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Thursday, 24 November 1927


Mr NELSON - Although the honorable member for Riverina travelled up the stock route and did not see the best of the country, he presumes to tell the committee that certain portions are particularly favoured spots.


Mr Killen - I saw country that was above the average.


Mr NELSON - But the honorable member did not leave the stock route.


Mr Killen - I saw average country.


Mr NELSON - That was impossible if the honorable member travelled over the stock route, and I suggest that the honorable member should investigate more thoroughly the possibilities of the country he has condemned before coming to a decision. I can assure the honorable member that dozens of men are waiting to take up country in the area he condemns.


Mr Killen - I did not say that the country would not carry sheep; but that it would be unprofitable as a sheep proposition.


Mr NELSON -I could quote the experience of eight or nine men who took up country in that locality only a few years ago and have now overcome all difficulties. As their flocks have increased by 100 per cent., it cannot be said that they are holding useless country. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), in a statement which was supported by the other members of the party with which he visited the Territory, said that the country was real sound stock country. We have had similar opinions from many other sources. I have sent my own sons up there, and. one would not send his offspring to make a living in impossible country. A considerable amount of money is being expended in constructing railways in the Territory, and some endeavour must be made to create a volume of trade, to justify the expenditure. Nothing will induce the necessary population to settle there more than the granting of liberal and expeditious land settlement conditions.


Mr Killen - It is not worth the experiment.


Mr NELSON - I totally disagree with the honorable member. Had he seen the country I should respect his opinion, but he merely travelled along stock routes, and every one knows that a stock route which has been traversed by hundreds of thousands of cattle for 30 or 40 years must be barren and absolutely useless for the purpose of comparison. The moment that the honorable member deviated from the stock route and went east or west he had to admit that he saw country that should be carrying eight or ten million sheep. Had he seen more of that country, he would have been loud in his praise of it.


Mr Killen - The country was not eaten out when I saw it, but was looking at its best.


Mr NELSON - The honorable member appears to have taken up the cudgelson behalf of those people who delight in traducing Australia. Of all the squatters in the Territory, including the owners of Maryvale Station, to whom the honorable member referred, not one went there with a penny, and not one failed. The country cannot, therefore, be described as being: in the experimental stage. It has proved itself.


Mr Killen - All those were people who picked spots far better than the average.


Mr NELSON - The honorable member has not seen any of the spots and, therefore, is not in a position to judge.

I shall now address myself to Workers' Compensation, as administered in northern and central Australia, where it is governed by Commonwealth ordinances, which are highly unsatisfactory. The principal Commonwealth act itself is one of the worst of its kind in Australia. The Prime Minister has said that an alteration would be made in the Commonwealth act to bring it into conformity with the acts that have operated for many years in the different States of Australia. The Commonwealth act does not set out any schedule of rates to cover accidents, and the whole thing resolves itself into a barter. Machinery is provided whereby court, or arbitration proceedings must be taken when an application for compensation is made. Apparently, whoever is able to engage the best advocate wins the day, and frequently the applicant for compensation has to pay the expenses of the proceedings. In order that a comparison may be made between the Commonwealth ordinances and the acts in operation in the States, I should put on record the following statistics. The schedule- to the New South Wales act contains this table : -

 

It may be argued that I am quoting from what may be termed freak legislation, but an analysis of the acts in operation in the other States of the Commonwealth, many of which have not been administrated for long by Labour Governments, discloses that they contain very similar provisions. The New South Wales act makes these additional compensation provisions : -

Death, £800 (and £25 in respect of each child under 10).

I understand that that has been increased to £1,000-

Temporary incapacitation, 60{j per cent, of the average weekly earning, in addition to El per week for wife, and 8s. (id. per week for every child under fourteen years of age, with a, maximum of £1,000 for total incapacitation (including medical expenses).

None of these provisions is contained in the Commonwealth act. The general rule under the Commonwealth statute is to pay the injured person £2 a week, out of which he has to pay his medical expenses. Consequently, he finds himself financially embarrassed, for he loses his wages in addition. The New South Wales act provides that, in the case of partial incapacity, if the injured person can prove that he has endeavoured to obtain work but has failed owing to his incapacitation, he shall be treated similarly to one totally incapacitated. The Queensland act, as do the other State acts, provides compensation for industrial diseases and sets out the following amounts : -

 

