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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr BLAIN - I refer to all schools from the Katherine River to Darwin.

Mr Bernard Corser - How many schools are there?

Mr BLAIN - There are three government schools and one convent school. My point is that the teachers were seconded from Queensland under an agreement which provided that they should have three months' leave after three years' service. Two years ago the agreement was varied. I do not know who was responsible for that, hut an attempt was made to place the teachers in offices in Darwin during a portion of their period of leave. They successfully resisted the attempt. Later, instead of being granted three months' leave after three years' service, they were granted only one month's leave. Moreover, the department published advertisements which made a special appeal to younger teachers in Queensland. Realizing that adventurous young people will go almost anywhere - even to Timbuctoo - in order to experience the thrill of seeing new scenes, the department set out to induce young teachers to go to Darwin, and that is not to its credit. Some of the older teachers in the territory returned to Brisbane in disgust, hut the altered conditions still obtain. I appeal to the Minister to revert to the old conditions, and thereby restore harmony among the teachers. They certainly earn the period of leave provided for in the original agreement. The Northern Territory is the Cinderella of, not only the Commonwealth, but also the territories under its control. In no other Australian territory are technical officers so shamefully treated. I know that in the Malay States, to which many of my friends have gone, conditions are much better than in the Northern Territory. Honorable members would be shocked if they knew the facts. Technical men are constantly leaving the Northern Territory in order to obtain better positions elsewhere. The Surveyor-General is about to leave, and the Chief Draughtsman has left. I admit that the former is ill owing to overwork and the conditions. Others are trying to get away because of the treatment they receive. When I was in Darwin with the present Minister's predecessor, I was able, by prompt action, to retain to the department the services of an assayer. Mr. Williams, one of the later assayers, refused to work under the conditions imposed, and resigned. The previous assayer also was about to leave, but the then Minister (Mr. Paterson) without hesitation granted his request, and his services were retained. It would appear that no great trouble is experienced in granting improved conditions when the Minister has the will to do so.

Sir Charles Marr - The honorable member wants in the Northern Territory similar conditions to those which apply in other territories under the control of the Commonwealth ?

Mr BLAIN - That is so. I have heard from numbers of people that climatic conditions in Darwin are much worse than in New Guinea and other territories under Commonwealth control. I ask that teachers and technical officers, and, indeed, all Commonwealth officers in Darwin, be given the same conditions as apply to officers in the other territories. Members of the Administrator's staff at Darwin are there for the term of their natural life. Some have already been there for 25 years. In my opinion, there should be a rotational system, by which Darwin officers would be transferred to Canberra for a period of three years before returning to the north for a similar period. The sojourn in the better climate of Canberra would not only improve their health; it would also enable the officers of the department to gain valuable knowledge. I appeal also on behalf of the women and children of the territory. If the Minister were to seek the opinion of medical men in the territory he would be told that the lot of women there is not what it ought to be. I have already mentioned Dr. Nesbitt, of Townsville. He is now a Sydney specialist, and if the department is sufficiently interested it should approach him for information on this subject.

Mr Forde - What is the honorable member's opinion of the treatment of aborigines in the Northern Territory?

Mr BLAIN - I do not propose to refer to that subject at this stage. I should like the Minister to tell the committee the cost of the deferred judgment in respect of the Japanese pearling luggers which were arrested. Honorable members are entitled to that information.

The sum of £4,100 has been set down for " electric supply, Darwin and Alice Springs". Those places are 1,000 miles apart, yet the cost of these services is lumped together. We are entitled to know the separate costs. It seems strange that the expenditure in respect of scientific matters is frequently treated in this way. It would appear that honorable members are not expected to be interested in scientific matters. All honorable members are interested in them, even if only superficially. Those who attempt to hoodwink honorable members in this way regard us rather cheaply. Not all honorable members are ill-informed on scientific subjects, and even those who have little knowledge of such things are interested in them. In this connexion I compliment the honorable members for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) and Lilley (Mr. Jolly) on their speeches in regard to financial subjects upon which they are especially qualified to speak. They have asked for information in regard to certain accounts. I do not claim to he an expert in those matters, but I have some knowledge of technical and scientific matters and, like those honorable gentlemen, I desire some details of the things in which I am interested. The people of the Northern Territory are critical, and are inclined to blame me for my lack of information on certain subjects. They do not know how difficult it is to obtain information. When I was a staff surveyor for the Commonwealth Government I was not treated as generously as are those persons now conducting geophysical surveys in the territory. I do not know the intrinsic value of their work, although I have sought information on the subject, but I know that in some instances their camps are wasteful, and that they are surveying old and known fields, and refrain from putting a pick into the ground.

