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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - There are one or two points in connexion with this Ordinance on which I desire to say a few words. Speaking off-hand, the maximum area for which provision is made in Class I. of Division 1, would, in my opinion, be ample as the maximum area for Class III. Without being able to determine what is a living area in the Northern Territory-

Senator McGregor - A man wants more than a living area in a new country.

Senator RAE - When I speak of a " living area," 1 mean an area which will enable a lessee to acquire a competence before old age overtakes him. I believe that the large areas set out in this Ordinance are bad for the Commonwealth, inasmuch as they will delay rather than accelerate the development of the Territory, and bad for the individual. If there is one thing which has injured the occupying class of Australia more than another, it is the fact that they have hitherto held more land than they could manage to the best advantage. Even in the district in which I reside at present - a fruit-growing district - there are men who could do well on 10 acres, but who are trying to become possessed of 40 acres. In the wheat-growing areas, too, individuals who could make a good living upon 300 or 400 acres are anxious to procure not less than 1,500 acres. Here we are asked to perpetrate a similar evil, because I cannot conceive of any individual requiring close upon 2,000.000 acres to make any effective use of it. What will be the consequence if such huge areas are taken up? A lessee, if he makes any improvements at all, will be tempted to spread them over a large tract of country, whereas be would probably obtain better results if he confined them to a smaller area. lt seems to me inconceivable that land which is worth occupying requires to be taken up in areas of 2,000,000 acres to satisfy the wants of one individual. The only answer made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council to criticism of this sort is that the power of resumption will enable these lands to be reclassified, and the areas to be reduced, as settlement advances. I have looked carefully through the resumption clauses, which certainly provide that in assessing compensation for dispossessing an owner, the latter should receive no consideration in respect of improvements effected by public expenditure, or by proposed public expenditure. But no provision whatever is made in respect of the improved value which will arise from settlement and private expenditure.

Senator Millen - Or from such an instance as was cited by Senator Gardiner when he spoke of the discovery of a gold mine.

Senator Pearce - A re-appraisement is provided for.

Senator RAE - Every twenty-one years.

Senator Millen - That re-appraisement will not affect resumption if the Government wish to resume in the middle of a twentyone year period.

Senator RAE - Exactly. The VicePresident of the Executive Council stated that we do not know what are the potentialities of the Territory.

Senator McGregor - The Land Board will classify the land.

Senator RAE - But it will not constitute itself an exploration party, and travel over the country.

Senator McGregor - It will have to do so before it grants these leases.

Senator RAE - Then it will require to be possessed of angels' wings before it has finished its job. If we are going to justify the leasehold system, we must do so under sensible conditions. While I do not share the view expressed by Senator Millen that there is any special virtue in a terminable lease as against a lease in perpetuity, because a terminable lease may be for twentyone years, and during that period increments in value may arise-

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - The amount of the compensation to be paid to a lessee on resumption would be less in the case of a terminable lease than in the case of a perpetual lease.

Senator Millen - In the case of a terminable lease the Government would have an opportunity of reviewing the whole of the circumstances.

Senator McGregor - The same resolution in another place was directed against the leasehold system in its entirety.

Senator RAE - I have not read what was said in another place, and would no* be influenced much by it, anyhow. I intend to support the perpetual leasing system as against the freehold system, but not because I believe that the last word has been said upon it. We shall have land used to the best advantage only when we adopts a system which more closely approaches to communal ownership.

Senator Pearce - The State Labour party's programme in New South Wales, as outlined by Mr. Holman, is exactly upon these lines - a re-appraisement every twenty years.

Senator RAE - It is not Mr. Holman who can decide these matters, but the Labour movement as a whole.

Senator Pearce - That is the Labour movement's policy as it is interpreted by the State Labour party.

