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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) . - (By leave). - I assume that the House desires a statement of the Government's intentions regarding the Northern Territory Crown Lands Bill. Honorable members will recollect the circumstances in which this measure came before the House. In the Northern Territory (Administration) Act, provision is made for government of the Territory by Ordinance, and that method has operated throughout the Commonwealth's period, of control. A land Ordinance was gazetted in May of the present year, but when this Parliament met certain honorable members expressed a desire, that it should not be put into operation before being discussed in Parliament. In compliance with that wish, the Government embodied the Ordinance in a Bill, which is now upon the notice-paper. That Ordinance provides for leases to be issued for a period of forty-two years, and states the rentals that are to be paid, the manner and time of re-appraisement, and the method of surrender. Having given the House an undertaking that before any proceedings would be taken under the Ordinance, Parliament would be given a full opportunity to discuss it, and the Bill having been discussed only in the

Senate, the Government does not propose to bring the Ordinance into operation until Parliament, upon reassembling, has expressed its opinion thereon. But in the meantime the Government must endeavour to do something to stimulate and help the development of the Territory. I give the House an assurance that no action will be taken in regard to the extension of the leases for- forty-two years, the basis of the rentals, re-appraisements, nor any other matters contained in the Ordinance, until the opinion of Parliament in regard to them has been obtained. The only action weshall take in the,Territory - and it must necessarily be taken if a period of stagnation is to be avoided - will be such as will not commit the Parliament, so that when later an opportunity is afforded of reviewing what has been done, the discretion of the House will be unfettered. If the Government did proceed to grant leases for forty-two years, as is contemplated in the Ordinance, and that Ordinance were subsequently to be disallowed by this House, there could be no reversion to the status quo without repudiation by the Commonwealth. Nothing will be done by the Government to create an embarrassing situation of that character.

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