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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator McGREGOR (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) - I have admitted it only in connexion with the reclassification of land.

Senator Millen - That is enough.

Senator McGREGOR - There are many additional conditions which it may be found necessary to impose in future leases. When a lease is granted to an individual, it represents a contract with the Administration of the Northern Territory, and no one can alter the terms of that contract until the time for re-appraisement arrives, when it can be altered only in respect of the rent, or until the land is reclassified or resumed, and the lessee is already notified of these contingencies in the Ordinance. All these things are provided for. The additional conditions referred to in clause 31 have nothing to do with the conditions of a lease already granted, unless by mutual consent; and we know that where there is mutual consent, the terms of any agreement may be varied. There is, therefore, nothing in the honorable senator's argument in opposition to the additional conditions,.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator has justified it. He has proved what I said to be correct, namely, that the Government claim the right to vary the conditions after a lease has been issued.

Senator McGREGOR - No ; the conditions of a lease must be adhered to; but additional conditions may be imposed in future leases granted to other people, after greater experience has been gained by the Classification Board or the Director of Lands.

Senator Millen - What the honorable senator means is that a lessee is warned that his lands may be reclassified, and therefore there is no breaking of his lease. I admit that, but the Government may alter the conditions of his lease later on.

Senator McGREGOR - Another very mild complaint was made with respect to miscellaneous leases. Senator Millen seems to imagine that some injustice may be done because provision is made for the issue of miscellaneous leases, not by the Classification Board or the Director of Lands, but by the Administrator of the Territory. It is necessary to remind the honorable senator that this provision is included in the Ordinance to enable leases to be granted for the removal of bark or timber, or for the erection of factories, and a number of other similar purposes. As these will involve matters of policy rather than of land administration, it has been thought by those who are responsible for the Ordinance that it is better that they should be left to the Administrator than to the Classification Board or the Director of Lands. Honorable senators will admit the wisdom of placing the issue of these miscellaneous leases under the control of the Administrator. The next objection of a serious character which Senator Millen has taken to this Ordinance is in connexion with the terms of resumption. Honorable senators on this side will be agreed that the terms of the resumption will prove a safeguard against the continuance of the occupation of great areas which it may be found necessary at the inauguration of settlement in the Territory to grant to individuals. When it is thought advisable to resume any area already granted under lease, the lessee will be placed in no worse position than that in which a freeholder has always been. The only difference will be that we set out in the Ordinance that the authorities of the Northern Territory have power to resume lands held under lease, and the lessees will know that before they take up their land.

Senator Millen - I have said nothing against the power of resumption. What I said was that it is a foolish thing to grant perpetual leases knowing that in the course of a few years it will be necessary to resume some of those leases.

Senator McGREGOR - I do not agree with the honorable senator. Under a perpetual lease, the lessee will have a better guarantee of permanence of occupation than he could have under a terminable lease. Under a terminable lease he might not be able to secure his land again after re-appraisement or reclassification, but under a perpetual lease he will continue his right to occupy the land, under the new conditions decided upon. It may be some years before the necessity for a resumption may arise, for in such a large territory it will be rather tedious work of development to provide railways and communication of 'that description. Under the terms of the Ordinance, no lessee will be able to claim compensation for the value which has been given to the lease by any expenditure incurred by the Commonwealth. All the compensation that a lessee will have the right to claim will be the value which he has given to the land he holds 'apart from any work which has been done by the Commonwealth with the people's money. Seeing that all this is clearly set forth in the Ordinance, a lessee will be in no worse a position than an ordinary freeholder has been in up to the present time. When an honorable senator bought land years ago, probably he had no idea at the time that a law would ever be passed enabling either a State or the Federal Government to resume freehold land under certain conditions of arbitration or agreement. If we object to the resumption of leasehold land we should also object to the resumption of freehold land, but we have freely assented to the resumption of freehold in the Lands Acquisition Act. Consequently, there is nothing serious in connexion with the terms of resumption which would place a lessee in the Northern Territory in a worse position than a freeholder in any other part of Australia. Seeing the favorable terms which they will get, no persons will, I feel sure, object to taking up leases in the

