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Thursday, 5 July 1906


Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) .- The honorable member for Grey is, to be complimented on the manner in which he has presented the motion to the House. The honorable member, who represents this great Northern Territory of South Australia, has evidently taken great pains to make himself master of the subject, and I think we may all congratulate him on having placed its affairs and stated his case" in a very able and comprehensive way. The honorable member is deserving of the more credit for his action because, if the motion succeeds, he will find himself minus a constituency. That is to say, if the Northern Territory becomes a dependency of the Commonwealth, the honorable member for Grey will have to look elsewhere for a seat ; and the submission of this motion shows, therefore, a very fine spirit of self-sacrifice on his part.


Sir Langdon Bonython - The Northern Territory is only a part of the electorate of Grey.


Mr MAHON - I take it that in the event of the Northern Territory being made a dependency of the Commonwealth, the remainder of the electorate of Grey would be merged with, perhaps, the electorate of Barker; at any rate, I think there would have to be a new division of South Australian seats. However, I rose chiefly to direct attention to the fact that on the 19th October, 1902, Mr. V. L. Solomon, who was one of the representatives of South Australia, submitted a motion to the effect that it was expedient that the Government should take over the Northern Territory. An amendment was moved, and the motion was passed in the following form : -

That in the opinion of this House it is advisable that the complete control and jurisdiction over the Northern Territory of South Australia be acquired by the Commonwealth upon just terms.

The motion now before us declares that, in the opinion of this House, all possible steps should be immediately taken to acquire the Northern Territory. To my thinking, the terms of the motion are rather peremptory; at any rate, that is the first impression one receives from a proposition couched in such terms. The honorable member for Grey must be aware that the Commonwealth Government, for the last four or five years, has been actively negotiating with the South Australian Government for the acquisition of this territory. He must also be aware that the chief difficulty has been raised, not by the Federal Government or Parliament, or by the other States of the Commonwealth, but largely by the Parliament of South Australia; or, perhaps, to be more accurate, by a section of the wealthy classes in Adelaide. On the 1.8th April, 1901, when you, Mr. Speaker were Premier of South Australia, you submitted to the Prime Minister of the day the advisability of the Commonwealth taking over the northern portion of Australia known as the Northern Territory, and you then described the position of affairs there, and gave information bearing on the export of the staple products, and so forth. The communication which you, sir, then sent to the Prime Minister, concluded as follows : -

I have now to intimate that the Government of South Australia is prepared to take the necessary steps to offer to the Federal Government the territory known as the Northern Territory, including the railway and all other assets, on the Federal Government also assuming the liabilities of the Territory.

That was a business-like proposition, and one entitled to fair consideration by the Federal authorities. Later, on the 16th July of the same year, your successor in the Premiership of South Australia intimated his willingness to continue the negotiations on the terms which you had offered. These negotiations continued for some time; but suddenly the attitude of South Australia changed ; and the offer of 1 8th April, if not positively withdrawn, was suspended.


Sir Langdon Bonython - That was the result of action taken by the Parliament rather than by the Government of South Australia.


Mr MAHON - That may be; but. so far as the Federal authorities were concerned, the result was practically the same. At any rate, Sir Edmund Barton, towards the close of that year - in November - desired to learn from the South Australian Government - whether the offer "of the Territory to the Commonwealth could now be considered to have been abandoned or whether it remained open, but invested with new conditions. If the latter alternative were the case, to what extent did the South Australian Government desire or understand the conditions to be altered?

These were proper questions to put, and it seems to me that any person who wished to deal in a straightforward way with this question could easily have answered them. Sir Edmund Barton simply wished to know whether the South Australian Government had withdrawn its offer of the Territory, or whether it desired to submit the Territory with new conditions. I may state that I am quoting from a precis, for the use df which I am indebted to the Prime Minister. Instead of answering those questions straightforwardly, I find that the then Premier of South Australia, Mr. Jenkins - well, I do not like to say that he shuffled, but I cannot remember any English word that so well expresses my meaning. He shuffled over his predecessors promise to introduce a Bill authorizing the construction of a transcontinental railway to Western Australia in the same manner. In this instance, instead of answering Sir Edmund Barton's questions by a plain " yes " or " no" he replied that - this Government had decided that the acceptance or rejection of tenders for the construction of the transcontinental railway - that is, the railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, not the railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie - was a matter of such vital importance to his State that they did not feel justified in committing the decision thereon to the Federal Parliament, which might possibly be hostile to the scheme. Until, therefore,the time allowed by the Act for the receipt of tenders for the construction of the railway had expired, the Prime Minister might consider that negotiations concerning the transfer of the Northern Territory were suspended.


