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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3310

Senator KILGARIFF(5.51) —I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without making some mention of the importance of the Referendum ( Constitution Alteration) Amendment Bill 1983 to the people of the Northern Territory, of the Australian Capital Territory and of Jervis Bay, for it proposes that in future they will have the right to vote in referenda. So, this Bill is of considerable significance to those people. Prior to the action from which this legislation flows, the people of these Territories-and I think I can speak on behalf of them-were very resentful of the fact that when a referendum was held they were denied the opportunity available to electors of the States to cast their votes as to the future of Australia and its Constitution. People in the north-I speak particularly of the Northern Territory-saw decisions being made by a process in which they could not participate. I believe this fact is quite obvious too to the people who are flocking to the Northern Territory now. People living in the southern States had the opportunity to participate fully in decisions reached at referendums concerning Australia. Once they came to the Territory and joined the electors of the Northern Territory they became second class citizens. This state of affairs has been resented fiercely over the years. On days when referendums were held there were many demonstrations by the people to indicate their displeasure. At the referendum in 1977, the Australian people voted overwhelmingly to allow electors of the Territories to participate in referendums. The people of the Northern Territory were very pleased at that vote and have shown their gratitude. Once this Bill has been passed by the Parliament and is enacted, the people of the Territories will be able to participate in all referendums including those that are to be put to the people in February next year. The achievement of this right, in common with many other constitutional steps that have been taken affecting the Territory over the years, is a considerable milestone.

Let me look back very briefly-and I will be brief-in chronological order at the events that have taken place in this respect in the Territory. By very slow degrees, constitutional changes have occurred to allow the people to participate in the decision-making processes that have been available to the other citizens of Australia. The Northern Territory was first settled in 1824. It was part of New South Wales from that year until 1863 when, by letters patent, it was annexed to South Australia from New South Wales. In 1868, the towns of Palmerston, Southport, Virginia and Daly were surveyed. In 1869, Palmerston was selected as the site for the chief town in the Northern Territory.

It is interesting to note that, in 1890, the Northern Territory voters were enfranchised through two members of the South Australian Parliament as part of the electorate of Grey. In 1901, at Federation, the Northern Territory became part of the Federal electorate of Grey. In 1911, the Northern Territory passed from South Australia to Commonwealth jurisdiction under the Northern Territory Acceptance Act (No. 20 of 1910). I presume that between 1901 and 1911, the electors of the Northern Territory, then belonging to the South Australian electorate of Grey, had some representation in the Senate and perhaps-I have not been able to ascertain whether this was the case-very briefly in that period they had the opportunity to participate in a referendum. However, in 1911, with the Territory being passed to the Commonwealth of Australia came that period when the Northern Territory had all its rights removed. One could say that they were people without a soul. They were citizens of Australia yet they could not participate in its government. They had no franchise whatsoever.

In 1923, the Northern Territory obtained a seat in the House of Representatives but the member had very restricted voting rights. In 1939, the Darwin Town Management Board was formed. In 1945, the Northern Territory (Administration) Act was set up; a legislative council was formed; and elections were held in that year. It is interesting to note that this measure which was taken to give the people of the Territory some small say in their own affairs was described in those days as the seven/six treatment. Seven people who were departmental heads and public servants were nominated to the Council. Six people from the Northern Territory were elected to that body. The six elected representatives of the people of the Northern Territory said that the seven departmental heads and public servants who were nominated to the council hit them very solidly and refused them their very many requests. This was caused by the seven/six treatment.

Senator Harradine —Nothing has changed.

Senator KILGARIFF —It has changed, Senator Harradine, but very, very slowly. At least the people in the Northern Territory--

Senator Harradine —I mean in Canberra, not the Northern Territory.

Senator KILGARIFF —I must say that it took many years to shake off the yoke of Canberra, and it has not been quite shaken off yet; but we have fine hopes and great expectations for the future. In 1959, the Northern Territory Federal member was granted voting rights in the House of Representatives. Imagine that now! It took that many years before the member for the Northern Territory could stand up in his own right and speak and vote on behalf of the people. In 1969, there was a further constitutional measure in the Northern Territory by which to the new legislative body eight members were elected and six departmental heads and three non-official members were appointed. This measure was taken from the New South Wales colonial practices of some 100 years ago. Still, the Northern Territory progressed by degrees.

In 1973, the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory was established by the Federal Parliament to examine constitutional reform. Its report was most helpful . In 1974, the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly sat for the first time as a fully elected body. That was a tremendous milestone. In 1975, as honourable senators would know, for the first time, two Northern Territory people were elected to the Senate. In 1977, it was announced that the Northern Territory would have self-government from 1 July 1979. So, from that date, the Northern Territory became a self-governing territory in most matters.

I note that when this Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives the then Special Minister of State, Mr Young, said that the Government was pleased to state that as a result of the referendum, which followed a decision in legislative form passed by both Houses, the denial to electors of the Northern Territory of the right to vote in referendums was being rectified. The situation as it will stand after this legislation is enacted is that the electors of the Northern Territory will be able to vote in referendums although there are still some differences between their position and that of the electors of the States of Australia. For the people in the Northern Territory the proposal now is that their votes shall be counted, and I quote from the second reading speech:

. . . only as part of the national vote-that is to say, they would not be regarded as being part of any of the States or of determining the majority view of the States but they would contribute to the determination of the majority view of the nation.

The votes of people in the Territories will be counted in the national count. Of course, the Territories as such will not have any bearing on the outcome of a referendum.

That brings me to the last point, the very slow process that I have enumerated over the years by which the people of the Northern Territory have gradually been given more say in their affairs and the affairs of Australia. The next step, of course, to put the people of the north on a par with the people in the States is for the Northern Territory to become a State. I will not speak at length on that matter. However, the population of the Northern Territory is increasing at three times the national average partly because thousands of young people are being attracted by the developments that are taking place. The population of the Northern Territory is increasing by half as much again as the increase in the population of, say, Queensland. Many people are flocking to the Northern Territory to help, together with the present population, the development of that region. Therefore, because of the increase in population and the industrial development I foresee that it will not be very long before the people of the Northern Territory will be looking for further constitutional change as the final step to statehood. When that happens they will then be able to claim for the first time to be on the same footing as our cousins in the six States of Australia. I support the Bill. As I have said before, it will give much pleasure to people of the Territories. I believe there will be much celebration in the Northern Territory in February when the people of the territory vote on the five referendum points because this ability to vote on referenda is a further milestone in the development of the Territory.