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Wednesday, 9 June 1915

Mr MAHON (Kalgoorlie) (Minister of External Affairs) .- While this debate has consumed considerable time, I think we have no right to complain of the manner in which it has been conducted.

Mr Sinclair - You will make the debate spin out if you start to talk !

Mr MAHON - After all that has been said, the Committee will surely expect me to make some statement at this stage, and I do not regard the honorable member's interjection as a bar to that course. I am greatly indebted to honorable members on both sides for the manner in which they have dealt with this problem of the Northern Territory. The great issues involved have been dealt with in no sense from a party point of view; and it is only right that it should be so. For if ever there was a problem that will tax to the utmost the wisdom and patriotism of Australian public men it is that of the development of the Northern Territory. Therefore, it is an omen of good hope that honorable members on both sides look at the problem in a practical and businesslike way, and are offering suggestions not to embarrass the Minister or the Government, but to assist in arriving at a policy which will enable Australia to make the best of this great possession of ours. A good deal has been said about the route of the railway. I incurred the displeasure of my honorable friend, the member for Grey, some time ago, because I expressed the idea that, if we did desire to let immediate daylight into this northern portion of Australia, the suggestion made by the right honorable member for Swan that there should be a railway from Newcastle Waters to Camooweal was a good one. I am still of that opinion. But this does not affect the view that I hold, namely, that the rest of the railway should be pushed on from the south as well as from the north. Here I may say to my honorable friends, who have insinuated the possibility of a breach of faith, that, so far as this Government are concerned, they are determined to honour the agreement already arrived at, not merely in the letter, but also in the spirit. This declaration should satisfy honorable members from South Australia. But surely honorable members will reflect on the position in which Australia finds herself to-day] We are confronted with the greatest convulsion in history, and with the necessity for unparalleled expenditure in men, money, and munitions. In such a world-wide cataclysm, may we not be excused from immediately taking in banc} great national projects, including this railway?

Mr Poynton - -The Government would have constructed the strategic railway if they could have found support for it. Mr. MAHON. - I would rather the honorable member did not introduce this question of the strategic railway. While the Northern Territory presents a very pressing problem, I take it that the safety of the whole of Australia is still more important. If it were necessary, on the advice of the best experts, that the strategic railway should be built in order to safeguard this continent from attack, then it would become even more important than the Oodnadatta railway.

Mr Poynton - Where are those experts ?

Mr MAHON - The honorable member may depend on it that the Prime Minister of Australia has not proposed this strategic railway without having good advice.

Some comment has also been made upon the circumstance that we have devised no new policy for the development of this Territory. Well, the Government have been only a few months in office, and a problem so vast as this Territory presents is not to be solved off-hand. Surely it is not expected that every new Minister shall come down at once with a new policy. Is it not wiser that he should examine the work of his predecessors - preserving what seems good, and eliminating that which has proven to be defective? The lines on which the Territory are now administered were inaugurated by the honorable member for the Barrier, and others who preceded him in office. Their work was well done, and continued with equal energy and ability by the honorable member for Angas, my immediate predecessor. What course was left for 'me ? Obviously that of taking up the threads of administration as I found them, and giving time and opportunity for the ripening of one experimental measures of those who had studied the same question in advance of me. The honorable member for Angas, for instance, gave exhaustive consideration to the Territory, and has bequeathed a historical retrospect of its position of the greatest value to those who are to follow us. Again, the honorable member for the Barrier laid securely the foundation of measures which, in the ultimate issue, must contribute to the successful settlement of the Territory.

Mr Webster - Agricultural?

Mr MAHON - -Yes ; agricultural. Experiments in agriculture are not to be decried, and I will be pleased to show the honorable member a sample of butter made at Darwin. Its condition disproves the idea that we cannot make butter in a tropical country.

Mr Webster - In the winter you can; in the summer it runs away.

Mr MAHON - This butter was certainly not made in the winter. It has been in my possession for some time.

Mr Joseph Cook - What are you going to do with it?

Mr MAHON - Divide it up if the honorable member is particularly anxious for it. That is practical Socialism.

Coming now to the views expressed during this debate, I am in partial agreement with many of them. I have faith in the future of the Territory. Ultimately, it will, I am convinced, become a great asset for Australia. Meanwhile, I do not disguise the difficulties of any great advance coming from what is known as "closer settlement" there. My opinion is that development there must be pursued on the lines which have succeeded in other parts of Australia. And notably by what has occurred in Western

Australia, where the mining pioneer prospector has been the avant courier of civilization. I pin my faith, in the order named, to the miner, the pastoralist, and the agriculturist.