Sir Langdon Bonython - That reply cannot be considered to be a shuffle. The South Australian Government could not do otherwise than give that answer under the circumstances.


Mr MAHON - The reply certainly lacks candour. What had the Federal Parliament or the Commonwealth to do with the acceptance or rejection of tenders for the Pine Creek railway ? That matter was put forward as a blind, to enable Mr. Jenkins to gain time for some ulterior purpose.


Sir Langdon Bonython - The South Australian Parliament had passed an Act for the construction of a railway on the land grant system.


Mr MAHON - In the hope that some syndicate would take up the Territory, which was to be free for all time from taxation.


Sir Langdon Bonython - I do not wish to defend the South Australian Government in that matter, but they could not have given any other answer than the one which the honorable member has quoted.


Mr MAHON - At any rate, there was a withdrawal of the offer. The main point, after all, is not to be found in these side issues. It is that there was a withdrawal by the South Australian Government of their offer, made on the 18th April, 1 901, to the Commonwealth Government to take over the Northern Territory on the Commonwealth assuming its liabilities.


Sir Langdon Bonython - That is unquestionably so.


Mr MAHON - Undoubtedly. That brings me to the question which was discussed at some length in this House in 1901, and on the 10th September, 1902, when the matter came up again for consideration. We then found that the mover of the motion, Mr. V. L. Solomon, was not prepared to go on with it, because the South Australian view had changed in the meantime. The offer of the Territory was withdrawn, and something more was attempted to be extracted from the CommonWealth. So clearly was that the case, that on the 10th December the Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, wrote the following minute : -

It seems clear that Mr. Jenkins' desire is to keep the Northern Territory, for the present, on the chance of its being turned into a profitable asset by the construction of the land grant railwa. If this plan fails - and that is exactly what happened ; the little plan failed ; for after hawking the project all over the world no one could be found to take it up - we may expect the renewal of the proposal to the Commonwealth to take over and saddle all the States with the losses on a territory which, in such an event, will have been shown to be a losing concern.

There is a number of statistical details which follow on the file. While complimenting the honorable member for Grey on the way in which he presented the subject to the House, I wish to take exception to one of two or his statements. For instance, he has taken great credit for the fact that South Australia has preserved the Northern Territory for the white race, and has kept out Asiatic and black labour. But that statement is historically inaccurate, because the first introduction of Asiatic labour into South Australia occurred, not through the efforts of any private individual, but as the actual and direct result of a proposal of the Government of the day, which introduced 200 Chinamen shortly after the mines were discovered, about 1863 or 1864.


Sir Langdon Bonython - That was before there was any definite public opinion on the subject in Australia.


Mr MAHON - Oh! I undertake to say that there was always a definite public opinion in Australia against the introduction of Chinamen to work on the mining fields.


Sir Langdon Bonython - Not at that time.


Mr MAHON - Does the honorable member say that no antipathy to the introduction of Chinamen was manifested at Lambing Flat and other places before that period ?


Sir Langdon Bonython - Not so far as the northern portion of Australia was concerned.


Mr MAHON - What is the difference? What does it matter whether the mining fields in question were in the northern portion of Australia or elsewhere? There has always been a strong feeling in this country that our gold-fields should be reserved for exploitation by white men, and not by Chinamen. It was in connexion with the working, of the mines that the South Australian Government introduced these 200 Chinamen. Then, again, when building the line from Pine Creek to Port Darwin, in order to save £80,000 on the construction of the railway, the South Australian Government actually allowed Millar Brothers to bring in Asiatics under the seductive phrase of "optional labour"; and under that guise thousands of Chinamen were introduced, though it is true that the country did not offer them much encouragement to remain; and that, happily, they cleared out.


Mr Wilkinson - To Queensland.


