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Wednesday, 4 December 1912

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - As the term of this Parliament is drawing to a close, and as we had a very exhaustive discussion upon a similar Ordinance to this some time ago, I am sure it will not be considered either necessary or advisable that I should enter into a categorical reply to all the objections that have been raised by Senator Millen. Every honorable senator must appreciate the diligence, perseverance, and knowledge exhibited by the honorable senator in dealing with the question. He has gone into it fully. In fact, he went into it more fully than was absolutely necessary. Many of the objections that he has raised were dealt with in the previous debate in the Senate. But, though I must admit that Senator Millen dealt very ably with the question, still I have come to the conclusion that if is a great pity that he was not on Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were first given to the world. They might have been very much improved as the result of his suggestions. When the Lord's Prayer was given to the people, had he been present when the words, " Give us this day our daily bread " were under consideration, he would probably have tried to interpolate " also butter, jam, or marmalade." I make these remarks merely to show how, at the present day, the criticism of those who may be opposed in principle to any kind of legislation that is endeavoured to be enacted in the interests of the people may go to extremes in endeavouring to show that legislation either to be worthless or not so beneficial as those submitting it would like it to be. I will endeavour to deal with some of Senator Millen's remarks very briefly, and to make it clear that the alarm which he expressed was entirely unnecessary. When dealing with clause 6, he went to some length in endeavouring to show that the sub-clauses were either unnecessary or were wrongly placed, and suggested that if he had had control of the draftsmanship, they would have been more explicit, and. would have carried out the intentions of the Government to a greater extent. I deny that. I say that everything that is contained in the clause, although it may have imperfections due to the defects of the English language, is, nevertheless, necessary to carry out the intentions of the Government; When Senator Millen tries to make out that paragraphs c and d should be consolidated, and that the words' at the end should control paragraph c, he is under a misapprehension, because something may have already been done under the Ordinance, and we have a right to pay some respect to whatever has been done.

Senator Millen - That is all covered by paragraph a, which deals with -

The granting of any land in pursuance of any agreement or right in existence at the commencement of this Ordinance.

Senator McGREGOR - Even so, before this Ordinance can go into effect, something else may be done which would control that. The clause is clearly explanatory of itself, and without being too critical, I may say that it carries out the intentions of the Government. Senator Millen asked, "Why not introduce a Land Bill?"

Senator Vardon - Hear, hear. -

Senator McGREGOR - I would say,, "Hear, hear" if Parliament had unlimited time, but any honorable senator with a long parliamentary experience will appreciate the difficulty of passing a. Land Bill dealing with such a vast area. as the Northern Territory contains. It would take months to pass such a Bill through the other House and the Senate. It might almost be as big a work as thepassing of the Navigation Bill.

Senator Millen - If it is a matter of time, why did you not deal with the Navigation Bill by Ordinance?

Senator McGREGOR - We had seven years in which to do the work, and there was nobody suffering, so far as I am aware, so the same extent as Australia will suffer i n connexion with the Territory if some- steps are not taken for its settlement in the very near future. If we were to take a half, or even a quarter of the time, it has taken to pass the Navigation Bill, the Northern Territory would be lying idle, and we should have appointed our officers there in vain. The Government are anxious to get this Ordinance put through so that they may set to work at once, and endeavour to get the land settled. There axe only one or two objections raised by Senator Millen with which I intend to deal this afternoon. Referring to the classification of the land by a Board, and those upon whom that work will devolve, he wanted to know whether the classification was only to be carried out perfunctorily or thoroughly. I ask the honorable senator, with his great experience of land settlement, land legislation, land transfers, and land occupation in New South Wales, if it was ever possible at one fell swoop to classify the whole of the lands of that State. He knows that that was an impossibility, and although the classification may be done as thoroughly as is possible with that vast Territory, yet it is impossible to classify the whole of the lands before we commence to secure settlement.

Senator Millen - Under this Ordinance, you cannot grant a lease till you do classify.

