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Wednesday, 13 June 1928

Mr NELSON - It is. Rightly or wrongly, Mussolini is not deterred by fears of international complications from doing what he considers to be in the interest of his country. He said to the Swiss "Out . you go," and out they went. Not only does he prevent the immigration of foreigners, but he expels those who have been resident in Italy for 40 years.

Mr Parsons - I did not know that the honorable member was an admirer of Mussolini.

Mr NELSON - I am not. I have been contrasting Mussolini's promptness in conserving the interests of his countrymen regardless of consequences, with the pusillanimous attitude of the Prime Minister.

Mr Parsons - Mussolini is secure, with the strength of the Italian army and navy behind him, while Switzerland has not even an army.

Mr NELSON - The point I am endeavouring to impress upon the Government is that Mussolini is not afraid to conserve the rights of his countrymen, but because the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) and his colleagues remain silent, 60 per cent, of the men employed on certain Commonwealth work's are foreigners, although Australians are walking the country in search of work. The excuse offered by the Prime Minister for the existing unemployment was the shortage of Commonwealth, funds. That statement is not consistent with the recent proposal of the Government to provide £500,000, and incur an indefinite incidental expenditure, for an empire exhibition to be held in Sydney. Apparently the Treasurer did not anticipate any difficulty in financing an exhibition that would be of no practical value to Australia, but in regard to national works sanctioned by this Parliament the Government pleads a shortage of money.

I represent an area which is capable of absorbing many hundreds of thousands of settlers if its land laws are intelligently administered. The settlement of the Northern Territory and other vacant parts of Australia will not be hastened by introducing hundreds of thousands of people from overseas to compete for work in an already congested market, but if the country were developed in advance, newcomers could be absorbed as fast as they arrived. In such circumstances I would say that the faster they arrived the better for Australia. Unfortunately, owing to the present system, parts of Australia remain as undeveloped as they were a century ago. The Northern Territory consists of an area about three times the size of Victoria, and transport facilities are essential to its development. Its coast line is about 1,200 miles in extent. Shipping facilities are absolutely necessary in this country, as the Government has recognized, but let us investigate how it has endeavoured to provide them. First of all it purchased a boat called the Leichhardt, which rendered excellent service until it was destroyed by fire at sea. Next the John Forrest was purchased at a cost of £16,000. It also did useful service. But about that time the Government became possessed of a violent hatred for anything in the nature of a government enterprise, and sold the vessel for £6,000.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What reason was given for the sale?

Mr NELSON - It was said that the service was losing about £4,000 per annum, and the sale was made ostensibly to save that amount. A contract was then given to a private concern which ran a boat called the Rachel Cohen. The Government provided a subsidy of £5,000 per annum for that service, notwithstanding the fact that the boat was obsolete and incapable of supplying the promised service. The contract was subsequently cancelled, and a new contract made with the owners of the John Alice. Subsequently this vessel was sold for £750, although Captain Davis made an offer of £1,500 for it. The Huddersfield then came into the picture, but it did not serve any period of the contract, although its owners enjoyed a subsidy of £5,000 per annum. A contract was next made with a Mr. Sleigh, in Melbourne, who commissioned a boat called the Marion Sleigh, to conduct a service. A subsidy of £10,400 was provided in respect of it. She was a rather large vessel, with a draft of 10 ft. 6 in., and consequently could not navigate the rivers; so the service' had to be discontinued. All this time the people were without adequate coastal shipping facilities, although the Government had given them an assurance that these would be provided. As a matter of fact, some of the residents were on the verge of starvation because supplies had not come to hand. The next step in this tragic shipping history was the granting of a contract to the owners of a ketch now at Adelaide called The Active. This is a wooden vessel, 55 years of age, containing low-powered engines which will never be able to provide the service. The boat would not stand the vibration- of new engines even if they were installed. The contract specified that the service should be inaugurated in June, but those who know the conditions on the coast of the Northern Territory are aware that during the monsoonal period, which lasts from December to April, it is unsafe to conduct coastal shipping. Seeing that it will take two or three months to get the boat from Adelaide to Darwin, it appears that the people in the north will be deprived of shipping facilities for almost twelve months. All this has happened because a government vessel was being operated at a loss of £4,000 per annum. It is provided in the new contract that the coastal freight rate for cargo shall be £6 per ton. Seeing that it costs £3 per toll, plus handling charges, to land supplies at Darwin by the Burns Philp vessels, it will be seen that the settlers in the north are labouring under almost impossible handicaps.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) yesterday requested honorable members who criticized the financial policy of the Government to avoid generalities, and suggest specific economies. I do not pretend to be a financial genius like the Treasurer, and I have no desire for the singular distinction which he enjoys in that respect, but I can point to a few economies that could be effected immediately. The Prime Minister advised us to "dig deeper." I do not know what he meant by that. Modern agricultural practice favours shallow rather than deep cultivation. There is plenty of evidence on the surface of things that the Government has been extravagant. I was interested to hear the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) aver that he had been converted to the view that it was unwise to delegate to commissions and boards powers which this Parliament should exercise. I submit that the Government has appointed boards and commissions chiefly to enable Ministers to avoid direct responsibility for their unsatisfactory administration, and to delayfacing the developmental problems which should be receiving earnest consideration. I suggest to 'the Prime Minister that he could effect an immediate economy by dispensing with the services of the North Australia Commission. This body has recently submitted a report to the Government upon the problems which will have to be faced in North Australia, but it has only mentioned matters to which I have been directing attention for the last five years. It has declared that roads, railways and water conservation works must be put in hand. The Government should have been aware of the necessity for these essential services. It was not necessary to appoint a commission to direct attention to them. Instead of proposing an expenditure of £500,000 upon an Empire Exhibition in Sydney, the Prime Minister would be well advised to proceed with the construction of railway work in the Northern Territory. On this point the report of the commission states -

