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Wednesday, 9 November 1910
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Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - This clause proposes to give permanency to the appointment of an Administrator, and sufficient reasons have not yet been advanced for making the office a permanent one. It is idle for the VicePresident of the Executive Council to say that Parliament has powers reserved to it, by which it may alter the conditions surrounding that appointment. I would invite the attention of the Committee to the important privileges which it is proposed to confer upon the Administrator. What was the Government doing a short time ago? It was fighting for the administration of the Northern Territory to be left in the hands of the Minister of External Affairs, because, under the Papua Act, the administration of Papua as a Territory had been intrusted to him.


Senator McGregor - No.


Senator ST LEDGER - The conditions in the Northern Territory are entirely different. While for administrative purposes it might be left for the present under the Department which is administering Papua, there are reasons why we should hasten some portion of our legislation which cannot possibly apply to the case of Papua. For a long time to come Papua will be occupied by its own native people, and we want to keep them there if we can preserve them. But a diametrically different problem confronts us in the Northern Territory. The whole object, I take -it, is to make it rapidly a white man's country. What has been the whole object of the political development of the States ? It has been to leave the government in the hands of their own people. We want to see the Northern Territory erected into a State as soon as possible and administered very largely by elected representatives, subject, of course, to our paramount authority.


Senator Rae - Five years is not a long period.


Senator ST LEDGER - It is too long in this case, and it is because of the length of the term and of the essential difference between the two problems that I plead for delay and caution. Questions of railway policy are bound to come up hereafter. At present we are dealing with the simple problem of administration. The success of the administration will depend, to a very large extent, upon the nature of the Constitution to be framed hereafter.


Senator McGregor - On the ability of the Administrator.


Senator ST LEDGER - Yes, a great deal will depend upon the Administrator; but the Government might happen to appoint the wrong man. My particular objection to the clause is that an appointment' for five years would place a large amount of power in the hands of a single individual. Apparently, the Government intend to rely more upon the personality of the Administrator than upon the inherent merits of the Constitution itself. Let me ask the Committee to consider the great privileges which this measure confers upon the Administrator. He is to be appointed by commission under the seal of the Commonwealth. Those who are familiar with the effect of such appointments know that once the Administrator has been placed in that position, under the seal of the Commonwealth, he will have tremendous powers over the Ministry who appointed him, and he cannot be easily controlled, unless he should happen to commit a flagrant offence.


Senator Vardon - Will not his duties be clearly defined?


Senator ST LEDGER - I dare say that the duties of the Administrator will be laid down, but once the commission under the seal of the Commonwealth has been issued, who can check him in his administration? The commission itself cannot control him, and the only way in which he can be controlled is suggested by the words " shall hold office, subject to good behaviour, for five years." Except as regards a time limitation, his appointment is subject to the same conditions as is the appointment of a. lawyer to the Bench of the High Court. His appointment will be made, subject to good behaviour, for five years. During that period, he will exercise all the powers and functions which belong to his office, according to the tenor of his commission, and such instructions as are given to him by the Minister. It is almost impossible to conceive of wider powers being given to a single individual under a commission, than the Government will have given to this Administrator when they send him up to the Northern Territory with a commission under the seal of the Commonwealth. The Vice-President of the Executive Council admits that impliedly, because he says, and rightly says, that much will depend upon the character of the man. He urges us to give a discretion to the Executive because they want to get a good man. Inferentially, when he is obtained, he must be allowed a large, discretion in the exercise of his powers. Under sub-clause 3, the branch of the Public Service which will be required for the administration of the Northern Terri tory is to be largely in the hands of the

Administrator, who, if he is a capable man, will be stronger than the Executive itself.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.


Senator ST LEDGER - It is proposed to give the Administrator of the Northern Territory very large powers. He will enjoy those powers for a term which", under the circumstances, is, in my opinion, far too long. The proposal seems to me to be in conflict with the policy of the Government. What is going to happen until the proclamation is issued? The white population of the Territory will be practically disfranchised. We do not desire to leave them in that position. How can we relieve them immediately ? We can only do so by framing a Constitution for the Territory. When we begin to consider that question, we shall, to use a common expression, be "up against" one of the most important constitutional issues that can be brought before us for solution. I suggest that the. clause should be made to read -

The Governor-General may appoint an Administrator for the Territory.- The Administrator shall be appointed by the GovernorGeneral by Commission under the seal of the Commonwealth.

That would give the Executive complete control over the officer appointed. I propose to omit the words " shall hold office subject to good behaviour for five years " ; because, if those words are retained they will enable the Government to delay dealing finally with the government of the Territory for five years, and the official appointed will have a lien on his office for that term.


Senator McGregor - How can we get a man worthy of the office unless we give him a five years' tenure? Who would accept the appointment for less?


Senator ST LEDGER - When the Government make the appointment, then, it is intended that the Administrator shall hold it for a term of five years?


Senator McGregor - Certainly.


Senator ST LEDGER - I do not think that we ought to place ourselves in that position. The matter is too important to allow the Government to approach it from that stand-point. To do so may leave unsolved for a considerable period a grave constitutional question that it behoves us to settle as rapidly as possible. I do not want to secure permanency for a bureaucratic administration under a possibly bureaucratic Administrator.







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