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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice President of the Executive Council) . - I freely admit that it is within the right of any honorable senator to challenge any regulation or Ordinance which may be tabled here, and when that course is taken the rest of the business of the country must be set aside, so far as the Senate is concerned, till the challenge has been dealt with. Nearly the whole of yesterday's sitting was occupied by a challenge of this description. Although I have no desire that the discussion on the Crown Lands Ordinance for the Northern Territory should be limited, yet I hope that it may be finished to-day, so as to allow the other business on the noticepaper to be proceeded with. I think that in challenging the Ordinance, Senator Millen was really more opposed to the leasing principle which has been adopted by the Government, and embodied in an Act of Parliament, than to the Ordinance itself. Some time ago we passed an Act for the administration of the Northern Territory. With the concurrence of both Houses of this Parliament, the leasehold principle in the Northern Territory was adopted in preference to the freehold system. I wish to point '0111 that when clause 11 of the Bill was under discussion in this Chamber, the Leader of the Opposition raised no objection to that principle, but seemed to agree with it just as did honorable senators upon this side of the chamber.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - That was a novelty.

Senator McGREGOR - It was a novelty. It is true that in Committee Senators Gould and Walker, in their usually mild manner, entered a slight protest against the principle ; but their protest had no effect, and the leasehold principle was adopted by Parliament, and embodied in the Act. It is too late in the day now to challenge that principle.

Senator de Largie - But is there not an election next year ?

Senator McGREGOR - I do not know what influence a discussion of this kind can have on a future election, seeing that the leasehold principle has already been adopted. The only way in which that system could be altered would be by an amendment of the Act. I wish now to point out the conditions' which obtain in connexion with the Ordinance made under the Act in respect of leasehold land. A great deal was said by Senator Millen in regard to the immense areas which may be held under lease in the Territory but he was particularly careful not to disclose the full facts in any reference which he made to that subject As a matter of fact, provision is made in the Act for the classification of the land into pastoral, grazing, and agricultural areas, or into grazing and mixed farming lands and agricultural lands. The pastoral areas are divided into three classes. From division1 to division 3 the area which may be held by a lessee is multiplied by six. In the first division of pastoral lands, a lessee may hold up to a maximum of 500 square miles. Of course, the Classification Board and the Director of Lands, in considering the allotment of leases of that description, need not grant an area up to 500 square miles ; but that is the limit to which they may go. Of second class pastoral lands a lessee may take up to a maximum of 1,000 square miles, so that these holdings may range between 500 and 1,000 square miles. In the third class of pastoral lands a lessee may hold under this Ordinance, and under the Act which authorizes it, a maximum of 3,000 square miles, or six times the lowest maximum. I have heard some honorable senators say that that is too much. I am not going to say whether it is too much or too little; but honorable senators must recognise that we have accepted the responsibility of administering an enormous territory - a territory which is practically unexplored up to the present time.

Senator Millen - One-third of it is held underlease

Senator McGREGOR -We will talk about that at a later stage. The Leader of the Opposition, in his usual clever manner, attempted to make it appear that great danger is likely to arise out of the privi leges conferred upon lessees under this Ordinance; but, as a matter of fact, a very large portion of the Territory is not only unoccupied, but unexplored. What is 50,000 or 100,000 square miles out of an area of 500,000 square miles ? The honorable senator will see that, although there are large areas held under lease under the South Australian law, there is an enormous tract of country which is still unoccupied, and which is likely to be unoccupied for many years. If we look at the history of settlement of other parts of Australia, we shall find that, although all the States have been under some form of government for nearly 100 years, not one of them is occupied or developed up to its full extent. It is conceivable that circumstances may arise in connexion with the administration of the Northern Territory which may render it advisable to lease far-back portions of it in areas up to even 3,000 square miles if anybody can be found willing to take them. When we look at the vastness of that Territory, when we consider the short time that it has been under the control of the Commonwealth, and when we realize that this legislation is to a very great extent of an experimental character, we must admit that we should endeavour to do something to make its occupation possible in the near future, and to give the greatest latitude to those who are prepared to settle there, particularly to those who are willing to settle in remote portions which at the present time are inaccessible to ports at which the settlers could ship their produce. The Government have been careful to select men to administer the affairs of the Territory who are in sympathy with the leasehold principle which is laid down in that provision of the Act to which I have already referred. While I am on the matter of classification I may as well deal with the classification of agricultural land. Agricultural lands in subdivision A, cultivation farms, are divided into two classes. In the first class an area may go up to a maximum of 640 acres. That is to say, a lease may be given for any area up to that limit, which, in the opinion of the Classification Board, is sufficient to maintain a family or to reward those who may take up land. In the next class the maximum is four times 640 acres - that is to say, 2,560 acres. Land of that class can be held for agricultural purposes under agricultural conditions, and at an agricultural rental. Under subdivision B, mixed farming and grazing, the maximum in the first class is 12,800 acres. In the second class the maximum goes up to five times that area, namely, 64,000 acres. So that honorable senators will see that those who have, up to the present time, had the administration of the Territory, and who have been advising the Government, have submitted suggestions which have been embodied in this Ordinance. When we take into consideration the enormous area and the variety of classes of land, we must realize the advisableness of trusting the Classification Board and the Director of Lands to do a fair thing with respect to the development of the Territory.