Mr James - Why does not the honorable member still engage in survey work in the territory?

Mr BLAIN - I should like to bo in charge of that area for 24 hours.

Mr Mulcahy - Why decry the Northern Territory?

Mr BLAIN - I am not doing so. I propose later to quote certain paragraphs from the Payne-Fletcher report in order to show that the two gentlemen who compiled that very valuable document have apparently received a gratuitous insult from the Government. Mr. Fletcher left his business as a pastoralist in Queensland on my special pleadings to engage in the important work with which he was entrusted, and Mr. Payne, as chairman, was requested by the Government of Queensland to see that justice was done to the Northern Territory. The report prepared by them is an outstanding document in that it did not exaggerate any of the favorable features of the Northern Territory, and it did not hide those which are unsatisfactory. In these circumstances I, as one who has classified land in the Northern Territory, have a right to ask why effect has not been given to the valuable recommendations which the report contains. The caro that these gentlemen exercised is summed up in a few paragraphs in their report. What they state can relate not only to north-western Australia, northern Queensland and the Northern Territory but also to all outlying parts of the Commonwealth. Mr. Payne, who was seised of the apathy of the Commonwealth in connexion with these outlying districts, suggested that they should be developed by the adoption, in the first place, of regional tariffs. In fact, when reporting on the Northern Territory he went even further and advocated the complete suspension of customs duties. If the Government cannot adopt that suggestion, surely it will favour the application of a regional tariff, particularly in respect of commodities used by basic industries upon which development so much depends. Such commodities include mining machinery, pumps, galvanized iron, Oregon, cement, wire netting, and all fencing materials. Surely it is not suggested that if these were admitted into the Northern Territory free of duty they would be carried over bush tracks into adjoining States where they are dutiable? If they were admitted free of duty all purchases could be recorded and the material traced until it was actually used. Paragraphs 36 to 38 of the Payne-Fletcher report read -

30.   Astudy of this map leads one inevitably to conclusions of great political and economic importance. All Australia is not equal. The prospect of a reasonable return from capital invested varies with the locality. Rainfall, productivity, transport, isolation, inherent natural difficulties - all these affect the position. Yet we are governing Australia as if all localities were equal. Little or no special encouragement is given to those who are endeavouring to develop the less-favoured parts of the continent. The governmental standards and charges of the populous areas are, willy nilly, applied to the whole.

37.   This position should be altered, and in no part of Australia is the need for alteration more pressing than in the territory. Many operations in the territory are of a " borderline '"hature. Without some special consideration, investment willnot, and cannot prudently take place. But given some differential treatment, calculated to place the investor in an equitable position in comparison with investors in the populous centres of the continent, then development will follow, and wealth will be produced from lands now idle and neglected. " Parity " of this nature with the rest of Australia is the outstanding requirement of the territory to-day, and this can only be given by the elimination of various governmental charges, which are fairly applicable to favored areas but not to regions where natural difficulties are more severe and prospects of profits more doubtful.

38.   This suggested re-orientation of policy, within the powers of the Commonwealth Constitution, becomes the foundation on which the development of the Northern Territory must rest. Without this foundation, on which to build new and increased efforts of development, little can be hoped for. If we are not prepared to vary and re-adapt our systems in the face of need then we must accept stagnation conditions in our less favored areas, and be ready to confess that the colonization genius of Australia is unequal to the task which confronts it. The necessary differential treatment in the case of the Northern Territory, as will be explained later, can easily and effectively be given without involving the Commonwealth in any material loss, and without burdening the community.

That is the opinion of well-informed men, yet the Government, by its delay, is offering them a gratuitous insult. The report is a statesmanlike document, displaying sound and farsighted judgment on the part of its authors, who understand the problems of the Northern Territory. Whether the report be from the standpoint of econo mics, practical politics, humanitarianism or national progress, the people have a right to demand that the Government shall give immediate effect to the recommendations contained in it.

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