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Thursday, 11 December 1930

Senator GUTHRIE - I have already referred to the tragic neglect of the Northern Territory, because of its remoteness, and have described this measure as a retrograde step, because, in my opinion, the territory is best served by a commission of the type provided by the previous Government. There have been many failures in connexion with the development of North Australia, but there have also been many successes. The early pioneers of the territory proved the existence of vast areas of land suitable for breeding cattle, horses and sheep, the latter particularly on the Barkly Tableland close to the Queensland border. My own people were at a very early stage associated with the development of the Barkly Tableland and although I was very young when I went up there, I know all about the country. Of the first 14,000 ewes moved by my people from the northwest of Victoria only 1,000 reached their destination.

Senator Daly - Would that be affected by having an advisory council or a commission ?

Senator GUTHRIE - I propose to show how important a part transport plays in the development of the Northern Territory. Senator Pearce has already pointed out that there are so many variations in climate, soil, and outlet for whatever is produced, that the Northern Territory could almost be divided into four States. The men most fitted to give useful information to assist in the administration of the territory are those who live there, and have some knowledge of its development. One of the greatest drawbacks to early attempts at pastoral settlement was the lack of transport, not necessarily railways. As an indication of the difficulties of pioneer pastoralists, one day in a heat wave near Boulia, I lost 6,000 ewes I had bought at Longreach. Had there been rail transport, they would have got through to the tableland without loss. During the real drought of 1902, when there was a big shortage of beef and mutton in the Southern States, there were thousands of fat bullocks and merino wethers on the Barkly Tableland that could not be transported to any market. A large amount of capital, pluck and determination are required by those who pioneer the territory. They need to have large areas and security of tenure, and, above all, stout hearts. They suffer great hardships, and ray admiration goes out to them. Very few of those who blazed the trail in the early days of Australian pastoral development have made any money. In the territory people had to pay £100 a ton for flour, and £50 a ton to transport fencing wire and all goods to the Barkly Tableland. Under certain conditions, that tableland country is eminently suitable for sheep, but after spending £100,000 on the necessary buildings, fences, bores and wind mills over a period of 30 years, we had to give up sheepraising, because of the ever increasing cost of wages and transport charges. When we first took up that country, the journey from the south occupied from five to six months. Later on, we could travel by rail to Brisbane and thence by boat to Burketown, then by horse or buggy to the tableland - a journey which took from five to six weeks. Now it takes two or three days to make the trip by air. The air will be the future medium of transport in Australia for mails and people.

It is quite an erroneous idea that the vast area of the Northern Territory can be properly administered from Darwin or Canberra. Both places, are quite out of touch with the real Northern Territory. It is an area that can only be developed by men with special knowledge.

Senator Daly - Is the honorable senator satisfied with the existing system?

Senator GUTHRIE - It is the best that has been devised during the 40 years I have been associated with the Northern Territory; but the commission has been hampered by the lack of funds. As I have already said, it is a case of " out of sight out of mind ". Insufficient money has been allocated to provide bores and facilities to enable the pioneers to get their stock to market. It has been said that it is problematical whether sheep can be successfully raised in the territory, but if proper facilities were afforded and costs of transport and production reduced, I am sure the Barkly Tableland could be developed to carry many millions of sheep, but not under the present labour and market conditions. On one occasion, wool from that part of Australia topped the London market. Merino wool of a particularly fine quality is grown there; also very fine fat cattle and magnificent horses. I have never seen better horses than are bred on that rolling limestone country of the Barkly Tableland. The tableland has a magnificent climate, and, with water, fruit and vegetables grow to perfection. The natural grasses, the Flinders and the Mitchell, and varieties of creeping vines are full of nutriment; they are very fattening.

The Government seems to lay stress on an anticipated saving of £8,000 by abolishing the commission ; but I venture to say that not a penny will be saved if an advisory council is elected on adult suffrage. It is not proposed, I understand, to pay the members of the advisory council salaries, but travelling expenses are to be allowed. If the councillors do any work those travelling expenses will be considerable; if they do not meet to do any work they will be useless. My main objection, however, is that I do not think the right type of men will be chosen on an adult suffrage basis. I do not think that practical men who have had experience in developing large inland areas will be chosen. Union secretaries would be quite useless - in fact worse than useless. As Senator Pearce has pointed out, Darwin is not the territory.

Senator Sir George Pearce - It is not typical of the territory.

Senator GUTHRIE - That is so.

Senator Rae - Would the honorable senator favour a removal of the capital, say, to Alice Springs?

Senator GUTHRIE - Although Alice Springs is in Central Australia, I think that it would be better to make it the capital of the Northern Territory, because the people living there, or close by, would know something of the industries of the northern part of Australia. The principal industry is that of breeding cattle. It is a wonderful cattle country. Cattle breed prolifically and fatten readily. It is also good country for breeding horses, and, as I have already said, provided the cost of transport and production can be reduced, sheep can be successfully raised on the Barkly Tableland, but there is absolutely no inducement for anybody to develop a sheep station - a costly undertaking anywhere in Australia to-day.

Look at the tragedy of Vestey's at Darwin! Vestey's spent £1,000,000 on the erection of meat works. To-day, because of industrial troubles,' those works are lying idle, and rotting. Although the hours of work were short, and the wages very high, the men would not get on with the job. There was strike after strike. I think that Darwin is about the worst centre that could be chosen for the administration of the territory. It certainly makes a good back door to the Commonwealth for aviators, but that is about the end of its usefulness. Frightful blunders have been made by administrators who have not been practical men. It was useless to send men to the territory who knew only about botanic gardens in Sydney and Melbourne, but nothing about the development of huge areas in their pioneering stages. That is work that only the practical, hard-working, brave pioneer can undertake successfully. I have already said that very few of our pioneer -pastoralists have weathered the storm. The history of the development of all the States is that very few of the original pioneers have overcome the great difficulties and hardships they had to encounter.

Senator Pearcehas had a very practical knowledge of the administration of the Northern Territory. No man in this Parliament -knows more about the territory than he does. He has visited .nearly every portion of it. During his regime practical assistance was given to cattle and other stock-owners by the putting clown of bores to provide water along stock routes. Over the vast area of the Northern Territory there is an almost unlimited supply' of sub-artesian water.

Artesian water has not been found, though we bored to a depth of 2,000 feet; but at depths ranging from 200 to 300 feet an unlimited supply of subartesian water can be obtained. At first this water was raised by pumping engines, and later pumped by windmills 24 feet in diameter into surface storage tanks. Iron storage tanks were first used, but when it was found that they were too expensive, arid that their holding capacity was insufficient, enormous surface excavations of an area of about ten times that of this chamber and of shallow depth were constructed. The administration of the Northern Territory should be in the hands of practical men similar to the real pioneers who have done so much to develop the back country, and not of loafers such as are to be found in large numbers in Darwin. I believe that there is a larger proportion of loafers in Darwin than in any other part of Australia. I am afraid it will be impossible to satisfactorily administer the Northern Territory from Canberra, where the officials will be ignorant of and quite out of touch with the requirements of that part of Australia. The persons elected to the proposed advisory council will not be of the right type to .in any way assist its development. For the reasons given, I shall vote against the second reading of the bill.

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