6th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether he is having prepared the statistical information concerning the Tariff for which I asked some time ago: information as to importations and their place of origin, and as to Australian production ?
– We are having information reprinted from the monthly bulletins of statistics, giving in most cases the quantities and in all the values of the importations into Australia affecting most of the lines of the Tariff during the last four and a half years, and the revenue collected in respect of each item. They will be bound up in a small book of handy size, similar to that distributed yesterday.
– What about information regarding country of origin?
– To give that information for a period extending over several years would require the publishing of a book of 700 or 800 pages. The information is made available to members each year, and what the Department has in view in connexion with the Tariff is the. presentation of a condensation which will be useful in the consideration of our proposals. While we have information regarding the importations of 1914, similar information in regard to Australian production is not yet available for 1913, although about three weeks ago I saw an advance copy of such statistics. For information regarding Australian production, the Commonwealth Statistician must depend on the statistics forwarded by the State authorities, and the speed of the slowest State determines the rate of progress in the compilation of that information. I shall lay before honorable members the latest information obtainable, because I am aware that, to consider the Tariff with information regarding importations and without information regarding local production, would be like fighting with one hand tied behind one’s back.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act -
Land acquired under, at -
Glanville, South Australia - For Defence purposes.
Glebe, New South Wales - For Defence purposes.
Hurstville, New South Wales - For Defence purposes.
Papua - Ordinances of 1914 -
No. 8 - Railway.
No. 9 - Explosives Storage Rates.
No. 10 - Samurai Protestant Church Grant.
No. 11 - Constabulary, No. 2.
No. 13 -Real Property.
No. 15 - Port Moresby toRona Railway.
War Pensions Act - Provisional Regulations -Statutory Rules 1915, No. 41.
Order of the Day(vide page 2355) postponed to 27th May (on motion by Mr. John Thomson, for Mr. Greene).
.- I move -
That it be an instruction to the Government to order the immediate release of the soldiers, Thomas Wilson, William Penny, J. R. McDonald, R. Hunter, and C. J. Clogg, now undergoing sentences of three to live years’ penal servitude imposed upon them by the military court martial at Rabaul.
Of the five men named in the motion, four, prior to going to Rabaul, were of unimpeachable character; the fifth had been dealt with under the First Offenders Act, but he had seen service in South Africa, and had been wounded there. These five men went to a Chinese opium den in Rabaul, a gambling den, and a brothel, which should have been suppressed the moment the British took charge, and raided the premises. For this they were sentenced by court martial to penal servitude for periods of from three to five years. Since their incarceration they have asked that they may be liberated and permitted to go to the front, but the military authorities say that men guilty of the offence which they committed cannot be permitted to go to the front: Their wives, friends, and relatives have approached the military authorities, asking that at least justice should not be one-eyed, and that punishment should be meted out without distinction of class or rank to all who have been guilty of similar offences. It is a wellknown and admitted fact that in Rabaul rapine, plunder, and looting were not the privilege of the rank and file, but the perquisites of the officers of the expedition, although these have strenuously denied the facts, and sought to cover up their proceedings.When an inquiry has been sought and evidence has been produced, and the looted property brought forward, the whole force of authority has been used to cloak the facts from the public gaze. When the authorities are presented with admissions of guilt by the officers, and when stolen property is put before them, they still continue to inquire. Some of the officers have said, ‘ Put me before a court martial, and I shall make an exposure of the whole business.” Those who were supposed to conduct the official inquiry, and who, for month after month, have been endeavouring to cloak up matters, have had absolute testimony put before them, and have refused to act upon it. Ship after ship left Rabaul, their manifests being absolute testimony to the looting that had taken place. This loot was the property of the officers. They alone were given the privilege of looting. No common soldier participated in the looting in any way. The most the men did was to touch a Chinaman, and to take a bottle of wine. The officers, on the other hand, looted silverplate, women’s under-linen, feathers, and other property, including everything on which they could lay their hands. For three months the authorities have tried to cloak these facts. Now we are told that there is to be an inquiry, although an inquiry was supposed to be going on all the time. It needed only twenty-four hours for the court martialling and condemnation of the men named in my motion. The sentences would have been