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Tuesday, 16 December 1930

Senator RAE - Then I apologize to the honorable senator. But other honorable senators who voted for the second reading now seem determined to have no advisory council. The Government contends that the residents of the Northern Territory should have the right to express their views of the proposals that come before the Administrator, and to give him such advice as they are capable of offering. Obviously, if there is no advisory council, the Administrator must be an autocrat. He may be the best meaning autocrat in the world, but it would be impossible for him to become personally acquainted with every corner of the territory over which he would be in control, . and, consequently, he should be able to call to his aid the advice of those who could assist him. The council provides a means whereby the residents of the Northern Territory can express their wishes. Senator McLachlan contends that the appointment of an advisory council is not justified, because no money is available for expenditure on public works or other such undertakings. That contention cannot be taken literally because unless the territory is to be abandoned, some expenditure must necessarily be incurred every year. Consequently, however little may be available for maintaining existing services - even though new works may not be undertaken at present - an advisory council can advise as to the best way . in which to expend it. Although Senator McLachlan said that the council may report upon the necessity for undertaking any public work in the territory, or with respect to railway freights, he did not state, as the bill provides, that the council is to advise the Administrator with respect to any matter arising out of any meeting of the council or submitted by the Administrator to a meeting of the council. The council can advise on any proposition emanating from the Administrator. It is contrary to all human experience andcommon sense to contend that an officer placed in a somewhat remote portion of the Northern Territory could administer its affairs as wisely and as satisfactorily without the advice of a council representative of all parties as he could with such advice. The greatest genius can act only within the knowledge that comes to him, and consequently the Administrator should be able to receiveadvice from those who. have a knowledge of and who are interested in the territory. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) said that if the bill is rejected the people of the Northern Territory will still have the benefit of the advice of a council such as is provided in the bill. But is it not illogical to mutilate the bill in a desire to effect economy, and at the same time to place the Government in the position of denying the people of the Northern Territory direct representation by retaining the present system with all the unnecessary expenditure associated with it. Is the Government to be denied the right to provide any form of self-government in the territory, and to be compelled to make a despot of the Administrator who would not have power to ascertain the necessities of the people ? It would mean continuing an unwarranted expenditure which honorable senators opposite have professed their willingness to dispense with. This should be considered as vital. Every effort should be made to provide some system of local government. The people in the Northern Territory should be able to give advice to the Administrator who. if he is capable of occupying his position, should accept it when it is reasonable and have sufficient discretion to disregard it if it is unreasonable. The measure provides that any member of the council can have recorded the advice he tenders. Even if such advice is disregarded by the Administrator because he considers it unreasonable, the residents of the territory will be able to see from the records what advice was tendered and why it was rejected. We have heard of brutal majorities, but as that is a term which I do not like to employ, I would say that, in this instance, an unreasonable majority is attempting to delete from this measure some of its most important provisions. The right of the residents of the Northern Territory to express their opinions has been brought down to an irreducible minimum. The best way in which to ascertain the views of the residents of the territory is through an advisory council directly representative pf the inhabitants. As mentioned by the Minister (Senator Daly) there is no more reason why there should be any objection to this form of election in the Northern Territory than there is to the application of the system to any other part of the Commonwealth. The station-owners or land-owners are the employers, and those who are not the land-owners are the employees who would find it very inconvenient and expensive to get time off to attend meetings of the council, for which they would receive only travelling expenses. There would be no great inducement for other than employers to undertake the work of the council. All the facts show the extreme probability of station-owners being elected as mem bet's of the council. The fact that no section of the population has complained that, under the present act. adult suffrage has deprived it of representation, shows that there should be jio need for alarm in the future. I trust that the committee will realize that this is a vital portion of the measure and that a majority will not insist upon the Senate's amendment.

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