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Thursday, 10 March 1932

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL (Warringah) (Minister for Home Affairs) . - The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) informed me of his intention to raise this subject, and as the proceedings to which he objects occurred prior to the present Government's assumption of office, I have investigated his complaint with the utmost care and impartiality, and I have also made available to him all the information in the possession of the department.

Mr Nelson - I dispute that.

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - All the official documents on the departmental files have been placed at the honorable member's disposal. The North Australia Commission was disbanded in June, 1931, and the proceedings of which complaint is made happened prior to that date.

Mr Gabb - Is the surveyor who has been mentioned still in the employ of the Government ?

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - He was one of the commissioners, and at the last general election was a candidate for the Northern Territory seat. Section 16, sub-section 4, of the Northern Australia Act 1926, which was repealed last June by the previous Government, provided that -

In addition to the powers specified in Bubsection (1) of this section, the powers of the commission shall include the administration throughout the Territory of Crown lands in accordance with ordinances made, or to be made, in pursuance of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1010, or in pursuance of this act.

In accordance with those powers, applications were invited by the North Aus tralia Commission in the Commonwealth Gazette of the 12th March, 1927, for pastoral leases of fifteen blocks, numbered from 1 to 15, situated in the Barkly Tablelands Land District and east of Newcastle Waters. Applications were advertised to close on the 28th May, 1927. Eight applications were received for blocks 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 15. They were dealt with by the full commission at Darwin on the 15th July, 1927, and were granted as follow : Blocks 1 and 2, H. M. Bathern; blocks 6 and 10, H. H. and R. A. Hope; block 9, J. Lewis and Co.; blocks 11 and 15, Rochdale Pastoral Co.; block 12, W. G. Hutchins. Regarding the granting of blocks 6 and 10 to H. H. and R. A. Hope, a perusal of the Darwin office file reveals the fact that on 27th April, 1927, C. Fisher, of 8 Fairfield-street, Mount Hawthorn, Western Australia, telegraphed to the commissi an £143 in respect of Hope and Hope's applications for blocks 6 and 10, and asked that the receipt be forwarded to him. On the following day, a telegram, signed Nacom, and initialed W.R.E. - Mr. Easton - was sent to Fisher acknowledging receipt of the amount, and intimating that a formal receipt was being posted direct to Fisher. On the 23rd July, 1927, a letter purporting to be signed by the secretary of the North Australia Commission, was addressed to Fisher, and, after referring to his telegram of the 27th April, stated - " I have to inform you that both the blocks applied for have been granted subject to applications being lodged on the proper form ". Two forms of application for a pastoral lease were enclosed, with a request that they be completed and returned to the Darwin office as early as possible. Regarding the acceptance by the commission of this telegraphed application, it may here be mentioned that regulation 7 under the 1924-1925 Crown Lands Ordinance, specifically stated - " The board shall not accept any application for a lease which is made by telegraph", and regulations passed under the Crown Lands Ordinance 1927-1928, which repealed the previous ordinance, carried forward that intention. Regulation 9, expressly provided - " The commission shall not accept any application for a lease which is made by telegraph ". Notwithstanding the specific intention of the regulations, the applications of Hope and Hope for blocks 6 and 10, as telegraphed by fisher, were accepted by the commission and granted. Further, it is clear that in order to regularize the transaction, formal applications were to be lodged subsequently. The Darwin office files disclose that on the 22nd July, 1927, Fisher telegraphed to the North Australia Commission as follows: "Please withdraw applications Hope and Hope, blocks 6 and 10. They cannot carry on ". This telegram was referred to Mr. Easton, presumably by the secretary of the North Australia Commission; and, on the 25th July, a refund voucher in favour of C. Fisher for £143 was passed by the commission. This completed the transaction so far as Hope and Hope's application was concerned.

The Crown Lands Regulations provide that -

Any land notified in the Gazelle us available for leasing and not allotted by the board shall remain open for leasing unless withdrawn or again advertised by notice in the Gazelle setting out any altered conditions of occupancy.

In consequence of this provision, the unallotted blocks, Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13 and 14, remained open for application by the first applicant. As Hope and Hope's applications for blocks 6 and 10 had been withdrawn, these blocks also were available for application.

On the 5th August, 1927, C. R. Smith, of Sapphire, via Inverell, New South Wales, who was in Darwin at the time, lodged an application for a lease of block 10, together with a cheque for £71 10s., being the prescribed deposit of the first year's rent and fee. On receiving this application, the commission requested payment of an additional 14s. 6d., being exchange on cheque drawn on the Rural Bank of New South Wales, Inverell. Mr. Smith objected to this extra payment, and withdrew his application, subsequently stopping payment of his cheque.

