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Thursday, 11 September 1958


Mr NELSON (Northern Territory) . - At this late hour, the committee is asked to approve the proposed votes for the Northern Territory, the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, Nauru, Norfolk Island, Cocos Island and the Australian Capital Territory, totalling some £36,000,000. It seems that the usual procedure will be used again and the gag will be applied very soon. On Tuesday of this week, the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) gave an assurance that somewhat lengthy consideration would be given to the estimates for the territories when that stage was reached. It was on that understanding that members of the Opposition refrained from debating the estimates for the Department of Territories when they were before the committee. The Minister said -

If the committee needs it, I willingly give an assurance that ample time will be provided when Part 3 of the Estimates comes before us to enable honorable members to discuss at appropriate length the proposed votes for any of the Territories in that part to which they wish to direct themselves.

It appears that speakers on the Opposition side will be given only fifteen minutes each to discuss these Estimates. Our remarks must necessarily be brief, and we will not have time to discuss many matters. First of all. Mr. Temporary Chairman, I want to refer to a matter that was raised at question time to-day concerning constitutional reform in the Northern Territory.

The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) asked the Minister for Territories whether it was the intention of the Government to bring forward legislation during the life of this Parliament, concerning recommendations before the Cabinet on constitutional reforms which were agreed to at a conference between members of the Government and members of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory late in July. The Minister replied that although the meeting had been held and an assurance was given that the matters raised by the meeting would be placed before Cabinet as soon as possible and within a short time of the close of the meeting, nothing had been done. The Minister said that a full report was placed before the Cabinet. Therefore, the Cabinet has had two months to consider those proposals and no concrete decision has been taken. The Minister has admitted that no measure will be introduced during the remaining three weeks of this session of the Parliament to give effect to all or any of those recommendations.

T warned the Minister the other night that the members of the Legislative Council and the public in the Northern Territory were becoming increasingly restive on the attitude of the Government on these important reforms. Only this week, the elected members of the Legislative Council petitioned the Administrator of the Northern Territory demanding that the Legislative Council be called together because they feared that the Government was going to act as it has done in this connexion. The Government has shelved the recommendations of the Legislative Council until after the general elections in the hope that the people of the Northern Territory will have forgotten these matters before the new Commonwealth Parliament assembles, but I warn the Minister that the people of the Territory and their representatives in their council will have something further to say on this matter.

The Legislative Council of the Territory was given an assurance that some positive action would be taken. Now, the problem is going to be shelved until after the general elections because the Minister has said that there are certain points that the Government cannot rectify " just off the cuff ". I remind the Minister that he has had eight years to work out proposals. The people of the Northern Territory regard this matter seriously. The Government had no interest in the matter until there was a demonstration in the council, and the Commonwealth Government was forced to call a conference. One would have expected that the Government would have some concrete proposals to put forward, but the Minister admitted by his statement to-day that it had no thoughts on the matter and was still considering what could be done about the complaints that have been made on behalf of the people of the Northern Territory over a period of some seven years. However, I am unable to pursue this matter any further, because of the limitation of time.

I want now to pass from that serious matter to other serious matters that affect the Northern Territory and the people who are living there, which are dealt with iii the Budget. I refer particularly to housing in the Northern Territory. I have no doubt that the Minister will, when replying, quote figures to show that increasing amounts of money have been made available for housing in the Territory. I admit that that is so, but I want to point out to the committee that the only housing that has been provided by the Government in the Northern Territory is for the purpose of accommodating its own employees. In that connexion, there are two categories of civil servants - those that can be housed and those who cannot be housed. They are classed, of course, as key personnel and non-key personnel. A person in the key personnel category has a reasonable chance of obtaining a house, but a day worker in any of the non-key positions - and there are hundreds of them in the Northern Territory - has only a very remote chance indeed of obtaining a house. It does not matter whether or not he is married and has a family; it is just too bad for a man who occupies a non-key position; nothing can be done about it. The circumstances of the case are not taken into consideration at all. There is arising at the present time, T believe, a situation in which persons engaged on day labour will be barred completely from obtaining houses. Certainly, several people in this category have obtained houses in the Northern Territory, but now I believe a rule has been made that no further housing shall be let to persons engaged on day labour. The alternatives confronting these people are these:

