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Wednesday, 9 June 1915

Mr THOMAS (Barrier) .- It is not my intention to discuss a general policy for the Northern Territory; I shall simply content myself with saying that I have confidence in the future of that great province. Its climate, soil and rainfall are of such a character that w.e are justified in believing in the ultimate successful development of the Territory, but I am prepared to admit that the problem before us is a serious one, and will not be easily solved. The difficulty pf the problem is increased by the fact that every time a State Government very rightly endeavours to make its own State more attractive for its people, that very endeavour detracts from the attractiveness of the Northern Territory, because, naturally, people will not go so far afield if they think they can do just as well nearer home. The people who go to the Territory are those who gaze into the future, and are prepared to surrender immediate comforts and pleasures for the sake of greater rewards in the years to come. Therefore, it is necessary for us to exercise patience in tackling the great problem of settling and developing the Territory. Ultimately, I am convinced, we shall accomplish that end, but only after many failures. I do not think that any one Minister, either now or in the future, will be able to populate and develop that territory successfully without first making failures. I have been rather surprised to hear some of the opinions expressed by members from South Australia. The opinions they are expressing to-day are rather different from those that were expressed in the years before the Federal Government took over the responsibility for the Territory. I refer, particularly, to those of the honorable member for Wakefield.

Mr Mcwilliams - The honorable member for Wakefield was opposed to

South Australia parting with the Territory.

Mr THOMAS - The honorable member was not in this Parliament in the days to which I refer, when very glowing speeches we're made by Mr. Solomon, anc! other honorable members. One would have thought that the South Australian people were surrendering the Territory only out of a great sense of national duty. The anguish of a mother parting with her Benjamin was as nothing compared with the grief of South Australia in parting with the "Northern Territory. The transfer of the Territory to the Commonwealth was made with that utter disregard of their own interests which has always characterized South Australians, who were actuated in regard to it only by consideration for the common weal. But now that we have the Northern Territory, we hear from the honorable member for Wakefield that it cannot produce this, that, and the other, and that to do anything at all with it we must employ the giant intellects of the world.

Mr Richard Foster - What I said was that its development needed the application of practical common sense.

Mr THOMAS - The honorable member said that it required the application of the great intellects of the world, and the expenditure of vast sums of money to attract the most skilled men. The inference from his speech was that the world must be ransacked for capable directors before the Northern Territory could be made to produce anything. Before the transfer of the Territory, its resources had only to be tapped - so said the South Australians - to make it produce everything that could be conceived; but to-day one might believe from their utterances that they had unloaded a duffer mine upon the Commonwealth. I do not look in any pessimistic mood at the problem which we have to face in the development of the Northern Territory. I believe in the future of the Territory, and in the capacity of the people of Australia to conquer the difficulty of developing it. The honorable member for Wakefield complained about some of the attempts which had been made to encourage agriculture there. The agricultural policy of the last Fisher Administration was laid down by an able and courteous member of the Labour (party, who, before he entered this Legis lature, was a member of the South Australian House of Assembly. T refer to the late Mr. Batchelor, whose early death was universally deplored. In South Australia he had been Minister for Education, and had had the administration of the Northern Territory under his control.

Mr Richard Foster - For only a little while.

Mr THOMAS - For a. considerable time ho was a member of a Cabinet that had to deal with the affairs of the Northern Territory, and for part of that time he was personally responsible for its administration. He laid down a scheme of great promise for the agricultural development of the Territory under Commonwealth control. I followed him in the office of Minister of External Affairs, and loyally attempted to carry on his policy, which I still think is the right one. I am sorry that my successor differed from ns, and interfered to some extent with the working of the agricultural farms for which Mr. Batchelor had provided.

Mr Glynn - No; I distinctly said that we should give the scheme a trial. When I was in office there had been the experience o£ only eighteen months.

Mr THOMAS - Are these farms still being carried on?

Mr Glynn - Yes; we tried to improve them.

Mr THOMAS - I am glad to know that. I thought that work on the Batchelor Farm had been stopped.

Mr Glynn - Twenty-eight thousand pounds had been spent on agricultural experiments, and it would have been ridiculous to stop these experiments before some results had been obtained from them.

