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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I do not pretend to be able to follow, and I have not followed, the discussion in detail with regard to this important Ordinance as to land administration. I recognise the long and valuable experience which the Leader of the Opposition has had with regard to land tenures of every description in New South Wales. That he was perfectly competent to deal with this Ordinance is admitted on both sides of the Chamber. In his characteristic way, the Minister of Defence dwelt upon some points which arise out of the Ordinance and have no direct relation to the criticism of Senator Millen. He has delivered, as he frequently has had to deliver, a lecture to some of his own supporters with regard "to the misrepresentations which they have got hold of with regard to one aspect of land settlement, and that is the grant of perpetual leases. That fact, in itself, is a sufficient reason why from time to time, and more often than we have done in the past, land administration in the Northern Territory should be carefully considered here. There are two or three honorable senators, including Senator Millen, who are thoroughly familiar with every form of land administration. Recently, a Labour Government came into power in New South Wales. Notwithstanding that the members of that Government had for years proclaimed that they would establish the leasehold system, the moment they came into power they abandoned it. That is a matter of political history. I emphasize the point because it leads up to a matter of grave principle, to which I desire to direct attention. The Vice-President of the Executive Council cannot, by argument or joke or by any other means, dispute the fact that although in New South Wales the leasehold principle formed a plank in. the platform of the State Labour party, the moment that party came into power it abandoned it.

The PRESIDENT - I would point out that, ever since this debate commenced, I have ruled that this is not an occasion upon which the question of leasehold versus freehold can be debated. The question before, the Chair is that of the disallowance of an Ordinance.

Senator ST LEDGER - I think I should be in order in moving an amendment upon ihe motion, inasmuch as it does not permit of the establishment of the freehold system.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator must recognise that this is an Ordinance made under an Act which was passed by this Parliament, and which provides for the principle of leasehold. The honorable senator is quite at liberty to discuss any reasons for allowing or disallowing the Ordinance.

Senator ST LEDGER - I bow to your ruling, sir ; but I shall deal with another aspect of the question. In framing an Ordinance of this kind for the Northern Territory, we have to recollect the history of settlement in Australia. I do not believe it will be found that any such legislation has been seriously entertained as an aid to settlement in Queensland, which is contiguous to the Northern Territory.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to S p.m.

Senator ST LEDGER - Under your ruling, sir, I cannot refer to the distinction which exists between the freehold and leasehold systems of tenure. But I am at liberty to refer to the perpetual lease which is mentioned in this Ordinance, lt is the bastard offspring of freehold tenure with all the vices and none of the virtues of its parents. I take it that the Ordinance, in its application to the Northern Territory, has received the closest scrutiny at the hands of honorable senators opposite. Consequently, when I attack it, I am attacking the essential point of the most important portion of the administration of the Territory. Section 15 of the Ordinance reads -

Leases under this Ordinance shall be granted by the Administrator in the name of the King, and, except as regards miscellaneous leases, shall be in perpetuity but subject to the reappraisement of rent at the period provided by this Ordinance, or, in special cases, at a period prescribed by the regulations or provided for in the lease.

Now I turn at once - as anybody with ordinary intelligence would - to the phrase " reappraisement of rent." I wish to know what that means. I have a professional? knowledge of what it means in my ownState. But there is nothing in this Ordinance which enables me to arrive at itsmeaning. To my mind, however, it must mean either a lowering or a raising of the rent.

Senator Givens - Not necessarily.

Senator ST LEDGER - My honorable friend, when he interjects, is giving me the. strongest reason why we should view the system of perpetual leases with suspicion. He suggests that there may be circumstances under which the rents of lessees would belowered.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator was wrong when he said that the reappraisement of rent must mean either thelowering or the raising of it.

Senator ST LEDGER - In reply tothis finicking logician, I did omit to mention that it was quite possible that, under a. system of re-appraisement, the rent wouldnot be altered. But, in many instances, weknow that a re-appraisement would mean, increasing the rent. That has been the case in Queensland, which, in many respects, isvery analogous to the Northern Territory. Senator Givens has pointed out, by way of interjection, that frequently the reappraisement of values by the Land Courts has been followed by a reduction of the: original rent.

Senator Givens - Surely that is not anobjection to this Ordinance?

Senator ST LEDGER - I am dealing with some of the difficulties which surround perpetual leases, and in this connexion I have a right to call upon my personal knowledge as to what has been the course of legislation in regard to settlement in Queensland. I bow for a moment to the finicking acumen of Senator Givens.

Senator Givens - I wanted to make the honorable senator accurate, if such a thing were possible.

Senator ST LEDGER - If there is any objection to the word " finicking," I shall withdraw it, and say that Senator Givens must know that in our Queensland legislation and administration the question of the appraisement of rent for leasehold land has time and again exercised the attention of Parliament. The Queensland land laws - and, I think, the land laws of other States - have not left it to the discretion of officials to determine the principles on which the appraisement of rent shall be settled. Legislation has been passed to guide them in detail. It , may be my fault-

Senator McGregor - It is.

Senator ST LEDGER - If I am entirely wrong, I leave myself " naked and unashamed to mine enemies."

Senator Givens - The honorable senator could not feel ashamed.

