Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 9 June 1915

Mr PALMER (Echuca) .- Last week, when the honorable member for Grey was addressing himself to these Estimates, he censured the Government for their want of policy in regard to the Northern Territory. It is not the fact that there has been an entire absence of policy in regard to this territory. In my opinion, there has been clear evidence of a well-defined policy, and I do not know that we can object altogether to it, because that policy has been in consonance with the Government's general belief. It has been a Socialistic policy - a policy which, however suitable it might be to some people under some conditions, is bound to fail when applied to the development of a territory such as the Northern Territory. Last year the total deficiency amounted in round figures to £500,000. Out of that deficiency the sum of £26,880 has to be provided for in these Estimates for the payment of salaries. The Minister admitted in this Committee, some time ago, that the Northern Territory presents very great difficulties. I think his speech was the most pessimistic utterance that I have ever listened to from a Minister in charge of a large and important Department. It seemed "to me, to be a cry of hopelessness; but we are piling up these deficiencies year "after year, without making any progress. The

Batchelor Farm, started with a good deal of eclat, has been practically abandoned. The cattle taken up there have been so treated that they appear to have been lamentable failures, and the whole thing is depressing in the extreme. In view of the fact that the Government's Socialistic policy, when applied to the Northern Territory, has proved itself a failure, [ think it is high time that we should seek to induce the Government to adopt some other policy. What I suggest is that we should, at the earliest possible moment, get rid of a large number of the highly-paid officials who have been sent up to the Territory, and save the expenses incidental to their existence there, which would be by no means limited to the large amount paid in salaries. Having done this, the Government should embark upon some well-defined policy whereby the natural resources of the Territory can be developed. There is only one way in which that can be done, it is by the establishment of railways. The Northern Territory should be coupled up, according to our agreement with South Australia, to Oodnadatta, and in the direction of the Macdonnell Ranges, at the earliest possible moment; but I think, also, that there should be railway communication with Queensland. The only policy that can be of any service must be a vigorous policy. As things are now, we are simply frittering away £100,000 this year, and £100,000 next year, without accomplishing anything. There must be a vigorous policy if the Territory is to be developed, and. I suggest that that policy should be a borrowing policy, to raise money so that the necessary railways can be quickly constructed. So far as the Oodnadatta railway is concerned, I do not think that there is any question at all about its desirability, or that the country in the Macdonnell Ranges is not eminently suited to the production of meat, and more particularly beef. I venture to think that if there had been a railway across that area at the present time, we should have been saved the exorbitant prices which have recently been charged for meat in Australia. The construction of such a railway in accordance with a policy which would not impose any immediate additional taxation on the people, would open up the country, would gradually lead to its being inhabited and exploited, and would so benefit, not only the Territory "itself, but the people of the Commonwealth as a whole. Since we are contributing year after year so much towards the maintenance of the Territory, we are entitled to expect that something shall be done at the earliest possible moment to give us a return for our money, and, so far as I can see, the only means by which we can secure a return is the production of vast quantities of meat at a lower price than that at which we oan obtain it elsewhere. I listened carefully to the speech made last week by the honorable member for Wimmera, who advocated a policy with which I am in no way in agreement. The honorable member urged that we should obtain from India the services of an engineering expert, possessing high qualifications, to advise us with regard to an irrigation policy for the Northern Territory. I am soundly convinced that an irrigation policy is suited only to a welldeveloped country, and not to a virgin land like the Northern Territory. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not give any serious consideration to such a policy. We can readily guess what would be the report made by an irrigation expert from India. He would, in all probability, say that we in the Northern Territory the necessary water supply to irrigate certain parts' of it, and that, under certain conditions, it would be a profitable venture. But we must not lose sight of the fact that his experience of irrigation would have been gained in a country where the cost of labour is purely nominal, whereas no successful irrigation policy could be carried out where labour is at such a price as that likely to prevail in the Northern Territory. The Department of External Affairs is becoming more interesting since it now not only administer^ the Northern Territory, but also controls Papua. 1 have a few observations to offer with regard to that Commonwealth Territory. The last report which we have received from the LieutenantGovernor of Papua shows that in 1912-13 the territorial revenue amounted to £54,000, or £6,000 in excess of the revenue for the previous year, and more than double that received five years ago. These figures, so far as they go, are eminently satisfactory. They indicate progress and development, and show that the administration of the Territory is moving, to' some extent, along satisfactory lines. But there is another important statement embodied in this report which acts as an antidote to any feeling of congratulation which the reading of these figures might arouse. I refer to the paragraph in which it is stated that " the volume of trade last year shows a decline of £11,000." That is an unpleasant fact in respect of a country that has been developed to a considerable extent at our expense. The total receipts last year were £112,000, and of that amount the Commonwealth contributed in various ways £63,000.

