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Thursday, 19 March 1931

Senator McLACHLAN (South Australia) . - I think that the Minister has misapprehended one of the provisions of the ordinance which brought down what he was pleased to describe as an " onslaught " from Senator Colebatch. The very vice to which Senator Colebatch referred is again being perpetrated under section 16 of the ordinance, which gives the Government Resident power to make regulations. It was in complaint of that, as well as of the general provisions of the ordinance, that the honorable senator made reference to what has been done in another matter. I should welcome the relief that Senator Dooley visualizes will be given under the ordinance, but repeat that the Minister has mis-apprehended the force of Senator Colebatch's contention, which has a direct bearing on the matter to which I have referred.

I believe that the members of the Government and those responsible for the ordinance have the position of Central Australia altogether out of its true perspective. They hope to develop the interior of this country. Heaven knows. there are difficulties enough in the way of its development, as was pointed out by Senator Pearce; difficulties of which the practical men of the country have to their sorrow and great expense become very familiar. Those who are persisting in imposing hampering restrictions on our pioneers advance no satisfactory argument in justification of their action when they quote as a parallel the development of those parts of New South Wales and Queensland which adjoin the territory. These people are living under pioneering conditions. If hampering restrictions are imposed upon them, a great deal of country now in process of development will be thrown back into the hands of the Government. I was glad to hear the reference, by the Minister, to the suggestions contained in the letter of the 19th of May last from the Northern Territory Pastoral Lessees Association. The correspondence on this subject shows that the making of these ordinances was in the first place submitted by the Minister to the organization, which had an opportunity of offering certain recommendations. It appears that the Government embarked on this business of making ordinances for the accommodation of employees of pastoralists some time in March of last year, for I find that, on the 19th and the 23rd May, the Lessees Association communicated with the Government, setting out its views with regard to the matter. A perusal of that letter of the 19th May shows clearly that there was no desire, on the part of the lessees, to evade compliance with the ordinary decencies of nature or with as many of them as could be provided under pioneering conditions. The people who are developing that vast area of country in North and Central Australia have to put up with conditions which would not, of course, be tolerated in the more densely populated centres of the Commonwealth. Many of us have had actual experience of the mode of living that obtains in our out-back country. We know what the people there have to endure. In his communication of the 19th May, 1930, the secretary of the Lessees Association, referring to the draft accommodation ordinance, mentioned in the department's communication of the 30th of March, recommended that a new clause, 9a, be inserted, to read as follows: -

Whore less than five persons are employed and reside on the premises during their employment, the accommodation provided shall be deemed proper and sufficient for their comfort and health if the following conditions are fulfilled . . .

The letter then goes on to mention that the first condition should be the provision of not less than 480 cubic feet of air space for each employee in any sleeping compartment. This, I may add, is exactly in accordance with the provisions of the Queensland and New South Wales acts. There is no reason why more than 480 cubic feet of air space should be necessary in North and Central Australia, as such air space is considered sufficient for any part of Queensland.

Senator Rae - Is it sufficient for any part of Queensland?

Senator McLACHLAN - The people of Queensland have found it sufficient, for I understand that there have been no complaints. I am familiar with the accommodation provided for shearers in New South Wales. In my judgment it is ample. It must be remembered, also, that the climatic conditions of the Barkly Tableland are unrivalled. Nevertheless, this Government, acting, I understand, on the advice of some medical officer residing in Darwin, who has not had an opportunity to make himself acquainted with the actual conditions of the hinterland, has ordered that the pastoralists there shall provide 600 cubic feet of air space for each person in a sleeping compartment.

Senator Rae - The Barkly Tableland is not the whole of the Northern Territory.

Senator McLACHLAN - It is that port of the territory which is vitally affected by one of these ordinances, and it is the only part which this or any other Government can expect to see developed to any considerable extent in the near future. This so-called legislation is, I regret to say, anything but an incentive to our pioneers. The Lessees Association recommended, further, that -

In buildings constructed prior to the passing of this ordinance, not more than three persons shall be accommodated in any one sleeping compartment, and in buildings constructed after the passing of this ordinance, not more than two persons shall be accommodated in any on? sleeping compartment.

That is not unreasonable. The association also recommended that section 10, sub-section b, of the proposed ordinance be altered to read -

All buildings used, or in course of erection at the commencement of this ordinance, for sleeping, shall be divided into compartments, each compartment to accommodate not more than three persons.

All buildings erected after the commencement of this ordinance, for sleeping, shall be divided into compartments, each to accommodate not more than two persons.

This recommendation was made for the purpose of relieving the position of those lessees who had already erected buildings for the accommodation of their employees. It indicated, also, that the pastoralists were prepared to comply with all reasonable requirements in future structures. It is obvious that the medical officer upon whose suggestions the Government acted was not conversant with conditions in the out-back country. Senator O'Halloran, who has had considerable experience in this matter, will, I am sure, admit that certain of the recommendations made by the medical officer referred to were not quite reasonable. The Government, in making these regulations, has adopted an entirely wrong attitude. In the matter of baths, for example, the Lessees Association suggested that shower baths and an adequate supply of water should be supplied if available. Surely that should meet the requirements in our outback country. Is it reasonable to ask that these unfortunate lessees, who are engaged in the development of Northern and Central Australia, shall be put to all the expense of obtaining material from Sydney, Brisbane, or other centres for the purpose of providing plunge baths for their employees? Even if the conveniences were made available they would not be used by the employees, because their preference is for a shower if it is provided. These ordinances are a travesty on governmental policy for ostensibly the development of our outback pastoral areas. The association explained that it? proposals were mainly based on the Shearers' Accommodation Act as at present in force in Queensland, and, in one particular, on the New South Wales Rural Workers Accommodation Act. T may add that the pastoral employees also based their suggestions on the provisions of the Queensland and New South Wale# acts, which, we may assume, they regard as extremely fair. At all events they were prepared to accept similar provisions in an ordinance relating to the Northern Territory; but the Government, without by your leave, or with your leave, made regulations without further reference to the New South Wales or Queensland legislation on this subject. The letter from the secretary of the Pastoral Lessees Association referring to the accommodation to be provided for employees, stated -

Our first proposal is with a view to assisting the smaller pastoralists. It has been found in New South Wales that the limitation which we propose has been of very great importance to the smaller land-owner, and has been one which has given him a justifiable measure of relief, and it is consequently felt that it would be only reasonable to have this clause inserted in the Ordinance.....

I might point out, at this juncture, that any question of imposing a liability on pastoralists to expend money at the present time, is one which should be very carefully considered in view of the very critical period through which pastoralists in Northern aud Central Australia are, and have been, passing.

The responsible Minister must have been aware, after the receipt of that communication of the 19th May, from the Lessees Association, that it objected to the inclusion of clause 16 in the ordinance, which gives the government resident power to make regulations relating to the industry. In all the circumstances the Government would be well advised to withdraw the ordinance and substitute another containing more reasonable provisions to govern the development of the Northern Territory. Nobody would object to regulations requiring reasonable facilities and conveniences to be provided for employees of pastoralists in that portion' of the Commonwealth. It would, however, appear that the Government is looking at this matter from the wrong point of view. The Minister has been influenced by his environment, which as we know, counts for a great deal. If this Government believes that the country can be developed under the conditions provided in these ordinances, it is mistaken; rather will they redound to the detriment of this vast area of our unoccupied hinterland.

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