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Wednesday, 2 June 1915


Mr JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) . - I take up the parable exactly where the honorable member for Gippsland has laid it down. Not only do we want development from the south, but we want the development that has been so severely criticised, from the east. If we are to develop the Territory in the lifetime of any one of us, making it an economic as well as a racial and national proposition, we must attack it from several points. It is a many-sided problem, and the longer we delay tackling it, and concentrating our efforts on it, the longer will be the delay in achieving success. Here we are complaining about one another again in the same old way. My honorable friends opposite do not do anything themselves, and will not let anybody else do it. If any one else tries to tackle the problem, they say "it is wrong."


Mr Webster - Who has tried?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - We tried.


Mr Webster - Where is the evidence?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - The evidence is on the records of the House, in the only feasible scheme ever submitted to Parliament. It was the first working scheme submitted. The present Minister, instead of going on with it, now proposes to review the whole question for himself.


Mr Mahon - I never said so.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - He told us he had no policy to submit.


Mr Mahon - I said I had no new policy to submit.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - He said he had not had time to declare a new policy. Does he propose to carry on the policy he found in the Department?


Mr Mahon - A policy is not found as easily as you hand down a waistcoat.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - No. It seems to take other Ministers on that side of the House as long to find a policy as they are in office. When they leave office they have not found it. Another Government comes in and finds a policy, but the Minister will have nothing to do with it. He repudiates it. The concrete fact remains that, after all these efforts, one solitary settler has been added to the population of the Territory, during my honorable friend's régime. I have never heard a policy of despair uttered in the same way that my honorable friend uttered it the other day. There was none of that strength, elasticity, enthusiasm, and interest that one expects to find in a new Minister tackling a new problem of this kind. I am not blaming the honorable member for his caution.


Mr Mahon - Did you expect-


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I did not expect the honorable member to try to hoodwink the House with a policy which he knows he cannot carry out. I gave him credit for more common sense. He has as much courage as most men, and it required no small amount of courage to tell the House the other day that he had no cutanddried policy, but was seeking to find one. There is too much talk of policy concerning the Northern Territory. The only course to pursue in connexion with the Territory is to do something.


Mr Webster - To do what?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I shall tell the honorable member later.

This is the biggest proposition the House has ever had to consider - the greatest responsibility the National Parliament has ever assumed. It is an urgent proposition. We are losing money over it right and left. The accumulated deficit since we began to manage it three years ago amounts now to over £1,200,000. The Territory has cost us in one way or another, in the obligations we assumed, and the way we have added to them, no less than £7,500,000.


Mr Webster - What is it worth?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - If it is worth nothing we had better curtail our expenditure, and regard it as a useless and worthless proposition. I do not so regard it. I believe the Northern Territory, like every other part of Australia, has good and bad land, good and bad seasons, droughty places, and places with a superabundance of rainfall. It is a tremendous asset and a tremendous obligation. I think we have begun our operations up there by unlearning many things. That seems to be the attitude of the present Administrator. After all his efforts, all his travelling, all his expenditure of mental and physical labour for some years, he is only in his reports beginning to unlearn something. He went up there full of hope and optimism. He professes to be still full of hope and enthusiasm, but he is modifying his opinion on some matters very considerably. He has a perfect right to do it, and to look at the facts as they exhibit themselves up there. We have been told that closer settlement is possible, and that mixed farming and many other things are possible there.


Mr Webster - Who said so?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Many members of this House have said so time and again; but, strange to say, the Administrator now tells us that all that sort of talk is nonsense and moonshine. Here is what the Administrator - His Excellency himself- says; and it shows some of the things he is beginning to unlearn.

Speaking of the progress of land settlement, he writes -

The progress of land settlement has been disappointingly slow, as will be seen by the report of the Director of Lands. Yet, on the whole, I am not surprised. While the southernStates continue an active policy of land settlement in districts already partly settled, the Territory will not offer any real inducement for the small farmer with reasonable capital to transfer his home from the south. And as, apparently, there is still much available land in Australia, where the climate and life generally offer more attractions than in the north, this is not altogether to be regretted.

Here we have His Excellency saying that it is of no use trying to get men from the south, because, if they do go there, they will not stop in the Territory, but, whatever the conditions, will drift back again. He goes on to say -

I have always been of opinion that it wonld not be a desirable method of settling the Territory, even were it possible - which I doubt - to over-stimulate the transference of agricultural settlers from the south to the north; or, in other words, the transference of people from a sparsely-populated area of a comparatively empty continent to even a more sparselypopulated, especially while the States generally are using every effort to encourage immigration of that class of settler.

Southern residents rarely appreciate the fact that the journey to Darwin occupies at least twelve days from Sydney ;that mails are infrequent and practically only twice monthly - in some cases four weeks elapsing between mails. Even applicants for land and other would-be settlers seem to fail to grasp these facts.

On another page he says-

As regards labourers from the south becoming permanent settlers, the experience of all our Departments is against the probability. Rarely indeed do men remain for over a year.