Mr THOMAS - I am glad to know that the experiments are continuing. At the initial stage many difficulties had to be faced. It may be that we made mistakes in some of our appointments. It was difficult at the time to get first-class men for the ordinary work, because there was no drought, and things were booming in all the States. One or two of our appointments did not turn out as well as we had hoped, although the men appointed had been trained at agricultural colleges. I am a great believer in the agricultural college system ; but the men turned out from agricultural colleges have sometimes a great deal of theoretical knowledge, and need time for the acquirement of the practical acquaintance with agriculture which is necessary to make good farmers. For one or two of the appointments I am to blame, if blame is to be attached for the unsuitability of - the men appointed. The labour difficulties were greater then than they are now. In the first, instance we had to give to men sent to the Territory a twelve months' engagement, and, of course, men so appointed are somewhat in the position of being able to please themselves as to what they will do, and what they will not do. Their position is very different from that of men who are appointed by the day, and may be dismissed at any time. The drink evil, with which I do not propose to deal now, but to which I may refer at some length when the proposals of the Minister of External Affairs for the nationalization of the drink traffic in the Northern Territory come before us, has also played its unhappy part in the Territory. I am strongly in favour of pressing on with the agricultural experiments that have been begun. The honorable member for Parramatta, when a member of the New South "Wales Government, was, as Minister of Mines, in charge of the Hawkesbury College; but it is more than probable that that institution did not then pay its way.

Mr Joseph Cook - It does not do so now.

Mr THOMAS - That is very likely. But the teaching that it has given to young Australians, and the experiments which have been carried out there, have been worth the expenditure upon the college. The same may be said of the Wagga Experimental Farm, and similar places. I understand that in Tasmania land which was at one time considered useless is now found to be of great value for apple-growing. Discoveries of this kind are largely brought about by experiments; and in the making of experiments there are sure to be mistakes and loss of money. I was of the opinion that the honorable member for Angas, when Minister of External Affairs, did not find his Treasurer as sympathetic as he might have been.

Mr Glynn - No Treasurer is ever that.

Mr THOMAS - The right honorable member for Swan has good and large ideas, and does not hesitate to spend money on any scheme in which he hasconfidence. His career in Western Australia proves that. He had faith in Western Australia, and did not hesitate to spend money there. But when Treasurer of the Commonwealth he made one or two remarks about the Northern Territory which were not as complimentary as I should have liked to hear from him - though, no doubt, they expressed hishonest convictions. I, therefore, thought that he was not as sympathetic as he might have been in regard to the experiments that were being carried on in the Northern Territory. Mistakes may have been made in the development of the Territory; but, in spite of that, money must be spent there, and the country has a great future. Listening to recent speeches of some of the honorable members of the Opposition, one might think that this and the last Fisher Government did not desire to assist the pastoralists in the Northern Territory, yet, when, as Minister of External Affairs, I laid certain regulations before the House for the government of the Territory, they were condemned by honorable members of the then Opposition as too liberal. We were prepared to give to the pastoralists areas larger than some of the German principalities; but I was compelled by the speeches and actions of honorable members of the Opposition, and one or two members of the Labour party, to withdraw my proposals. It is the policy of this Government to help the pastoralists as well as to encourage closer settlement. In attempting closer settlement in other parts of Australia mistakes have been made and failures have occurred. Except for one week when the Labour party was in power, and could not do much, Victoria has been governed continuously by Liberal Administrations. The State Government have, I believe, honestly tried to settle people on the land, according to their ideas, though these, of course, may differ from the idea* of some of us. There is a Closer Settlement Board, which, I think, has dona some good; but, if all I hear is correct, a great deal of money has been wasted in this direction. Although the State has had responsible government for fifty years, and every Department is wellofficered, with its work right under the eyes of Parliament, I do not think I am far out when I say that £500,000, at least, has been thus wasted. But there is no reason why the State Governments should not continue their efforts, until they do succeed in placing the people on the land. Before I conclude, I should like to refer to a statement which was made by the Minister of External Affairs some little time ago, and which was seized upon with great avidity by the Argus. I was not very keen on the suggestion that was then made by the Minister ; and when I saw how eagerly the Argus took it up, I was confirmed in my idea that it was not a very good one. The Minister put forth the suggestion that some land in the Northern Territory should be set apart for returned soldiers; and, though it is not often that the Argus pats the honorable gentleman on the back, it agreed that, at last, here was an idea worths of a statesman. Now, I am opposed to that idea, because I think that the men who have gone to risk their lives at the front deserve land, not in the Northern Territory, but in Victoria, New South Wales, and the other settled States. It. would be manifestly unfair that these men, after they had fought on our behalf, should be sent up into the wilderness^ - because, as yet, it is a wilderness - in order to create, it may be, an oasis.