Mr Richard Foster - Or more than one half the total revenue.

Mr PALMER - Quite so. One of the most serious aspects of this decline in the volume of trade is that it relates to exports, which were £5,000 less than for the previous year. The Lieutenant-Governor's report goes on to say -

This decline in the exports is due to the reduced output of gold, which was £15,000 less than the previous year.

I regret that this is so, and I think it worthy of note that the gold-mining ventures in Papua are not proving as successful as we might have hoped. In the absence of a larger output of gold, the progress of the Territory is not likely to be rapid. There is yet another very unsatisfactory fact relating to the occupation of land in Papua. I am surprised to learn from this report that the area under lease has decreased regularly since 1911. In 1913-14 the area under lease was 60,000 acres less than in 1912-13. That is not an evidence of development. There must be a screw loose somewhere, and we have to ask ourselves whether we are securing a fair return for our money. Judge Murray refers to a report made by Dr. Arthur Wade, which deals with petroleum in Papua, and is good enough to say that it is eminently satisfactory. I regard it as being eminently unsatisfactory. I have been studying recently the question of petroleum and oils, and find that it is said by one excellent authority that if a map of the world were marked with a red spot at every place where there are indications and showings of petroleum, it would present the appearance of a person suffering from smallpox. The idea sought to hs> conveyed by that statement is that indications of petroleum are very widely distributed over the face of the earth. But there are certain places where petroleum is in great abundance, where it has proved of' inestimable value and of great profit. I, for one, would thank God if we could find a good flow of crude oil in Australia or Papua. It would be worth making a considerable sacrifice to secure. Dr. Wade's report gives some indication that there is likely to be a favorable issue to the operations being carried on in various parts of Papua. He tells us, at page 15 of his report, that -

Three miles to the east of the mission station at Orokolo we found a series of mud volcanoes in the coastal fringe of hills just over one mile north of the fishing village of Hohoro. . . . From Ekoa a series of vents extend eastward for about 4 miles towards Vaiviri on the Vailala River. The mud volcanoes consist chiefly of large flat cones varying from a few inches in diameter to about 20 feet. Much gas is escaping, along with brine, and good showings of petroleum.

The sum total of the encouragement appears to be that the indications are good. In various places, we are told, there is a possibility of striking a good flow, but we have no definite assurance on the subject. The writer of this report goes on to urge the need of caution. He is a prominent authority, and we find him stating -

After mature consideration of all the conditions, I, therefore, recommend that the plant necessary for the safe, rapid, and economical development of the Papuan areas is the Parker Mogul rotary of the latest type, and that the Parker firm be asked to supply to each plant two drillers with a guaranteed practical experience of their system. This, however, will entail considerable expenditure, and it may bewell to delay until the present plants on the field have been more thoroughly tested.

In other words, we must be cautious. Before entering upon an enterprise which would involve much expenditure, we must make the best use of the small and inefficient plant we already have. Again, at page 34 of his report, Dr. Wadestates -

Gate valves should be available on the fieldfor controlling and checking the flow of oil, should it be struck. "Should it be struck!" Notwithstanding all his knowledge and experience as a geologist, Dr. Wade is not prepared to> make any more definite statement. At pags 37 of his report he advises rigid economy -

Rigid economy, as far as efficiency will allow, should be exercised until commercial quantities of petroleum are struck. Operations? should be hastened with this in view in order to put the working on a sound financial basis.

I come now to what is the more important part of this report, which deals with the policy of the Government for the development of the field which has been examined. Dr. Wade says -

The declared policy of the Commonwealth Government is to reserve the oil-field for Government exploitation. It is, therefore, obvious that the development must necessarily be comparatively slow for financial reasons. He says further -

The effect of the Government policy will, therefore, in case of success, mean that no great output, such as is the case in privatelyowned fields, can be expected from New Guinea for a considerable period.

This comes from a disinterested source. The author of this report is not committed to a policy either for or against Stateowned or State-controlled fields. But he points out that if this work is undertaken by the Government, it must necessarily be a slow, and therefore an expensive, process.

Mr Fenton - Is the honorable member putting a proper interpretation upon the report?

Mr PALMER - I think I am. Dr. Wade states further -

The oil indications, however, extend over a wide area, and, should the Government think fit, a portion of the field could be thrown open to private enterprise. Taking Kerema as the dividing line, if the Government retained the enormous area to the west, there still remains a large area to the east whichis likely to be idle for a long time. It may be worth while considering whether it is good policy to leave this area undeveloped.

