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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) .- The Senate is indebted to Senator Millen for having brought this question forward. I quite agree with Senator Gardiner that we have not any reason to be proud of the land legislation of Victoria or of some of the other States. That legislation has always been of a tentative character, just as this legislation will be. Senator Gardiner was at some pains to stress the fact that it is not wise to allow persons to get a grip upon large areas. We have seen the evils of that policy in Victoria. At one time, the Mallee was regarded as being unsuitable for settlement, and large areas were therefore let at peppercorn rentals for a period of twenty years. I was not in the Victorian Parliament at the time, but my father was, and he fought strenuously against the adoption of that course. What happened? Before the leases had expired, it was found that the land was valuable. The lessees were able to sublet to persons who paid them from 5s. to 10s. an acre. In another instance, in Victoria, there were large areas of country which could not be utilized, and these were sublet under section 32 of the Land Act. I was in office just before those leases expired, and it was my intention, upon their expiry, to throw them open for settlement. But when they fell in I was not in office. As a result, those who had held them secured practically every one of the blocks. I am afraid that with the large areas which can be taken up under this Ordinance, and under the South Australian law, the same sort of thing will happen again. I recognise that the taking over of the Northern Territory was the most momentous step which this Parliament will be called upon to take for scores of years. Consequently, we require to act with the utmost caution. In assuming control of this enormous Territory of 523,000 square miles, we have loaded ourselves with a very heavy liability. The public debt upon it is £2,748,062; the deficit is £779,734; the cost of the existing railway is £2,242,343 ; so that, altogether, we have taken over a burden of £5,770,139. The railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, which will have to be constructed at an early date, will cost £4, 500,000. In other words, we are shouldering a liability of £10,270,139, and the annual cost to the Commonwealth will be more than , £500, 000. These facts are important. The Territory is being specially favoured in that it must be developed by the rest of Australia. The other States have had to find the money for their own developmental purposes, but the Northern Territory will be developed at the expense of the Commonwealth, and, therefore, it is our duty to be exceedingly careful in all that we do. How are we to meet this liability ? By peopling this immense tract of country. The peopling of it was the one great reason which induced us to take it over. It was regarded as the danger zone of Australia. It was recognised that unless we filled its mighty spaces, it would be open to an enemy to gain admission to our shores there, and to work great disaster. Now, the only way in which we can people the Territory is by popularizing land settlement. Section 11 of the Act of 1910 reads -

No Crown lands in the Territory shall be sold or disposed of for any estateof freehold, except in pursuance of some contract entered into before the commencement of this Act.

Any fight as regards land tenure should have taken place upon that measure, and should notbe revived upon the present occasion. Personally, I recognise that under the leasehold system what has happened in other countries will happen in the Territory after the lapse of a certain time. In other words', when the settlers there are strong enough, they will secure the freehold of their lands, just as the settlers have done in New Zealand. Consequently, I am just as well content to see its lands taken up in the first instance upon the leasehold principle. Every step that we take to popularize land settlement in the Territory is of importance, and especially so is our first step. I do not approach, the consideration of this matter in any party spirit. Honorable senators upon both sides of the Chamber should be desirous of doing the best that they can to settle this Territory. To my mind, it is a pity that the Government have discarded the services of men who have known it for many years. I refer to such men as Mr. David Lindsay and Captain Barclay, who have travelled all over it. I say that the Ministry would have acted wisely if they had retained their services to the Commonwealth. These men would probably have helped us to overcome very many difficulties. Personally, I think that it will never prove satisfactory to manage this Territory from one central office. The Territories of the United States have never been managed from Washington. A Governor and Secretary were first appointed, and then the Central Government allowed the people of the Territories to have one-chamber Houses, by means of which they practically managed their own affairs, whilst, also, they were allowed to have one representative in Congress. The bureaucratic management of the Northern Territory by officials will break down. The Minister of External Affairs, with the enormous matters with which he has to deal, will never be able, to give much attention to the Territory, and within a comparatively short time we shall find ourselves in the position of having to give a measure of local government to the people. The Government have no reason to complain of the speech made by Senator Millen. He has indicated a great many defects in the Ordinance; which, although it may be carried at the present time, will, I am satisfied, have to be altered in the near future. I join with others in expressing regret that a proper Land .Bill was not introduced. This Ordinance is really a Land Bill, and we ought to have been able to discuss it clause by clause in Committee, so that the wisdom and experience of honorable sena- tors generally might be invoked to make it as perfect as possible. We find that the pastoral areas allowed are to have a minimum of 320,000 acres, and a maximum of nearly 2,000,000 acres; agricultural areas,. 640 acres to 2,560 acres; farming and grazing areas, from 12,800 acres to 64,000 acres. The great blemish with regard to the Ordinance is. the insecurity of conditions imposed by it. There is power to be for ever altering the terms and condi-tions during the operation of the lease. We ought to allow a lease to run for a time prescribed - fourteen or twenty-one years - and "should not interfere with the conditions during that time, unless some extraordinary circumstances should arise. A man should know in what position he stands, and not be subjected, at the whim or caprice of any official or Board, to have his conditions of tenure altered- We are told that the land will be subject to reclassification. That is an unfair provision,, and imposes another element of uncertainty that will be very hard on settlers. Moreover, it will tend to deter investors from going into the Territory. The Minister of External Affairs has said that he does not: expect rich men to go there. He wants to> attract poor men. But I point out that it is .only those who have a backing whowill be able to face that country. No poor man could possibly go there and expect toearn a living. If the Minister does not expect rich men to go to the Territory, he will find that none at all will go. I agree with Senator Millen that giving grazing, holdings under perpetual leases is a veryunwise step. We shall find that nearlythe whole of the country will be mopped' up in large areas, and the very object which we have in endeavouring to people the Territory - because we recognise that itis our danger zone - will fail to be accomplished. In my opinion, when people goout into the back-blocks, and face the hard' conditions that prevail there - face flood,, drought, and bad seasons - special consideration ought to be given to them. I have represented pioneers for many years,, and know what their troubles are. If the whole of the unearned increment is to betaken away from rr-op'e who are willing to undergo special risks, it will tend to discourage settlement. Those who go toa country of this kind first, and tear the greater part of the hardship entailed in pioneering, ought to be treated in a liberal manner in regard to the unearned increment.