Senator MCGREGOR - We do not need to classify the whole of the Territory. We place some reliance upon the gentlemen who have been appointed to classify the land for the purpose of occupation. They will classify the land that is probably required first for settlement. They will not go into the back-blocks to classify the land before they Rave endeavoured to accomplish the settlement of the land which is more accessible. Senator Millen knows, too, that if he were the head of the Government, or the Minister of External Affairs, he would not expect that the occupation of any portion of the Territory should be delayed till a thorough and complete classification was made. Surely he can see the absurdity of the position in which he would be placed if he attempted to do anything of that description. I have every confidence in the men who are carrying out the work. I believe that they will classify as thoroughly as they possibly can the land which is necessary in the immediate future for the settlement of people. Senator Millen also raised some objection to reclassification. The very pro vision for that purpose in the Ordinance will protect the Commonwealth and the Territory itself from any maladministration in the future with respect to land occupation. The honorable senator knows as well as I do that even in the best classification that could be made at the present time - that is, back from the land which is being immediately settled - a great area will be classified probably as farming or grazing country, or as first-class pastoral country, or as second-class pastoral country, or as third-class pastoral country, and that in a few years when population begins to flock to the Territory, that land will require to be reclassified. In classifying land what are the features to be taken into consideration by the Board? First, there is the quality of the land for the purpose of production, either agriculturally or pastorally. Next, there is its accessibility to any market which may be available for the produce grown. Some land which, in certain circumstances, might be agricultural land, will necessarily have to be classed as grazing and agricultural land, or as pastoral land, for many years to come, and the provision for reclassification in the Ordinance will guard" against any error which may be made at the present time. When I say error, I do not mean error in the sense of want of qualification in the classifiers, but as regards the land which is inaccessible at present even to them. Senator Millen also objected to the area of 38,400 acres which is allowed for farming and grazing purposes. He characterized that area as a mistake which, in any of the settled communities would be, so far as the Labour party is concerned, an object of envy, and of speedy subdivision. But we must consider the position which the Territory occupies at present and the inducements which we shall be prepared to offer to those who may be willing to go there for many years to come. Even if we grant a large area of that description for farming and grazing purposes, we are all hopeful that people will go to the Territory who intend to settle there and rear families, and that in a very few years 38,400 acres will be a very limited area as regards the children and grand-children.

Senator Millen - What is to prevent the grand-children from getting land for themselves, as has happened elsewhere?

Senator McGREGOR - We always like to see the holding large enough to be capable of subdivision for a generation or two before we drive the chickens from under the control of the old parents.

Senator Millen - But you know that it never is subdivided.

Senator McGREGOR - It will be subdivided, because this party will remain in power, and subdivision will go on steadily.

Senator St Ledger - Did you ever hear of Balaam?

Senator McGREGOR - I have heard of a great many things, but it seems from the alarm which is exhibited by members of the Opposition, or the Fusion collection, that they are doubtful with respect to their own political salvation.

Senator Millen - Do you mind stating how you propose to bring about the subdivision of 38,000-acre blocks?

Senator McGREGOR - If I had only time I could enumerate half-a-dozen ways. It could be brought about by the settlers themselves dividing the blocks amongst the members of their families The honorable senator must surely realize that if he were dividing a block of that size amongst halfadozen sons or daughters, it would not be such a monstrous thing after all; and, as many of them would be having less than the maximum area they could hold of that class of land, then each of them could have a share. The honorable senator will also realize that under the reclassification provisions, when facilities are given for communication, and all that sort of thing, the Government will have power to classify that land as agricultural land, and, consequently, the area will be still further limited.

Senator Millen - Will reclassification reduce the area?

Senator McGREGOR - I am not talking about reclassification reducing the area.

Senator Millen - That is what you said.

Senator McGREGOR - -The honorable senator knows that reclassification will not reduce the area until the expiration of the twenty-one years.

Senator Millen - It will then?

Senator McGREGOR - It will then if necessary.

Senator Millen - That is what you call 3 perpetual lease.

Senator McGREGOR - A family can subdivide a block then without any reclassification. There are many other methods of subdivision, including the sale of portions of the lease, with the consent of the Administrator. That can be carried out for the purpose of that subdivision.

Senator Rae - The imposition of a higher rent will tend to that.

Senator McGREGOR - The imposing of a higher rent on reclassification, and the imposing of agricultural conditions for the whole area, will make it absolutely necessary for subdivision so far as the population of that part of the country is concerned. I do not need to labour that question further. When this Ordinance was before the Senate on a previous occasion great objection was taken because the area of a block was fixed at 64,000 acres. Now it has been reduced to 38,400 acres, and in the matter of the subdivision of the land, both agricultural, farming, and grazing and pastoral, we have paid some little attention to the method of survey in having a mileage area. That is why the area is not 38,000 acres, but 38,400 acres. Everything is being done to meet the objections which were raised previously to the larger area.

Senator Millen - What you mean is that it facilitates arithmetic, but not settlement ?

Senator McGREGOR - We have not begun to settle the country. We cannot make a beginning until we get this Ordinance passed, and that is why I desire honorable senators to assist the Government in dealing with it to-day. Objections were also raised to the term which is allowed for mortgagees holding over the maximum area.

Senator Millen - No; they may hold under the maximum area.

Senator McGREGOR - If they hold under the maximum area they can purchase it, as long as they do not hold any land themselves. It is only when they hold over the maximum area under mortgages that any difficulty can arise.

Senator Millen - They cannot purchase it under this Ordinance.

Senator McGREGOR - They can do a great many things. The honorable senator seems to imagine that the Government and their officers are going to do everything they can to block settlement.

Senator Millen - Do you not intend to follow your own Ordinance?

Senator McGREGOR - The officers are just as anxious as are -the Government that settlement should go ahead. The honorable senator offered some very serious objections in connexion with circumstances where the land comes into other hands by processes of law, and endeavoured to make us believe that it will prevent a father from selling his interest in a lease to a son.