Northern Territory. Another objection raised by Senator Millen to the Ordinance was that the consent of the Director of Lands is required to the transfer of a lease. Is there anything unreasonable in that requirement ? I feel sure that any honorable senator will say that the consent of the Government should be obtained in a case of this kind. Have honorable senators ever known the same provision to be contained in leases granted by private enterprise? Nearly every lease of private land contains a condition that the lease shall not be transferred without the consent of the owner. How can such a condition in a Crown lease be objectionable when it is clearly in the public interest ? Suppose that there are a dozen applicants for a lease, and that the land is leased to what the Board considers the most suitable applicant. If the Ordinance did not contain this provision, the lessee could turn round and transfer the lease to a person who might be considered by the Board to be unworthy or unsuitable to get any land. Honorable senators will surely see, not only the advisableness, but the great necessity, for requiring the consent of the Director of Lands, or other authority, to the transfer of the lease to be obtained.

Senator Fraser - But suppose that a lessee dies?

Senator McGREGOR - If a lessee dies intestate, and has no heirs, the lease will lapse; but if he leaves any heirs they will make a claim, and, no doubt, it will be fairly adjudicated upon. I think it must be admitted that this provision for obtaining consent to a transfer will not put a lessee in a worse position than any person holding land under lease from Senator Fraser.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Cameron. - Are you making provision for that case?

Senator McGREGOR - Yes, and that is all we make provision for. The men whom we have appointed to administer the Northern Territory are supposed to be sensible men, who will deal with the tenants of the Crown in a reasonable way. If evidence can be shown that a transfer to a certain person is necessary or advisable, it will be granted at once, but if it is a case where the lessee is prepared to transfer the lease to Tom, Jack, or Harry, whether he is a suitable person of5 not, the Director of Lands, or the Board, ought to have the right to refuse the application. I feel sure that Senator Fraser would put the same condition in any lease of property belonging to himself.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Cameron. - Will the heir step in to the lessee's right, or will the Board have to give its sanction ?

Senator McGREGOR - The Board will have to give its sanction to everything. The honorable senator will see that if a just claim is made by an heir it will be granted at once.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Cameron. - Why should the Board interfere in the case of a perpetual lease? Why should not the ordinary right of heredity operate?

Senator McGREGOR - The provision does not apply to a case of that kind. It applies to the case of a lessee who, because the climate or the conditions do not suit him, or for some family reason, finds some person to whom he can transfer his lease, very probably for a consideration. He will have to get the consent of the Director of Lands or the Board to a transfer. It is a wise provision, because those who will have to administer the land must see that the future occupier, or the person to whom the lease is to be transferred, will be as good or as satisfactory a tenant as the original lessee. There is nothing unfair in the requirement at all. In everyday life throughout the world, this condition is put in private leases. It may be objected by Senator Millen that the obtaining of this consent will not have the effect of preventing aggregation.

Senator Millen - But you could stop aggregation by a simple prohibition.

Senator McGREGOR - Oh, yes ; but in my opening remarks I pointed out that the Ordinance was made elastic for the purpose of overcoming difficult situations which may arise in the experimental stage. There is no doubt that after we have had a little experience a Land Bill will be brought before this Parliament, probably dealing with all these subjects, and finally dealing with them so far as future leases are concerned. If any leases are granted before its enactment, they will be issued under the provisions of this Ordinance. I do not think that any human ingenuity could devise anything which would conduce more to the possibility of settlement than will this Ordinance at the present time. I think that those who have the interests of the leasing system at heart will admit that the Government have tried to get men whose sympathies are with the leasehold principle, and they, knowing the policy of the Government and their supporters with respect to land aggregation, will be very careful in dealing with the transfer of leases to see that no large estates or large interests are created.

