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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I would like to ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council whether the Government will agree to an adjournment of the debate?

Senator McGregor - Certainly not.

Senator VARDON - I know that Senator Symon was very anxious to speak upon this motion, but, unfortunately, he had to leave Melbourne this afternoon. I merely wished to ascertain whether it was possible to give him an opportunity of addressing himself to it. Section n of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act of 1910 reads -

N.o Crown lands in the Territory shall be sold or disposed of for any estate of freehold, except in pursuance of some contract entered into before the commencement of this Act.

Senator Givens - That is merely carrying out the old Mosaic law.

Senator VARDON - I admit that that provision settles the question of whether the freehold or the leasehold system should be established in the Northern Territory. Although I do not believe in universal leasehold, I take it that this is not the time to argue that matter. I do not blame the Government for the action which they have taken, but I do blame them for the way in which they have dealt with this leasehold question. I believe that much of the land in the Territory for many years to come will be best managed by the adoption of the leasehold principle. There are other parts of that huge Territory where, I think, the freehold system might very well be allowed. I do not condemn the Government for endeavouring to give effect to the Act which we passed last year.

Senator Guthrie - They could not do anything else.

Senator VARDON - That is so. But 1 do object to the way in which that has been done. I do not think that it ought to have been done by means of this Ordinance. It ought to have been done by submitting a Bill to Parliament, so that every honorable senator would have been afforded an opportunity of discussing its details, and of endeavouring to modify them. As it is, we have either to swallow this Ordinance in globo or to reject it entirely. If we could discuss it clause by clause, and modify it in any way, the position would be very different. I repeat that a Bill should been introduced setting out the whole of the details of the leasehold system. The Government themselves would then have been in a better position than they are, because there are some of their own supporters who believe m that system, but who disagree with this Ordinance. Both Senators Givens and Gardiner object to the size of the pastoral leases which it is proposed to grant under it. If We had .been afforded an opportunity of discussing a measure clause by clause, they might have succeeded in obtaining some modification of those areas, which would have made the Government proposals acceptable to them, instead of which they have now to swallow something which they do not like, so as to avoid throwing out the Ordinance altogether. Honorable senators ought not to be placed in that position. We ought to have had an opportunity of agreeing with the provisions in which we believe, and of disagreeing with those in which we do not believe. Personally, I do not believe in perpetual leases. They may become an evil, because people can traffic in them just as much as they can in freeholds.

Senator Pearce - May dummy?

Senator VARDON - The lessee, under a perpetual lease, may, subject to the assent of the Administrator, assign and transfer. That is where the evil may come in.

Senator Barker - The honorable senator Would not prevent him from having that right ?

Senator VARDON - If he has that right, he. has practically the right of a freeholder. The Government are going to put lessees in perpetual occupation of large tracts of land, and are going to say to them, " You may assign or transfer if you wish to do so."

A lessee may hold some dry country upon which water may be discovered, and that circumstance may place a value upon his lease, thereby enabling him to sell and to make a little fortune out of it. The Minister of Defence stated that these perpetual leases could be so conditioned that they would be just as good as short leases. If that be so, why not adopt short leases straight away? I take it that if the Northern Territory is going to be developed, a great number of people will find their waythere, so that in time it will become a State of the Commonwealth. When that day arrives, I think that the residents of the Territory should enjoy just as much liberty to manage their own State as do the residents of any other State of the Commonwealth.

Senator McGregor - Certainly ! Why not ?

Senator VARDON - The Government are going to limit them in that connexion, because the citizens of the Territory will be face to face with the fact that a great portion of the country will be held underperpetual lease.

Senator de Largie - The reappraisement of the rent is the key to the whole position.

Senator VARDON - How often does reappraisement occur? Only once every fourteen and twenty-one years. A manmay be in possession of a block for a coupleof years, and then something may happen which may put a value upon it. As a result, another man may be willing to come in just for the twelve years' use of it.

Senator McGregor - He cannot get it without the consent of the Minister.

Senator VARDON - The Vice-President of the Executive Council must know that not much difficulty has been experienced in securing transfers of perpetual leases.

Senator Guthrie - A tremendous lot of difficulty has been experienced in the case of working men's blocks, in South Australia.

Senator VARDON - The owner of a working man's block in that State has a right to obtain the freehold.

Senator Guthrie - At one time.

Senator VARDON - They have it now.

Senator Guthrie - At one time they had not.

Senator VARDON - These people who were, at one time, in favour of the leasehold system, clamoured to Parliament to get freeholds, and a good number of them have freeholds to-day.

Senator Guthrie - The land agents and the mortgagees have a good deal of the land.

Senator VARDON - I could give the honorable senator the names of some men who have done exceedingly well. How many men who have paid for land in the ordinary way are in the hands of mortgagees? It is quite a common thing for a man who wants money to mortgage his land.

Senator Millen - This Ordinance allows a man to mortgage his lease.

Senator Fraser - I know some mortgagees who are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Senator VARDON - Whilst I think that a great deal of this land would be better leased than sold, I do not believe in perpetual leases; and even where, in some parts of the country, I should like to see men get freeholds, if they want them, 1 point out that the Government would still have control over any alienated land by means of taxation, especially if they adopted a proper system, so that there would be no harm done. With regard to the matter of resumption, I find that, under clause 35 of the Ordinance, the lessee is entitled to be paid compensation for improvements; and improvements are denned as meaning " improvements of a permanent nature reasonably adapted to the use of the leased lands for the purposes of the lease." This applies to town lands, as well as to other lands. Suppose that a man had a block of town land, in which he had invested his capital, and had built up a business upon it. The Government could come in and say, " We want this land i<«r public purposes, and will give you simply and solely the value of the improvements, and nothing more." The man may have spent half a lifetime in building up his business, and yet not a. penny-piece would the Government give him for the goodwill.

Senator Findley - That is done every day in connexion with freeholds.

Senator VARDON - I am not discussing the ethical part of the proposition as to whether we have any right to deal with a man in that way. Personally," I do not think we have. If a man has business premises, on which he has spent a great amount of time and money, and the Government turn him out, he has a right to compensation for the labour and capital he has put into his enterprise.

Senator McGregor - He will get it, too.

Senator VARDON - Not under this Ordinance. There is another peculiar thing with regard to the matter of regulations. Usually a regulation which is made under an Act has to come before Parliament, and may be allowed or disallowed before it has the force of law. But under clause 42 of this Ordinance the Administrator is given power to make regulations, which must be notified in the Gazette, a copy of which is to be forwarded to the Minister. The Minister may then, by notice in the Gazette, disallow any regulation, and it shall thereupon cease to have any effect. So that it is within the power, not of the Executive, but of the Minister alone, to allow or disallow a regulation made by the Administrator. These regulations ought to be in the same position as any other regulations made under an Act of Parliament. Why should they not be laid upon the table of the Senate, in order that we may have an opportunity of saying whether we think they should be enforced? Why put the whole power in the hands of the Minister, who may do as he pleases? Inasmuch as Parliament has decided to adopt the leasehold system, there are some things in this Ordinance for which I should be prepared to vote, believing them to be right. But there are other things in it which I should desire to strike out. But I cannot do that, because the Ordinance is not submitted to< us in the form of a Bill, as it ought to have been. We should have been given an opportunity of going through the Ordinance clause by clause. Because I do not believe in some of the clauses in it, I shall vote against the whole Ordinance.

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