Mr Webster - I wish that were right.

Mr MAHON - The Northern Territory admittedly contains mining fields of very great possibilities.

Mr Webster - It is - for the speculator to go down.

Mr MAHON - The honorable gentleman knows the early history of mining there and in other parts of Australia. He is aware that much of the money subscribed for mining development never reached the mining fields. I repeat that mining must be looked to to give this country its initial impetus; then development of its pastures, and, after these two, on agriculture.

Mr Poynton - Do not you think that a railway would be a prime factor in this development ?

Mr MAHON - I believe the railway will be of very great assistance, but I remind the honorable member that there was a Coolgardie and a Kalgoorlie long before a railway went beyond Southern Cross.

Mr Poynton - You struck rich country.

Mr MAHON - Yes, rich mining country; and if we could strike a rich mine in the Northern Territory, we would have the people there, railway or no railway.

Mr Webster - Then the best thing is to wait until you strike a mine.

Mr MAHON - No; we cannot stand still. We must have settlement. Yet it is to be feared that from the man who risks no capital of his own little is to be expected as a settler. Experience so far with such has been the reverse of encouraging. He is a very unstable type of pioneer who requires to be spoon-fed by the Government. On the other hand, the man who does possess capital of his own will not occupy the Territory. Why ? Not because the country lacks attractions, but because other parts of Australia, where life is less strenuous and conditions, more comfortable, also offer him inducements. Until there is greater congestion in the temperate zone of Australia we can hardly look for any large accession of bold and adventurous spirits to occupy the agricultural areas. This is why immediate reliance must be placed on the mineral wealth and the pastoral possibilities of this great possession of ours.

I have been twitted by the honorable member for Grey with presenting a policy of despair in connexion with this Territory. The honorable member surely does not expect me to portray its possibilities in the exuberant language of a company promoter. Is it not better to look difficulties in the face rather than resort to the devices of the ostrich? Is it not wiser in the long run, and more honest to present drab reality rather than a picturesque Utopia ? Remember that we cannot absolve ourselves from responsibility for the consequences to men who might be lured into the region by glowing descriptions of the fortune which there awaits grit and industry. It would, of course, be easy to draw alluring pictures of the Territory; to dwell on the rapt happiness of Edwin and Angelina gazing on roseate sunsets, across fields of bountiful crops which the mere tickling of the fruitful soil had made ready for the reaper. But those on whom responsibility rests must adhere with fidelity to the actual conditions which must be faced by the settler in the Territory.

Mr Yates - If you would incorporate the railway in that picture, we should take you more seriously.

Mr MAHON - I hope She honorable member will live to see that railway, and that a grateful people will bestow on him the halo which he has invented for the right honorable member for Swan. I would like to briefly touch on one matter referred to by the honorable members for Brisbane and Barrier. I refer to the policy of the Government in respect to the liquor traffic in the Northern Territory. With the objects which both these gentlemen have in viewI have a good deal of sympathy. The objection that arises to my mind - and it is an objection that confronts all reformers in that sphere - is that they are attempting to do in one generation what is the work of four or five generations. They expect to do offhand what only education and example may accomplish after a good many years.

Mr Thomas - As the honorable member for Flinders would say, " the time is not yet ripe.

Mr MAHON - Although the honorable member for Brisbane holds extreme views regarding liquor prohibition, I must say that he was absolutely fair in the way he presented his case. But he is sufficiently hardheaded and practical to know the difficulty that faces any man who attempts to apply prohibition to a country that lies largely within the tropics.

Mr Sinclair - Give them local option.

Mr MAHON - I have no objection to that at all.

Mr Finlayson - That is what I suggest.

Mr MAHON - I have no objection to take a referendum vote of the white people of the Northern Territory in respect to the sale of liquor in that territory.

Mr Webster - Of all the people ?

Mr MAHON - Yes.

Mr Finlayson - If you will do that, I shall be satisfied.

Mr MAHON - I will be prepared to do that on the first available opportunity; but I think the honorable member will be grievously disappointed in the result.

Mr Finlayson - Absolutely, no.

Mr MAHON - Does the honorable member expect victory for his principles?

Mr Finlayson - I do not.

Mr MAHON - Why do you want it?

Mr Finlayson - For educational purposes.

