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Thursday, 11 September 1958

Mr HASLUCK (CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Territories) - At the end of July a meeting was arranged between representatives of the Government and all the members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory in order to discuss a report on constitutional reform which had been prepared by a select committee of that council. Following that meeting a public statement was made on the outcome of the discussion. In it an assurance was given that the matters raised at the meeting would be placed before Cabinet as early as possible. Within a very short time of the conclusion of the meeting the full report of the discussion was placed before Cabinet, together with a submission by myself regarding the matters on which decision was required. Cabinet devoted what might be termed a special meeting one evening to the consideration of those matters. It examined them very carefully and in some detail and reached certain conclusions. At the same time, Cabinet reached the opinion that these matters should not be dealt with piecemeal; that the question of constitutional reform should be dealt with as a whole. The honorable member and the House will realize that the proposals that were discussed involved institutions in the Northern Territory itself as well as this Parliament. As I have said, the judgment of Cabinet was that they should be considered not piecemeal, but as a whole. Some of the proposals, particularly those which relate to some arrangement regarding executive authority in the Northern Territory during a transitional period, raised issues which are very complex and require detailed study. I cannot give an assurance that the detailed study will be completed in time for any of the proposals to be put before this Parliament during the current period of meetings. I sympathize, and I am sure the Cabinet sympathizes, with the very strong interest and understands what might be termed, with all due respect, the impatience of the people of the Northern Territory on these matters, but one has to realize that constitutional reform is not a subject which can be handled by decisions off the cuff. Constitutional reform does involve the need to exercise very great care and a farreaching vision.

Dr Evatt - So nothing will be done before the election?

Mr HASLUCK - In the remaining three weeks of this session no measure will be introduced in this Parliament. It is in the hands of Cabinet to decide what measures will be taken on further submissions after the Parliament rises.

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