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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - I shall not take up the time of the Senate in replying to the babble to which we have listened for the last half-hour from Senator St. Ledger, and which had no bearing on the matter under consideration.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator think that that will assist the debate?

Senator GIVENS - Senator Millen is at liberty to take a point of order if he pleases, but it would be the grossest misuse of the English language to describe the honorable senator's remarks in any other way.

Senator St Ledger - Why misuse the English language for that purpose?

Senator GIVENS - I say it would b« the grossest misuse of the English language to describe the honorable senator's speech in any other way. I shall not discuss it any further. To come to the matter before the Senate, I wish, first of all, to say that this appears to me to be the most unsatisfactory method which could be adopted for dealing with a matter of this kind, and for this reason : Honorable senators must agree with the Ordinance as a whale, or turn it down as a whole. With the main principle of the Ordinance, in common with every other honorable senator on this side, I am in perfect agreement, but there are some things in it with which I am not in accord. I am obliged, under the procedure adopted, either to vote against the whole Ordinance, and so do violence to my conscience by voting against an important principle in which I believe, and against the Government of my own party, or I must vote for the Ordinance as a whole, and thus approve of some things in which I do not believe. No matter what vote I give upon the motion, I am compelled, by this method of procedure, to do violence to my conscience. I wish, in my criticism, to dissociate myself altogether from the main reason which has actuated the party opposite in their opposition to the Ordinance. Their chief reason for opposing it is that it gives legislative effect to the system of leasehold as opposed to the system of freehold.

Senator Millen - That is not correct, so tar as I am concerned.

Senator GIVENS - I acquit Senator Millen of the main portion of that charge, but I understand that he is in favour of the leasehold system as applied to pastoral areas only. I believe that he does not approve of the application of the principle to agricultural areas or town lands. If he will assure me that he does, I shall be most happy to give him credit for it. From listening to many of the honorable senator's speeches on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that he is in favour of leaseholds only for pastoral areas. If honorable senators opposite were sincere in their advocacy of freeholds as opposed to leaseholds, they would be in favour of freeholds all the time. But it is only when they find that the people are the landlord that they are in favour of freeholds. When a private individual is the landlord, they have not a single word to say against his leasing his land and fleecing his tenants of the last farthing.'

Senator Millen - We have not been permitted to say what we think of freeholds during this debate.

Senator GIVENS - I intend to show what is the objection of honorable senators opposite to the leasehold system. _ It is because it will not allow a private individual to get at the whole of the people of the country.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Nonsense !

Senator GIVENS - That is their objection to it. If they were so bitterly opposed to the leasehold system as they profess to be, they would oppose the infamous system of private landlordism which is becoming rampant in Australia.

Senator Millen - I rise to a point of order. .1 have no desire to curtail the remarks which Senator Givens is making on this subject, but I direct your attention, sir, to the fact that when I ventured to touch upon even the fringe of the question of leasehold versus freehold, you informed me that I was going beyond the motion submitted to the Chair. If Senator Givens is entitled to make these remarks, I presume that 1 shall be entitled, later on, to deal with the same aspect of the question.

The PRESIDENT - I did not understand Senator Givens to be discussing the question of leaseholds versus freeholds. To do so would he distinctly out of order. I understood him to say that, in his opinion, the senators of whom he was speaking are opposed to the system of leaseholds for some particular reason.

Senator Millen - I assume that T shall be in order, later on, in discussing the reasons why honorable senators opposite favour leaseholds rather than freeholds. .

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - I should like to point out how far Senator Givens was trenching upon your ruling. He said that a private land-holder in possession of a freehold frequently leases his land, and that we desire to prevent the Crown being placed in the same position as a private freeholder. I submit that the honorable senator, in saying so, was going beyond the question, according to your ruling.

The PRESIDENT - In every instance in which I have intervened it has been to prevent discussion of the merits of freehold versus leasehold, as that question was decided by the Parliament in the Act under which this Ordinance was made.

Senator GIVENS - With all due respect to honorable senators opposite, who have tried to take a point of order on my remarks, I was not discussing the merits of freehold versus leasehold, or vice versa, nor do I propose to do so. I was merely pointing out their attitude when the question of leasehold comes up for discussion. I was remarking that they are only ire favour of freehold when the people of Australia are the landlord ; that when a private individual is the landlord, they have not a word to say against leasehold, but are in favour of it all the time, so that a private individual may get the last farthing of profit out of an unfortunate tenant. Where the whole people are the landlord, and may be relied upon, through the Parliament, to give the fullest possible measure of justice,, and treat their tenants with generosity* then honorable senators opposite are opposed to leasehold all the time.

Senator Vardon - That is a gratuitousmisrepresentation.