Practically no substantial economical development can be expected until a proper initial system of railway communication is provided.

It goes on to recommend -

That the Darwin-Daly Waters railway be forthwith extended to the Queensland border (a distance of 450 miles), with the ultimate definite object of connecting with Bourke (New South Wales).

The construction of that railway has been debated in this chamber, and had the Government allowed its supporters to express their opinion frankly, they would have approved of the work being put in hand at an early date. In this report the commissioners say that the railway extension traversing the Barkley Tableland should be proceeded with. This is an area which is admittedly suitable for sheep grazing, and large portions of it are capable of carrying a sheep to four acres. I think that the honorable member for Riverina said that the area could support 10,000,00f) sheep, but it all depends upon transport facilities. We have known that, not only since the appointment of this commission, but for half a century past, even when the Territory was under the control of South Australia. Everybody has recognized all along that without transport facilities it was impossible to develop this huge tract of country. We should seek to absorb our unemployed, and make room for migrants by developing the known areas of great potential wealth, areas which are capable of producing such staple commodities as wool and wheat. Expenditure on this railway could not be regarded as unproductive.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Upon what tenure is the land held?

Mr NELSON - It is practically all leasehold. Of the whole 500,000 square miles in the Northern Territory, only a very small area is freehold. The commission goes on to say in this report that the provision of reasonable transport facilities must precede the closer settlement and further development of North Australia, which merely bears out what I have been saying for a long time. The report states that the Darwin to Daly Waters Railway should be further extended to the Queensland border,, a distance of 450 miles, with the ultimate object of connecting with Bourke in New South Wales. Why has not the Development and Migration Commission gone into the broad spaces where the possibilities of development really exist? The commissioners are not in a position to say whether or not those areas are suitable for development. I made a personal recommendation to the commissioners, but was informed that although they sympathize with my suggestion, they could take notice only of recommendations which came from the Government. I brought the matter up in this House, but the Minister has not yet made any recommendation on the lines I suggested. From personal experience, I know that I could settle hundreds and thousands of men profitably in the north if transport facilities were provided. The settlers there would not be competing, to the number of 500, and even 800, for each small block of land, as they are in other parts of Australia. The land is there for any number of them, and it may be had at rentals of from ls. to 2s. a square mile. Settlers do not require much capital to get a start there. Owing to the inflation of land values which has taken place in the south, a man needs a fortune to buy into a property, and requires an enormous annual return to pay the interest on the capital expenditure.

Mr Killen - Surely the honorable member would not condemn unfortunate settlers to live in the Northern Territory when they can get land in other parts of Australia.

Mr NELSON - I do not understand the honorable member when he speaks about condemning people to live there. I have condemned one of my own sons to live in the area of which he speaks, and I think that I have as great a parental interest in my son ae the honorable member has in his. I am not advocating something in which I do not believe. I am convinced that the possibilities are there. In spite of the pessimistic views of the honorable member for Riverina I am satisfied that if proper transport facilities are made available the progress of this area will confound him and all the other critics. In its nineteenth recommendation the North Australia Commission states that the construction of a railway from a point on the proposed extension from Daly Waters to the Queensland border and to a point on the Western Australian border should be fully investigated, and that the preparation of all information, including trial surveys, plans, estimates and reports should be completed. That is really the substance of the motion submitted by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning), to which the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) proposed an amendment. I pointed out at the time that the amendment and the motion were inseparable, and that 's borne out by the recommendation of the commissioners. It is because those in charge of affairs do not grasp the possibilities for development in these areas that our population is not growing as rapidly as it should. When we consider the tragic results that have accompanied . the administration of the Northern Territory in the pest we cannot wonder that more progress has not been made. A bill was brought down some time ago called the North Australia Bill, under which it was proposed to cut the Territory into two sections divided by the 20th parallel of south latitude, the idea being to make the administration of each portion more practical. An ordinance has now been framed, however, by which it is proposed to revert to the old system, and the whole Territory will be administered from Darwin. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster), who claims to take a paternal interest in the development of Central Australia, would do well to note the position that is being created in the north to-day. When introducing the North Australia Bill into the Senate, Sir George Pearce said -

The difficulties of administration under the present system cannot be realized by any one who has not actually experienced them, either from the point of view of attempting to administer the Territory from Melbourne, or from the point of view of those who have suffered from the administration in the Northern Territory itself.

