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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- 1 hope that the indigenous inhabitants of Moree, in the division of Gwydir, will: accept the explanation just made by their representative in this place (Mr. Ian Allan).

I was delighted that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) was stirred by the remarks of the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) to reveal that it is proposed this session to amend the act under which the Northern Territory is governed. I think that it is high time such action was taken. The population of the Northern Territory has, I think, trebled since the war, and is not so incomparablewith -the population of Queensland at the time Queensland was given self-government 100 years ago this year, or with the population of Western Australia when that State was given self-government about 60 years ago, that we should not now consider giving the Northern Territory self-government, or at least a greater measure of selfgovernment than it has enjoyed since the last act dealing with it was passed, I think, in 1948. It is true that there are singularly few people in the Northern Territory who are neither in government employment nor obligated to the Government in some other way. That can bc cured possibly bv an ordinance of the Northern Territory Legislative Council, which the Governor-General would approve on the Minister's recommendation, or by an act of this Parliament. It is more important, however, that the majority of persons in the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory should be elected by the people of that Territory. It may be said, and quite rightly, that the Northern Territory is still largely dependent on subventions from the Commonwealth Parliament and therefore should not be given too free a hand in how these subventions are disbursed. The same criticisms can also be made, although to a slightly lesser extent, about the three smaller States in the Commonwealth, and nobody suggests that they should be denied selfgovernment for that reason. This is not to suggest that the present State boundaries, defined more than 100 years ago in the United Kingdom, are ideal for our present needs. But. at all events, we have in our disposal how the Northern Territory will be governed, how it will be governed in connexion with those things that concern the Northern Territory alone, how, further, we will give it representation in this Parliament - not only in this place but in the other place also. The Constitution enables us to decide how the Territory will be represented, under what conditions, and in which House of the Parliament it shall be represented or whether it shall be represented in both Houses. Many of Australia's governmental problems would be easier of solution, and many of our strategic and developmental problems would be better handled, and brought home more to the people of Australia, if the Northern Territory were represented in this Parliament, not by, as at present, one industrious and indefatigable member of this chamber, but by members of both chambers of this Parliament. When there is a majority of elected members in the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, it will then, 1 would hope, be transmuted into a legislative assembly.

Mr Hasluck - Would you give them ten senators to represent them here?

Mr WHITLAM - No, and I would not give some of the States ten senators. The Minister knows quite well my attitude towards the Senate. I would think that, with the growth of parliamentary democracy and the decline of State jealousies, some government will some day have the courage to ask the Australian people to abolish the Senate, or give them the opportunity to decide whether it should at this stage be abolished. But 1 do say that the Northern Territory is so important to Australia because of its situation and its potential that it should in the meantime have some representation in the Senate. And the Constitution leaves it completely open to this Parliament to decide whether the Northern Territory should be represented in the Senate, whether it should be represented by two senators or twenty senators, and whether its representatives should hold office for three years or for 30 years, or should retire together, or half of them at alternate elections. That is entirely in our disposal. Since the Minister is good enough to seek my opinion on it, I think he should start out with two senators for the Northern Territory and two representatives in this chamber, all of them with full voting rights. The Constitution enables us to provide such representation, so why are we delaying in that respect? Is it because the Northern Territory is becoming less important strategically or economically to Australia? Surely not.

The other department to which I wish to direct my remarks has been deprived, I regret to say, of the benefit of its Minister's presence in the chamber to-night. I am referring to the Department of Primary Industry, a department which surely requires more explanation and elucidation than any other department. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), who came fresh to this department from his triumphs in the Department of Social Services and the departments of Navy and Air, has been unable to give us any explanation of the functions of his department. Many questions have been asked of him. and not once has he been able to accept for his department the responsibility that is his, and which led honorable members to ask questions of him and to Mr. Speaker's allowing them to ask him questions. One would thing that one of the functions of this new satellite department of the Department of Trade would be that of co-ordinating the development of our primary industries wherever they may be in Australia and, where necessary, giving financial assistance to them. The Minister was asked on 6th March last when the Australian Agricultural Council would next meet - that body upon which every State, and the Commonwealth itself, are represented and the body which is the only co-ordinating body for agricultural matters in Australia. The Minister said in reply to that question - i am not able to say at present when a meeting will be held, but as soon as i can make arrangemen s i shall let the honorable member know.

He certainly did not let the honorable member know in this chamber, if the arrangements have since been made. He said he had arranged for various papers to be circulated to the State Ministers for Agriculture because he " thought that they contained subject-matter for subsequent discussion, related to matters which required attention by the State government concerned ".