Senator GIVENS - It is nothing of thesort. Everybody knows that it is only when the State is the landlord that honorable senators opposite are continually up iti, arms against the principle of leasehold. We have never yet, in the halls of any Legislature, heard a word from any one of them against the system of leasehold when a. private individual is the landlord. I want to get right down vo my principal objection to this Ordinance, because I have a very decided objection to some of its provisions. T may say, at the outset, that the balance in favour of the Ordinance is so overwhelming that I shall be compelled to vote with the Government if a division is called for, and that is why I am complaining of the unsatisfactory way that we have of dealing, with the' matter. , '

Senator Vardon - Perhaps they will withdraw the Ordinance.

Senator GIVENS - I hope that the criticism which has come from both sides of the Chamber may have the effect of inducing the Government to modify the law at the earliest possible opportunity. The system of perpetual leases - the basic policy on which the Ordinance is framed - is very good for certain descriptions of land ; but to go on the supposition that it is good for all descriptions of land is one of the most indiscreet acts which any Government could have been guilty of. I think that it must have been entered into without due consideration. Why do we adopt a land policy for the Northern Territory ? It is to get the lands occupied, and to get them occupied as closely as we can, so as to turn the Territory to profitable use. If that is so, we should only give a perpetual lease where it will not interfere with the future occupation of the country.

Senator Findley - How can it interfere when we shall have the power to resume the land?

Senator GIVENS - I shall come to that matter directly, if the Minister will give me a little time. A perpetual lease in a town is all right, Because a man will only get as much land there as he can legitimately use. It is all right, too, in agricultural areas, because a man will only get a lease of what may be called a living area - that is, an area which he can reasonably use to make a living for himself and his family. A perpetual lease in these , cases cannot, and will not, block settlement, and, therefore, there can be no objection to it. But when we come to a perpetual lease of an enormous area of pastoral land, we are right up against a proposition which will be the most * effectual block to the future closer settlement of that country. It is useless to talk to me, or to any man who understands the pastoral conditions in Australia, about it being essential that a man should have 3,000 square miles of country. There is no one who has any idea or knowledge of the full possibilities of Australia. I know of country in Queensland, which, though described and regarded as desert country for many years, was found by the squatters in the 1902 drought to be splendid relief country, and was utilized by them for the saving of stock in the most disastrous drought that we ever had in Australia. That country, which, at one time, was looked upon as a desert, has become most useful country in a time of disaster. It is useless for anybody to tell me what the possibilities of this great country of ours are, because no one can really know. Again, much of the country in Australia, which, in former years, was unavailable because of the distance which cattle had to travel for water, is now first class pastoral country, through the discovery of artesian water.

Senator St Ledger - It is impossible to tell the possibilities of Australia.

Senator GIVENS - The honorable senator is quite right. Through the discovery of artesian water, country which was formerly regarded as of very little value has become some of our best and most useful pastoral country. To give a perpetual lease of so enormous an area as 3,000 square miles of country, which may at the present moment be regarded as comparatively valueless, is a suicidal policy, because no one can tell me how that land may be regarded in forty years. Further, I would like to point out that land which will not now pay for occupation in any form, simply because of the almost impossibility of getting access or communication, may, if the Commonwealth pursues a proper railway policy, become very valuable, because then it will be accessible ; and, instead of many pastoralists being compelled to lose cattle through having no means of shifting them, they may be able to do as the pastoralists in New South Wales and Queensland can do - get cheap fares on railways to carry cattle to relief country. In that way this country would become valuable. When we look ahead more than forty years, we are doing something which no persons of our limited intelligence should be given any warrant to do in the way of giving a perpetual lease, because, be it remembered that is a lease for all time. The Honorary Minister interjected a little while ago that we have the power of resumption. That power is reserved in the Ordinance, but it will always carry the right of compensation. A system could be pursued which would give the authorities the right to resume land when it was required for settlement without having to pay compensation for that resumption to which the pastoralist is not, and should not be, entitled.

Senator Findley - He should be compensated for his improvements.

Senator GIVENS - The pastoralist is given in the Ordinance the right to get compensation for other things than the improvements.

Senator McGregor - Only as it would affect the land for pastoral purposes.

Senator GIVENS - As I have pointed out, the value of a lease may increase enormously as years roll by, and then we are going to give the pastoralist compensation to which he is not entitled. The system which I think should have been adopted is to fix a limited period to leases of very large areas ; in fact, to all pastoral leases. My suggestion is that at the utmost forty years is all the tenure that should be given, even for land which is now regarded as of little value. In 1884 the Queensland Government of which Sir Samuel Walker Griffith was the Premier, and in which Mr. Dutton was Minister for Lands, introduced and passed what, to my mind, was the best Land Bill that has ever been passed in any country in the world.

Senator St Ledger - It landed us into a lot of trouble.

