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Thursday, 10 March 1932

Mr MARTENS (HERBERT, QUEENSLAND) - I regret to have to interrupt the honorable member, but it is impossible for me to hear his speech on account of the conversation that is going on outside the chamber.

Mr SPEAKER - I remind honorable members and visitors in the galleries that absolute silence is required of them while an honorable member is addressing the chamber.

Mr NELSON - I assert that this Bonnett was a fictitious person. Every effort made to obtain his address has proved futile. But, sufficient delay occurred while attempts were being made to find out where he was supposed to live to enable the person who had been granted the lease to effect a sale of the property. The names of the buyers only will appear on the deed. The procedure seems to have been that when blocks were granted to applicants, the initial expenses were paid, and then arrears were allowed to accumulate until the land was sold to some adjacent occupier, whose .name appeared on the lease instrument as the purchaser. This practice afforded complete cover to the persons who desired their names to remain unknown to the public.

On the 26th July, two days after the commission had received the telegram from the Home Affairs Department, a reply was received from the commission to the effect that Siddons had telegraphed M3 desire to transfer the land to Bennett, and to defer preparation of the instruments. It will bc noted that even then Bennett's address was not given. I then looked for the telegram from Siddons conveying that request to the commission, and found that on the 13th August, or three weeks after the commission had said that Siddons had wired, he did telegraph the La-nd Department at Darwin as follows : -

Please transfer my interest pastoral leases 141, 142 to Robt. Bennett; transfer posted.

The document duly arrived. Although Siddons was in Wyndham, Western Australia, and Bennett in the Straits Settlements, the Surveyor-General witnessed their signature in Darwin on the 30th October, 1929 ! Who actually signed for Bennett? Somebody must have done so. and the Surveyor-General must have witnessed the signature.

Mr Gabb - That is a serious reflection upon a public officer.

Mr NELSON - The facts are indisputable.

Mr Gabb - The statements of the honorable member should be probed, and if they are substantiated, the officer concerned should be suitably dealt with.

Mr NELSON - I am quite certain that my statements would be substantiated by any inquiry. The signature on this instrument is a particularly clumsy forgery for a man of the calibre of this so-called surveyor, who might reasonably be expected to write a fair hand. The signature was started in a backhand, but concluded in a loose forehand style. It must have been forged, for the simple reason that this alleged Bennett was not in Australia at the time he was supposed to have signed the instrument. On the 2Sth November, 1929, the North Australia Commission transferred the lease after stating that a.u inquiry had been made into the matter. If the inquiry made in this case is a sample of the inquiries generally made by the North Australia Commission, it is no wonder that the commission cost the Commonwealth more than £100,000.

The document which granted the application for transfer was signed by all the commissioners. On it is a minute, placed there on the 4th June, 1931,. a few days before the commission was dissolved, and signed by ex-commissioner Easton, which read as follows: -

Mrs.Bohning informed me that this poison (meaning Bennett) is not her son, and that she did not know him.

Why should all this side-tracking and obvious deception have occurred? To properly understand that minute, it is necessary to know that the Mrs. Bohning referred to is a resident of the Northern Territory, who was married twice and whose children by her first marriage were named Bennett.

Investigations have established the fact that Easton knew a Bennett in Western Australia, having surveyed with him in that State years before. The minute is, therefore, only so much " eyewash " written with the object of allaying suspicion. Although an address was given on the lease instruments of Bennett's land, when the deeds were forwarded to that address, they were returned through the Dead Letter Office. The investigator's letter, dated 17th November, 1931, will establish the fact that a Mr. Davidson, of the Pensions Branch, had lived for 29 years in the next house to that on this property, but had never heard of a Mr. Bennett. The other addresses given also proved to be false. Yet they were satisfactory to the North Australia Commission !

It is more than a coincidence that the owners of blocks 140, 142, 165 and 164 were Western Australian people, and that their first rent payments were all made by a Mr. S. C. Fisher, of the Perpetual Executors Trustee Agency, Perth. Of course, it is possible these persons carried on legitimate business; but after they had paid the initial charges, they dropped out of the picture. The rents were allowed to accumulate until a sale was effected, and then they got away. In all cases, the lease instruments were delayed, and were not drawn in the names of the original applicants ; but when they sold the blocks, the names of the purchasers were submitted, and appeared on the original documents. In the correspondence from the Administrator, it will be seen that these persons at no time attempted to occupy the land that they were holding.

When a person obtains a cattle-grazing licence in the territory, it gives him a prior right to the land when it is thrown open for leasing. Messrs. Ayliffe and Hamilton held grazing licences Nos. 11 and 12, and it was understood that they would obtain the lease of their land, but such was not the case. Although they were applicants for the lease, their request was turned down, because of a defect in their application form, which was accompanied by the necessary cheque. But, lo and behold, the block was given to a Mr. Grainger, another Western Australian, who had the same address as the other mysterious persons, namely, the Perpetual Executive Trustee Agency, Perth. The latter's application was granted, although it was received in the form of a telegram from this mysterious source. The act definitely precludes the Land Board from accenting such an application, yet it did not question the regu larity of an application by wire, and it turned down the application of bona fide settlers. Messrs. Ayliffe and Hamilton will probably leave the Northern Territory, and feel disgusted over the treatment they received. I have reams of correspondence which definitely identifies the group of individuals to whom I have referred with purchases and sales of laud which has never been occupied by them.

A request was made by the Administrator of the Northern Territory that the department should take advantage of the presence in Sydney of the Chief Clerk of the Lands Department in the territory, who had made a study of Northern Territory matters, and would be able to give material assistance in getting to the bottom of what I suggest is very underhand work. But this suggestion was not adopted. It is not an easy matter to tackle a heap of files without being familiar with the details of the matters dealt with in them, and when an officer who knew all the details was available in Sydney, his services might well have been enlisted. A further request was made by the Administrator that the Investigation Branch of the AttorneyGeneral's Department might look into this matter, and a reply, dated the 17th November, 1931, was received as follows : -

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