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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Debate resumed from 24th October (vide page 1751), on motion by Mr. Beale -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Mr. NELSON(Northern Territoray [8.2]. - First, I wish to say that the Opposition does not oppose this bill, which seeks to correct certain anomalies in connexion with the Northern Territory Legislative Council which we think have long been overlooked. These anomalies have been revealed specifically by the recent resignation of one of the elected members of the council in order to take a position with the Commonwealth Public Service. The measure now before the House seeks to clarify the position. When it becomes law, persons who seek nomination for election to the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory will know just where they stand. In addition, the bill will make clear the somewhat precarious position of some of the elected members who are serving on the council at the present time. As a result of this clarification, some of the members of the council, and one in particular, may be debarred from nominating for re-election in the future.

Although the bill will clarify the qualifications of elected members, it still will not widen the range of persons eligible to seek nomination for election. For instance, civil servants, whom the original legislation sought to bar in some instances, will be barred completely by this bill. At one time, it was thought that certain persons employed by the Northern Territory Administration were eligible for election, but as a result of the clarification of the position by the measure before the House they too will be debarred from serving on the council. The limitations placed in the way of those eligible to serve on the council in the past were somewhat peculiar. As was pointed out approximately three years ago, when the Government introduced legislation dealing with the matter, the act as it then stood debarred practically every resident of the Territory from seeking nomination for election to the council. For instance, the provision relating to contracts made it apparent that a person who held even a petty contract, such as a contract to maintain an aerodrome on a property - a job which, of course, only a person living on the property could do - for a payment of £20, £30 or £40 per annum, was automatically disqualified. Similarly, any person who held a Crown land lease in the north was disqualified. Any one who had contractual obligations to the Government was automatically disqualified.

However, the resignation to which I have referred brought the matter to a head, and as a result, the Government decided to clarify the position by means of legislation. Honorable members on this side of the House would have preferred to see the range of qualifications broadened to include civil servants, because we feel that a civil servant should not automatically be disqualified simply because he is a civil servant. Although the Minister stated, in his secondreading speech, that the council would not be called together until after a general election had been held, no mention has been made of the date of the general election. The Opposition considers that an indication by the Government that an election will take place some time before the New Year would allow the various interested parties in the north to get to work and plan their campaigns, so that they would be in a position to start campaigning the moment the decision was made. If, on the other hand, it is not the intention of the Government to hold an election until after Christmas, that fact should be made known, because at that time of the year many people leave the north for holidays in the south, if they are sufficiently fortunate, and if an election were to be held immediately after the Christmas holidays, they might not be able to avail themselves of the opportunity to participate.

When I said that the Opposition would not oppose this bill, I did not mean that we on this side of the chamber were satisfied with the present arrangement in relation to the Legislative Council. We believe that, in considering this legislation, it would have been opportune for the Government to say, " A crisis exists in relation to the council at the present time, and we shall investigate the whole of its activities. We think that this is an opportune time to extend the scope of the activities of the council ". In this respect, the Minister stated, in the course of his second-reading speech -

It came under notice that provisions incidental to the election of members had produced an unsatisfactory situation. It was desirable that this be remedied as early as possible. There has been no occasion for a wider review of the constitution, of the council, and no such wider review has been made.

The council, as we know it to-day, has functioned for some eight or nine years. It has functioned under this Government since 1949, and we of the Opposition think that it is time that a positive step was taken to widen its functions with a view to allowing the citizens of the north a great deal more say in their affairs than they have at the present time.

I do not think that it could be said that I am wasting the time of the Parliament to-night when I direct attention to the composition of the Northern Territory Legislative Council. It consists of a chairman and thirteen members, of whom six are elected and seven are nominated. The Administrator is the chairman of the council and he has a casting vote as well as a deliberative vote, which, in effect, means that the Government, through its nominated members, exercises nine votes to the six votes exercised by the elected members. I feel sure that in those conditions nobody could say that the people of the Northern Territory have a real say in their own affairs. Let me suggest some means whereby the Government could enlarge the opportunities of citizens to participate in their own local government. At present, the representatives of the people are in the minority. There has been no attempt, in the nine or ten years of the council's existence, to increase the representation of the people. It is true that three years ago some minor amendments were made to the Northern Territory (Administration) Act, under which the Northern Territory Legislative Council is established, but those amendments were purely of a machinery character and did nothing to broaden the functions of the council or to improve its composition. It would be impossible for the Government to say that the elected members of the council have not discharged their duties with a sense of responsibility and with credit to themselves. The Government could not say that the elected members have acted irresponsibly, and therefore any suggestion that the people of the Northern Territory are not capable of looking after their own affairs and governing themselves cannot be sustained.

When wider powers for the people of the north are sought, the retort always is that the Australian taxpayers find the money required for the development of the north and so they must have the final say in the disbursement of those funds. We agree that possibly the Australian taxpayers generally do find most of the money that is expended in the north, but we say that the expenditure by the Commonwealth of money in the north is an investment, and virtually an insurance policy for the rest of Australia. The money expended by the Commonwealth Government .in the Northern Territory is not nearly as much as the Government suggests from time to time. There are sources of revenue which are not credited to the accounts of the Northern Territory Administration. I refer to the profits that are made by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission from the development and exploitation of the Rum Jungle uranium field. Some millions of pounds must be earned annually and profitably on this project. It is impossible to obtain an exact figure, because the Government refuses to divulge the profits that are made. We know that the profits are substantial, and that if they were credited to the accounts of the Northern Territory Administration it would be shown that we are not a great burden on the Australian people. I should say that we have very nearly reached the stage of financing development from production.

Mr Davis - Hear, hear!

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