Let us consider some of the difficulties in relation to communication. There is only one mail a month from Melbourne to Darwin, and it is not possible to receive a reply to a communication sent from Melbourne to Darwin under seven weeks. In addition to this disability considerable inconvenience, delay, and expense is incurred in the transmission of telegrams between Melbourne and the Territory. There is also great delay in the administration of Central Australia owing to the remoteness of Alice Springs from Darwin. When wc remember that the affairs of the people living in the southern portion of the Northern Territory are administered from Darwin, we can sec that their disadvantages are multiplied. Whilst the people at Darwin suffer owing to the fact that they are controlled from Melbourne, those at Alice Springs are even more remote from the point of view of time.

The distance from Darwin to the South Australian border is 1,107 miles. A communication from Melbourne to Alice Springs, directed through the Administrator at Darwin - assuming there was a convenient mail connexion - would take nearly three months to reach its destination, and it would be double that time before a reply could be received.

In view of all these circumstances, it will readily be seen that it is impossible to attempt to administer from Darwin that part of the Northern Territory situated south of the 20th parallel of latitude. It is therefore proposed to arrange for the administration to be carried out direct from Melbourne through an administrative officer at Alice Springs.

As it is proposed to connect Alice Springs with the southern railway system, it is hoped that the construction of that railway will lead to considerable pastoral and mining development in the southern portion of the Territory. This will, I think, justify the separation of the administration of the southern from the. northern portion of the Territory.

With that statement I concur, and at that time I was under the impression that the Government was serious when it stated that it desired to bring about more efficient administration, both of Central and North Australia. Later, however, it was found that this ordinance specially provided for the very thing which Sir George Pearce said was detrimental to the development of the Territory. Under this ordinance all business relating to land in the extreme southern portion of the Territory has still to go through Darwin, which means, in many cases, a delay of months, and prevents settlers from taking advantage of the Adelaide markets. By the time the negotiations have been completed through this roundabout channel, the opportunity for doing profitable business has gone. There is no provision made for the North Australia Commission to delegate its powers to any one else. The honorable member for Riverina, who has gone through part of this country will agree with me that it is impossible for any board of three persons to administer satisfactorily the whole of North and Central Australia at the same time. As the commission cannot delegate its power to any subordinate officer, either in Central or North Australia, it means that the development of Central Australia must be retarded while that of North Australia is pushed ahead. That is a scandalous state of affairs in view of the pronounced and definite statement made by the Government when the North Australia Bill was introduced. The Minister in charge pointed out the necessity for separating the administration of North and Central Australia, and now, after beating the drums and sounding a blast on the trumpets, he is reverting to the system which he previously condemned. His speech was very definite. He said -

It is proposed to connect Alice Springs with the southern railway system. It is hoped that the construction of that railway will lead to considerable pastoral and mining development of the northern portions of the territory. That will, I think, justify the separation of the administration of the southern from the northern portion of the territory.

There is nothing in common between the residents of Central Australia and those of Darwin, and that has been indisputably proved by the experience of many years of administration from Darwin. The residents of Central Australia are now to receive no assistance.

Mr Killen - They are too far away from the administration. .

Mr NELSON - That is so. If the Government seriously contemplates the development of Australia, and is committing this country to an expenditure of a considerable sum of money for the construction of the railway to Alice Springs, it is only logical that it should also give effect to other propositions for the development of the country which the line is to serve. To-day the revenues from Central Australia are being collected by the North Australia Commission, whose financial jurisdiction is limited to North Australia. The slowness of the development of the north of Australia is some what discouraging, even more so than when South Australia controlled the Territory.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What progress is being made with the railway?

Mr NELSON - About a mile a day. The North Australia Act, which separated the administration of North and Central Australia, provided for the appointment of an advisory council. That council was looked upon by the residents of North and Central Australia as a means by which they could tender advice to the Government. The men that were selected as members of that council had had a vast experience of the possibilities and requirements of the country. Unfortunately, that council has never met, and even if it did meet it would have no authority to do anything. The control of Central Australia is now to be taken from that council and given to the North Australia Commission, as far as land and primary production is concerned. Does any honorable member believe that that will make for the development of Central Australia? Of course it will not. I protest against the action of the Government in reverting to a system which, on its own admission, was detrimental to the development of the Territory. One has only to meet the settlers in that area to discover that they are the finest type of mcn that we have in Australia. They have done the spade work in that country. They have been put to a colossal test, and have made good. They, therefore, should receive our consideration. Yet the Government now proposes to suspend the development of the Territory at a time when the nation is insisting that the Government shall cease immigration and provide employment for our own people. We have millions of acres of land in the north of Australia that could be made reproductive. The Government should institute a definite policy of development, both in the pastoral and mining industries, and if that were done I am convinced that in the near future that Territory would become prosperous and revenueproducing.

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