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Wednesday, 4 December 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I do not know that I need occupy the time of the Senate very long, because, without wishing to be discourteous to the Vice-President of the Executive Council, I must say that he did not make any effort to reply to the arguments which, to the best of my ability, I presented.

Senator McGregor - I did that before.

Senator MILLEN - On a previous occasion the honorable senator said that the original Lands Ordinance was perfect, and the Senate, acting on that assurance, supported him. Now he comes down here and tells honorable senators, like Senator Barker, that this Ordinance, out of which much has been cut, is also a perfect one. I am very glad, indeed, that I submitted a motion on each occasion. By the criticism which we directed to the original Ordinance we saved the Territory and Australia from the greatest evil which could be inflicted upon them in the proposal to grant, under perpetual lease pastoral areas up to 2,000,000 acres. If the Opposition has done nothing else in this Parliament, it has justified its presence in both Chambers.

Senator Long - That was the maximum area to which the Government might havegone, but it is not likely that they would have done so.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator need not think that he can find a refuge in the maximum area. There were three classes of pastoral leases provided for : 500 square miles, 600 square miles, and 1,500 square miles.

Senator Long - The maximum.

Senator MILLEN - It is quite evident that the maximum of one area must necessarily have touched the minimum of another. If there is any third-class country in the Northern Territory, it is quite clear that there was a proposition to grant under perpetual lease areas in excess of r, 000, 000 acres. That is a proposition for which Senator Long voted. I wish it to be clearly understood what was the kind of land wisdom which guided the Government, and what kind of support was obtainable for that proposition. The Opposi tion is indeed to be thanked for having prevented Senator Long and the Government from carrying out that into which they were being led, either by too great an attachment to a doctrinaire belief in leasehold, or by a want of knowledge of the subject. Senator Long did all that he could to fasten upon the Territory that provision in theoriginal Ordinance. The Vice-President of the Executive Council made the remark that the Government would have desired to proceed by way of Bill but for the element of time. I have heard, in this and other Chambers, a good many statements, admissions, and even confessions, from gentlemen who represented the Government, but I have never before heard the representative of a Government say - nor do I ever expect to hear one again say - that while the proper course to pursue was to have submitted a Bill sothat the provisions could be examined in detail, the matter of time prevented that from being done. Parliament was called together for the despatch of business on the 1:9th June, and it was not more than a week or two before we were absolutely bankrupt for business, and the result was that, at the instance of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, we adjourned for .is month. Surely we could have been devoting that month with advantage and profit to the country in considering the terms of this Ordinance in the shape of a Bill.

Senator McGregor - Oh, but there are two Houses in the Parliament, and they have been pretty busy down below.

Senator Vardon - You have a majority in both Houses.

Senator MILLEN - There is the explanation of the whole thing. The Government is not trying to do what it owes to Parliament. With the knowledge that it has a majority in each House, it has; shown itself to be as contemptuous of itsown following as of Parliament generally. If the argument of time being a factor ispotent to-day, it will .apply next session, and in the session following. There is. never going to be a time in any Parliament in Australia when there will not be morebusiness than it can attend to. '

Senator Long - You are on sound lineswhen you contend that the Government could have done more. I agree with you.

Senator MILLEN - The Opposition: does not profess to be here to help the Government to do things which it believesto be wrong. In this particular matter theOpposition pointed out roads which were; right, and offered to help the Government. There is not an honorable senator on the other side who, in his heart, can say that this Ordinance is what he wishes it to be. There is only one honorable senator from that side who has ventured to speak. He did not approve of the Ordinance, but he made a remark in justification of his support of the Ordinance which is the strongest condemnation that it is possible for an Administration to have. He said, "I am going to allow the Ordinance to go through, because I think so little will be done that they cannot do any harm under it."

Senator Rae - I did not say that.

Senator MILLEN - I do not wish to do the honorable senator an injustice, but I took down his words.

Senator Rae - What I meant to say was that between the passing of this Ordinance and the bringing forward of a Land Bill no large amount of settlement could take place.

Senator MILLEN - When may we expect to get a Land Bill?

Senator Rae - I do not know.

Senator MILLEN - Clearly it cannot be until we meet after the next general election. It must be quite evident to honorable senators opposite that, if they come back with a majority, it will be to proceed with the enactment of some very radical measures, which will still further press this matter into the background ; or, if they do not come back with a majority, another party and another policy will be presented to the country. Senator Rae's argument means that for over twelve months nothing is to be done in the Northern Territory in the way of settlement.

Senator Rae - I did not say that; I said that we could not expect thousands to setile at once under the Ordinance.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator is quite right. I expect very little to be clone in the way of settlement during the next few months. Although the Government have been in charge of the Territory for a very long while, there is not today one block of land available which they can invite a settler to take up. They have been too busy sending deer up to the Territory, to provide opportunities for the hard- worked officials to put in time as sportsmen, which it would have been better to devote to the consideration of the conditions which should have been provided for in this Land Ordinance.

Senator Lynch - Did the honorable senator read the report of the Territory given by Mr. Campbell, the American, who visited it recently?