Senator RAE - I do not wish the Minister of Defence to misunderstand me, nor do I desire to misunderstand him. I am not finding fault with the period of reappraisement. I recognise that settlers in a new country should not be disturbed very frequently in regard to the land which they hold. It would not be fair to subject them to short periods of reappraisement. Such conditions would militate very seriously against the taking up of the landa of the Territory. In a new country we must offer much more liberal conditions than are offered in older and more settled Countries. I do not wish to adhere to doctrinaire theories in regard to matters of that kind. But when we offer these Liberal conditions we should not offer lessees such enormous areas. The VicePresident of the Executive Council has emphasized the fact that we have intelligent men charged with the administration of the Act - men who will not grant these large areas unless they see it is advisable to do so. But as Senator Gardiner has pointed out, whenever they can obtain a suitable applicant under this Ordinance, they will have power to grant him up to the maximum area in the various classes. If the Leader of the Government in this Chamber is prepared to say that in no instance will such large areas be granted, it is clear that there is no necessity to permit them to be granted.

Senator McGregor - How in the name of Heaven can I know that? I have not travelled over the country. For all I know to the contrary there may be a block of 3,000,000 acres, which would not be too much to grant to a lessee.

Senator RAE - If the argument of the Vice-President of the Executive Council be sound, we should remove the restriction as to area altogether. Why should we impose a limitation of 3,000 square miles in connexion with Class III. of Division 1 country if we know nothing whatever about the land?

Senator McGregor - Because those who know more about it than I do, and more than the honorable senator knows, recommend it.

Senator RAE - What can any living man know about land which has not been explored ?

Senator McGregor - A lot of it may be agricultural land.

Senator RAE - Exactly. But the officers in the Territory cannot know what unexplored land is like. I cannot conceive of any land being so valueless that 2,000,000 acres are required to enable a man to make a competence. Any lessee would be very much better off with a far less area than he would with such a principality.

Senator McGregor - If I had time 1 could take the honorable senator to land where he could not make a living on 2,000,000 acres.

Senator RAE - A man is foolish to think that he can garner wealth from ex ceedingly large areas, no matter how poor in quality they may be. I do not think that we should minister to that mentallydiseased state. It seems to me that by placing the maximum, area which a lessee may hold so high, we are attempting to discredit the leasehold system. In my opinion there is no land, however bad, that 500 square miles of it, which is the maximum area provided for under Class I. of this division, would not be sufficient as the maximum area under Class III. The powers of resumption do not meet the case. Suppose that the Land Board finds it impossible to personally acquaint itself with the character of every square mile of land which it has to administer. Suppose that after one of these huge areas has been divided up, and is carrying a big population, gold or other minerals are discovered. One can easily imagine that areas which are . now practically wildernesses would become the centre of considerable townships.

Senator McGregor - Then they will be reclassified.

Senator RAE - Not until the twenty-one years' period is up. You cannot take the land from the person who holds it until that time without paying compensation, except for public improvements. Sometimes, however, huge values are given to land purely by private improvements.

Senator McGregor - They would only be improvements made by the holder himself.

Senator RAE - The clause does not say so. It says -

Provided that no compensation shall be allowed in respect of any increased value arising from the construction of any public works or from any proposal to construct any public works.

Senator Millen - A reduction of railway freights would add to the value of land, and would not allow the Crown to claim anything.

Senator RAE - Just so. There is a fanciful business about this. Every day in this country lands are being increased in value in districts which some years ago were practically wildernesses. That is being done by the mere aggregation of population, whilst-, of course, public improvements, more or less, add to the process. If you could separate the value that is given to land by public improvements on the one hand, and the added value that may be attributable to private improvements and settlement on the other hand, I have little doubt that in many, instances the im- provements not due in any way to public improvements would far exceed those which could be attributed to such agencies. If this Ordinance could be amended in two respects, many of the other matters alluded to by Senator Millen might be regarded as of minor importance. If we could make the resumption clause include, not merely the added value given by public expenditure, but the added value given from all other causes as well, except the individual's own improvements; and if also the area could be reduced in such a way that in no case would the area permitted, even in class 3, exceed the maximum proposed in class 1, it would be an improvement, although I should say that even such areas would err on the side of being too large, rather than too small.