Mr Mcwilliams - Some of the returned soldiers would be glad to go there if they were given help.

Mr THOMAS - I do not object to helping those who may desire to go there, but I hope the idea of the Government is not to set apart land in the Northern Territory as a provision for our returned soldiers, who are legitimately entitled to the best that Australia can give them.

Mr Pigott - You would not put a

Dar on returned soldiers going there?

Mr THOMAS - No; I should give them every facility, if they desired to go. As I said, when I saw the eagerness with which the Argus took up the idea, I was confirmed in my view that it was not a sound one, because these soldiers should "have the best we can give them.

Mr. MCWILLIAMS(Franklin) r5.35]. - We are accustomed to an annual discussion on the Northern Territory, though I must confess that we never seem to get much further forward. My view of the matter can be stated very briefly. The whole history of British colonization shows nothing like so stupendous a failure as that of the Northern Territory. For 100 years that part of Australia has been settled, practically in the same way as. were many other of the States, which have since done so well. Melville Island was settled as Sydney, Hobart, Fremantle, and other places were - as a military centre - but the Territory has never made any progress since. The capital town has been shifted to Port Essington, and from one place to another, and the expenditure has run into over £5,000,000; and yet, to-day, if we put aside Government officials, there are fewer people in the Territory than at any time during the last fifty years. The one mine which practically produces all the gold in the Territory is worked by fifty-seven Chinese and five whites, and this proportion is general on the Territory gold-fields. On some of the tin-fields a little more white labour is employed, but these fields at present cannot be called a success. No person can read the last official report without being struck with the entire absence of anything like a proper policy of settlement. When the late Mr. Batchelor inaugurated experimental farms, I supported the idea as at least an attempt to do something, though I am not generally favorable to such enterprises by the Government. Those farms have proved nothing but one long, ghastly failure, from start to finish. Here is what the Administrator said in his report - -

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 southern States 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.

What the Administrator says is quite true. While there is land available, and labour to be obtained in the more temperate portions of Australia, it is only a few adventurers - and I use the word in its best sense - who will go to the Territory. Even those who are taken there for Government works almost invariably return south after a very short time; and this, perhaps, is not surprising when we remember that the conditions are so different from what they are elsewhere. What the honorable member for Barrier says is quite correct. While there are great advantages to be obtained in the southern region, we shall not get men, especially married men, to take their families into such an isolated place, where so many hardships and dangers have to be faced. One strong feature was drawn attention to by the Leader of the Opposition; and it is one that this House and the Minister will have to consider. For instance, on page 9 of the Administrator's report we read -

Recently the Chief Surveyor has handed me reports from three of his surveyors, who assert a deficiency in their men's work of 60 per cent. during the summer months.

This means that a man is only doing 40 per cent. of the work that is done in the States. There is another statement of great" interest in the report, that which deals with a subject that has been so often discussed in this House, namely, day labour versus contract labour. Honorable members opposite have declared, over and over again, that the Government are getting a very much better return under day labour than under contract; but on page 76 of the report we are told by the Superintendent of Public Works -

During the last year, both systems, viz., day labour and contract. have been tried by this Department in carrying out work, and from the figures submitted herewith there can be but one opinion which of the two systems is the better.. In my two preceding annual reports I have touched upon this question, and I should be wanting in my duty if 1 did not again call Your Excellency's attentionto the great difference in the cost of similar works carried out by the two different systems.

Mr Mathews - This is party politics, pure and simple! There is no great national policy about this!

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