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Wednesday, 10 September 1902

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - I think it a matter of regret that the honorable member for South Australia was not permitted to give the reasons which prompted him in desiring to withdraw this motion. Apparently, his reasons are to be found in some action taken by the South Australian Parliament. On the 18th April, 1901, you, Mr. Speaker, as Premier of South Australia, offered to the Commonwealth Government the privilege of taking over the Northern Territory of South Australia, in the following terms : -

I have now to intimate that the Government of South Australia is prepared to take the necessary steps to offer to the Federal Government the territory known as the Northern Territory, including; the railways and all other assets, on the Federal Government also assuming the liabilities of the territory.

The document from which that communication is taken gives the productions, receipts, and indebtedness of the Northern Territory. It seems to me that this is an offer which should not have been withdrawn or modified by a succeeding Govemment without communicating with the Commonwealth Government, to whom it was made. But from what I have learned from representatives of South Australia the offer has been modified to this extent : That the Commonwealth is asked to saddle itself with an undertaking to construct a railway over 1,000 miles in length, from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, and with the reservation of certain blocks of land along that line.

Mr Watson - For whose benefit ?

Mr MAHON - I presume that the reservations are to be in favour of certain syndicates who are to build the line.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Bill is notyet before the South Australian Parliament, though it is promised.

Mr MAHON - It seems to me that it approaches a breach of faith for the South Australian Government to depart from the conditions which it laid down a little more than a year ago, and communicated to the Commonwealth Government through its then Premier. When we enter into negotiations for the acquirement of the Northern Territory, as I hope we shall, I trust that no such condition as that to which I have just referred will be accepted by the Commonwealth Government. As every one who knows anything about the central part of South Australia is aware, a railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek would pass through an absolute desert.

Mr Watson - What about the McDonnell Ranges?

Mr MAHON - So far, they have not been productive of much wealth.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The gold mines there have been the most consistent in Australia during the last two years.

Mr MAHON - I have not heard of any great yields from the mines there ; if what the honorable member says be correct, the fact has been kept remarkably quiet. I repeat that for the greater part of the way the railway would pass through an absolute desert.


Mr MAHON - If that is not so, the reports which Mr. Gillen, Professor Spencer, and other authorities who have been through the country have given are scarcely to be relied upon.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They do not say that the country is an absolute desert.

Mr MAHON - If it is not an absolute desert, why is it that settlement has not approached even the fringe of it yet 1

Mr Watson - Because there has been no railway communication.

Mr MAHON - Settlement does not always wait for railway communication.

Mr Watson - Could we not say the same thing about the country between Tarcoola and Coolgardie 1

Mr MAHON - We are not at present discussing the character of the country between Tarcoola and Coolgardie. The Government of South Australia has loaded its offer of the Northern Territory with a new condition, which, in view of the loss that the construction of the proposed railway would inevitably entail, the Commonwealth Government cannot accept. The honorable member for Bland, who seems to take great interest in this matter, says that he is not in favour of the Northern Territory being elevated into the position of a State.

Mr Watson - I said, not at present.

Mr MAHON - I did not hear the qualification. Any one who looks at the map of Australia must see that the time is not very far distant when the Northern Territory, and the north-western portion of Western Australia, will have to be erected into the position of a separate State. Remember that Western Australia has carried this vast tract of country upon her back for many years, and the administration of the law alone has involved very heavy expenditure. I may remind honorable members who are giving due credit to South Australia for having preserved the Northern Territory for white people that some praise is also due to the Government of Western Australia for having prevented their North- Western territory from being overrun by coloured aliens. The Western Australian law provides that no Asiatics shall be allowed to come beyond a certain parallel of south latitude. When we approach questions fraught with enormous possibilities in the future, we should look at them from a broad stand-point, and in this case Ave have to consider the necessity that will probably arise for forming these two vast areas in the northern part of the continent into a compact State that some day will be qualified for admission into the union. J hope that the resolution will be adopted in its original form. I agree with the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, that if we accept the amendment, we shall probably 'lead those who are opposed to our dealing with the Northern Territory to believe that the movement is hanging fire, because it would be purely within the discretion of the Government whether they pursued inquiries or not. If, on the other hand, the motion is carried in its original form, it will commit the Commonwealth to taking the steps necessary to secure the control of the Northern Territory. That will be far more satisfactory than an order directing a vague inquiry which might or might not be followed up with practical results.

Sir William McMillan - It will be sufficient if the Government give us their assurance that an inquiry will be made.

Mr MAHON -^-1 have not heard of any such assurance having been given. I regret that the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Solomon, has not been able to explain his reasons for wishing to withdraw the motion. If it is submitted to the vote, I shall vote for it in its original form.

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