Senator McGregor - A man who takes land for pastoral purposes under this Ordinance cannot divert it to mining purposes. He cannot cultivate any more than he requires for his own use.

Senator Millen - I should like to hear Senator Rae on that point.

Senator McGregor - That knocks all to pieces the argument that the lessee is going to get more than he ought from mining, and so forth.

Senator RAE - Can an individual be disturbed if improvements on land round about his holding increase its value? I know of a man in New South Wales who obtained an ordinary conditional-purchase selection of 90 acres. He was very sore at the time on account of his ill-luck, because some of the other allotments were much larger. A village had been laid out adjacent to the land which he obtained. But he was a very shrewd man, and he managed, practically, to constitute his 90 acres the village. Thereby this individual was able to prevent settlement taking place on the adjacent reserve, and to induce it to take place on his area. The result was that he made a fortune out of a block which he took up as farming land.

Senator McGregor - Under this Ordinance, an individual could not do that.

Senator RAE - What the Vice-President of the Executive Council does not realize is this : Just as it is said that a coachandfour can be driven through any Act of Parliament, so you will find that astute land-owners can discover innumerable ways of evading the technical provisions of enactments which are intended to limit their enterprise. The combined cleverness of a number of land-holders can generally out wit any Board I ever heard of. I feel sure that if this Ordinance had been going through the Senate as an ordinary Bill, instead of coming before us in the way it does, the Vice-President of the Executive Council would never have been able to justify the enormous areas proposed to be permitted; nor would he have been able to justify the resumption proposals submitted here. There seems to be too much of the trail of the professional man over this Ordinance, and not enough of the work of the practical man.

Senator Millen - Not of the professional man, but of the theorizer.

Senator RAE - I mean that there is too much of the official, and not enough of the work of men of practical knowledge. It seems to me to be a great pity that we cannot have such an important Ordinance, which is really a Land Bill, passed through Committee in the Senate, and considered in detail. Then it could be framed in accordance with our views. In the multitude of councillors there is more wisdom than in the work of two or three individuals. I feel sure that some of the more objectionable features of this Ordinance would not be tolerated by a democratic House of Parliament if they came before it in the form of a Bill. Unfortunately, a Government feels impelled to regard an Ordinance of this kind as though it were a sort of gospel, something so perfect as to be incapable of improvement.

Senator McGregor - We do not think anything of the kind. If the Ordinance can be shown to be capable of improvement, I hope we are not so narrow-minded as to be unwilling to alter it.

Senator RAE - Then I hope that the Government will alter the Ordinance by reducing these maximum areas. It will be nothing less than a public scandal if we allow a condition of things to come about by which one individual can, under an Ordinance passed by a Labour Parliament, led by a Labour Government, be allowed to occupy close upon 2,000,000 acres of land in one block. There is no limitation under this Ordinance to the quantity of land that one person can control. I am credibly informed by some of those who have been in the Northern Territory that under the South Australian administration of it some clever individuals have obtained leases which have been so selected, north, south, east, and west, as to enclose and include art enormous area of land, for which they pay nothing. That process was resorted to in my native country, New Zealand, under the regime of the late Sir John Hall. There was a regulation in force at one time that not more than a certain area of land could be purchased in freehold. But certain persons got the best of the surveyors in some way, and had areas of land surveyed in alternate blocks just below the amount that could be purchased in freehold. They then bought the other blocks, and had the use of the blocks which were not purchasable, because no one else could get them. That process was known as " gridironing." In some Australian States large areas were obtained by dummying without any regulation being actually broken at al l. By their ingenuity these men were able to get the better of the regulations made for the control of land settlement. No doubt, the men who drew up the land Ordinances and regulations under which these things took place were clever clerical men, but they were outwitted by the landholders. This Ordinance is vitally defective in what it omits, as well as in what it includes. I do not expect that anything I can say will influence the Government to alter it; but I enter my protest in the most emphatic way I can against granting lands in such enormous areas under a system which takes no note whatever of the immense values which may accrue from other than public improvements, whilst imposing no limit to the number of separate holdings which a person may have and still comply with the Ordinance.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [4.50].- This debate has indicated that- honorable senators are not satisfied to deal with the Ordinance under consideration in the manner in which we are called upon to consider it. Even the Minister, to a certain extent, apologized for the way in which the subject comes before us. He told us that in the course of a few months, after gaining experience, the Government will probably be able to come to Parliament with a Land Bill.

