen who have had some experience there. Not having been there myself, I cannot speak from personal knowledge, and hence I have to fall back upon the opinions of others who have had experience of the country. Mr. J. G. Knight, a one-time Government Resident at Port Darwin, wrote -

There can be no doubt that, as the wildly luxurious indigenous grasses of the more tropical part of the country are fed down, the character of the herbage will be completely changed, and that horses, cattle, and probably sheep will thrive prodigiously. It is hardly to be feared that the climate will be found too hot for the growth of good wool, as .fine fleeces are produced in Queensland in corresponding latitudes.


Mr Johnson - Is it also at a corresponding elevation ?


Mr POYNTON - In many parts it is. Mr. Chas. Winnecke, who has had thiriyfive years' experience of the Territory, says -

I have been astounded at the frequent mention of desert country. My experience is that some of the finest pastoral country in the world is found in Central Australia. Water, principally artesian, is more abundant than supposed. Gold is scattered all through this vast area, one quartz range showing gold for fully thirty-six miles. The Orabarra reef, in the Jervois and Tarlton Ranges, has never been visited by any white man but myself. Professor Tate and Experts Watt and Achimovitch (members of the Horn Expedition, of which I was commander) all stated that the best indications of diamonds exist to the west of Charlotte Waters. Coal of good quality is found in the McDonnell and more northern areas. It speaks for itself that more than a fourth of the territory is settled with stations, mines, &c. I have no hesitation in declaring that it will be the finest and most remunerative country in Australia. The extent of auriferous country is simply unknown, and a railway would increase all these resources a hundredfold.


Mr Kelly - How far are the McDonnell Ranges from Oodnadatta?


Mr POYNTON - About 400 miles, approximately. Mr. H. B. Percy, a Queensland pastoralist- -probably some of the representatives of that State know him - speaking of the Territory, says -

I have seen nearly all the best coast country in Queensland, and I can safely say that I have seen none that I like so well. I was surprised to find it so good, as, previous to my visit here, I had heard the Northern Territory so often run down that I looked upon it as a foregone conclusion that I should see inferior country ; but it is nothing of the kind, and it is destined, sooner or later, to be made use of for agriculture, and to carry a large population. It seems quite a pity to leave it lying idle. In the meantime, however, if good markets can be found for cattle or beef is China, India, or Java, or somewhere in that direction, this and any good stations on the northern coast must become some of the most valuable in Australia.

Mr. Percy,I may add, was. reporting on a station property in the Territory when he formed the opinion which I have just read. In a letter to the press, under the signature of " Overlander," the writer also bears testimony to the value of the Northern Territory. He says -

Our impressions of the Northern Territory are very favorable. Here we see the same things going on that happened in Queensland 30 and 40 years ago. We see the usual conquest of civilization, and the same indifference to recognise it on the part of most of our practical men. We have the same rough life, the same difficulties with the natives. The pioneers are the same - some prosper, some soon die. Some return to abuse the country in which, as a rule, through their own incapacity they have failed. There is a great future before this country; its mineral resources, I believe, are enormous. Rich deposits have been found of copper, iron, lead, also silver ; and not only is there a large area suitable in the highest degree for pastoral purposes, but also land specially adapted for tropical agriculture.

I might quote much more testimony of a simitar character. In this connexion I desire to refer honorable members to a report which was obtained quite recently from Dr. Holtze, who was formerly in charge of the Botanic Gardens in the Territory, and who, whilst resident there, carried on a number of experiments with a view to determining what it was possible to grow. Of course, his report deals chiefly with tropical products, but in justice to him I must say that, whilst he holds that those products will grow most luxuriantly in the Territory, he maintains that the employment of a suitable class of labour is necessary to make them profitable.


Mr Wilson - What class of labour?


Mr POYNTON - He does not mention the particular class of labour in his report ; but I think that he believes in the employment of the same class of labour that is engaged in the Queensland sugar industry.


Mr Wilson - Is the honorable member in favour of the employment of that class of labour?


Mr POYNTON - I am not. That is pne of the reasons why there is a great obligation upon the part of the Commonwealth to do something with the Territory. Speaking of the cultivation of cotton, Dr. Holtze says -

This plant is doing so well in the Territory that it has escaped from cultivation, and fruits freely in a semi-wild state.

He also deals with india-rubber-producing plants, viz., Hevea or Para rubber, Maniliot or Ceara rubber, and Ficus elastica or Assam rubber. He says : -

These india-rubber-producing plants, together with several others, have been cultivated quite successfully.