Mr Nelson - I dispute that.

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - lt is a matter of fact that can be investigated later. Then under covering letter dated the 24th August, 1927, Mr. Smith resubmitted his application to the department in Melbourne, and lodged a bank draft for £71 10s. This application was received in the department on the 29th August, 1927,. and particulars of the application were lettergrammed on the 30th August, 1927, to the commission at Darwin. In reply, a lettergram dated the 1st September, 1927, was received as follows: -

Yours the 30th re Chisholm Smith's application block 10 East Newcastle Waters applicant lodged application together rent and fees fifth August but did not include exchange 14s. Od. When asked for exchange withdraw application same day. Block was applied for by Siddins twelfth August and approved. Sgd. Nacom.

It will be noted that Bennett's name is not mentioned in this communication. This omission, however, is immaterial, as the department had been advised previously of Siddins and Bennett's applications. In view of this, Smith was advised on the 15th September, 1927, that his application was unsuccessful, and his deposit was refunded.

Having regard to the statement in the lettergram that block 10 had been granted to one Siddins as the prior applicant, a further perusal of the Darwin office files discloses the following: -

On the 12th August, 1927, applications were lodged for blocks (t and 10 in the names of Oswald Threlkeld Siddins, of Wyndham, and Robert Bennett, of Claremont, Perth, pastoralists, as joint tenants. The required deposits amounting to £143 were lodged with the applications.

These applications were declared only by O. T. Siddins, and Bennett's signature does not appear on them. On the 17th August, 1927, the commission advised the department by telegram that O. T. Siddins and R. Bennett had been protected for blocks 6 and 1.0. This protection was confirmed by the department on the 24th August, 1927. Following this action an extract from the minutes of a meeting held by the commission, sitting as the Land Board, on the 29th August, 1927, shows that the applications of Siddins and Bennett for blocks 6 and 10, had been approved on that date, anc! approval was notified in the Gazette of the 8th September, 1927. In a letter dated the 12th September, 1927, Messrs. O. T. Siddins and R. Bennett, Wyndham, Western Australia, were advised that their applications, for pastoral leases of blocks 6 and 10 had been approved, and that the lease indentures would be prepared and forwarded for signature. Under date the 28th June, 1929, a telegram sent from Wyndham, Western Australia, and addressed "Easton, Lands Department, Darwin, stated - "Wrote you relinquishing country early June, regards. Sgd. Siddins." On the 26th July, 1929, the department requested Darwin to advise the full names, addresses and occupations of 0. T. Siddins and R. H. Bennett, lessees of blocks 6 and 10, for insertion in lease indentures'. That covers the point made by the honorable member, for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan). There was no purchase of stock, because the leases were never completed by them.

A reply was sent to the department on the same date, namely, the 26th July, 1929, by lettergram, signed Nacom, and initialed W.R.E., standing for Easton, in which it was stated -

Yours re Siddins-Bennett lessees blocks 6, 10 East Newcastle Waters. As former has telegraphed his desire, transfer to letter please defer preparation indentures until transfer received when will advise further.

The statement regarding the proposed transfer of Siddin's interest to Bennett conflicts with the contents . of the personal telegram of the 28th June, 1929, from Siddins to Easton as quoted previously. On the 26th August, 1929, the department repeated the request contained in its telegram of the 23rd July, 1929, for particulars of the lessees. Replying on the 31st August, 1929, the North Australia Commission advised -

Pastoral leases 140 and 142, Siddins and Bennett, see reply 20th July (before quoted), position unchanged. Awaiting arrival mail due 26th September, West Australia steamer Koolinda.

The next paper on the Darwin office file, No. 142, purports to be an application by O. T. Siddins, of Wyndham, for permission to transfer pastoral leases 140 and 142, blocks 6 and 10, to Robert Bennett, of Claremont, Western Australia. No consideration money was mentioned. The form of application was signed " O. T. Siddins ", and this signature was witnessed by F. P. Shepherd, present chief surveyor and member of the Land Board. This form also includes a declaration of acceptance of the leases signed by R. Bennett. This signature was also witnessed by E. P. Shepherd. The date on the form is 30th October, 1929. A minute dated 11th November, 1929, is attached to this application, signed "W. R. Easton", recommending its approval to the commission. The chairman, by minute, dated 12th November, 1929, concurred in the proposed transfer if rents were paid. A further minute by the chief clerk, dated 12th November, 1929, states " Rents paid in full to 30th June, 1930, and partly on account of year ending 30th June, 1931 ". The transfer was confirmed by the full commission on 28th November, 1929. Following the confirmation of the transfer, the lease indentures were prepared in the name of Robert Bennett, of 38 Princessroad, Claremont, in the State of Western Australia, pastoralist, this address being inserted by the Darwin authorities, and were forwarded by the Darwin office under covering memorandum, dated 8th October, 1930, to Mr. Bennett at the address mentioned, with a request that he should sign the documents and return them to the Darwin office as soon as possible. The letter and lease instruments were subsequently returned from the dead letter office, Perth, on the 12th December, 1930, marked "Unclaimed, not at 38 Princess-street, Claremont ". Requests for the payment of the overdue rents were also returned unclaimed from that address.