Senator Millen - Do I understand that this Ordinance is founded upon the recommendations of the Director of Lands and the Administrator?

Senator McGREGOR - To a very great extent.

Senator Millen - Then the Director of Lands must have advised the Government, before he had been in the Territory.

Senator McGREGOR - There are principles on which advice can be given without examination on the spot. I will next refer to the subject of reclassification, which is dealt with in clause 8. As I have already stated, we are in an experimental stage, and it is necessary that the Classification Board should have the power of reclassification in the future. Senator Millen argued that there was an absurdity in providing for reclassification when neither rental nor area could be interfered with. We cannot interfere with area, because that will be specified in the lease, and we cannot interfere with the rental until the next appraisement, because that also will be specified in the lease. But when we can interfere with the conditions under which land is held, there should be reclassification. Land which ought to be regarded as a grazing and agriCultural area might be classified as a purely agricultural area. The lessee might hold up to 12,800 acres. That would be held under different conditions than would apply in connexion with an agricultural area. In the same way, if in the near future accommodation was provided by means of railways and other conveniences for those occupying pastoral lands, those lands might be reclassified by being brought into the class of agricultural and grazing lands.

Senator Millen - Does not that simply mean that you will lease a man land under One set of conditions, and take power to alter the conditions at will?

Senator McGREGOR - We tell the lessees at the start what the conditions are. But all the conditions that a lessee has to abide by are contained in the lease, and neither the area nor the rental can be altered till the next appraisement. The intention is that land shall not be continuously held in enormous areas for purposes which the Almighty never intended. Land should not be held in enormous areas for pastoral purposes, when reclassification might show that it ought to be regarded as agricultural. In a new country like the Northern Territory it cannot be said that the principle of reclassification is wrong as long as the tenant knows in advance that reclassification can be effected. Suppose that a lessee holds 12,800 acres under a grazing and agricultural lease, and that in a few years that land is reclassified and brought under purely agricultural conditions. Although the authorities could not alter the rent, and could not affect the area till the next reappraisement, yet the conditions in connexion with fencing, stocking, cultivation, and all that kind of thing would be entirely different, and as soon as the reappraisement was made the rent would be put up in proportion to the true value of the land. That is simply safeguarding the interests of the community, while we are dealing with matters from an experimental point of view. We must all admit that whenever the Leader of the Opposition speaks on any subject he has the ability to put his case in the most favorable light, and from the most advantageous point of view. There is a possibility that by not revealing the whole truth about a matter he may, in some instances, mislead those who have not taken the same interest in it as he has done himself.

Senator Gardiner - Unfortunate people like me, for instance?

Senator McGREGOR - Yes, people like Senator Gardiner, who are naturally innocent and unsophisticated, though I know some questions as to which it would be as difficult to deceive the honorable senator as any man in the Senate. Senator Millen raised a serious objection to the provision in clause16e for the limitation of use. Has the honorable senator ever considered the conditions imposed in private leases? I never saw a private lease in which there was not a condition as to limitation of use, and peremptory conditions as to improvements, maintenance, and a dozen other things. In limiting the use to which lands may be put under a lease, we wish to provide that, for instance, factories shall not be built upon agricultural land.

Senator Millen - Then the Government have not very much faith in the Classification Board.

Senator McGREGOR - It is because we have faith in the Board that we give them these elastic powers. If we had no faith in them we should make this Ordinance so rigid that the Board could turn neither to the right nor the left, and would have to administer a hide-bound and cast-iron set of rules. As this is largely experimental, it is necessary that the Ordinance should be elastic. The object is to give the Classification Board and the Director of Lands an opportunity to determine whether lands granted under lease are being put to the best use, or to the use for which they were granted. Whenever, in their opinion, land may be put to a more profitable use, they have the power to reclassify it, and, while giving the lessee good conditions, which will enable him to make a good living, and, probably, an independence in the future, will be able to do something to protect the interests of the general public. That is the purpose which members of this Parliament will have in view in consenting to elastic provisions in an Ordinance of this description. Apart from the provisions for the limitation of use, the Leader of the Opposition took serious objection to the addi tional conditions provided for. He attempted to argue that, after a lease had been granted in the Northern Territory, new conditions never previously imagined by the lessee might be introduced into the lease.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator has admitted it.

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