All countries of the newer world to-day are finding greater and greater difficulty in securing what is deemed to be the best class of immigrant, namely, the Anglo-Saxon and the Northern European, and it may be safely said that the extra-tropical parts of Australia can readily absorb all its available share - even with the most strenuous encouragement - for years to come. But were such induced to come to the Territory by the most liberal concessions and labour treatment, the likelihood is that as soon as many had saved a fair amount of money they would remove to the south.

He goes on to say -

Were immigration of a good class of Southern European encouraged - it being insisted that a large percentage be accompanied by their families, and the remainder more or less related to them - the nucleus of permanent settlement may be established.

Then he says that the construction of a railway would provide such settlers with work, and that there would be a chance of peopling the land in this way. Again, he says -

Such visits, which have not been confined to the best parts of the year for travelling, have impressed me with the necessity for providing the two prime necessities to the advance of the Territory, viz., roads and means of communication generally, including railways, and the greater tapping of subterranean waters, together with conservation of surface waters. The Government may do much, but it is also necessary that the land-holders should do their share. The increasing value of cattle, the establishment of freezing works, and the extension of the railway, will warrant both public and private money being expended to a very great extent in such ' prime necessities.

Here, in the last paragraph of his report, he shows what in my judgment is the only practical policy, namely, the provision of water, railways, and roads - all means of communication.


Mr Sampson - And freehold titles for cultivation land.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Yes; but even with a freehold title, I doubt if, for some years to come, there would be any large amount of land settlement of a close kind. The main thing is that, even if men be placed on the land, and treated as well as possible, they will return to the more temperate latitudes, where they can enjoy life contiguous to civilization.

There are one or two facts outstanding of which we ought to take notice. The Territory is at a stand-still.


Mr Poynton - And why? Because the attempt is being made to develop the tropical portions of the Territory, instead of directing our attention to the more temperate parts.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I quite agree that we have been trying to do something that, perhaps, we should not have done, though I am not sure that we have been trying to do much at all.


Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We have spent money.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - And talked about the Territory in this House. When His Excellency made his last visit here, and discussed the matter so exhaustively with the late Government, and particularly with the then Minister of External Affairs, the honorable member for Angas, we understood that a policy had been enunciated with which he was in thorough accord. So far as my judgment went', the Administrator was quite satisfied with the policy that the late Government had elaborated at great length. That policy was to tackle the Territory at two ends, or, shall I say, on the Queensland side and on the South Australian side. Any one who reads the letter of the right honorable member for Swan outright, cannot, without straining language, interpret it as it has been interpreted in South Australia. Here is the famous passage to which exception is taken -

The western portion, however, is impossible, unless we have communication with Queensland -

That is to say, we cannot develop the western portion of the Territory except through Queensland - and, if that is denied to us, we must turn our attention to connecting the Northern Territory from Oodnadatta, a policy to which we are already pledged.

If that means anything more than that, if we are not permitted to tackle the Territory on one side as well, we must confine ourselves to development from the south, I do not understand the meaning of language.


Mr Richard Foster - We never claimed that.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Honorable members in South Australia have claimed that; they say that this was suggested as an alternative policy, but I say that it was an additional and not an alternative policy.


Mr Richard Foster - By the Government, yes.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - That is not the view taken by some honorable members. A territory like this cannot be developed from one single point; this is a many-sided problem, and the more railways we can build from various directions, the more chance there is of making the Territory an economic proposition.

The Territory has many disadvantages, and not the least of them, from an agricultural point of view, is connected with the labour conditions that have been imposed by the Arbitration Court. Do not let me be misunderstood for one moment. I do not say that the Judge has fixed the rate of payment for labour too high; but I am afraid that the rate fixed makes agriculture, with all our known means, impossible.


Mr Richard Foster - Absolutely.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - A wage has been fixed of £3 13s. per week of fortyfour hours. The Administrator has said, in one of his reports, that labour efficiency up there is not more than 80 per cent. of what it is in the southern States; and if we add 20 per cent. to the £3 13s. it means a real wage of about £4 7s. 6d.


Mr Mcwilliams - I think that80 per cent. is a very low estimate.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - It is under the mark, in my judgment; but I am taking the figures of the Administrator.


Mr Webster - Does that not show how preposterous the whole thing is?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - It shows how preposterous it is, under present conditions, as an agricultural proposition; and the facts have driven the Administrator to say that agricultural settlement of tha kind desired is impossible for many years to come. But are we to allow the matter to remain dormant and do nothing? There are certain things that can be done. A good part of the Territory is good cattle country, and good sheep country, too; and, further, it is, in my opinion, good mineral country, if it were only systematically prospected for water.


Mr Webster - The cattle country is already under cattle.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - There is such a thing as developing country that is already in occupation of cattle. Just as it is possible to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before, so two bullocks can be produced where one was produced before.


Mr Richard Foster - By improvements the production of cattle can be increased four-fold.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I entirely agree with that opinion. Cattleand meat are rising in value, and this, I think, will help materially in the development of the Territory. So far as mixed farming and agricultural experiments go, we may spend money to the extent wo are able, but my opinion is that the economic conditions make it impossible to develop the agricultural side of the Territory at present.