He also deals with the suitability of the lands of the Territory for the cultivation of tobacco. He then makes reference to oil-producing plants, and in this connexion writes -

This group contains cocoanuts, African oilpalm, Sesame oil, peanut oil, castor oil, lemon, and citronella oil. All these plants grow so well that not the slightest doubt remains that the Northern Territory soil and climate is quite suited for their cultivation.

He goes on to say of rice -

This plant is specially suited for the swamp plains of the Northern Territory, where rice is found truly indigenous. My observations in China and Cochin China enable me to state emphatically that with suitable labour, the Northern Territory could produce all the rice required by the Commonwealth.

Speaking of the cultivation of maize, millets, &c, he says -

Other grain-producing plants are maize, of which I have produced three crops in one year. Millets of all kinds, sorghums, pigeon-peas, soybeans, and various grains were all grown successfully.

Dealing with the production of arrowroot and sugar-cane, Dr. Holtze remarks -

Arrowroot of excellent quality was produced from the Maranta arundinacca and Canna edules, and tapioca from Jatrofha manihot. The growth of the sugar-cane grown in the Botanic Gardens at Port Darwin, and the density of its juice, has always been very satisfactory, and it must be regretted that through no fault of the Northern Territory sugar plantations have not been a success.

In passing, I may mention that when some years ago the attempt was made to grow sugar-cane at the experimental plantations in the Territory, the land selected was altogether unsuitable for the purpose. I think it was the present Minister of Defence who reported upon the matter, and he clearly demonstrated from his own agri cultural knowledge that a worse selection could not havebeen made. Dr. Holtze further deals with the adaptability of the land of the Territory to the production of indigo, logwood, ginger, pepper, and a variety of other articles, all of which he has tested there. If honorable members will consider the proximity of the Northern Territory to several densely populated countries they will understand that if ever an attempt is made to seize any portion of Australian territory, it is likely that it will be made in the Northern Territory as offering the greatest prospects of success. A glance at the map will show that within six or seven days' sail of Fort Darwin we have Singapore; within eight days' sail Hong Kong, and within nine days' sail Japan, and a little further to the north, Manchuria, which now, of course, is in the hands of the Japanese. Then quite close to the Northern Territory, we have Java, with some 30,000,000 people. It must be recognised by every member of the House that South Australia has done her duty in connexion with the Northern Territory, in preventing its, being inundated by an alien class of labour.


Mr Mahon - Not always.


Mr POYNTON - For many years past.


Mr Mahon - The South Australian Government introduced 200 Chinamen themselves. They were the first to introduce them.


Mr POYNTON - I am well aware of that, but for many years past, when, over and over again, propositions have been submitted involving the introduction of a class of people who would not be the best kind of settlers for Australia, the South Australian Governments have refused to listen to them. You, sir, will bear me out when I say that South Australia could have sold the Northern Territory for a sum vastly in excess of what it has cost her, if she had been prepared to permit those who desired to purchase the Territory to introduce any class of labour they wished. When Senator Playford was Agent-General for South Australia he received an offer from a substantial syndicate in London to take over the whole of the Territory at a price largely in excess of its cost to South Australia. But there was a stipulation that the syndicate should have the right to use any class of labour they wished, and though they might have netted millions in cash from the transaction, the South Australian Government refused to allow the Northern

Territory to be sold on such terms, because they objected to the introduction of a race of people who would be detrimental to the interests of Australia generally. In 1901, you, sir, were Premier of South Australia, and on behalf of your Government, you offered to hand the Northern Territory over to the Commonwealth. The conditions then stipulated were that in return for the Territory the Commonwealth should pay a sum equal to the total indebtedness of South Australia in respect of the Territory to date, which, at that time, represented £2,852,495. On 1st July, of last year, the present Government of South Australia, of which Mr. Price is Premier -


Mr Mahon - Is- the honorable member stripping Mr. Jenkins? Why does he not tell us what Mr. Jenkins did?


Mr POYNTON - I do not know that it is necessary to do so, but I have no wish to conceal anything that Mr. Jenkins did. At the time when the matter was under consideration two members of the House of Assembly, representing the Territory, and one member of the South Australian Legislative Council, moved resolutions, which were carried, to the effect that all negotiations with the Commonwealth should be cut off. They then introduced a Bill to provide for the construction of the Transcontinental Railway on the land grant system, and up till recently, and even during last week, we have had various rumours of offers made for the construction df the line. So far as I can understand, no substantial offer has so far been made to construct it on the land grant system. But the present South Australian Government has again offered the Territory to the Commonwealth.


Mr Mahon - What is Mr. Jenkins's position in connexion with the construction of the line?


Mr POYNTON - Perhaps I am wrong, but I was- under the impression that it was the Price Government that submitted the proposal.


