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Wednesday, 3 November 1971
Page: 2971

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) (12:26 PM) - The Government has been in office for 22 years now and there is still no public or publicised plan for the political advancement or development of the Northern Territory. We have seen in this period repeated conferences between members or delegates of the Legislative Council and the Government. There have been some advances but on the whole one can say that there have been only ad hoc, uncoordinated, stop-go political policies which are not in the best interests of the Northern Territory. In Papua New Guinea Australia has done a lot. It should do more. But in the field of political development we have done very little in the Northern Territory compared with what we have achieved in Papua New Guinea. What is needed, of course, is a progressive step by step plan; this is a pre-requisite to political development in the Northern Territory.

One of the basic objectives, and certainly one which is followed by the Australian Labor Party, should be to provide a fully elected Legislative Council. This would entail the gradual replacement of the official members of the Council. One can postulate what should be the number, but from experience possibly 15, 16 or 17 would be a fair number at present. This would mean the virtual full replacement of the official members but this would be advisable. The last 2 to go would be the Crown Law officer of the Northern Territory and an Assistant Administrator, who would have a broad knowledge of and links with the Northern Territory Administration.

This would gradually lead- to the appointment in the Northern Territory of Council Ministers. Some call them political secretaries or some other type of secretaries. There are 3 broad categories of administration for which they could administer and be responsible. Firstly, there are the branches which could be categorised as local branches, and these would include, for example, the police and prisons. Secondly, there would be the statutory boards with which we are familiar and which would have responsibility for water, power, sewerage, fisheries, residential lands, motor vehicles, cold stores, wildlife, etc. They would be statutory boards which the Legislative Council would be fully competent to administer. The third category is a dicey one - the Treasury. It could be broken into 2 parts, one dealing with the collection of revenue from the Northern Territory and one embracing the first 2 categories I mentioned, namely, local branches and statutory boards. I think that this would be a step in the right direction and one which could be achieved. When it came to the broader field of policy which involves the Commonwealth and direct participation by Canberra for the time being, then there would have to be a Treasury in a 2-tier structure. One tier of the structure would deal with Northern Territory revenue and the disbursement of funds, the legal branches and the statutory boards, and the other would deal with the Commonwealth itself.

Mr Hunt - Mining and lands.

Dr PATTERSON - Yes. Of course, there would have to be a Cabinet in the Northern Territory - as we have here - which would be responsible to the Legislative Council. The other arm would work directly in liaison with Canberra through the Administrator. This would be the governor type of function. I believe that this is the situation we should aim for. This should be the plan. Ancillary to this situation would be the gradual transfer to the Northern Territory of the Commonwealth public servants and the State-type functions as opposed to the Canberra-type functions. I am not professing to put this forward as a new proposition. It is well known to the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) and to the previous Minister. I believe that something progressive has to be done to let the people of the Northern Territory know that the Government intends to act or think in this way, because it is needed. I think it is really a scandal that the people of the Northern Territory do not have the right to participate in referenda or Senate elections, particularly when we realise - this is from memory - that prior to 1911 they had these rights. The people of the Northern Territory are fully entitled to these rights.

The other aspect on which I want to touch is in relation to freights. It is quite obvious that the increasing level of freight rates is fast becoming one of the most important influences inhibiting the rate of growth in country areas, particularly in northern Australia. Tonight we are speaking of the Northern Territory. In the north we see the location of capital cities such as Brisbane and Darwin. Centres of population a long way from the capital cities are affected most because' the Commonwealth has one of the most iniquitous policies imaginable, namely, charging sales tax on freights. The further a person lives from the Australian capital cities the more he has to pay for his goods. One of the factors causing this situation is that the Government allows sales tax to be levied on the cost of freight. This is absurd and harsh. I shall give an illustration in relation to my State of Queensland. I doubt whether most honourable members know that Melbourne is closer to Brisbane than is Cairns. One can see how sales tax on freight rates affects the total cost when the tax is taken into account. This increase in freights is becoming a major problem in northern Australia, particularly in relation to primary products and minerals. We see this situation happening all the time. Five years ago the Loder Committee published a report in which it recommended alleviating the freight problems of people in northern Australia, particularly those living a long way from capital cities. Recommendations were made, but this Government has not bothered to act on them.

A most important point - unfortunately we have not sufficient time to talk about it - is what is to happen to the State Shipping Service between Western Australia and Darwin? This matter will be a major problem in the immediate future. If there is not to be a continuation of the shipping service to Darwin, either it will have to receive its goods by road transport or air transport, or it will import goods. When one considers that the total exports from Western Australia to Darwin are worth approximately $7m, one can see the ramifications of the amount of goods and services involved. Admittedly, in the last financial year the State Shipping Service operated at a loss of $4.8m, and this Government has decided that it will not help the Western Australian Government in regard to this Shipping Service. But more importantly, as far as this debate is concerned, this Government decided that it will not help the people of Darwin, because it has turned down a request for the provision of approximately S470,000 to subsidise, in part, the Western Australian State Shipping Service to allow its ships to go on to Darwin, and it has also turned down a request to build a new ship, which would have cost approximately S2.5m.

In this debate we are concentrating particularly on the Northern Territory, but all these matters are extremely important to the people of Darwin who are entitled to know what will happen to them in the future as far as importing goods from Western Australia is concerned, because that is their main source of commodities. At the present time they know that the State Shipping Service will not provide ships for the Darwin run, which is important to them. I hope that tonight the Minister for the Interior can throw some light on this subject. Although he may say, legitimately, that this matter comes within the province of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon), I believe that he must recognise that indirectly this matter is of paramount importance to the people of the Northern, Territory, and particularly to the people of Darwin, because the cost of goods and services is most important in this area.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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