Senator Blakey - It would be very hard to get a better man than Dr. Gilruth.

Senator MCGREGOR - I am not dealing with the Administrator, as the Government have settled that question. We did our best to get the most competent men available - that is, men who have some belief in the leasehold principle, and no belief in the aggregation of large estates. Another objection raised tq the Ordinance was that it dealt with the manner of cultivation, and it was contended that there should be no supervision of the treatment of the land of the Crown. A leaseholder might desire to cultivate a description of grass or herb, which, in his opinion, would be all right, but which, in the opinion of the rest of the community, might be all wrong, and do great damage to the settlement in the neighbourhood. It is right ia contracts of this description to have a condition that the cultivation shall be carried out in the interests of, not a single individual, but the whole community.

Senator Millen - But you are taking more than the power of veto; you are taking the power to compel the lessee to do something.

Senator McGREGOR - In legislation, the practice is to take the widest powers, but it is not always found wise to exercise them .in an extreme manner. If, in the opinion of the Director of Lands, or those in authority in the Northern Territory, it would in any locality be better to cultivate certain articles than something else, they ought to have the power to direct that that should be done by the lessee. Thousands of persons will, I hope, go to the Northern Territory, many ot whom will have had very little experience of tropical cultivation. It is wise, therefore, to declare in an Ordinance of this description that something of that sort shall obtain. When the time arrives for a comprehensive Land Bill to be brought before the Senate, honorable senators will be afforded an opportunity of looking into the matter, with a view to insuring that no damage shall be done. As to fencing and other conditions appertaining to die different classes of leases, Senator Symon stated that settlers might be compelled to put up extraordinary kinds of fences every six months.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - I never said anything of the kind.

Senator McGREGOR - He meant that the authorities might compel settlers to erect unnecessarily elaborate fences, and force them to alter or remove them at short intervals. But I would remind him that the conditions relating to fencing, so far as agricultural blocks are concerned, differ from the conditions relating to fencing in connexion with larger areas. Under the different classifications of land for which provision has been made, it is necessary to embody fencing conditions in the leases, and to administer those leases in a reasonable manner. In connexion with the smaller areas, conditions may be imposed rendering it obligatory on the part of lessees to fence them within a shorter period. But in respect of the larger areas no regulation has yet been framed for that purpose. When a regulation is framed in connexion with boundary fences, no doubt it will be submitted to Parliament, so that every honorable senator will have an opportunity of discussing it. From my point of view, the whole of the objections which were urged against this Ordinance were of a trifling character. I was sorry, indeed, for the Leader of the Opposition, because he always makes the very best of any subject which he takes in hand. However, on this occasion his premises were palpably weak, and, consequently, his arguments were of a very feeble character. The next objection which he raised had reference to the maintenance of the South Australian laws in the Territory. Now, before the Commonwealth took over the Territory, the South Australian laws were operative there. So far, we have passed only two Acts dealing with the Northern Territory, namely, the Northern Territory Acquisition Act and the Northern Territory Administration Act, under which this Ordinance has been framed. Do honorable senators imagine that it is possible, with our short experience of that country, to provide for every contingency that may arise there? We have merely declared - as has been declared in hundreds of Acts of Parliament passed by the States - that, where certain conditions have not been provided for by Statute, or Ordinance, or regulation, the South Australian law shall prevail. What did the States themselves do when they commenced to enact legislation? If a suspicion was entertained that that legislation was not complete, a clause was always inserted in it affirming that where that condition did obtain the common law of England should prevail. Senator Symon knows - and pro bably Senator Millen knows, too - that sometimes even the Statute law of England was made to prevail in the legislation enacted by some of the States.

Senator Millen - To the great profit of the lawyers.

Senator McGREGOR - We merely provide that when our own Statute law does not cover any contingency which may arise, the South Australian laws shall prevail. What did this Parliament do in the earliest stage of its history? It had no Standing Orders, and, consequently, it adopted a resolution that the Standing Orders of another place should apply. These things have occurred hundreds of times in the past, and probably will occur thousands of times in the future. The next objection raised by Senator Millen had reference to the continuance of South Australian leases.