Mr Deakin - The Price Government submitted the last .proposal. I think that Mr. Jenkins' proposal was the first offer.


Mr Mahon - No, Sir Frederick Holder's was the first offer.


Mr POYNTON - An offer was made in 1 901, and there is one now before the Commonwealth Government.


Mr Johnson - What is the amount asked for under the present offer?


Mr POYNTON - The amount asked for under the present offer is a sum to cover all the indebtedness of the Territory, equal to £3,450,298, or an increase of £597,803, as compared with the indebtedness "of the Territory in 190 1. In submitting this offer the statement is made -

The increase is £S97 appromixately, and is. on account of payments for interest on loansand in the maintenance of the Settlement, and money expended in the development of thecountry's resources ; large expenditure being made in the endeavour to open up the mineral wealth of the Territory by exploration, examination, and the introduction of boring plants for coal and minerals - good indications of coal have already been struck - and for the opening, up of water supplies with a view to stock waters, being made available to the pastoralists.

I may mention that it has since been ascertained that there is no doubt about the existence of coal deposits.


Mr Henry Willis - In what part of the Territory ?


Mr POYNTON - Very good coal has-, been got not far from the McDonnell Ranges. But in the absence of a railway its distance from any port makes it of very little present use.


Mr Henry Willis - It is a great distance from the seaboard, is it not?


Mr POYNTON - Yes, it is. In submitting this proposal, the South Australian Government intimate to the Commonwealth Government that -

The proprietorship of the Territory does not imply annual deficits if in the hands of a Government unhampered by restrictions, such as are imposed upon the State by Federal legislation in the shape of the bar against the importation of white labour under contract, or the admission of railway plant duty free.

Of course, under the Commonwealth Tariff, all imports, whether belonging to a State Government or to private individuals, must pay duty. The statement continues -

These and other disabilities, coupled with our sparse population, and limited 'funds, render it very difficult for a small State to work theTerritory, rich, as you observe, " in the potentialities of wealth,"' at a profit.


Mr Henry Willis - But the South ^ Australian Government would get backnearly all the dutv referred to.


Mr Deakin - Three-fourths of it.


Mr Henry Willis - And more.


Mr Deakin - Yes, probably more.


Mr POYNTON - What would they get back?


Mr Deakin - Under the Braddon sectionat least three-fourths of the revenue derived from Customs is returned to the States, and the honorable member for Robertson is pointing out that probably more than three-fourths of the duty referred to would be returned to South Australia.


Mr POYNTON - The statement I was reading proceeds -

Our reasons for asking a larger sum than was named in 1901 are the additional cost incurred since that date, and the fact that we are offering a greater area than was then offered. Moreover, we have now to construct the railway from the present terminus, Oodnadatta, to our northern border. . .

We are quite seized of the immense possibilities of the Northern Territory, and regard it as likely to become a valuable asset.

We feel, however, that, handicapped by the difficulties already alluded to, this comparatively small community cannot easily convert such a vast territory into the great uses we believe it capable of.

Honorable members will have noticed that in my motion I do not stipulate in any hard and fast way what we should do. My object is to try to get the House to consider the question, because it is unfair that so important a proposition should be hung up without due consideration. If it is the final decision of the Commonwealth Parliament that we do not want the Northern Territory, the sooner the Government of the State I represent are made aware of it the better for them. Only last week cable messages were sent to the Premier of South Australia in connexion with some offer. Whether or not it was of such a character as would warrant acceptance, he could not accept it in view of the fact that the Territory has been submitted to the Commonwealth, and the South Australian Government are awaiting the decision of the Commonwealth authorities.


Mr Deakin - We are awaiting the reply to our last letter. We have replied to the letter from which the honorable member has just read, and are awaiting the answer of the South Australian Government to our letter sent on 30th April last. So that at the present stage it is for the South Australian Government to respond.


Mr POYNTON - -I should mention that the offer made only this last week, and cabled out to the South Australian Government, covered the right to employ coloured labour.


Sir Langdon Bonython - Which prevented the South Australian Government from doing anything in the matter.


Mr POYNTON - As I have already mentioned, under "the Constitution South. Australia cannot accept such an offer, because the question involved is one which is outside her jurisdiction altogether.


Mr Mahon - So would be the taxation of that land.


Mr POYNTON - To what taxation does the honorable gentleman refer?


Mr Mahon - If a syndicate acquired the land we could tax it.