Senator McGregor - I did not say " in the course of a few months." I said "in the course of time."

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The note I made of the honorable senator's remarks was " after some experience the Government may come down with a Land Bill." Consequently, this is ian experimental Ordinance, intended to work until the Government gain experience to enable them to pass legislation-^ which may be more suitable for the leasing of land in the Northern Territory. But it must be remembered that under the Ordinance we shall be giving vested rights to a large number of settlers.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator's party would give vested rights for alE time, and give the community no rights.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - When these rights have been given by an Act of Parliament, we may find it necessary to make drastic alterations in the system.

Senator McGregor - I never said anything like that.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- But I say it.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator is wrong in saying it.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It is absurd to suppose that the Government will not have to make drastic changes after experience has been gained.. We shall be gaining experience at the cost of giving to many people vested interests, and we shall have to pay them if we wish to disturb, and intend to act honestly towards them.

Senator McGregor - If their leases are granted to them under certain conditions,, that cannot be so.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- The legislation afterwards passed may make alterations which will render the Commonwealth liable to pay settlers large compensation. Senator Millenpointed out the limited number of farms or grazing areas that might be taken up under this Ordinance, and still occupy the whole of the Territory. He pointed out what areas had been taken up under the South Australian administration, and said that the average holding was 270,000 acres in extent. Taking that as a basis, hesaid that if that were the average, it would mean that the Northern Territory would provide for only 1,237 holdings. The honorable senator further said -

Let us take not the maximum area but the mean area of 1,000 square miles - if perpetual leases are offered of holdings of 1,000- square miles, it will be possible to have in the Northern Territory only 523 such holdings. Suppose that the average at present existing, 270,000 acres, is maintained. There will then be provision in the Territory for only 1,237 such holdings.

Honorable members opposite may laugh,, and say that it is not likely that such a. state of affairs will exist.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator knows that it is piffle.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The proposals of the Government may be piffle, and the Vice-President of the Executive Council may be quite right -as to that. Senator Millen has shown what might occur under those proposals.

Senator McGregor - If the land is all of the worst class!