Senator Millen - I did not say a word against the continuance of South Australian leases. My objection was to the right which the Government give to lessees to apply to convert their leases into perpetual

Senator McGREGOR - Did the honorable senator explain all the provisions in connexion with applications for perpetual leases? He did not. Of course, enormous areas have been granted by the South Australian Government in connexion with pastoral lands in the Northern Territory. They have granted areas of 10,000 and 20,000 squaremiles.

Senator Millen - One-third of the Territory is held under lease.

Senator McGREGOR - Does not the honorable senator know that when any of these lease-holders apply to convert their holdings into perpetual leases they will have to comply with the conditions laid down by the Classification Board in the Northern Territory ? If they desire to obtain a perpetual pastoral lease in class I. country, they will be able to secure a maximum of only 500 square miles. Similarly, in class II. of pastoral country, they will be at liberty to take up a maximum of only 1,000 square miles, whilst in class III. they will be able to secure a maximum of only 3,000 square miles. So that if these lessees think they will be better off with a perpetual lease of from 500 to 3,000 square miles than they are with a terminable lease of 10,000 square miles under the South Australian law, that is their choice. Is there anything wrong in that ?

Senator Millen - Yes, the wrong of granting a perpetual lease instead of a ter minable lease.

Senator McGREGOR - If Senator Millen wishes to substitute a terminable lease for a perpetual lease, he merely differs from the advisers of the Government. Under the powers of resumption to which I have referred, there can be no danger of the aggregation which has occurred in the different States, and which has rendered necessary the imposition .of a progressive land tax. It is with a view to making the conditions of the Territory as acceptable to its future inhabitants as possible that we are offering these liberal conditions. The next objection urged by Senator Millen had reference to the provision requiring an applicant to produce a medical certificate of physical fitness. I do not think there is anything very serious in that objection, because the strongest advocates of immigration in Australia are prepared to subject every intending immigrant to a medical examination before permitting him to come here. It will also be remembered that in our Immigration Restriction Act we .have laid down conditions with a view to preventing persons suffering 'from certain complaints from gaining admission to the Commonwealth. We provide that they must be shown to be honest, healthy, and intelligent individuals before they are allowed to land here. In connexion with the Northern Territory, we must recollect that the Board who will have the selection of its settlers will never see them. The latter will probably make application from New South Wales, South Australia, India, England, and New Zealand. Surely the Board who will be responsible -for the settlement of this country should take some precautions to see that only wholesome, healthy citizens are settled in the Territory. There is no suggestion that that country is unsuitable for persons of weaker physical constitution.

Senator Needham - But it is not to be a dumping ground for derelicts.

Senator McGREGOR - We do not want to make it a dumping ground for other than healthy, vigorous settlers.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - But the Government propose to make this restriction equally applicable to the citizens of the Commonwealth and to immigrants.

Senator McGREGOR - Certainly. Although there is nothing in the climatic conditions of the Northern Territory calculated to impair the health of most people, yet a new country like that will be much more effectively developed by strong, healthy citizens who, before they go there, have been certified to be in good health, and to be possessed of sound constitutions, than it would be by weaklings. I wish honorable senators distinctly to understand, however, that the production of this certificate will be required only when asked for. When the Director of Lands or the Land Board consider it is necessary that the certificate should be produced, it will be asked lor. But when it was not considered necessary, it would not be asked for. It is in the interests of the development of the Territory that this regulation is made. Another condition objected to by the honorable senator relates to the obtaining of confidential information.

Senator Millen - Call it secret information.