Senator Findley - Does the honorable senator say that the Government propose to take all the unearned increment away from them?

Senator McCOLL - That is what the Ordinance proposes, and Senator Rae even advocated that we should go further. The question of compensation is extremely important. If people find that they are only going to get the bare value of their work, and that when public works have created improvements in values those values will be taken away from them, the effect will, be to deter people from settling the Territory. They will not be content to go to a country which is hundreds of miles away from civilization to obtain merely the bare result of their labour, when they could obtain greater advantages under more comfortable conditions. The present time is very favorable for inducing land settlement in the Northern Territory, if suitable attractions are held out. The land at the disposition of the United States Government is nearly all taken up. It is only a question of a very few years when there will be no Government land available in that country. Settlers will then have to buy land either from private owners or from railway companies. Therefore, the time is opportune for the development of a liberal land settlement policy whereby we might attract cultivators who have been used to dry districts to settle in the Northern Territory. In the United States of America, settlers have been able to get 360 acres - in some cases smaller areas - absolutely free, and without being subjected to the restrictions that this Ordinance sets out.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator think that the leasehold system is inherently bad?

Senator McCOLL - I do not say that. I rather welcome this experiment. I recognise that it is a tentative system, and that it is only a matter of time when the leaseholds will be converted into freeholds. Another important matter is that an enormous area is locked up under leases granted by the South Australian Government while it had charge of the Territory. The dates of unexpired leases run from 1935 to 1945, and until those periods expire we cannot interfere with the lands so held, except by paying heavy compensation. I understand that 82,687,920 acres are held in this way. That is an enormous area. We may be sure that the holdings do not represent the worst part of the country. We shall find that the eyes have been picked out, and that the best land will not be available for settlement. These areas are held at rentals running from 6d. to is. per square mile, or about id. for each fiftythree acres. The revenue will not by any means cover the cost of government, and these conditions will act as a drawback to settlement for many years to come. I think it is absurd to put in regulations as to the examination of settlers to prevent diseased persons going to the Territory. A man would not be likely to want to go there unless he was in good health. A person with a serious complaint would not be likely to take a wife and family there. The provision is a cruel one, and should be struck out. I think the clause regarding the obtaining of confidential information is a mistake, and should be eliminated. I believe in all inquiries of the kind being conducted in open court by a Board. A person should not be allowed to make a statement to the detriment of an applicant for land unless the statement is made in public, so that the press can report it, and the person affected can hear ft. I hope that this provision will be reconsidered. Moreover, I am of opinion that the government of the Territory should not be concentrated in the hands of a few officials. The people ought to be allowed to govern themselves in their local affairs. I realize that a matter of this kind ought to be considered without party bias. If the Ordinance were rejected, it would not be a stab to the Government, because no party issue is involved. It should be rejected in order that a more satisfactory condition of affairs may be established.

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