Senator MILLEN - I am glad that the honorable senator has reminded me of Mr. Campbell's report, because he finished up by saying that no man will go there unless we give him security of tenure.

Senator Lynch - He mentioned the progress which has been made since the Government have had control of the Territory.

Senator MILLEN - In what way? I read his report, and I noticed that he said that the Government are spending a lot of money in erecting buildings for Government officials. He did not, and could not, nor can Senator Lynch, point to anything which has been done to make a single block of land in the Territory ready for a settler. I am very glad to have been reminded ot Mr. Campbell's report upon the Territory, because he has shown us what we must do if we wish, to settle it. He has made it as clear as possible that we must throw theories to the winds, and proceed by practical business methods. He said that he was one of many who would be glad to go to the Northern Territory, but he is not going there to take up land under the willothewisp tenure proposed by the Government.

Senator Rae - Freehold is a matter of theory as well as leasehold.

Senator MILLEN - It is not a question of freehold as the alternative to leasehold. It is possible to make a leasehold as secure and definite as any freehold. I explained in introducing my motion that I was not challenging the leasehold principle at all. I have left that on one side until the proper time comes to discuss it, but I do wish to make it clear that if, as the Vice-President of the Executive Council has admitted, we wish to attract settlers to the Northern Territory, we must put before them a clear and definite contract. I say the Government are jeopardizing the leasehold principle by the fact that under this Ordinance no man taking up land in the Territory will know the conditions under which he will hold it.

Senator Long - He will hold it under the conditions under which men who have been there for the last thirty years have held land.

Senator MILLEN - If Senator Long will turn to the South Australian Act dealing with the lands of the Northern Territory, he will find that it sets out definitely all that can happen to a lessee during the whole term of his lease; but under this'

Ordinance no man will be able to tell for more than two years, with respect to pastoral lands, what will happen in connexion with his lease. We may give him a lease for 'forty-two years, or in perpetuity, but honorable senators seem to forget that under this Ordinance we reserve the right to re-classify the land, and throw upon the lessee obligations which he did not dream of. With regard to town lands, the right is claimed for the Government to come in and re-appraise them whenever they think there has been an increment of value given to them.

Senator Needham - The honorable senator cannot compare thirty years' administration with two years' administration.

Senator MILLEN - I am not comparing thirty years' administration with two years' administration. What I say is that under this Ordinance no man will be in a position to say that he holds his land on the original conditions of his lease for more than two years. Even where we give a perpetual lease, we reserve the right, under this Ordinance, after two years, to take the land from the settler. If we wish people to settle in the Northern Territory, we should have an Ordinance which will make it abundantly attractive to the people of to-day to settle there, without tying up the people of the future. That could be done by making provision for terminable leaseholds for long periods, if honorable senators please, and at the termination of the lease we should provide that the leaseholder should have the right to secure a portion of his lease under a permanent tenure, leasehold if honorable senators please, but, as I should prefer, under a freehold tenure. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has made one or two important admissions that serve not only to justify the remarks I have made, but will stand as a warning against any one going to the Northern Territory who believes that the present Government are likely to remain in office for long. Admitting my contention with respect to the right of reclassification, the honorable senator said that it would reduce the area of a perpetual lease at the end of twenty-one years. I say that when we ask a man to go to the Northern Territory, and offer him 38,000 acres of country, or whatever the area may be, and tell him that he may hold it under a perpetual lease, we should at the same time, on the authority of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, inform him that we keep in reserve the right to cut down his area at the end of twenty-one years.

Senator Rae - Does the Ordinance say so?

Senator MILLEN - The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said so, and I thought that Senator Rae and some other honorable senators would accept the statement from the VicePresident of the Executive Council with less hesitation than from me. I say that it should be made known to the people whom we are inviting to go to the Northern Territory, that this perpetual lease is a mock and a sham, and there is no perpetuity about it, since it will depend on the will of the gentlemen for the time being charged with the administration of lands in the Territory. Under, this Ordinance, as interpreted by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, the area of a perpetual lease may be reduced at the end of twenty-one years; and, in the case of some leases, by the imposition of more onerous, rentals, and agricultural conditions, it will be possible to bring about the subdivision of leases.

Senator Lynch - Is it not possible for leased areas to be reduced in New South Wales for purposes of settlement ?

Senator MILLEN - By resumption, yes; but I am not dealing with resumption.

Senator Lynch - I am referring to pastoral leases in New South Wales, the area of which can be reduced at any time.

Senator MILLEN - But the New South Wales Government do not try to fool the lessees of those areas by telling them that they are giving them perpetual leases.

Senator Lynch - They know that their areas may be reduced.

Senator MILLEN - Only by resumption. Leases are issued in Queensland' and in the western division of New South Wales for a term ot forty years, with theright of the Crown to resume one-eighth of the leased country if during the term of the lease it should be required for settlement.

Senator Lynch - What is the differencebetween that provision and the one towhich the honorable senator is objecting?