Senator McGREGOR - What is confidential information but secret information? I suppose the honorable senator is endeavouring to do the same thing in connexion with the leasehold principle as his friends used to do with the Labour party. We have always called ourselves a Labour party, but our opponents tried to make out that we were anarchists, nihilists, and I do not know what else. These epithets were applied as though we were persons to be dreaded. The same tactics are being resorted to in connexion with the system of administration that we are carrying on. It is sought to make it appear that there is something sinister and reprehensible in this policy - something that" ought not to be tolerated by the country. As I have said, the Board will have very little opportunity of coming into personal contact with many of the applicants. Consequently, it is necessary that information should be obtained about them. When that information is given, it is to be regarded as confidential. Naturally, the Board will endeavour to obtain information from people who have no interest in endeavouring either to exalt the virtues or exaggerate the vices of applicants. But the information is required so as to enable the Board to come to a conclusion as to the merits of intending settlers. There is nothing wrong in that. It would be a good thing if a system of the same kind were adopted in connexion with the allotment of land by Land Boards of States. Frequently, these Boards take evidence which is not given on oath, accepting the statements of individuals who have an interest in misrepresenting people and lying about them. Under that system, land has been allotted to persons who ought never to have got a foot of it, and who never intended to cultivate it.

Senator Millen - This Government are offering a premium for lying.

Senator McGREGOR - No ; we are only making an honest attempt to obtain the best kind of settlers for the Territory. As the Administration and the Board cannot be expected to come down from the Territory and interview applicants personally, they have to do the next best thing. We have a right to protect those who give information to assist the Government in the selection of settlers for the Territory. The next objection raised by Senator Millen was in connexion with clause 20 of the Ordinance. It relates to the period of reappraisement. I do not think that Senator Millen would be intentionally unfair, but there was no justification for endeavouring to make the Senate believe that reappraisement would take place every month or so, or as often as a new building was put up in proximity to a holding.

Senator Millen - I say now that that is the case.

Senator McGREGOR - I cannot say that the honorable senator knows his statement to be incorrect, but he knows that there is no probability of anything of the kind being done. Suppose that a lessee takes up a town block, which is subject to re-appraisement, in any case, every fourteen years. He gets the block at a certain rent. As Government money is spent, the value" of land is increased. The holding of a settler whose case I am supposing may be .' increased in value from £100 to £1,000. Ought the occupier of the lease to be the only person to benefit from that expenditure of public money ? This clause gives an opportunity for re- appraisement in the event of the expenditure of public money increasing the value of holdings. But if nothing of the kind is done, there can be no re-appraisement for fourteen years.

Senator Millen - Then if the Government put up a public building every week, a holding can be re-appraised every week?

Senator McGREGOR - Does the honorable senator think that, even in a city like Melbourne, a new Parliament House, a new Customs House, or a new Post Office could be erected, or that a new railway could be opened every week? Cannot the honorable senator see the absurdity of the position he is trying to establish?

Senator Millen - I think it is likely that the Government will be putting up new buildings every year for some years to come in a place like Port Darwin.

Senator McGREGOR - Suppose the honorable senator took up a lease, and that the property was worth ,£100. Suppose that the Government spent a few hundreds of thousands of pounds in the neighbourhood, and his lease in consequence became worth £2,000. Ought the honorable senator to pocket the .£1,900 which he did not earn ?

Senator Millen - I say that the Government are making an impracticable proposal, and that no one will build under such terms.

Senator McGREGOR - We hold that, when a block of land is increased in value by the expenditure of public money, the lessee of the block should be expected to pay more in consequence of the increase. If not, who should bear the cost? Should we down here do so? Should other citizens in the Northern Territory bear the whole expenditure on account of public works in Port Darwin? The principle of re- appraisement at other times than- the fourteen years' period stipulated is a fair thing. The individual affected may not like it, but the rest of the community will think it fair; and we must have regard to the interests of the community as a whole. Another objection raised was in connexion with the forfeiture of leases when conditions are not observed. Under such circumstances, somebody ought to have the power to forfeit a lease. A similar condition applies in every private contract.

Senator Millen - But a private contract does not allow the landlord or agent to exercise the power of forfeiture. That power is exercised by the Law Courts.