Mr MAHON - Very well, I am in agreement with the honorable member; but surely he will realize the impossibility of preventing men from drinking in a climate of that kind! He has been in some of the tropical parts of Australia, and he must know the thirst that is developed in those regions. However, it it be that we cannot reform this generation within this generation's life time - and I do not think we can - and if men will drink, no matter what the results may be, surely it is a good thing that they have pure, unadulterated liquor. That is what we propose to do, We propose to regulate the sale of liquor throughout the Territory.

Mr Webster - And the quality?

Mr MAHON - And the quality,of course. We shall be the sole buyersof liquor there, and we shall be the sole vendors.

Mr Finlayson - And you will sell a curious liquor that will not make men drunk ?

Mr MAHON - If men drink too much they will get drunk ; if they eat too much they will get ill. It is not the use of liquor that we propose to prohibit; it is the abuse of it, and the introduction of the vile concoctions that have worked so much mischief on the constitutions of white men in the past.

Mr Thomas - Will you give us your definition of the word " abuse " ?

Mr MAHON - I think the honorable member, whose reputation for humour is well established in this House, can find an illustration if he will " stop, look, and listen," when next he goes out of doors. The honorable member for Barrier referred to a suggestion of mine which found favour with the Argus, that returned soldiers should be invited to settle in the Northern Territory. He appeared to think that approval from such a. source threw some doubt on the scheme. In that I am inclined to concur. It certainly is disconcerting to find one's proposals favoured by the organ of Toryism. The position reminds me of O'Connell's attitude towards the Times. Whenever he was in doubt about any question he consulted the Times, and invariably found that by doing the exact opposite to what it recommended he was generally right. But the honorable member for the Barrier has scarcely gathered the real purport of the proposal in regard to the settlement of returned soldiers. I recognise, as he does, that everything we can do for the men now fighting for civilization should be done when they return. Many of these men who before the war had followed sedentary occupations, will have acquired a taste and liking for openair life, and may be willing, in default of better opportunities to embrace those offered by this new country. Judging by the number of disappointed applicants at every land ballot, it will be very difficult to find in the moderately cool portions of Australia areas of land offering sufficient attraction to these men. If we are to assist settlers in the Territory - and I think we should - then these men, who have developed a taste for an open-air life, and who will be physically strong and vigorous, might well be ' assisted to take up land in the Northern Territory. The precise method in which this is to be done remains to be decided, but it mightwell be done perhaps on the community system suggested by the honorable member for Franklin.

Mr Poynton - Any attempt at settlement on the community system will be an absolute failure.

Mr MAHON - I do not know why the honorable member should say that.

Mr Pigott - Surely the Minister would not put our returned soldiers on land which no one else would take up?

Mr MAHON - I spoke not of every returned soldier, but of those who might be inclined to follow the life of a pioneer. I did not say that we should send them indiscriminately into the Territory.

Mr Pigott - Could we not obtain for them land nearer home ?

Mr MAHON - Can the honorable member find any land for them in his own constituency? If not, what alternative has he to offer ? In conclusion, I may say that these Estimates relate to several other important matters, such as the control of Norfolk Island, the Territory of Papua, and the High Commissioner's office; but, with the exception of the honorable member for Cook, no one has referred to them. The honorable member for Darling Downs has made some inquiries privately regarding Papuan developments in railways, oil, rubber, and general plantations, and I am glad to be able to supply the information. As the Committee is aware, the late Government projected a railway from Port Moresby to Astrolabe, anc! in respect to that line I have ascertained that the surveys had been completed, and the. work was about to be begun when the war broke out. That event created considerable uncertainty as to the future of the mines, on which the railway will depend for practically all its business. The Mount Morgan Company, which it was understood was about to exercise the option which it held to purchase the principal mine, the Laloki, declined to exercise that option. The result was that no steps 'were taken in connexion with the construction", and that the rails which had been ordered for Port Moresby were carried on to Brisbane, where they now are. Since that time the position has not changed until to-day, when some responsible gentleman called on the Secretary and intimated the desire to re-open negotiations on -the basis of their furnishing a guarantee of a certain amount of traffic. A.s this proposal is only now being submitted to me, there has been no time to consider it, but it might, perhaps, be stated, for the information of the House,, that the intention to complete the railway has not been definitely abandoned. The fact is that the work was suspended only because the Government found themselves in a position that whereas they might build the railway, they had no assurance that any freight would be forthcoming, on its completion, for it to carry. It might, perhaps, be added, that the wharf at Port Moresby, with which the oil fields work is intimately connected, is about to be begun. Instructions to put the work in hand have already been given.