All types of accidents are tabulated, and fixed rates are provided. Western Australia has provisions very similar to those of Queensland, and the same may be said of Victoria, except that instead of specifying amounts, it provides for wages percentages of from 10 to 100 per cent., according to the type of accident, which comes out very much the same as the definite amounts fixed by the other States. The South Australian act sets out 50 per cent, of a man's earnings for partial or total incapacity, plus 7s. 6d. a week for each child. It also has a schedule similar to that of other State acts. Those particulars show how lacking the Commonwealth provision is. We make no payment to cover medical fees, nor do Ave compensate for industrial diseases. It is imperative that our act and ordinances should be brought into line with the legislation of the States, so that an injured man may know just where he stands. The Commonwealth Ordinance No. 21 of 1923 prescribes that a maximum compensation of £750 shall be paid in cases where death occurs. Total or partial incapacitation is compensated for with a maximum of 60s. a week, and the compensation must not exceed £750. The Commonwealth act should contain a schedule specifying definite amounts for each type of accident, and should cover industrial diseases, as well as making provision for mental cases, and medical expenses. At present it makes no provision for the wife and child. I have always contended that our Commonwealth legislation should be equal to, if not more liberal than, that of the States, and we should set about rectifying the presentanomalous position. At times it is difficult to interpret correctly the Commonwealth ordinances. I have a letter from a barrister at Darwin, which reads,: -

T am of opinion that Mr. Crane cannot demaud a lump sum at all, either now or eve.

His right is to weekly payments. If the Commonwealth wish, after continuing weekly payments for not less than six months, liability for weekly payments can be redeemed at the instance of the Commonwealth, and this is to be on the basis of a sum equal to an annuity of 7 fi per cent. of the annual value of the weekly payments. This redemption is done, if necessary, by arbitration, but there ave no Workmen's Compensation rules under the ordinance. Such last mentioned rules extend to 26 closely-printed pages. I know of no such rules in force here to enable application to be made to a Local Court (which is what the "County Court" referred to in the act means here), and on wiring my .Adelaide agent to know under what rules applications under the Federal Act are made in South Australia, he says he can find none, and that the clerk of court - that would be of the Adelaide Local Court - says he has not had a. similar application. There are a few statutory rules made by the GovernorGeneral under the act, but they do not assist in what we may want.

However. I am prepared to apply to the Local Court for .weekly payments, if required, the best way one can, and see what comes of it. There ought to bo rules. If they are needed for the ordinance, why not for the net?

A lump sum or any amount can be agreed on at any time, as a schedule to the act says, or nearly that. Perhaps a settlement can thus be arranged. I. would suggest getting the member of the House of Representatives to have court rules made.

The absence of rules rnakes the act inoperative. Here is another letter which J have received from the secretary of the North Australian "Workers' Union, under date 7th October, 1927: -

Further to the matter of workers' compensation, wo have several cases on the railway construction needing adjustment now. One is a chap named Alex Crane. He has lost his thumb and index linger as a result of a. detonator exploding in his bund. He got the princely sum of £2 a week which amounted to £18 7s. 9d. He was then given work as a. guard on construction, which job, of course, will not last for ever. He should be compensated by lump sum payment. He has been asked to state what he claims for lump sum.

I think he will claim as according to the schedule of payments provided by the Western Australian Workers' Compensation Act, which is for loss of forefinger £150: loss of thumb £225; total £375. I have sent Crane a copy of tlie schedule and asked him to let mc know what he claims, I will then let you know.

Another case is old " Scotty " McLeod (George McLeod). He has lost one eye and the other is seriously damaged, and he is also suffering severely from shook, due to an explosives accident. He is in tlie Pine Creek Hospital. He is drawing £2 per week and wants to know what lump sum he is entitled to. Wo have advised him to keep on drawing his £2 a week until he gets a settlement.

The act seems to provide (Clause 17 of the first schedule) for a lump sum equal to the amount necessary to purchase an annuity of 30s. a week. This seems a bit vague and we have not yet been able to ascertain how the provision works. Then it is further concealed by the provision " subject to the regulations " (see second line same clause). Sofar we cannot obtain any regulations.

These letters show that men who have met with serious accidents and in some cases have been incapacitated for life, have not been able to get redress. The Government should bring the North Australian legislation into line with similarlegislation in the several States of the Commonwealth.

I desire also to direct attention to the condition of the railways and rolling-stock in North Australia. Whenever I have asked questions on this subject, I have been informed that everything is all right; but obviously that is not true. The railway authorities in North Australia are handling many thousands of tons of material. Trains are now running daily on the line to the Katherine river, and there have been numerous breakdowns because the rolling-stock is obsolete and dangerous. The former member for Wannon ("Mr. McNeil) who visited North Australia a few years ago, described it as the worst he had ever seen. It has been suggested that it represents Stevenson's first efforts, and the wish has. been expressed that he could be resurrected so as to make another contribution to the rolling-stock in North Australia . The following statement concerning it appeared in the Darwin Northern Standard on 10th September,

A telegram received from Mr. Owen .Howe, organiser for the North Australian Workers' Union, Katherine, yesterday, Thursday, the 2'Jth instant, states: - "Engineer will have to close down. Engines obsolete and worn out. Engines which leave here have to be towed back. Only small quantity water being supplied on goods train in effort keep things going. Men have to come in as they have no water to drink, Running plant is disgrace to Commissioner and Australia, and would not bo tolerated in any other country."