Then there was his answer to a question asked by the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) about relief in respect of flood damage in Australia and its really catastrophic effect on our primary production in the whole of the inland areas of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia last year and this year. This was the Minister's answer on the appalling devastation in the Murray-Darling River system -

Most honorable members will realize that this problem is mainly one for the State governments.

That was on 15th February last. Then, on 11th April, another honorable member asked him about water conservation and irrigation in general, and the co-ordination of those matters on an Australia-wide basis so as to make Australia more productive. In particular, a question was asked concerning the McGarvie-Smith Animal Husbandry and Experimental Station at Badgery's Creek, which is almost within my electoral orbit, and the Minister replied -

This farm is being run by the Sydney University and, therefore, is not under the direct control of ihe Commonwealth Government.

We helped to finance it, but that is the excuse made by the Minister, and no further information is given. On 22nd February, the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) had asked the Minister a question concerning the land settlement of exservicemen - soldier settlement, in other words - that form of closer settlement which is indubitably within the sphere of the Commonwealth Government under its defence powers and which, in this instance, the Commonwealth exercises in three States and allows the State governments to exercise, with its money, in the other three States. On this subject, a bill was introduced to-day. The Minister replied, " The matter is one within the jurisdiction of the States".

Those matters which are not within the jurisdiction of the States are, apparently, within the jurisdiction of other departments. The honorable member for Mitchel! (Mr. Wheeler) asked the Minister abou', the importation of new poultry strains to Australia, a matter which is of considerable importance to the poultry industry, our fourth largest exporting industry. The Minister replied, " I think that it would be a problem that would come more within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Health ".

Mr Wheeler - The honorable member would get no satisfaction out of him, either.

Mr WHITLAM - It is a pity the Ministers are not here to note the fraternal accord between us. That was on 3rd May.

Then the Minister was asked a question by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser), a young Liberal who still retains his vigor, or rather verve in these matters - his vigor is yet to be proved, 1 believe - and who is as yet undeterred by uncommunicative Ministers. The question concerned the wool stores at Portland in his electorate, a good bread and butter question, but nevertheless one that vitally concerns Australia's principal exporting, industry. The Minister replied, "These stores are now under the control of the Department of Supply ".

Then, other questions have been asked1 on various specific primary products. The Minister for Primary Industry is to be commended on his growing interest in such subjects because hitherto his interest in cultivation has been confined to the window boxes of Birtley Towers. On 22nd May, the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) asked him a question on dairying and the Minister gave a long reply which was epitomized by the remark tha: " decisions of the kind that he has mer.tioned are not within the jurisdiction or the Commonwealth Government ". Then, on 26th September, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) asked the Minister a question concerning potatoes which. I would think, are definitely a primary and principal article of produce. The Minister replied, again in a long reply - not as fulsome or as glowing as he usually vouchsafe^ to honorable members on the Government side - that " potato production falls withinthe province of the State governments " Thereupon, when the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) asked the Minister it there were any subjects which were within his province, the Minister replied, " I like answering questions " - this was the concluding sentence of a long reply - " but if they are irrelevant 1 am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would be the first to say ' Let them know that they are irrelevant and let them know that their State colleagues have some responsibility for these problems,".

There are some functions on which the Minister has to impart information to the House, namely subjects upon which he has to make annual reports. There are also some subjects upon which reports are made to him. A former Minister, a very capable and outstanding Minister in this field, a soldier settler, a man of experience both in practice and administration - the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) - asked the Minister if he would make available a report of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in relation to the cost of production of the dried fruits industry. The Minister said, " I shall consider his request, and if I think that any useful purpose can be served in making the report available, I shall let him know ". Can honorable members imagine a more churlish and supercilious reply on a subject which definitely comes within the Minister's province, upon which he received a report, and upon which he did not deign to give information to honorable members?

Lastly, there is the case of the notorious report, the farewell report of the Australian Whaling Commission, whose affairs were discussed earlier this year. After those affairs were discussed, and after a bill winding up, and in fact practically giving away, the assets of that great and successful, public, pioneering activity had been passed by this House, the report was at last presented to the Parliament in which the commission said -

During the negotiations which have taken place for the sale of the Commission's assets, the Commission has been in a most invidious position as its operations and financial returns have been the subject of attack from many quarters. lt compares its financial operations over the years when it was in operation with those of the company to which its assets were disposed.

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