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Wednesday, 8 March 1961


Mr NELSON (Northern Territory) - by leave - Mr. Speaker, I have listened with a great deal of interest to the reasons given by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) for the disallowance by the Government of two amendments to legislation recently passed by the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, he did nothing to clarify the main point at issue - the right of the Legislative Council to make laws for the order and good government of the Northern Territory. It is not a question of the view of the Government on a particular matter. Rather it is a matter of what a majority of members of the Legislative Council can do in respect of legislation.

It might be well if we recall the fact that the elected members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory are in a minority and, to pass legislation through that council, they have to win the support of two, at least, of three nominated non-official members who have been appointed to the council by the Government itself. If the elected members win the support of two of those three nominated non-official members they become the majority and pass legislation through the council. This is what has happened in respect of the two measures that have been disallowed. These members have, in their wisdom, declared that the measures which they supported were passed in the best interests of the people of the Northern Territory, after due consideration and by a majority decision of that council.

We challenge what has been done in this matter on a question of principle and not on a question of whether or not the Government holds certain views in respect of the legislation. The Government has completely disregarded that aspect of the matter. No mention of it was made in the Minister's speech. Let us look back a matter of twelve months to the legislation which the Government introduced into this House to amend the set-up of the Northern Territory Legislative Council. That legislation was brought in as the result of a walkout by all the elected members of the Legislative Council, as the result of which the council ceased to function. I quote from page 857 of "Hansard" of the 19th March, 1959, when the Minister introduced the legislation. He had this to say -

The main elements in that reform are: Firstly, a strengthening of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory and changes in its structure and membership designed to make it more widely representative of the Northern Territory community- and I emphasize these words - and to end the official majority in the Council.

If that does not presuppose that in future the Government will take heed of the wish of the majority of members of the council, I do not know what it does mean.

In a matter of months the council has passed two very important pieces of legislation - among others - and after a lapse of five months they have been disallowed. The time lapse is significant. I think the Government should at least have said to the council, " We are not interested in this legislation. Take it back and amend it." But six months passed before the disallowance provisions were brought into force.

If we examine the licensing ordinance, we find that the elected members, in their wisdom, together with the Government's nominated non-official members, considered that some discretionary power should reside in the magistrate when trying cases involving the supply of liquor to natives. Is this some unusual provision in the laws of Australia? Certainly not! There is provision everywhere for discretionary power to be exercised by a magistrate. Has the Government so little confidence in the magistrates that it is unwilling to allow this power to reside in their hands? There is provision in existing legislation for an appeal to be brought to the Supreme Court against conviction by a magistrate. Certainly, convicted persons can appeal, but what is the cost involved? Appeals are costly procedures. We say that the power should reside in the hands of the magistrate who in the first instance tries a person for this offence. I would be the last one to water down the provisions for the punishment of a person for supplying liquor to natives, because I know what the consequences are.

AH the members of the Legislative Council know the dire consequences that can flow from the practice of supplying liquor to natives, and they can face up to their responsibilities. Knowing the consequences, they still feel that in exceptional cases a discretionary power in the hands of the magistrate is needed. That is all they ask. We know that from time to time there are cases in which there are exceptional circumstances, and we also know the agitation that has arisen on occasions in regard to particular cases, appeals concerning which have later been upheld by the Supreme Court. At the present time the law in the Northern Territory makes a mockery of the old principle that it is better that twenty guilty persons escape than that one innocent person be convicted. The law in the Northern Territory now reverses that principle, and the hands of the magistrate hearing a case are bound in such a way that he has no alternative to the imposition of a penalty of six months' imprisonment without the option of a fine.

The members of the Legislative Council who considered these measures are men of experience in the Northern Territory. It is true that officers of the Native Welfare Department have had wide experience in administering the laws applicable to the natives - but so, too, have the members of the Legislative Council. They are all residents of the Northern Territory. Some of them have- resided there all their lives. They, too, have the interests of the natives at heart, and they would be the last persons in the world to wish to see placed on the statute-book any legislation that would be detrimental to the interests of the natives. That is the position at present.

Now I pass to the Lottery and Gaming Ordinance. I remind the Minister of the high moral principle expressed on page 4 of the typewritten copy of his statement regarding the disallowance of this measure. He said, referring to the Government - in talcing this view if has had regard to the fact that it not only has an administrative responsibility in the Northern Territory but also has to consider such questions from the wider national stand-point.

The Minister should know - and I think he does know - that already similar laws exist in Victoria and New South Wales, and that Queensland is also considering legislation along these lines. So apparently the State governments feel no concern such as is felt by the Commonwealth about this kind of legislation. The members of the Legislative Council believe that exceptional circumstances exist in the Northern Territory which make desirable an amendment along the lines suggested.

The amendments to these two laws which the Northern Territory Legislative Council has made were prompted by the constituents of members of the council. The members have not just thought these things up themselves. They have heeded the wishes of the electors whom they represent, and have put these wishes into legislative form. They consider that these measures are not irresponsible. They regard them as measures that would satisfy some of the needs of the people in that part of the world.

The disallowance of the two bills, Mr. Speaker, has already brought about the resignation of the two members of the Legislative Council who were nominated by the Government as members of the Administrator's Council, which is a vital corollary of the Legislative Council. Those two members have resigned in protest against the disallowance of the two measures, not so much, I believe, because of what is contained in the measures, but as a matter of principle. Their resignation, of course, brings to a standstill the work of the Administrator's Council, and I feel that in the long run it will also bring to a standstill the whole of the work of the Legislative Council itself.

The people of the Northern Territory are asking what value there was in the words that the Government used when it introduced an amended constitution for the Legislative Council which, it claimed, would widen the powers of the council, thus placing more power in the hands of the people of the Northern Territory. These people are now asking whether they are living in a democracy. The action taken by those two members of the Legislative Council is the only way they have of registering an emphatic protest. That action will prevent the functioning of a very important part of the Northern Territory's legislative machinery. I say to the Minister that the present situation calls for some prompt action on the part of the Government to restore the position and to widen the power of the Legislative Council so as to allow the people in the north the right that should belong to any people in a democracy - the right to have a say in their own destiny. It is only by giving people in the north, or anywhere else for that matter, an effective say in the control of their destiny that you can have a happy and contented people.

Mr. HASLUCK(Curtin- Minister for Territories). - In accordance with the provisions of section 4z of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910-1959, 1 lay on the table the following papers: -

Licensing Ordinance (No. 2) 1960.

Lottery and Gaming Ordinance (No. 2) 1960.

These are the ordinances to which assent has been withheld by the Administrator of the Government of the Commonwealth. I also table a statement of the reasons for withholding of assent in each case.







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