Mr MAHON - Possibly; I do not know where they went. On a subsequent occasion the South Australian Parliament actual ly passed a Bill to encourage the immigration of Indian labourers to work agricultural areas in the Northern Territory.


Mr Hutchison - They were to be brought out under the express condition that they were to be sent back again.


Mr Tudor - That is how the kanakas came to Queensland.


Mr Hutchison - There was no Labour Party in South Australia then.


Mr MAHON - I recall these facts to show that the claim of the honorable member for Grey, that South Australia has kept the Northern Territory for the white race, is not historically accurate.


Mr Poynton - It is a fact nevertheless that South Australia has refused good offers because she would not permit any kind of labour to be employed.


Mr MAHON - I have often heard of these good offers, but when one analyzes them, it is generally found that they come from some enterprising but impecunious person who wants a concession to hawk round to the brokers in London, so that he may make some commission out of it.


Mr Hutchison - All the same, South Australia has kept coloured labour out of the Territory for many years.


Mr MAHON - I am free to admit that. I think it is only right that South Australia should receive credit for the fact that for many years she has done her best to keep out Asiatic labour. Nevertheless, it is scarcely fair, even on the terms which were originally offered, to ask the Commonwealth to take over the responsibilities of the Northern Territory, because in the early days there were examples of very bad financing there. For instance, I find, on reference to a speech made by Mr. V. L. Solomon, that in the land legislation and in land financing of the Territory in the early days a system prevailed whereby 160 acres could be obtained for 7s. 6d. per acre, and under that system no less than 400,000 acres of land were disposed of. The total receipts from those land sales, I believe, amounted to £104,000, and the cost of maintenance and survey in connexion with the system between 1864 and 1873 was £225,000. These figures show a ner loss in cash to the State of South Australia of £121,000 in addition to the alienation of 400,000 acres of the best land of the. Territory, including town sites. I do not see why at this time of day the Commonwealth should step in and pay for the blunders of South Australia, or for the blunders of any other State. I am unable to see why the Commonwealth should be called upon to take over a liability of that kind. I find also that the purchasers of some of these town blocks demanded an annual rental of from £70 to £100 per annum, having paid for the fee-simple only a little over 3s. per half-acre. So that the whole arrangement has been rather a bar to settlement than otherwise. So far from having tended to facilitiate settlement, as we have been led to believe, the policy of South Australia operated absolutely in the opposite direction. I do not see why we should assume the responsibility for mistakes of that kind. I do not deny that, potentially, the Northern Territory is a very rich country, that it contains great mineral resources and large possibilities of pastoral and agricultural development. Nor do I fail to recognise the necessity from a national stand-point of the Territory being under the absolute control of the national Parliament. But what I do say is that we ought not to be asked to take over the Territory, except as it stood on the 1st of

January, 1901, when the Commonwealth came into existence. I maintain that we have no right to go back and take over all the liabilities of the Territory, covering a period when it was palpably mismanaged.


Mr Hutchison - The Commonwealth would get assets along with the Territory.


Mr MAHON - That may be ; but these great assets have yet to be proved and developed. 'In any case, if South Australia is unable to make a profit out of them, it is very doubtful whether the Commonwealth would be able to do so.


Mr Hutchison - South Australia has only a handful of people in a very large province, apart from the Northern Territory.


Mr MAHON - That may be so ; but the Northern Territory has to be developed by private enterprise, much as we dislike it; and private individuals would be just as ready to take up land owned by a State Government as land owned by the Commonwealth Government. We are not contemplating establishing a co-operative settlement in the Northern Territory. We cannot do it just yet. We cannot work the Territory by day labour, however much we might like to do so. Therefore, we must rel v on its being developed by private individuals or companies. I come back again to the point front which I started - that, in my opinion, we have no right to go back so far into the past as we are asked to do, but that we should be on a perfectly sound footing if we decided to take over the liabilities of the administration of the Territory as from the inception of Federation to date. Therefore, I desire to move, as an amendment to the honorable member's motion : -

That- all the words after " House " be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words : " The Government should negotiate with the Government of South Australia for the acquisition of the Northern Territory on terms just to the Commonwealth."

This language is substantially identical with the resolution passed bv this House in 1902. I propose, further, that the following words should be added-







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