Senator MILLEN - The difference isthat under this Ordinance the Government say to a settler, "We will give you a lease in perpetuity, and if we require toresume any of the land, we shall compensate you for it." But as has been admitted by the Vice-President of theExecutive Council, they are at the sametime taking power under this Ordinance-, to reclassify lands held under lease, to- throw upon the lessees conditions- which they never suspected when they took up the land5,, and to dispossess them of portion, of the areas they professed to give them under .perpetual lease. A much more business-like method would have been to' say to intending settlers in the first place, " We shall give you a lease, of 38,000 acres for a fixed period " - and I should have no objection to a fairly long1 lease in the Northern Territory - " subject only to resumption for public purposes on the conditions on which, such resumptions usually take place." We .should tell them further that a certain rent will be fixed for the term of the lease, and set out definitely all the conditions to which, we expect the lessee to conform during the whole term of his lease. We should further provide that when the lease expires, . whilst the bulk of the area will revert to the Crown, the lessee shall have the right to secure a reasonable area of his lease upon which to found a home.

Senator Rae - A living area?

Senator MILLEN - I prefer to say a reasonable area, because so much room, is left for debate as to the meaning of such terms as " a living area " or "a home maintenance area." The leases should be terminable with the right of the lessee at the termination of his lease to secure a portion of his holding under a more permanent tenure. That is the policy which should have been adopted, and which I venture to say would have been adopted if the matter had been dealt with by a Bill. If the various clauses of this Ordinance had come under consideration in Committee, I am satisfied that some such policy would have commended itself to honorable senators. The Vice-President of the Executive Council was not well posted when he came to reply to the arguments that I have addressed to the Senate. As an instance in point, I refer honorable senators to the remarks which he made about the mortgage clauses. He said that, they only applied where a mortgagee holds land in excess of the maximum area. I say that where a mortgagee holds land under the maximum area, these, prohibitory clauses will still apply. If honorable senators will refer to clause 22 of the Ordinance, they will see that it reads -

Where any land leased under pastoral or agricultural lease in pursuance of this Ordinance has been mortgaged, -

I need not read any more, because the clause refers to "any" land.

Senator McGregor - The- honorable senator misunderstood what I said. I said that if a mortgagee had a mortgage over land in excess of the maximum area, he- could not hold it.

Senator MILLEN - If that is the intention of the Government, it should be set out clearly in the Ordinance. There is nothing in it to show that it is intended to apply these provisions only where the mortgagee holds more than the maximum area of land allowed. It is distinctly provided that the clause shall apply where a mortgagee holds " any " land.

Senator Rae - The honorable senator means that he must dispossess himself of it?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, within three years. I wish to remind honorable senators that what I said about this clause was that it is a copy of a provision in a New South Wales Act, but that three or four words appearing in the New South Walessection have been left out of this clause; Using the different terms employed in this Ordinance, the New South Wales section would read -

Where any pastoral or agricultural lease granted in pursuance of this Ordinance devolves upon any person who is not eligible to hold under the Ordinance -

That was what was wanted. Some pr> vision was required that where a man already held the maximum area, he should not be eligible to hold an additional area for any length of time. But we have here a prohibition against the holding of any area by a mortgagee. If this provision is not altered,, the very person whom the Vice-President of the- Executive Council desires to help - that is to say, those who are in need of financial assistance - will be unable to get it, because under this provision each settler will have to find a separate mortgagee, since no mortgagee will give a mortgage over more than one holding. The result, as Senator Walker has pointed out, will be that no man will be willing to become a mortgagee of lands in the Northern Territory under this Ordinance. But, even supposing it to be desirable to agree to the clause as it stands, in other respects I ask honorable senators to consider whether three years is a sufficiently long period to give a mortgagee in which to realize upon his mortgage. That is the question to which I chiefly directed my remarks in submitting my motion, and the Vice-President of the Executive Council, in his reply, has not said one word about it. I have pointed, out that three years is the time given to- a mortgagee to dispossess himself of land which he is not eligible to hold under the New South Wales Act, in the case of settlement leases and homestead selections, in the comparatively settled districts of the State, and yet three years is all that the Government propose to allow mortgagees to dispossess themselves of lands acquired under a mortgage in this great untrodden country.

Senator McGregor - The Administrator can allow them a longer period, if necessary.

Senator MILLEN - I know what that means. It is of no use to tell me, or to tell any financial institution, that our security must depend upon the "Yes" or " No " of the public official. If that statement be made to any financial institution, they will be very shy of advancing any money upon such a security. The element of uncertainty in such a matter may be laughed at, but it cannot be ignored. 1 have referred to the mortgage clauses to show that the Vice-President of the Executive Council, 5n his reply, did not attempt to deal with the objections I brought forward. I regret that the Senate has not had a full opportunity to deal with this important matter. I do so apart from personal or party reasons, and because I regard the future of the Northern Territory as certain to be very materially affected by the land policy imposed upon it. According as it is good or bad, so will the future settlement of the Territory be advanced or retarded. It is because I regard this Ordinance as a serious blunder and mistake in the initial stages of our efforts in that, direction that I took the action I have taken.

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