If a man on day labour can finance the purchase of a home, he may do so; otherwise he will have to pack up and leave the Territory. lt is true, of course, that the Government has in operation a housing loans scheme, but I point out that it is necessary for a person wishing to obtain a loan under that scheme to own the equivalent of £500 before he may apply. He must have a block of land and a certain amount of cash. People in the lower income brackets who are working in the Northern Territory are unable lo accumulate this initial deposit, and so they remain homeless. I urge the Minister seriously to consider amending the housing loans scheme for the Northern Territory to provide that loans will be made available to the people of the north who have a nominal deposit, because, having got to the stage of wanting to acquire a home, they are likely to become permanent residents and the possibility of their failing to meet their obligations is remote indeed.

I wish now to refer to another aspect of the matter. I think that the Government should immediately establish in the Northern Territory a housing commission similar to the housing commissions in the States, to be financed from Commonwealth funds to enable it to build homes for rental throughout the length and breadth of the Territory. We know, of course, that not everybody can afford to buy a home. Furthermore, not everybody wants to accept the responsibility of acquiring a home under a housing loans scheme. Many people want to go to the Northern Territory to find out for themselves at first hand whether the working conditions and the climatic conditions would suit them. They want to sample the country for a period of time. Under existing conditions, of course, it is impossible for them to do so.

If a housing scheme were in operation, under which homes could be rented for a certain period, I feel sure that many people would go to the Territory for the purpose I have mentioned, and that ultimately they would take their families there and become permanent residents of the north. In the Northern Territory, as in other parts of Australia, housing is the key problem at the present time. The Minister stated in reply to a question that I directed to him some time ago, that a housing scheme had' been announced for the Northern Territory and that funds were available in theEstimates for it. Later, he retracted the statement that the scheme had been announced, but I believe that he still insists that funds are being provided in the Estimates for such a scheme. I should like him to define the scheme and to informthe committee of the amount of money that will be made available to expand the homebuilding programme in the Northern Territory both for Government employees and for persons outside of Government employment who wish to establish themselves in the Territory.

Of course, the housing problem does not. only exist in Darwin; it exists in relation to other centres in the Northern Territory and to agricultural settlement. If the Minister were to make a bold decision in relation to the housing problems of the Territory, he would go a long way towards solving a lot of the problems of the north. The extent of the housing problem in Darwin can be seen by the slum conditions, and by the number of displaced persons who are camping at Mendil Beach, which is greater than ever before. The shortage of houses in Darwin presents a very serious problem, and the longer a solution is delayed the more acute the problem will become.

T believe that in the Australian Capital Territory the Government writes down the cost of housing construction to enable houses to be made available to tenants at a reasonable rental. If that can be done in the Australian Capital Territory, and if the State housing commissions can do it, the Commonwealth Government should adopt a similar approach to the provision of housing in the Northern Territory.

T pass now to the subject of education. Some concern is being felt about the educational facilities in the Northern Territory. We know that during the period of the war the whole of north Australia was evacuated. Although we are trying to catch up on the schooling facilities there, it seems to me that we are falling further behind as the vears go by. The bone of contention in Darwin is the absence of an efficient high school. There is a high school of sorts, but I point out that it is sited on an area of 1-J acres of land, adjacent to the higher primary school and the infants schools. The three schools are -situated on an area of 5 acres of land, and they provide only inadequately for the requirements of the children of Darwin. It is known that in South Australia a minimum area of from 15 to 20 acres is provided for a high school. Yet, as I have said, the three schools in Darwin are established on an area of only 5 acres of land, and this is being whittled away by the building of temporary classrooms. At the present time, only H acres of playground area is available for the 1,100 children who attend the schools; ultimately, the playing area will be reduced to about 1 acre. I do not think that that is adequate. After many years of promises, a school is to be provided at Alice Springs.







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