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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Mr NELSON (NORTHERN TERRITORY, NORTHERN TERRITORY) - I am pleased that the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) supports me in this contention. He has been over the country and he realizes the possibilities and acknowledges that we should at least receive the benefit of our own production. I suggest, in all seriousness, that the Government should consider widening the powers of the Legislative Council, even if safeguards to protect Commonwealth revenue are retained. The Government could now easily make the council fully elective or at least provide for the majority of its members to be elected, with the safeguard of a veto vested in this Parliament. This would give this Parliament an overriding power to veto any decisions which were not in line with Commonwealth policy, although I do not think that that power would be required. However, if the Government insisted on such a safeguard, there would be a means of keeping a check on the council, while allowing it a greater share of self-determination.

The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), in a previous debate, strenuously denied the suggestion that the Northern Territory was governed by remote control from Canberra, saying that there were 400 civil servants in the Northern Territory but only 200 in all sections of the Department of Territories in Canberra and Sydney. Unfortunately, the Minister is not here, but I should like him to tell me in what way the people of the Northern Territory have any positive say in the government of the country. As I have said, in the Legislative Council their elected representatives are in a minority. It is true that on one or two occasions Government nominees have felt that they could no longer support a Government measure and have voted with elected members, but on the whole the policy of the nominees, who comprise the majority of members of the council, is the policy of the Commonwealth Government, and they receive instructions directly from Canberra on how their votes should be exercised. I cannot see how, in the Legislative Council, the people can have to any degree a say in their own affairs.

Since 1922, when provision was first made for the Northern Territory to elect a representative in this Parliament, there has been no worthwhile amendment to the Northern Territory Representation Act. I stand here as a member of the Commonwealth Parliament virtually without any voting powers at all.

Mr J R FRASER - It is a disgrace.

Mr NELSON - The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) is in a like position. I should like to instance the position in which I, a duly elected representative of the people of the Northern Territory, found myself when recently I was appointed as secretary of the parliamentary Labour party. That appointment traditionally carries with it appointment as a teller in divisions in this House, but because of the Standing Orders and the limitations placed upon the extent of my representation, I was debarred from filling the position of teller. I believe that a strict application of the Standing Orders would require both the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory and me to walk out of the chamber when the division bells are rung. I should like the Government to point, if it can, to anything which shows that the people of the Northern Territory have an effective voice in their own affairs, either in the Legislative Council or in this Parliament. We have no senator to represent us. There is no constitutional barrier to having a senator to represent the Northern Territory nor to the Parliament enlarging the powers of the members who represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. There is no constitutional barrier to giving us full representation in this Parliament, but the Government has not seen fit to do so. That is the position to-day.

I should like to point out how remote control functions in relation to the Northern Territory. As I have mentioned, we have the Legislative Council, but the elected members are in a minority. Those members have no say in the placing on the- Estimates of works which they and their electors desire. They cannot say in the Legislative Council that they want a road, a bore, fencing or other improvements that would benefit their constituents. They have no such power. The Estimates are prepared in the departments of the Administration and are, in turn, vetted by the officers in Canberra. That is an aspect of remote control that completely destroys any illusion that the people have any say in the conduct of their affairs, either through their elected representative in Canberra or their elected representatives in the Legislative Council in Darwin.

We would place party politics to one side if the Government would take the opportunity now to review the representation of the people of the Northern Territory, the functions of the Legislative Council and the functions of the elected member in the House of Representatives. The people of the Northern Territory, through their elected representatives, should have an effective voice on matters that affect it. If the Government were to do that, it would only be giving to the people of the Northern Territory something that they are justly entitled to receive. It would be giving to the people of the Territory something that every person in the Australian States enjoys to-day. It appears that we in the Territory are a forgotten minority. We look across the seas at the fight being waged by minorities to take their place in the sun. We should realize that we can see the same thing in Australia.

People must be encouraged to go to the north to develop it. But people cannot be expected to leave the southern parts of Australia, where they enjoy full citizenship rights, to go to a place where they become part-time citizens. If the Government were to act immediately on my suggestion, it would not be acting too soon. The adoption of my proposal would react to the credit of the Government and would not in any way prejudice the responsibility of the Government to the taxpayers. It would only make for the contentment of the people of the north.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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