Senator Millen - I withdrew that.

Senator McGREGOR - Yes, the honorable senator withdrew his statement when Senator Symon pointed out that it was not the case, but not till then.

Senator Millen - Why do you want to follow it up after it has been withdrawn?

Senator McGREGOR - If the honorable senator is thoroughly satisfied that it is only in connexion with the devolution of land to persons by assignment, or bankruptcy, or to trustees, I shall not say any more, because that is all that it provides for.

Senator Millen - It bars these people from holding the land.

Senator McGREGOR - It bars people from holding more than the maximum area.

Senator Millen - No ; it bars them from holding any area.

Senator McGREGOR - And it gives them three years to deal with the land.

Senator Millen - Any area.

Senator McGREGOR - Will the honorable senator allow me to explain why provisions of this description become necessary in an Ordinance of this kind ? People who go to occupy the Northern Territory, and settle there, and make improvements, will nob have much money, and may have to go to somebody to borrow money. If the rules in connexion with the maximum area were strictly adhered to, no financial company or individual could lend money to a leaseholder if he held the maximum area himself, because, if he got it, he could not do anything with it. In the same way, if a company lent money on two or three or more leases, and exceeded the maximum area, they would be doing a very foolish thing, unless provisions of this description were in the Ordinance. These will give them a term of three years absolutely, and then the Administrator may extend the term if the circumstances warrant. So that everything is done to make it possible for the settler to get that financial assistance which he may require from anybody who is prepared to give it, and no injustice will be done to those who render that assistance if the lessees or the settlers fail in their businesses.

Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator point out a provision which permits the mortgagee to hold areas in excess of the maximum?

Senator McGREGOR - If the provisions to which I am referring were not contained in the Ordinance, mortgagees could not hold over the maximum area, and it might be a dead loss to them. These provisions will give them three years in which to dispose of land in excess of the maximum area, and they may Be given a longer time with the consent of the Administrator. Senator Millen, in dealing with agricultural and grazing holdings, made a strong point of the necessity for conserving valuable timber upon such holdings. He was, at the same time, condemning regulations prescribing the conditions of leases, and thus lost sight of the fact that the necessity for the conservation of valuable timbers upon leases was one of the things which must have been in the minds of the framers of the Ordinance in making provision for these regulations.

Senator Millen - Why is that set out in connexion with one form of lease and not in connexion with another?

Senator McGREGOR - We cannot put everything into every form of lease. The honorable senator is aware that a pastoral lease can only be used for pastoral purposes. It cannot be used for agriculture, or for the purpose of carrying on a timber industry in connexion with it. It was upon the agricultural and grazing leases that the honorable senator fixed his attention. Does he imagine that the officers of the Northern Territory will be such fools or asses as not to reserve any valuable timber areas for the benefit of the people of the Territory? If it be necessary to include valuable timber in an agricultural or grazing lease, there will be nothing to prevent the authorities prescribing such conditions for the lease as will give them control of the valuable timber upon the holdings.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator said the other day that such a condition ought not be included in the agricultural lease.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator objects in one breath to an area of 38,400 acres for an agricultural and grazing lease, because the holder might destroy a lot of valuable timber, and he is now objecting to the power contained in this Ordinance *:c. frame regulations prescribing the way in which valuable timber upon a lease shall be dealt with. He has endeavoured to find great defects where none existed. He has pointed to some defects in the Ordinance where "class a" has been referred to instead of "class 1," and where a drafting or typographical error has been made, and the word " reserved " used instead of the word "received." The Government and their officers thank the honorable senator for directing attention to these defects, in which there is no vital principle at stake. But I hope that trifling defects of that kind will not prevent the passing of this valuable Ordinance in order that something substantial may be done in the settlement of the Northern Territory. Senator Millen raised a cry on a previous occasion, which was joined in by supporters of the Government, against the granting of leases in perpetuity of large pastoral holdings. That objection has been met by this Ordinance, and the maximum area to be allowed in first, second, and third class pastoral lands has been substantially reduced. The honorable senator's objections with respect "to medical examination, confidential information, and all that sort of thing, were exhaustively replied to when we dealt with this matter on the last occasion. I have endeavoured as briefly as possible to put the true position before the Senate. I hope honorable senators will accept -my assurance, given on a previous occasion, and given again to-day, that the Government regard this Ordinance merely as a tentative measure for the purpose of speedily doing something for the settlement of the Northern Territory, and that, as soon as it is possible, the Government will bring down a comprehensive Land Bill for the Northern Territory. In the circumstances, I ask honorable senators to curtail their remarks as much as possible, allow us to get this business out of the way, and proceed with other business before the Senate, in order that it may be possible to close the session within a reasonable time.

Motion (by Senator Vardon) negatived -

That the debate be now adjourned.

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