Senator Millen - If one-third of the area, which we may presume is not the worst, is already occupied by 250 or 260 people.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It is a very serious proposal to grant the lands of the Northern Territory in such large areas. Honorable senators opposite are professedly anxious that the Territory should be settled as closely as possible, having regard to the climate and other conditions. We have professed to regard the Northern Territory in its unoccupied condition as a menace to the safety of Australia. It has been contended -that, for this reason, we should settle there as large a population as we can. To do so we must be very careful with regard to the situation and extent of the areas we throw open to pastoral occupation. I admit that there will be small holdings in the townships and villages and for agricultural purposes, as well as for mixed grazing and -agriculture; but we have a right to consider the possibilities under this Ordinance. We have before us the experience of all the States of Australia in connexion with land legislation for the last half-century. No man who has followed the history of land legislation in New South Wales since 1861, when free selection before survey was introduced, can overlook the serious troubles and difficulties that had to be faced to keep up with the progress of settlement, and 10 check the attempts made by people from time to time to frustrate the intentions ot Parliament in passing progressive land legislation. The Government appear to have been blind to all this experience. Probably it is because it has been too close to them that they have been unable to take advantage of it. Senator McGregor attempted to belittle the arguments of Senator Millen, and challenged his knowledge of the land laws of Australia. I believe that Senator Millen has a more intimate knowledge of our land laws than has any -other member of the Senate. If there are -other honorable senators who think that, in saying that, I do them an injustice, and who can claim an equal knowledge, we are fortunate in being able to command their advice. I admit that I have not half the knowledge of land legislation in New South Wales that Senator Millen possesses, though I have been a resident of that State during the whole of the time it has been dealt with. Supporters of the Government condemn the huge areas provided for, and other provisions of this Ordinance, and, although the Government may be able to carry it through, it will, I think, be very much battered before it is finally dealt with by this Parliament. Whether the freehold or leasehold system be adopted, it will be necessary, in order to settle the Northern Territory, to offer attractions to settlers, while having due regard to the interests of the community at large. Many attempts have been made to settle which up to the present time have been without success. It was a source of enormous expense to South. Australia during the many years she had control of it. There was no year in which South Australia was able to show a credit balance in the administration of the Territory. We cannot doubt that South Australian Governments did their best to make the administration a success, but it had to be recognised that the work was too great for an individual State, and, consequently, the Commonwealth has taken the Territory in hand. I am not one of those who believe that it is valueless, though it may not be as valuable as are certain other parts of Australia. I would ask honorable senators to say whether they believe that the provisions of this Ordinance will be considered attractive by the smaller settler. Pastoral lessees will be able under it to secure enormous areas in perpetuity at a low rent, subject to periodic appraisement. There will probably not be a sufficient revenue realized from the rents of these pastoral holdings to meet the cost of their administration, and the policing of that portion of the Territory in which they will be situated. That may continue for years, unless some great movement of population takes place, and then I admit that, under the Ordinance, the Government will have th« power to resume the pastoral leases, but they must pay for that resumption. We are told that conditions may be determined upon which do not appear in this Ordinance; but if such conditions are imposed, those who take up the land under the provisions of this Ordinance will be entitled to compensation for any loss they may sustain from, the imposition of new conditions. It has been pointed out that a gold-field might be discovered upon a pastoral holding. While it is true, as the Vice-President of the Executive Council has said, that the lessee would be unable to work his land for minerals, since minerals will be reserved under the lease, he would, in my opinion, be entitled to receive the material benefit which would arise from the fact that, by the discovery of a gold-field, he would have a market close at hand for stock. If he is to be treated honestly, he should receive this benefit, and if his land is resumed, he should receive adequate compensation. In addition to the instance referred to by Senator Rae, I might quote the case of the Wyalong gold-field. It was discovered on the selection of some people named Neild. The place, instead . of being an ordinary free selection held for grazing purposes, became at once a valuable property, on which a town was established. All the neighbouring pastoralists participated in the benefits accruing from the establishment of the Wyalong gold-field. If we are to adopt the leasehold system in the Northern Territory, it would, in my opinion, be better to provide for terminable leases for a reasonable period. The South Australian Government considered a fortytwo years' lease a reasonable period, but we might consider that the lease should be for twenty or twenty-one years, and that such a lease would induce settlement. The great thing in inducing settlement is to let the intending settler know that he will have security of tenure and conditions for a fixed period. In my opinion, it would be much better to give a settler security of tenure and conditions for a limited period than to offer him a perpetual lease with varying conditions. At the close of a terminable lease the land would revert to the Crown. The probability is that steps would be taken a few years before the termination of a number of leases to formulate a scheme for dealing with the land when those leases had expired. The new conditions being made known, it is possible that the existing tenants would agree to continue the occupation of their holdings for another period. Where freeholds are granted, of course, the value of the land is received in the first instance by the Grown, but if- terminable leases are granted, the Crown will secure the improved value of the land at the close of the lease. In any case, a man would not care to take up land under the apprehension that he might be interfered with in some material way before his lease expired. We have determined for the present to grant lands inthe Northern Territory only upon a leasehold tenure. That may be wise in dealingwith a new territory the future of which is,, to a certain extent, obscure ; but we mustall recognise that the desire for a freehold1' is inborn in men. There is scarcely any man who does not desire to have a home of his own, and to be able to say, " No one cannow interfere with me ; I am absolutely protected." Of course, the holder of a freehold must pay taxation, but he is tied to the country, and may be looked to for its defence, and to do what he can to advance its. prosperity.

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