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Thursday, 11 December 1930

Senator DALY (South Australia) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . -I am afraid that if every honorable senator strays from the path to the extent that Senators Guthrie and Lynch have done, the Minister in charge of this bill will not recognize it. The Government's purpose is clear. It desires to effect a saving in the administrative costs of the Northern Territory. It knows, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) and other honorable senators who have spoken know, that it is difficult to attract capital to develop the territory. Until capital can be attracted, the Government has no desire to keep this expensive North Australia Commission functioning as though we had hundreds of thousands of pounds to spend. By abolishing the commission, a saving of £8,000 per annum can be effected.

Senator Guthrie - That is not a great deal when we consider the huge territory concerned.

Senator DALY - It is remarkable that Senator Guthrie should now attempt to brush aside £8,000 as though it were but a drop in the ocean, whereas a short time ago, when it was claimed that a number of economies suggested by him were of infinitesimal value from the point of view of economy, the honorable senator said, " Lots of littles make a lot." The Opposition cannot have it both ways. Its members say that, instead of taxing the people, the Government should reduce expenditure; but when the Government introduces a measure to effect a saving they oppose it.

Senator Sir George Pearce - I am doubtful whether there will be any reduction of expenditure as the result of this bill.

Senator DALY - The Leader of the Opposition is unable to say more than that he is doubtful whether expenditure will be reduced. Has the Opposition in this chamber descended to the extent that it will reject the financial proposals of the Government merely because it doubts whether expenditure will be reduced?

Senator Sir George Pearce - I speak from experience.

Senator DALY - If the right honorable gentleman wants the Senate toreject this proposal, he ought to be able to show that the £8,000 cannot be saved.

Senator Sir George Pearce - I tried to do so.

Senator Lynch - How much will the advisory council cost?

Senator DALY - There will be a direct saving of £8,000 a year as compared with the present administration. The figures on which that estimate has been based have been gone into by persons other than the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Blakeley). In carrying out its economy campaign, the Government has sought the advice of its officers, and it has been advised that, although the continuation of the North Australia Commission might be justified were it possible to attract capital to develop the Northern Territory, its continuance now is like maintaining a ten-minutes bus service in Canberra when there are no passengers for them to carry. The Government is advised that a saving can be made in administration costs in the Northern Territory, and introduces a measure to effect that saving, and to its consternation it meets with opposition.

Senator Lynch - The Minister has not yet said what the advisory council will cost.

Senator DALY - The Government is confident that what might be termed its make-shift proposal will save the taxpayers of Australia £8,000 per annum.

Senator Herbert Hays - And the money will be spent somewhere else.

Senator DALY - I candidly admit that the £8,000 might be used to meet the increased demand for old-age pensions, a demand which has increased hy £630,000 per annum. That, however, is not the point. The Government has been told that it must reduce expenditure; but when it introduces a proposal to that end, Senator -Lynch says, "Leave the commission there ; it may be of use some day." If the taxpayers of .Australia are to be asked to pay' an additional £8,000 per annum by way of taxation merely to keep in existence a body which may be useful some day, then the Senate, not the Government, must accept the responsibility for asking them to do so.

Senator Sir George Pearce - What is the estimated cost of the advisory council, which will be drawn from all parts of the territory ?

Senator DALY - I shall obtain the details.

Senator Lynch - There is no limit to the amount that might be expended.

Senator DALY - Money for the purpose will have to be appropriated by Parliament.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The Minister in' another place did not say what the saving would be ; he merely said that the North Australia Commission was costing £8,000 a year.

Senator DALY - I shall obtain detailed figures before the Assistant Minister replies. I ask the Senate to consider this measure from the point of view put forward by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) when he said that it is difficult to attract capital to the Northern" Territory.

Senator McLachlan - What is the need for an advisory council?

Senator DALY - It is' the cheapest form of government. Under the. Government's proposal, the railways in the territory will be controlled by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. . That will mean a reduction of overhead expenditure. The control of roads, telegraphs, telephones and water supplies will be transferred to the Works Department, the officers of which, owing to the depression, are not overworked.

Senator McLachlan - What will the advisory council do?

Senator DALY - It will advise the Government regarding developmental works.

Senator McLachlan - But there is no development taking place.

Senator DALY - That is because there is no money for the purpose. Does not Senator McLachlan realize the vast potentialities of the territory? I should not be greatly concerned if the Senate decided that, until capital can be attracted to the territory and conditions again become normal, there should be no advisory council. The Ministry must recognize the existence of the Senate. Some time ago, when it promulgated an ordinance relating to the Darwin Town Council, the Leader of the Opposition moved for its disallowance. Finally he withdrew his objection on my undertaking that within twelve months some form of elected government for the Northern Territory would be introduced. What is the Government to do? It is doing its best to meet the elastic principles of certain members of the Opposition.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The honorable senator is incorrect in his remarks about the Darwin Town Council.

Senator DALY - If I have misinterpreted the right honorable gentleman's action, I regret it. But I have a recollection of his speaking in support of the disallowance of an ordinance.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What are the contemplated powers of the advisory council under clause 21?

Senator DALY - Until Parliament makes other provision, the advisory council may make ordinances.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would it be empowered to alter the lands ordinances?

Senator DALY - I should say so. But I remind the honorable senator that an ordinance is inoperative until it has been approved by the Governor-General. Under clause 3, the ordinance would have to come before Cabinet, and if approved it would have to be gazetted, after which it would lie on the table of both Houses of Parliament for 30 days and would be open to disallowance. The council might have power to alter the land laws; but whatever it did would have to be submitted to Parliament. Its powers would not exceed those of the North Australia Commission. With the establishment of the advisory council the Government would probably delegate some of its powers to that body. The Government is not so much concerned with the appointment of an advisory council as with the fact that the commission is doing nothing. Just as Parliament may destroy the commission and save £8,000 a year, so Parliament can re-establish it, or adopt some other form of government if it feels disposed to do so. But until that time arrives, I urge that, however much honorable senators may associate the Government with extravagance, it is their duty to encourage every attempt it makes to effect a legitimate saving in expenditure.

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