Senator ST LEDGER - Probably I differ from my honorable friend in this respect - that I have nothing to be ashamed of. Section 15 of the Act under which this Ordinance is made provides, with regard to the appraisement of rent, that provision may be made for " any special case at the periods prescribed by the regulations, or provided for in the lease." I turn to the regulations on that point. The only provision I can find bearing upon it is headed " Application for a perpetual lease of town lands." This clause provides that the applicant shall undertake " to perform- the covenants and conditions " of the lease. But 1 find nothing to guide me as to what is meant by " special case " in section 15 of the Act. If I turn to the provision with regard to improvements and their effect upon appraisements, I find nothing there. It provides for what the incoming tenant is to pay to the outgoing tenant, but the principles upon which even that is to be determined are vague. The part of the Ordinance dealing with perpetual leases contains the important words " appraisement of rent " ; but I cannot find anything to guide a tribunal in determining what that term means. A big principle is involved, because the perpetual lease is being offered by Socialists and Labour parties throughout the world as something better than an equivalent for a freehold. . In order to do justice both to the man who wants to use a piece of land, and the community, it is said that side by side wilh the grant of a perpetual lease you must have machinery for the appraisement of rent. But when you come to inquire what " appraisement of rent " means, you can wander through the whole of this Ordinance and find no satisfactory definition.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator has been wandering a bit.

Senator ST LEDGER - If I were gifted with the gigantic intellect of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, this difficulty might not trouble me. His interjection reminds me of a remark made by Lord Melbourne with regard to

Macaulay, who was continually finding fault with the Ministry of the day. Lord Melbourne said, " If I could only be as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything, I should find the position of Prime Minister quite an easy one to hold." Using very small names in place of very big ones, I find myself in the same relation to the Vice-President of the Executive Council as Lord Melbourne did to Macaulay. But the term " appraisement of rent " is a vital one in this relation, and I want to know what it means, and the conditions under which it is to be applied. The occupant of a piece of land governed by this Ordinance has a right to know definitely, clearly and accurately, how the appraisement is to be determined ; what is its incidence, and how it will affect him. He will want to know what the Government are going to take from him under cover of this term. The Honorary Minister talks of taking the community value. From whom? From the occupant of the land. Surely the occupant wants to know what is to be taken. I therefore ask for a clear and distinct statement from the Government as to what these terms mean, and must request them to come out of the clouds and cease using phrases which they cannot define. It is the duty of the Government to put the intention clearly and definitely before the people. Possibly the Vice-President of the Executive Council may be able to blow my argument to pieces. Let it be blown to pieces- if I am wrong; but let us get away from cloudy generalities. I find two grave difficulties in connexion with the first point with which I deal, and those difficulties are simply intensified by the interjections which have come from the opposite benches.. It is the duty of the Government to come down to practical business in relation to the settlement of the Northern Territory. I turn to the question of re-appraisement in regard to other cases. Rightly or wrongly, I hold that the greatest inducement to agricultural settlement is a freehold tenure. It may be assumed from this Ordinance that it is the intention of the Government to substitute for a freehold tenure a perpetual lease as a means of attracting agricultural settlers to the Northern Territory. . Intending settlers, whether in Austraia or outside of it, will no doubt discuss the advantages and attractions offered for settlement in the Territory. Their first question will probably be, "What land can we get, and how are we to go about getting it?" If they consult this Ordinance, they will find that from the point of view of the Government, a perpetual lease is put forward as something as good as, and possibly better, than a freehold, as a means of attracting settlers. They will discover that if they desire to apply for land in the Northern Territory, they will have to sign an application form in these terms -

I hereby apply for a perpetual lease under the above Ordinance of the following town land -

The intending agricultural settler will not desire to obtain town land. More important considerations to him than proximity to a town will be the quality of the soil, and the means of communication.

Senator Givens - If he wants an agricultural farm, he will not apply for a lease of town land.

Senator ST LEDGER - If that is so, I shall be glad to be corrected. I do not pretend to any profound knowledge of this matter.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator is a Collins-street farmer.

Senator ST LEDGER - It is of no use for members of the Government to talk about Collins-street farmers.

Senator Pearce - Has the honorable senator not realized yet that the Ordinance deals with town and country lands?

Senator Millen - That is the pitfall into which Ministers have fallen. They have spread the same Ordinance over both.

Senator ST LEDGER - That is just my point. The intending settler may be desirous to secure agricultural land, and in this Ordinance the Government have confused the two things. By a reference to this Ordinance an intending settler will find that it will be possible for him to obtain a perpetual lease of town land. It may be that " town land " as used here does not bear the ordinary meaning of the term, and may cover land, comparatively remote from a settlement. It is to be regretted that the Ordinance should be so unfortunately worded, and I fear that it will defeat for some time the object we all have in view, to promote as speedily as possible closer settlement the Northern Territory. The Ordinance embodies a principle to which I ani absolutely and irrevocably opposed. As under your ruling, sir, I have been unable to deal with the merits of the freehold principle as opposed to the leasehold principle, I have contented myself with references to the provisions of this Ordinance for perpetual leases, which I consider dis close grave defects, and will be likely to retard the settlement of the Northern Territory by our own kith and kin.

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