Honorable members will be interested to hear the latest reports from the oil field, which came to hand only to-day. Work in connexion with the oil field, which had been suspended, pending consideration of Dr. Wade's final report, has now been resumed. Dr. Wade has been appointed director of the oil fields under an engagement for two years. Three drillers have been engaged, two of whom had to be obtained from Canada. These men have arrived, and leave Sydney today. A report from Dr. Wade has just been received, indicating that work on. the field is now well in hand. He has already obtained 30 or 40 gallons of a good, clear, light oil, which he states gives better results in his oil engine than oil imported for the purpose. It has a sweet smell, and is free from sulphur. It is likely that a large sample will be sent down shortly. This light oil, in Dr. Wade's opinion, indicates a heavier oil at a lower depth.

Mr Poynton - What are Dr. Wade's qualifications ?

Mr Glynn - He is a man of very high standing. We made exhaustive inquiries regarding him.

Mr MAHON - If the honorable mem. ber will refer to the report which Dr. Wade has presented he will see for himself the various letters which he is entitled to put at the end of his name.

Mr Poynton - I have known a lot of mining fellows who put many letters at the end of their names.

Mr Page - The honorable member for Darwin has the whole alphabet after his name.

Mr MAHON - But I spoke of the various letters denoting academic distinctions which Dr. Wade is " entitled '* to put at the end of his name. New plant has been purchased, but, owing to the rather difficult nature of the country, it is possible that further plant of a special character will have to be imported.

A small vessel for the transport of stores, &c, between Port Moresby and the field has just been completed, and is to leave Brisbane within the next few days. Arrangements for the engaging, housing, and feeding of a considerable number of native labourers are now in progress. The matter of the health of the men of the field is a subject of consideration. Malaria and a particularly troublesome kind of sore are prevalent, but it is expected that, with the application of the precautions suggested by modern preventive medicine, these evils can be minimized.

Mr Boyd - Does Dr. Wade give any idea of the base of the oil. Is it asphalturn or paraffin 1

Mr MAHON - Dr. Wade's report came to hand only to-day, and I have not yet had time to read it. I shall be glad to show it to* the honorable member. In regard to the plantations, the position is as follows: -

Speaking generally with regard to the plantations in the Territory, it may be said that they are in a favorable condition. Many mistakes have occurred owing to ignorance of planting conditions and inexperience of the country. During the last two years progress has been seriously retarded by the remarkable and unusual drought felt over a large part of the Territory. No particulars are available at present showing the respective areas of different private owners which are under cultivation, but as regards the Government plantations, the following table shows the areas under cultivation : -


On the whole, these plantations are in a favorable condition, but it will be six or seven years before they are all making returns. This period has been extended owing to the setbacks that the Government have had, in common with private planters, particularly owing to the drought.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

Mr MAHON - I have exhausted not only the time allotted to me, but the various points raised during this debate; and, since nearly all the proposed votes for which these Estimates provide have been expended, I ask the Committee to be good enough to agree to them without further delay.

Mr Glynn - Mr. Chairman-

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member has already spoken twice.

Mr Palmer - Mr. Chairman, I desire

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member for Echuca has already spoken twice.

Mr Palmer - With all respect, sir, I have spoken only once.

The CHAIRMAN - An honorable member is entitled to speak twice in Committee to the one question. The honorable member for Echuca, as my own records and those of the Clerks show, has exercised his full privilege.

Mr Joseph Cook - I rise to a point of order. The honorable member for Angas, having exhausted the time allotted to him on the first occasion, was allowed an extension of time, and spoke for five minutes longer; but I am quite clear that otherwise he has not spoken twice.

Mr Glynn - With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, I have not spoken twice. Through the courtesy of the Committee, I was allowed to speak for about five minutes 'after the first, thirty minutes allotted to me had expired.

The CHAIRMAN - The Standing Orders provide that in Committee honorable members may speak twice on any one subject, and that on each occasion they shall not occupy more than thirty minutes. The honorable member for Angas rose for the first time and spoke for thirty minutes. I then called him to order, his time having expired. The Committee desired that he should be allowed to speak right on - that he should be allowed to exercise his privilege to speak a second time without any other honorable member intervening - and leave was granted accordingly. The honorable member for Angas then spoke for another quarter of an hour. I am bound under the Standing Orders to rule therefore that he has spoken twice.

Mr Glynn - I do not wish to speak a second time, but there is. a misapprehension which, as I am the victim, I should like to clear up. I thanked the Committed for its courtesy for granting me an extension of time, which otherwise I could have obtained by sitting down and rising again. It was a case of an extension of one speech.

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