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Wednesday, 29 June 1921

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - With respect to the items having to do with the Northern Territory, of which there are six, aggregating £8,920, I wish to ask whether, in view of information concerning recent occurrences in the Territory, the Government can furnish the public with any idea of their intentions ? When may a statement of policy be expected ? It would appear that in the course of their administration the Commonwealth officials at Darwin have experienced considerable difficulty in collecting taxes. A number of residents have refused to make payment, and have been imprisoned. By certain of their fellow citizens these people are regarded as martyrs. According to press reports today, a large meeting was held at Darwin last night, and among those present was a gentleman who took part in prosecuting an offender. Presumably he had been engaged by the Commonwealth to conduct the case against a person who had refused to pay his taxes ; but the circumstance of his presence at the meeting would seem, to indicate that, in his opinion, there was justification for the gathering.

Several-resolutions were agreed to concerning the future attitude of residents and having to do with the representation of the Territory in the Federal Legislature.

Earlier this session the Government introduced a Bill into the Senate which contained a proposal to grant a certain degree of representation in this Chamber. It failed to pass, however. Since then there has been some indication that the claims of the residents of the Northern Territoryto modified representation elsewhere would be considered.

The Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton) has recently visited the Territory, and perhaps upon his return some definite announcement may be made. That extreme northern part of Australia has been the cause of considerable embarrassment to the Commonwealth Administration, and, whatever may be said concerning the merits or demerits of the situation, the obvious fact remains that the administration has not been very satisfactory. In so commenting, I do not refer merely to the present Government or to any particular Government or Minister. Apart' altogether from the feelings of the residents, there is strong apprehension on the part of the community generally regarding the future of the Territory, where much Commonwealth money has been, and is being spent. I do not expect that the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) will be able, or is prepared, to make a comprehensive reply at this moment ; but it is due to the public and particularly to citizens of the Northern Territory, that as soon as possible the Commonwealth authorities should indicate their intention to make an exhaustive pronouncement of policy. Meanwhile, trouble at Darwin is becoming intensified, and is likely to grow worse until the Government shall have broken their long silence. I do not expect any statement, however brief or lacking in definiteness, before the return of the Minister for Some and Territories, but it should tend to restore norma] conditions if the Government took the earliest practicable occasion to indicate their future line of action.

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