From about December, 1930, until June, 1931, nothing further appears to have been done in the matter. On the 15th June, 1931, a Mr. J. Gaden, of Queensland, arrived in Darwin, and made inquiries at the Lands Office regarding the holder of pastoral leases Nos. 140 and 142. Gaden stated that he met Easton at Adelaide River on the 14th June - the North Australia Commission had been disbanded on the 11th June - and inquired of him the address of the owner of the leases. Gaden stated that Easton replied that he could not remember, but would find out from Mr. Surveyor Shepherd. Later, Gaden made further statements to the Administrator at Darwin which implied that Easton was interested in the ownership of the leases, and produced a telegram dated 5th August, 1931, sent to him at Darwin from one, R. Burnett - presumably Bennett - 53 Bruce-street, Nedlands, Perth, which stated, "Understand you wish purchase my leases near Newcastle ". The Administrator then caused confidential inquiries to be made in Perth regarding the person who purported to send the telegram, and whether he was the actual owner of the leases, and was domiciled at the address given, having regard to the fact that the lease indentures had been returned to Darwin unclaimed from quite a different address. This investigation disclosed a number of suspicious circumstances. In view of the evidence produced, that trading at a substantial profit to the nominal holder of the leases had been attempted, the then Minister, when his attention was directed to the matter by the Administrator, directed the forfeiture of the leases. This action was taken on the 18th December, 1931, and the forfeiture appeared in Gazette No. 2, of the 7th January, 1932. [Leave to continue given.]

Mr Nelson - Does the Administrator say that the signature on the telegram is in the handwriting of Bennett ?

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - The file does not disclose that.

Mr Nelson - It is on the file ; I have seen it.

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - If it is there I have missed it. When I took over the control of the Home Affairs Department, this matter came before me for further consideration, and I have directed that steps be taken to recover the outstanding rent. The Darwin authorities were instructed to forward, for the information of my department, all relevant papers affecting this matter. The papers arrived only recently at the department, and so far a close investigation of all the circumstances has not been possible. In view of the serious charges of the honorable member for Northern Territory, I assure honorable members that a most searching investigation will be made, and I have no doubt that the additional information supplied by him will facilitate the department in its inquiry.

Mr Gabb - Is Mr. Shepherd still in the employ of the Government?


Mr Gabb - He should be interrogated.

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - He is the officer who certified to the signatures of Siddins and Bennett, who, it is alleged, do not exist. Chief Surveyor Shepherd is still at Darwin. Pull inquiries will he made from him.

Mr Riordan - Did the Administrator or the Surveyor-General give to the department a statement in agreement with that of the honorable member for Northern Territory?

Mr. ARCHDALEPARKHILL.That does not appear on the file.

Mr Nelson - I can vouch for that. The information was given to me by one of the officials of the department.

Mr. ARCHDALEPARKHILL.I have given the honorable member all the official information available to me. It has been suggested that Mr. Piggott, the chief clerk at Darwin, who is now on leave, should be asked to come to Canberra to give further information on this subject. I have not taken that course, because I naturally assumed that that officer would have sent to the department all the information in his possession. But in view of the statement of the honorable member for Northern Territory I shall ask Mr. Piggott to make himself available so that full information may be obtained from him. These circumstances arose before this Government took office. I make no reflection whatever on my predecessor, because the correspondence dates back to 1927.

Mr Nelson - Will the Minister communicate with the Administrator of the Territory to ascertain whether it is a fact that the present Surveyor-General lied and tried to deceive him as to the identity of one of the men. to whom I have referred ?

Mr. ARCHDALEPARKHILL.I have carefully noted the statement of the honorable member, and his charges will be closely investigated. The Commission went out of existence on the 11th June last, and apparently nothing has transpired since then to which any objection can be taken.

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