Senator GIVENS - The trouble into which we were landed was that every succeeding Ministry did their best to discount and discredit the Act by bad administration. Interested persons laid themselves out to amend the Act in their own favour in every direction, and it was never given a decent show. It provided a means by which land could always be available for occupation as it was wanted, and that is a great defect in this Ordinance. Under the Act the pastoralist was given a full title to his leasehold for a limited period - forty years, I think. At the expiration of the lease, the run had to be divided. One-half was to be retained by the squatter, and the other to revert to the Crown, and to be known as the resumed half. The squatter had a definite title for the portion which he held, and was given an occupation licence from year to year for the resumed half. The Act also provided that, as the land became more accessible, and a demand arose, that area should be available for grazing farms, comprising from 5,000 to 20,000 acres. That was a good policy. It is infinitely better for a country to have fifty grazing farms on an area of land rather than one big squatter, because the country will be more productive, and carry a far larger population. The people will live close together, and there will be a sufficient number of children to justify the building of schools. Social conditions will be created, and that will certainly be better than living in the wilderness, with one person here and another 50 miles away. That is the sort of settlement we want in Australia. The Queensland Act provided a reasonable means by which the land would be ready for occupation when it was wanted, but this Ordinance does not provide anything of the kind. The Minister says that the land can be resumed. Of course, I know that ; but it can only be resumed by the Crown by paying to the pastoral tenant compensation to which he has no right, were it not for the fact that the State gave him something at the commencement which he had no right to receive.

Senator Findley - This Ordinance does not say anything of the kind.

Senator GIVENS - It says that if the Crown resumes land it must pay compensation.

Senator Findley - For the improvements effected.

Senator GIVENS - And for the value of the land as pastoral country.

Senator Millen - For the land which has been taken away from the tenant.

Senator GIVENS - There is no use in the Minister trying to misstate the facts. It is best to state them fairly. If the land is required for settlement, and it is resumed and compensation is paid by the Government, what will be the result? In order to recoup themselves, they would have to exact from the incoming tenant, be he a grazing farmer or a pastoralist of any other description, a sufficiency in the way of rent to recoup the Government for the compensation paid ; and he will be handicapped, because he will have had to pay compensation for a thing which represents no value to him. In that way, we shall do something which will handicap and block settlement. I know as well as anybody else that the figures which are given here areonly the maxumum areas. It .is well known that when we make a maximum of that kind, every person will apply for the maximum.

Senator McGregor - But they will not get it every time.

Senator GIVENS - I am tired of being told that such-and-such a thing "will never happen under legislation. That might be all right if the honorable senator, or this Government, were in power all the time; but we have no guarantee that the party with whom the squatters will be dominant will not get into power at some time.

Senator McGregor - Then they can change the legislation.

Senator GIVENS - They can point to us as having given them the right to dothese things. They will point to our action as their justification for the most extreme course which they may adopt. No injustice would be done to the squatter if he" were assured of a lease for a fixed period of forty years. If a provision were inserted in the Ordinance declaring that, at the end of forty years, which is the full length of a generation - and none of us is entitled to look further ahead than that - he should be compelled to surrender one-half of his run, and be granted an occupation licence over the other half, we should have land ready for occupation at all times. If the Government do their duty, the Territory, in the near future, will have railways running through it ; it will be a more pleasant place to live in ; so that, by-and-by, there may be a rush to it of persons anxious to take up grazing farms ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 acres. That is the policy which we want to encourage; but if this Ordinance be carried, we shall not have land available for settlers when settlers are available for it. For that reason, I have a decided objection to the Ordinance. However, I am placed in the position of being obliged to assist in giving effect to a pernicious system or of turning down a principle which I believe to be good, and of voting against the Government which I support. It is grossly unfair that I should be put in that position. The Ordinance, I contend, will prove a block rather than an encouragement to settlement. We were told by the Minister of Defence that it was not an experiment - that we had the experience of all the States to guide us in this matter. That is quite true; but my contention is that the Government have not profited by that experience. In the 1884 Land Act of Queensland a policy was laid down, which, with a few modifications, would have been admirably suited to the needs of the Northern Territory. I do not propose to weary the Senate by dealing with the objections which have been urged to the regulations under this Ordinance. I know that there are other speakers to" follow me, and I understand that it is the desire of the Government that we should arrive at a decision upon this question to-night. The only matter which I have to consider is the Ordinance itself, and not any regulations which may, or may not be made under it. If the law itself is based on a pernicious principle, any regulation which may not be bad, cannot remedy the position. I am opposed to the Ordinance in so far as it permit's of the granting of perpetual leases to big pas- toralists over enormous areas. I do not object to perpetual leases being granted in the case of agricultural lands.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator think that a perpetual lease should be granted in the case of a block of 64,000 acres?

Senator GIVENS - No; I do not call that an agricultural farm. I would not grant a perpetual lease to a block of land of more than 20,000 acres, except in a purely grazing area. There is a happy medium in this matter, by which the Government should have been guided. If, instead of seeking for blessed uniformity by making the one law applicable to every class of land in the Territory, they had acted on a different principle, they would have been wise. The town lands require different treatment from the pastoral lands, and the pastoral lands require different treatment from the agricultural lands. I am sorry that, upon this occasion, I am compelled to vote for something in which I decidedly do not believe.

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