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Thursday, 22 April 1915

Mr SAMPSON (Wimmera) . - I am glad that the honorable member for Grey has brought forward the question of the government and general administration of the Northern Territory. We all sympathize with the Minister ir* the difficult task before him with regard to the development and peopling of that part of the continent, and recognise, I think, that the problem of the development of two-thirds of the northern portion of Australia by the Commonwealth Parliament is one of the most difficult that has ever engaged the attention of any Legislature. The future success of this continent will depend upon the ability of the Parliament and of the people of Australia to provide a means by which the Northern Territory areas can be successfully settled and cultivated. I do not think that any honorable member has yet formulated any detailed scheme that is likely to be attended with success, but we are all convinced that we cannot allow the present conditions to continue. We are spending a large sum of money on purely administrative purposes, without getting one whit nearer the formulation of a definite policy for the development of the Territory. We search in vain for any item in the huge expenditure on the Northern Territory which is of a purely developmental character. I, in company with several supporters of the present Government, some time ago travelledover a large portion of the Territory. We were on horseback, and journeyed some 250 miles or more south from Darwin. I have heard it stated, and it is certainly true, that some 300,000 or 400,000 head of cattle are annually raised in the Territory, and that cattle stations are profitably conducted some 300 or 400 miles south of Darwin.

Mr Poynton - On the Victoria Downs.

Mr SAMPSON - We have the Victoria Downs station and the Wave Hill station. The Barklay tablelands generally are being devoted, with success, to the raising of cattle. That part of the country which is now being used for grazing purposes, and which supplies the export trade of the Territory, will never be settled in anything less than large grazing holdings.

Mr Carr - I disagree with the honorable member.

Mr SAMPSON - It has a rainfall of from 15 to 20 inches per annum, which might be very useful in the southern part of Australia, where our falls take place in seasonable periods, and where we cad follow a system of agriculture such as is being carried on in the older countries of the world. But such a rainfall in the tropics is of very little use for agricultural purposes, since it occurs during only a limited period of the year. If we are to have any closer settlement in the Northern Territory, I am satisfied, from my own observations, that it can take place only in the area stretching from Darwin 250 miles southwards.

Mr Poynton - Wheat is being grown on the Fink River mission station.

Mr SAMPSON - It may be grow there to a limited extent, but to say that we are likely to have an agricultural community settled on a tropical area where there is a rainfall of from 15 to 20 inches is to disregard our own experience in Australia. I feel convinced that we cannot hope to develop anything like closer settlement in the Northern Territory, save on the country running from Darwin to a point 250 miles from the coast. There we have the river system of the Northern Territory. Although Darwin has a rainfall of something like 60 inches per annum, running down to about 40 inches per annum 200 miles south, the whole of it falls within three months - and those the hottest months - of the year. During nine months of the year there is practically no rainfall. How is it possible, in such circumstances, to carry on anything like agricultural production ?

Mr Carr - The period during which no rain falls is less than nine months of the year.

Mr SAMPSON - Then let us fix it at eight months. Rain begins to fall in November, and is all over by March.

Mr Burns - Could we not have irri1gation thrre?

Mr SAMPSON - I was about to say that in irrigation we have the salvation of the Northern Territory. When last year's Estimates were under consideration, I suggested to the Minister of External Affairs that the first step to be taken towards the closer settlement of the Northern Territory was that of securing a comprehensive report on the river system of the Territory, and the extent to which it is possible to conserve and utilize water there for closer settlement purposes.

Mr Dankel - Where are we going to get the settlers for closer settlement?

Mr SAMPSON - We must certainly obtain them.

Mr Burns - Could not the area referred to by the honorable, member be devoted to mixed farming?

Mr SAMPSON - Yes. Settlers could grow, not only jute and cotton, but fodder crops for dairy herds, and also fodder forthe fattening of stock for export. I am4 satisfied that we can hope to develop theNorthern Territory only by means of irrigation; and, as an initial step, the Minister should obtain a comprehensive report from experts who have had experience of irrigation in tropical countries as to the possibilities of the Northern Territory in this regard.

Sitting suspended from 6.S0 to 7.4.5 p.m,

Mr SAMPSON - The task, as I stated before the sitting was suspended, of the Minister of External Affairs in formulating a policy for the Northern Territory is the most difficult work that any Minister could undertake. At any rate, it is equivalent in importance to the question of the defence of Australia, because the Territory is a part of the Commonwealth which will need to be defended sooner or later, and which can only be defended by the settlement of population. We should deal with this matter of the development of the Northern Territory apart from party considerations, but while I hold this view I am sorry to say that I think the Government have made a fundamental mistake in the very beginning of their Northern Territory policy, inasmuch as I consider that the leasehold system, which they have established is not likely to settle a permanent, prosperous, and contented population there.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - But the land is practically given away.

Mr SAMPSON - The fact that land is practically given away is not sufficient inducement for people to go to a place and devote a lifetime and money, ability and energy in order to make a home there, when they realize that they will never have security of tenure over that home. In my opinion, we are pursuing a retrograde kind of policy in regard to the Northern Territory. For instance, we have appointed an Administrator who is an absolute ruler. There is no representative system of government, and I understand that even in regard to local governing bodies, the Minister is abolishing the representative system.