I would urge the Minister to give some consideration to this particular recommendation. Dr. Wade reports that -

If private enterprise is to be admitted, it must be done in the early stages, otherwise if the results in the initial stages of the Government exploitation of the western field fall short of expectation, it may make it difficult for companies to raise the money required. Such disappointments are always possible.

A good deal of importance attaches to that proposal. If we are going to develop this or any other portion of the oil fields by private enterprise, then, as Dr. Wade says, it is essentially necessary that private enterprise be given the first chance, because if an area proved disappointing it would be very difficult to induce any one to put capital into such a venture in other parts of Papua. Another serious matter - the last to which I shall draw attention - relates to the question of labour. Dr. Wade says -

Labour is not cheap in Papua when compared with wages paid in other oil fields with which

I am acquainted. Wages vary from 10s. to £2 per month for labourers and foremen, and, in addition, the men must be housed, fed on meat, rice, tea, sugar, and vegetables, or equivalents, and supplied with a quantity of tobacco weekly, according to Government schedules. A few skilled native workers get as much as £8 a month with these additions. On the whole, the Papuan labourer is well paid, well fed, well housed, and well treated in every respect.

Whilst I am not advocating cheap labour, I do say that if weare to make a success of ventures of this nature in competition with other places where still cheaper labour is available, we can only do so at the expense of the general community, and the cost of the article must increase. That is a very serious consideration, and it is well that the Committee should be acquainted with these facts.

Mr West - The wages mentioned are not very princely.

Mr PALMER - Those are the wages for native labour.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - They are the wages which the Government are paying to natives.

Mr PALMER - I have called attention to these matters in the hope that the Minister will think twice before entering upon a large expenditure in the development of these oil fields, because the report which is referred to by Judge Murray as satisfactory seems to me eminently unsatisfactory, having regard to the little assurance that could be given that the oil is really there, and that, even if it is there, it is doubtful whether we can work it at a profit. I turn now to another matter. Amongst other interesting places which the Minister of External Affairs has under his control is Norfolk Island, to which some reference was made in the course of the debate last week. I was amongst those who were privileged to pay a visit to the island a little time ago. A gentleman who has resided in the island for many years, and has made his home there, describes it as "Beautiful! Sublime! Incomparable!" and he says -

Within its borders are neither public-houses, pawnbrokers, workhouses, madhouses, nor gaols. Add to this its prodigal profusion in nature (for its resources, owing to its wonderful fertility, are proverbial) by the Providence of its Bountiful Creator; its freedom from all conventionality and restraint, the allurements of its occupations on land and sea, the diversity of its refined pastimes and enjoyments, and you have at once a most bewitching island, an ideal home.

The writer of that passage is Mr. J. E. S. Caverswall, a Britisher who believes that he has reached a veritable Paradise. The island is not self-supporting, and has not been so during the whole time it has been under the control of the New South Wales Government. According to the reports of Mr. Atlee Hunt, at least £1,500 per annum, probably a great deal more, will be required fo carry on and finance the island. The question at once arises as to what use this island is to Australia. It is situated a little more than 1,000 miles due east of Sydney, and has an area of only about 8,000 acres. At the outside, its capital value cannot be more than £40,000 or £50,000. The island is at a great disadvantage in having no natural ports or harbors, but one reason why we should retain it under our control is that if we relinquish our hold, it may be occupied by undesirable neighbours. Therefore, I think that whatever expenditure is necessary to maintain the island will be borne cheerfully by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.

Mr West - All the trade of the island is done with Australia.

Mr PALMER - I do not think that great value is to be attached to the trade of so small an island. The present population is largely composed of the Pitcairners, who were the descendants of the Bounty mutineers. Originally they lived on the small island of Pitcairn, but subsequently, when their numbers had considerably increased, they petitioned the Imperial Government for a larger island on which to make their home. As the Imperial authorities were at that time about to remove the convicts from Norfolk Island to Tasmania-and in that fact we have the origin of the name " New Norfolk " - the Pitcairners were permitted to enter into possession of the vacated island. According to the last census, there were on Norfolk Island 596 Pitcairners, 193 persons connected with the Melanesian Mission - mostly black boys from other islands who are taken to Norfolk Island for theological training, and subsequently return to their homes - and about 150 other residents, chiefly pure Britishers. I think the problem of making this island pay its own way offers wide scope for the exercise of good government on the part of the responsible Minister. The imports of Norfolk Is land in 1913 represented a value of £9,371, and came almost exclusively from Sydney, and the exports were worth only £1,531. A small island which isimporting over £9,000 worth of goodsand exporting only £1,500 worth must be rapidly going to the bad financially. The problem for the Minister to tackleis to make the imports and exports balance so that the island may be made self-supporting.

Suggest corrections