Practically the whole of the rolling stock of the Northern Territory railway is in a most deplorable condition, and that more largely because of its antedeluvian senility than as the result of any failure of the locomotive repair shops' to keep it. in good condition.

Thu locomotive which should have left Darwin railway station about S a.m. 3-esterday (Thursday) morning, did not get away till about 9.30 a.m., being detained at the 2*-mile workshops on account of boiler troubles and leakages.

Hot box trucks aru a feature of the railway yard, and there are said to be loaded trucks abandoned along the line, some containing cement.

A truck containing beer for Pine Creek and Katherine and food supplies for Wave Hill station, got as far as the 2i-mile recently, when it had to be sent back to Darwin and unloaded.

And so on - and so on.

Lest it, may be contended that I am quoting the views of union organisers 1 only and of officials whose sympathies are with the working classes, I shall now read the following letter written by Messrs. Fink, Best, and Millen, a well-known firm of Melbourne solicitors, who are interested in one of the biggest cattle stations on the Victoria River:

Railways rolling stock is in a very bad condition - engines, 30 years old in one case, breaking (down and often holding up the traffic. A shortage of trucks which arc in a bad state, and too few. Passenger cars old, and getting worn out. Were used in Queeusland for years. Rather a wonder, in view of the hot. boxes, failure of engines etc., that the North South line has got on as well as it has. Trains to and from the end of the line often arrive hours late, and even a whole day is lost by engine trouble. Passengers to Darwin for the recent races in September arrived, instead of the night before, the next night when the races were finished. This should bo somewhat relieved by the engine sent by the "Marella" in September, but the other rolling stock wants increasing and renewing. When the North South line links up with the Queensland, and New South Wales systems, which should be done first, tourists will leave the steamers at Darwin and travel overland, saving time and seeing the country. In view of this other steamers should be induced to call at Darwin.

Invariably when the Estimates are under discussion all blame for the present unsatisfactory condition of things in North Australia is attributed to the workers, who are accused of go-slow tactics, whereby expenditure in the operation of the line is unduly inflated. No one can run an efficient service with an obsolete plant. The department appears now to he pinning its faith to the one new c-ugine. The whole of the rolling stock is completely out of date. The flanges of the truck wheels are worn so much that in many places they are actually shearing off the fish-plate bolts. On certain sections of the line the old fashioned iron sleepers have been eaten away with rust. In some places the sleepers are almost suspended in mid air owing to the absence of ballast. I hope that the Minister will take prompt steps to improve the -condition of the permanent way and arrange for new and up-to-date rolling stock to be supplied for the railway in North Australia. I challenge the Government to appoint an independent railway expert to report on the condition of the permanent way and rolling stock. The result would stagger Australia.

We all acknowledge the important part played by our primary producers in opening up and developing new country. I regret therefore that the sum of only £2,000 is set down for the encouragement of primary production in North Australia. The framers of the Estimates must indeed be optimists if they expect to settle a big population of producers in North Australia, for an expenditure of only £2,000. It is not too late even now for the Ministry to approach the Development and Migration Commission with the object of getting that body to tackle the job which the Government has failed to do. I notice also that the princely sum of £400 is provided for the development of the mining industry, including loans to prospectors and others. The possibilities of mining in North Australia are practically unlimited ; but expenditure on a much more generous scale is essential if the industry is to he developed along the right lines. The sum of £400 would hardly be sufficient to sink a well in a back yard. I have frequently drawn attention to "the inadequacy of the" vote for this purpose. The sum is so small that a miner would not waste his time in applying for it, even though he knew that he would get the whole of it. Mining has had a good deal to do Avith the early development of every State in the Commonwealth, and I have no doubt that if efforts were made to develop the industry in North and Central Australia good result would follow. It would be more creditable to the Government if, instead of providing a miserable £400 on the Estimates, it frankly admitted that it did not intend to do anything to assist the industry.