Mr Carr - The Minister says that he is not doing so.

Mr SAMPSON - The people of Darwin are very much disturbed over what they think is the Minister's decision to abolish the representative system in regard to their local governing body, and substitute a nominee system, and a statement from the Minister would do much to clear away any misconceptions on the point. Twelve months ago the Minister said that he would give, as far as possible, sympathetic consideration to my proposal for a thorough investigation into the water supplies of the Northern Territory, with a view to the conservation of water, an investigation preferably by an engineer from a part of the world where "tropical vegetation is cultivated, and tomight I would like the Minister to inform the Committee whether any action lias been taken in that direction. We are spending, probably, £600,000 a year on the Territory, and I do not know that, in regard to its development, we are one step further forward in the matter of settling people on the land than we were when we took it over from South Australia. We import very large quantities of tropical products, such as jute, rice, and cotton - probably to the value of about a million pounds sterling per annum - and these are goods which might be grown in the Northern Territory. This is one specific direction in which the Territory might be developed. Efforts might be made to raise these products. No doubt the question of labour would come in. It is said that cotton cannot be grown in Australia owing to the limita tion imposed by having to employ white labour only, but in the matter of devising machinery in order to get over difficulties that were thought insuperable the genius of the British race has always been to the front.

Mr Page - Cotton is grown in Queensland.

Mr SAMPSON - We have a market for these products, and some special effort should be made to lay down a policy for growing them in the Northern Territory. 1 see no reason why rice should not be successfully cultivated on the flats along the Adelaide River and other rivers. They should prove exceptionally suitable for the purpose; the rivers could be weired and the flats inundated with ease. But nothing is being done. We should be fully informed as to the capacity of the rivers for irrigation purposes, whether there are gorges where large quantities of water could be stored, and whether the soil is suitable for the growth of products of a purely tropical character, which we now import largely, and which, so far as we know, are the only products that are likely to be grown successfully in the Northern Territory. I think that there should also be opportunities to establish the dairying industry, as the country lying adjacent to the rivers seems to be specially suitable' for irrigation by gravitation. In a country such as the Northern Territory, where the rainfall extends over not more than four months of the year, closer settlement and intense cultivation are impossible without storing water for irrigation purposes. Cattle do well in the Northern Territory as long as they have the necessary fodder by the growth of artificial plants, and if we utilized the streams to that end we should be able to establish a great dairying industry side by side with the fattening of stock for export. We have already freezing works being built in order to establish that particular industry. On the lines I Have indicated, we can lay down the foundations of settlement in the Northern Territory, and if we only build the necessary public works and railways and give a proper land tenure we shall always find people sufficiently enterprising to go there and settle; but we need to offer them facilities that they cannot get anywhere else in Australia. We have not yet exploited the north of Italy in order to get people accustomed to irrigating.

Mr.Rodgers. - Victoria could not get Italian irrigationists, though it offered inducements.

Mr SAMPSON - The inducements offered were in the shape of land at a very much dearer price than that at which we can offer it in the Northern Territory. I cannot see why the Territory should not be made self-supporting in regard to public works expenditure. If we offer the land at 5s. an acre, and make the payments spread over forty or fifty years, the revenue derived will pay the interest on the money we spend on the necessary public works. But the whole matter must be considered in a comprehensive way, commencing on a sure and solid foundation, and that,I consider, is the conservation of water, the preparation of the land for irrigation, the classification of the country, the plotting of the holdings in convenient sizes, a vigorous system of irrigation, and freehold tenure for cultivators.

SirRobert Best. - What is the cost of clearing the land ?

Mr SAMPSON - Clearing is not an expensive operation. Large tracts of country adjacent to the rivers capable of being irrigated by gravitation can be cleared at a negligible cost. I hope that this question of a policy of settling the Northern Territory will be taken into consideration by the Government. My first suggestion is that the Minister should secure the services of an eminent engineer, such as Mr. Elwood Mead, who is about to leave Victoria. This gentleman has had the widest possible experience in the United States, he is eminent in his profession, he is a practical man, and knows the practical side of irrigation, and he has a considerable knowledge of the various irrigation schemes of the world. A report from him on our great Territory, with its splendid river system extending 200 miles south from Darwin, would be of great value. We have to deal with a tropical country. Every one knows that India, which is a tropical country, would not support 50,000,000 people without irrigation. It is its irrigation system that is responsible for supporting 200,000,000 out of the 300,000,000 population of India.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - One river in India has more water than flows over all the watersheds of Australia.

Mr SAMPSON - While that is so, the honorable member will agree with me that a considerable portion of the irrigation in India is carried on by lifting water from wells. It may be a primitive system, but the people "get there" all the same. I offer these suggestions in no, critical spirit. I think that the development of the Northern Territory is a question for Australia; in fact, it is a question for the Empire; and, therefore, I trust that the Minister will consider the matter of securing the services of an eminent engineer who has had the widest possible experience of utilizing water for the development of tropical products. It might be as well to go to India, where the conditions approximate those in the Northern Territory, which it is the duty of this Parliament to handle, and to handle successfully.

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