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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - I am very glad to have had an opportunity to listen to the criticisms levelled against this Bill. I feel certain that honora'ble senators who have addressed themselves to it have given a great deal of consideration to its various clauses, and have looked very closely into the alterations which it: purports to effect in the existing law. I should like, before the debate closes, to say a few words in reply to some of the criticism that has been offered. At this hour I shall not delay the Senate at any great length. The first criticism indulged in by Senator Symon was that the marginal notes attached to the clauses of this Bill are calculated to mislead those who may be disposed to rely upon them.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The honorand learned senator put that right.

Senator KEATING - I pointed out yesterday that this Bill is in many of its provisions really a re-cast of the existing Act. Though the verbiage has been altered the substance in many instances remains the same. I went through the clauses seriatim in which any substantial alterations of the existing Act are contained, and explained them to the Senate as clearly and as fully as I could. I thought that honorable senators might, therefore, understand that they need not necessarily take the marginal notes as indicating that certain clauses had been taken bodily from the existing Act. Senator Symon also referred to the fact that I gave no instances of hardships to the individual which have been disclosed in the operation of the present Act, and the honorable and learned senator suggested, therefore, that this Bill is not designed to remedy any of them.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The honorable senator pointed out that he meant hardships to the Commonwealth.

Senator KEATING - There have been hardships; to the Commonwealth because matters have been hung up in many instances owing to the difficulties in the way of coming to a termination of negotiations with persons whose lands were to be acquired. Apart from that, however, I mayrecount some of the benefits which the Bill purports to afford to individuals. In the first instance it provides that wherever land is being occupied temporarily, that is to say land other than that which is being actually acquired - it may be adjacent land - payment of rent shall be made to the individual for the period of the temporary occupation.

Senator Millen - That is in the existing Act.

Senator KEATING - No, there is a different provision dealing with surface crops only.

Senator Millen - It also provides for rent, and the time within which it shall be paid.

Senator KEATING - We have, in addition, in this Bill given facilities for resort to the States Courts instead of to the High Court, in many instances in which under the existing Act it would be necessary to invoke the jurisdiction of the High Court.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - That is more of an advantage to the Commonwealth than to the individual.

Senator KEATING - It may also be of advantage to the individual in many instances to have matters settled by the States Courts. Then, provision is made in the Bill to enable an individual to obtain an extension of time for putting in a claim without the necessity of invoking the jurisdiction of the High. Court. He may apply to the Minister for an extension of time.

Senator Mulcahy - The Bill does away with the right of arbitration.

Senator KEATING - I explained the reason for that yesterday, and Senator Symon, in his criticism, has agreed with me in that.

Senator Millen - I understood the Minister to say that, under the existing Act, no provision is made for the payment of rent for the temporary occupation of land, and that provision is made only for compensation for crops that may be damaged. If the honorable and learned senator will look at paragraphb of section 55 of the existing Act, he will find that not only has rent to be paid, but it has to be paid at specified times. Under this Bill it has to be paid, but the time is not specified.

Senator KEATING - I have not a copy of the existing Act before me. I was enumerating from memory some of the benefits to the individual which are provided for by this Bill. We make provision for adjusting mortgagees' and mortgagors' rights in the case of compulsory acquisition. We enable the individual who has to serve notices upon the Minister in connexion with the measure to do so by post, without having to incur the expense of personal service, either by himself or by paying some one else to serve the notices. These are only a few of the instances which occur to me in which provisions are inserted for the benefit of the individual.

Senator Best - Is it provided that, where the valuation is underĀ£250, the matter between the parties can be settled by a police magistrate?

Senator KEATING - It can be referred to a Court of competent jurisdiction in a State.

SenatorBest. - That might mean a County Court, which would be far more expensive.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - That is what it does mean.

Senator KEATING - We also provide that, where proceedings are taken in the higher Court, it shall be competent for that Court to declare that the costs shall be only the costs on the lower scale, or the costs of the Court of lower jurisdiction, unless it is certified that the case should have been taken in the Court of higher jurisdiction.

Senator Best - I was referring to the advantage conferred by the Victorian Act in enabling these cases to be dealt with in the simplest possible way, where the valuation is underĀ£250.

Senator KEATING - With regard to the other criticism offered by Senator Symon, I think I may deal with it better in Committee. I agree with the honorable and learned senator that there is no neessity on the part of the Commonwealth to impose any such conditions upon the States as might interfere with the harmonious relations which should always exist between them and the Commonwealth. I feel certain that this Bill does not do that, and we shall find that the words used are such as appear in the existing Act. With regard to the remarks of Senator Millen, the honorable senator will find, when we get into Committee, that a conditional lessee of Crown land will stand in. the same position as lessees from private individuals. This is dealt with in clause 57, which deals with the acquisition of land subject to a lease. Although we have defined "Crown land" in the definition clause, as any land the property of a State, we have also defined " land " generally, and have so defined it as to include, amongst other things, " Crown land " that is leased by any contract from the Crown. Lessees from the Crown are therefore entitled to all the ordinary privileges and rights accorded to lessees of land generally under clause 57. This is a matter with which we can deal more fully in Committee, as is also the matter referred to by Senator Mulcahy. It is desirable that the Commonwealth should have power, not merely to sell or dispose of land itself, by way of sale or lease, but also that it should have a direct power to effect exchanges, perhaps with the States, for other land which may be occupied by the States for other purposes. It is desirable that we should have that power directly under this Bill, in order that the negotiations between the Commonwealth and the States may rest on some sure foundation, and may be expedited to the advantage of both. I think that Senator Mulcahy is mindful of some transactions of the character which have taken place in the past between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Tasmania. After what has been a fairly exhaustive criticism of the details of a somewhat intricate measure, I think we should now be able to approach its consideration in Committee with a prospect of some very satisfactory results.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma.

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