The amount of £250 is provided for scholarships for school children, hut the only children eligible to compete for them are those who attend State schools. I protest, as I have done on other occasions, against this discrimination. The purpose of this vote issurely to give the children an opportunity to improve their position in life, and there is no justification whatever for preventing children who attend convent or other denominational and private schools, or who receive tuition at home, from competing for those scholarships. Children are not allowed to choose the school which they attend, but are subject, in this matter, to the control of their parents.

MrMaxwell. - The State school is open to every child in the community.


Mr NELSON - That is not so in North Australia, for many parents who live in the outlying areas are obliged to obtain private tuition for their children. There is another factor in the situation. I. was born and reared a Protestant, and my ancestors were Protestants, but I found that in order to obtain the best possible education for my children in the Northern Territory I was obliged to send them to the convent school, where they were taught music and other subjects which are not on the State school curriculum. In these circumstances there is no justification for discriminating between schools in the granting of these scholarships. I have been promised for several years that the Government would give consideration to this aspect of the matter, but so far nothing has been done.

We have heard a good deal in the last few weeks about the failure of the Government's shipping activities. It has been said that private enterprise is better able to manage shipping, than a government department. But in North Australia private enterprise has lamentably failed, even with the aid of subsidies to the extent of £10,000 a year, to provide the people with a reliable shipping service. Some years ago the Government ran a service there with a vessel named the John Forrest, but because a loss of from £4,000 to £5,000 per annum was in curred in its operation it was discontinued, and arrangements were made with a private company to provide a service. When the Government steamer was running, the time table was as reliable as that of a well-managed railway service; but since the private company has undertaken the service it is impossible for the people to guess within months when the boat will be at a particular port. The result has been that thousands of pounds worth of produce which has been stacked on the river banks has been left there to rot. In that connexion I quote the following paragraph, which appeared in a recent issue of the Melbourne Herald -

Attention was drawn yesterday by Mr. H. V. Miller, of Windsor, who has just returned from a visit to the Northern Territory, where he has a station of 7,200 square miles, to the danger in which certain stations on the upper reaches of the Victoria, Daly and other rivers stood should the present ineffectual and decrepit boat service fail.

Only a. small auxiliary lugger of doubtful usefulness was permitted to ply between the stations andhead-quarters, leaving the stationowners the alternative of chancing it, or sending overland in motor cars. The trouble was that very often thecars could not get through. Then, should the river service fail, supplies would gradually dwindle until starvation stared the settlers in the face. " Last year," he said, " the people living on stations far down the Northern Territory came near to starvation because the river service failed. Without wireless, telegraph and phone, and with a mail only once in six weeks, many of these people's supplies were almost run out before they were able to replenish."

It has been said on numerous occasions that the lack of development in the north has been due, to a large extent, to the unsuitability of settlers ; but I disagree with that view. I have come into close contact with many of the people who have attempted to make a success of settlement there, and I know that one of their principal difficulties has been the lack of transport facilities. The situation became so had for some of them that they were obliged to abandon their holdings. People cannot be expected to live in lonely areas when there is an interval of anything from six to eight months between steamers. As Mr. Miller pointed out, some of these settlers came very near to starvation last year, because their food supplies gave out before the vessel upon which they relied to replenish their stores arrived. The absence of roads and bridges made it necessary for some of them to use pack horses to bring to their stations such vital necessaries as flour and sugar. These people have very little opportunity to obtain what we regard as bare necessaries of life ; but theyare still battling along in the hope that brighter days will dawn. In my opinion the Government has absolutely broken faith with them, for a condition under which they settled on their holdings was that a regular shipping service would be provided for them to obtain supplies and send their produce to market. I sincerely trust that early steps will be taken to remedy the lamentable conditions that at present prevail.

We have been told time after time that the Government stands solidly behind our industrial arbitration system; and only to-day a ministerial reply was given to a question by an honorable member to that effect. But I have a vivid recollection that during 1921-22 a slump occurred in the Northern Territory, in consequence of which many men lost their means of livelihood, and the Government came along and said, " On and after a certain date wages will be reduced to 25 per cent, less than the rates prescribed in the Arbitration Court award." This was done in a most arbitrary manner by an Autocratic Commissioner. The men were obliged to accept employment under that condition, or leave the country. After some time Judge Beeby went to the Northern Territory to inquire into industrial grievances there, and one of his first acts was to restore the rate of wages that applied before the Government so arbitrarily reduced it. It is hypocrisy for the Government to prate about its sincerity in industrial matters. If it had an opportunity to-morrow, it would allow the waterside workers, or any other section of industrialists, to be thrown to the dogs. Let Ministers practise what they preach. I raise thepoint for the purpose of showing the Government's inconsistency. No doubt the question asked to-day was inspired with a view to creating a suitable atmosphere for the next election.







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