Senator McGREGOR - In this instance the Director of Lands is not the landlord. If a lease were made capable of forfeiture by the Land Board, it would entail the adoption of a rigid system worked on definite lines.

Senator Millen - With less room for favoritism.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator is so suspicious that I believe he thinks the Administrator is going to carry out the principle of preference to unionists in connexion with land regulations.

Senator Lt Colonel Cameron .- We should not put temptation in his way.

Senator McGREGOR - This is not temptation, but a necessary provision. A Board would be much more cumbrous to move. This provision is elastic. If the lessee whose lease has been forfeited thinks he has been unfairly treated, he can appeal to the Administrator, and the Administrator may restore the lease. I am afraid that the honorable senator has been looking for mares' nests in the Ordiance, but he has found no eggs yet. It is considered by the Government that it is better, in the interests of the individual whose lease may be ^forfeited, that he should appeal to the Administrator than that we should work through a Board. That is my opinion also. I do not know why the honorable senator should cast suspicion on the Administrator, and suggest that he would not hold the balance evenly.

Senator Millen - It is not a matter of casting suspicion. In New South Wales, years ago, we tried the one-man business, and it broke down.

Senator McGREGOR - When there appears to be any danger of that in the Northern Territory, we can send up a new Administrator. That might alter things. I have already dealt with the objections of the honorable senator to perpetual leases for large areas. He says that it would be better to grant terminable leases, and ultimately freeholds or perpetual leases. . I do not know where he is.

Senator Millen - I did not say that.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator is not prepared to grant perpetual leases right away. He would first grant terminable leases, and after they had expired he would be prepared, according to his own statement, to grant the lands as freeholds or as perpetual leaseholds.

Senator Millen - I did not say anything of the kind. I defy the honorable senator to find that in Hansard.

Senator McGREGOR - I shall find it.

Senator Barker - It is rather a mixed condition of things.

Senator Millen - It is perfectly and wilfully mixed by the Vice-President of the Executive Council.

Senator McGREGOR - No doubt, the honorable senator means that he would give a person looking for land the option to choose the terms he thought best. But we are not proposing anything of that kind. We submit to intending settlers in the Northern Territory certain definite conditions. They have been set down in the Act to which I have already referred, and are further developed by this Ordinance. I have already stated that this question, as dealt with by the Leader of the Opposition, is the question of leasehold versus freehold. The leasehold system has been adopted by this Parliament, and the honorable senator never questioned it when the matter was before the Senate. We are endeavouring to carry out the leasehold system in the. best manner that can be suggested by an efficient staff of officers, and the intelligent consideration of the members of the Government.

Senator Millen - It is obvious that none of the men who drew up this Ordinance have had any experience in connexion with land.

Senator MCGREGOR - If the honorable senator's statement is of any value, he must know well how to draw up a land Ordinance, and if he can do it better than any one else, I shall recommend him to the Attorney-General for the work when it is necessary to issue another Ordinance of this kind. The honorable senator is not the only experienced land administrator in Australia. There are others who know a little-' about land, as well as the honorable senator. I am sorry that the position of Director of Lands is filled, because, from his own showing, and according to the opinion of some of his friends, the honorable senator would be an admirable person to fill that position. But he expresses so much suspicion of the officers who have already been' appointed to deal with these matters in the Northern Territory, that I am afraid he might be -equally suspicious of applicants for agricultural, pastoral, or grazing leases, and would find very few settlers who could satisfy him. I have endeavoured, to the best of my abilities, to explain away the difficulties of the honorable senator. If I have not been successful I must, I suppose, admit that my experience has not been as extensive as that of the honorable gentleman ; but, seeing that I was digging potatoes from the time when I was ten years of age, I ought to know as much about land as some people. I have no wish to curtail the privileges of any honorable senator. I could not do so if I had, nor would I do so;but J hope that, in order that the rest of the business of the country may be proceeded with, the debate on this Ordinance will be reasonable, and will be terminated as soon as possible.

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