Mr POYNTON - There is no doubt about that. In addition to the amount asked for last time, the following resolution was carried in the South Austraiian Parliament : -

That, in view of the expressed desire of the Commonwealth Government to reconsider the proposal to take over the Northern Territory, the Government should re-open negotiations with the Commonwealth Government, for the purpose of ascertaining the terms upon which they would be willing to take over that Dependency.

That in such negotiation, the Commonwealth Government should be given to understand definitely that South Australia will stipulate the following terms : -

Payment of the total amount expended by South Australia in connexion with the settlement and administration of the Territory up t« the date of its transfer.

That is the amount I mentioned.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How much is that?


Mr POYNTON - The amount is £3>45°>000> which represents 2fd. per acre for the land.


Mr Mahon - Is all the land worth that?


Mr POYNTON - It is poor country if it is not worth 2f d. an acre.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Have the Commonwealth Government to begin by buying land?


Mr POYNTON - The further stipulation was that the Commonwealth Government should agree to construct a transcontinental line from the southern boundary to the present terminus at Pine Creek - that the line of route of the proposed railway should be from the terminus at the South Australian border to the terminus of the northern section of the line at Pine Creek - while the South Australian Government undertook to construct their portion of the line from Oodnadatta to the border of the State, within twelve months of the agreement being arrived at.


Mr Henry Willis - What distance is that?


Mr POYNTON - About 400 miles, I think. I do not know whether I ought to occupy any further time at the present stage, seeing that I shall have another opportunity when replying on the debate.


Mr Henry Willis - Will the honorable member give us his opinion of the proposal ?


Mr POYNTON - My opinion is that the Commonwealth ought to take over the Territory.


Mr Henry Willis - On those terms?


Mr POYNTON - I do not think that the Commonwealth will get any other terms. The Federal Government made a great mistake in not accepting the previous offer, when the terms were very much better ; and the time will come when we shall be sorry that the Commonwealth has not control of the Northern Territory.


Mr Mahon - Why should there be any alteration in the terms ? Has the Territory improved since?


Mr POYNTON - The South Australian Government have expended a large amount of the taxpayers' money in the development of the Northern Territory by boring and various other kinds of work.


Mr Mahon - How much have the South Australian Government spent since the Commonwealth was established?


Mr POYNTON - A sum of £500,000 odd.


Mr Mahon - That is on the general administration.


Mr POYNTON - The general administration of the Northern Territory, I may mention, is paying its way.


Mr Henry Willis - Is there not a loss of £100,000 a year?


Mr POYNTON - I mean that the general administration is paying its way, having regard to the receipts and expenditure during the year. There is, of course, a loss to the extent of the interest, but that does not represent anything like the amount mentioned. I am strongly of opinion that, L'f for no other purpose than that of defence, and the protection of Australia, the Northern Territory should be under Commonwealth jurisdiction and control.


Mr Henry Willis - It is now.


Mr POYNTON - It is nothing of the kind.


Mr Henry Willis - Yes, it is.


Mr POYNTON - I must say that it is not very encouraging to hear some of the interjections of honorable members. If South Australia had done what Queensland did, and imported coloured labour, the Commonwealth would have had to pay, as in the case of the northern State. The SouthAustralian Government, however, have refused to dispose of the Territory to any syndicate under conditions which might prove inimical to the general interest ; and the Commonwealth Parliament, if honorable members *ill adhere to the vote already given, may be taken to strongly approve of a "White Australia. But for the action of the South Australian Government, the Northern Territory would have been occupied and utilized to a very large extent, and then the Commonwealth, as in the case of Queensland, would have had to pay an enormous premium in order to get rid of coloured labour.


Mr Wilkinson - There are more Chinamen in South Australia than in any other part of the Commonwealth.


Mr POYNTON - There may toe more Chinamen, but there are no kanakas. It is not on account of Chinamen that the Commonwealth is paying in Queensland. No Federal legislation has been found necessary as a. result of the introduction of Chinamen, but solely as the result of the importation of cheap kanaka labour, which was deemed necessary in Queensland for the development of the sugar industry. And because Queensland ignored the other States, and did not take into account the evil effects which might be felt later on, the Commonwealth Parliament, in its wisdom or otherwise, has since passed legislation, for which every taxpayer in the Commonwealth is paving to-day. I trust there will be no quibbling over a few pounds, but that the motion will be dealt with on its merits, and a. decision come to as quickly as possible. What I desire is something like promptitude. I was unaware that a reply had not been received to the letter spoken of by the Prime Minister, but I promise that he shall have, a reply very promptly. I trust that the House will come to a decision at once, because it is unfair to South Australia that this matter should- remain hung up as at present. I hope that the motion will foe discussed earnestly, and, at a later stage, I shall have an opportunity to deal with the criticisms of honorable members.







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