Mr Webster - If there is no agriculture, how far will the stock trade go towards making the railways pay?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - My opinion is that the stock trade will develop many forms of collateral trade, as has been experienced elsewhere in Australia. We could scarcely push a railway anywhere into good stock-raising country without improving that country, and making it pay in the near future. In a country like Australia, with the present prospects for primary products, we could scarcely go wrong in piercing any country with railways. The more railways we can get into the country, the more likely we are to eventually get a return. The problem requires that we should proceed by a process of elimination as well as by a process of accretion; and the Administrator himself is learning what to set aside and on what to concentrate.


Mr McWilliams - We have been 100 years learning what to do with the Territory !


Mr JOSEPH COOK - We have been 100 years learning what to do with many propositions.


Mr McWilliams - We are repeating the same blunder in trying to develop the Territory from the same end - a blunder that cost South Australia £4,000,000.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - My opinion is that we ought to develop the Territory from both ends. If we had railways connected with the Queensland system we should, I think, do more to develop the interior of the Territory than, perhaps, by any other means. There is plenty to be done, in addition, with the southern system of railways. The sooner the line is started from the south the better I shall be pleased.


Mr Poynton - That is all we are asking for.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Then why does not the honorable member ask his own Government to do it? The honorable member is trying to read all sorts of meanings into the statement made by the right honorable member for Swan, and he is full of criticism of members on this side of the House, but he has not a word to say about members on his own side.


Mr Poynton - That is not correct. I have criticised members on this side also.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - The fact is, the honorable member is supporting a Government who have done nothing in this direction for years, and I submit that he should call the Government to account in this matter of the development of the Northern Territory. The problem is a difficult one, and it will never be solved, in my opinion, until three of the essentials - railways, roads, and water - are provided. Given these, together with the freezing works that are to be established, I venture to say that the stock-breeders of Australia will develop the country. The prospect is not so clouded, and I do not despair over the Territory at all, but would urge that we cannot go on with an adverse balance-sheet year after year. Something must be done to relieve our revenue of this tremendous incubus. What should be done, and done immediately, is to institute a different form of government to that which we have at present for the Territory. We have appointed an Administrator who is the " Poo Bah " of the place, and I am afraid he gets no help from the population. Unfortunately there is a good deal of friction in the management of the Territory.


Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And there always has been.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I urge, therefore, that there should be some form of localized government which would have the effect of bringing the whole of the ability, the whole of the interest, the whole of the enthusiasm, and, above all, the whole of the experience, to bear in a settlement of those problems that confront the people in that part of Australia.


Mr Burns - You had fifteen months' administration; why did you not do something in that direction ?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - The Government supported by the honorable member have had four years' administration, and have done nothing.


Mr Burns - But you are now making suggestions; why did you not carry them into effect when you were in office?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - We made suggestions, and we sought authority from the people of Australia at the last election.


Mr Burns - Yes, and you went down.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Now that is a statesmanlike view to take! The honorable member judges us by the results of the elections, whether we went down or whether we went up.


Mr Burns - The same thing happened in Queensland recently.


Mr Mahon - What form of government does the right honorable member, suggest?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I would suggest that the government should be along the lines of a commission, say, the appointment of three or four men who should be given a sum of money, and made responsible for the government and development of the whole Territory. As far as possible, they should be untrammelled in their administration. If this were done. I believe good would be the result.


Mr Mahon - Does the right honorable member mean a Board of local residents, such as, for instance, a municipal council ?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - No. An administrative Board or Commission appointed by the Government. I think a Board constituted in that way would bring the best of their ability and experience to bear upon the solutions of the problems that confront us. Above all things, experience is required. I do not care what it would cost; I am satisfied this form of government would be the cheapest in the end. The railway is wanted at the earliest possible moment; but I do not see why, if the right form of government is established, there should not be the most cordial relations maintained with the residents there on the spot. I am not blaming the Administrator for this position of affairs at all.


Mr Rich ard Foster - The present system is all right if you can get the right man.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - No; the. trouble is, people would not be satisfied with government by a single individual, I do not care how wise he might be.


Mr Mahon - But friction would only be a matter of degree under your proposal, as the government would still be by a board.


Mr Poynton - Whether you have one or three men governing the Territory, you will have the same trouble. The first consideration is to have the railway built.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - The honorable member is right in one sense. He has one idea, and that is to have the railway constructed, and I am not sure that he is not right. But we must not lose sight of the fact that if there is not a good form of government in the Territory railways alone will not develop it. We want there practical men associated with the Administrator who would bring the whole of their experience to bear on a solution of the several problems before us.


The CHAIRMAN - The right honorable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 6.27 to 7.45 p.m.

Mr. RICHARDFOSTER (Wakefield) friend. I regret exceedingly that the administration of the Northern Territory by the Federal Government since its transfer to the Commonwealth from. South Australia can only be described as a shocking failure.


Mr W Elliot Johnson - As it always was before the transfer.







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