outrageous had they been imposed by an ordinary Court, but they are still more so when imposed by a court martial, constituted of officers who have been guilty of offences beside which those of the men sink into insignificance - officers who, on unquestionable evidence, have been charged with attempted rape and wholesale looting. It is these officers who have had the audacity to condemn the rank and file to long years of penal servitude. These are not mere assertions on my part. They are admitted facts - facts in the hands of the military authorities. And yet the mili tary authorities refuse to do anything. I assert that the tribunal that condemned these men was a tainted court, an unfair court, an improper court, and that the only course open to the Government is to release these men or to suspend their sentences until a proper tribunal shall have inquired into the whole matter. This, I take it, is the duty of the Government. We must have something more than a mere pretence. Let the Government release these men - suspend their sentences - until the whole case has been inquired into by a properly constituted Court presided over by a Judge, and free from the trammels of official militarism, which seeks to cloak over its own offences. We must have a Court that will distribute justice to the highest and the lowest. It is not merely a private soldier who is concerned. We have Colonel Holmes, his son, his son-in-law, and a whole tribe of relations whom Colonel Holmes took up to Rabaul, and who observed no discipline, but indulged in wholesale peculations. I have no more to say. I desire this motion to go to a division, and I demand in the name of justice that these men shall be liberated.
– I second the motion.
– Is the honorable member asking for the immediate release of these men 1
– I ask that they be released pending their trial by some properly appointed Court which will give them justice. It is useless to mince matters regarding the Military and Naval Forces. I speak from experience. Naval and military officers are a law unto themselves. A man who is dealt with in one of our ordinary civil or criminal courts may appeal to a higher tribunal, but a man who is dealt with by a Military Board may appeal only to another tribunal consisting also of military men. It is a well known saying that policemen will protect one another, and military officers will do the same. They believe that it is in the interests of defence matters that they should do so. They make no attempt to hide the fact that they believe that in the interests of their own particular section of the community it is necessary for them to protect one another. I do not wish to extend this debate. I am anxious that justice shall be done. We have reached a stage at which action must be taken, since there are men who are suffering disabilities and injustices that are damnable because of the action of naval and military officials. If the Government will not of itself take action it will be the duty of the House to see that a Court is appointed, quite distinct from the military service, to deal with the case of these men. What chance have men got in the army or the navy? Are we who claim to be a democratic community going to maintain the old order of things under which so many injustices have been perpetrated? We claim to be more democratic and more civilized than were our forefathers, yet we are perpetuating a system which they followed. I intend later on to take steps to ventilate other grievances relating to the Defence Department.
– Why not do so now?
– I would not be permitted to refer to them while dealing with this motion. There is only one means of securing justice for men in the Naval and Military Forces, and that is to appoint a tribunal quite free from the system which the Naval and Military officers have adopted. If the Government will not take action, then the House must see to it that a Court or Board of lay members is appointed to investigate the whole of the cases that we have against the Defence Department. I am not going to condemn Ministers. They are only human, and must act on the advice of their officers; but it is well known that Naval and Military officers will hide the facts to such a degree that it is impossible for the men to obtain justice from them.
.- The honorable member for Bourke has asked this House to take action concerning a matter of which we know nothing. My sympathy is always with the man in the ranks, because of what I have had to endure, and because of my knowledge of the mod? trials that were held when I was on active service. But this is a time of war. If, as the honorable member for Bourke says, there are members of the Expeditionary Forces that were sent up to Rabaul who are guilty of the charges which he makesagainst them, then, whether they be officers or men of the rank and’ file, they should be brought to justice quick and’ lively. Again and again on the floor of this House we have expressed sympathy for the poor Belgians, and denounced through the press, as well as from the public platforms of the country, the “ kultured “ Germans for the treatment they have meted out to their opponents. If “there is one thing more than another which makes every Britisher’s blood boil it is any improper interference by soldiers with the females of the enemy. The honorable member for Bourke has issued a challenge. He has told us that certain men have been guilty of rapine, and practically everything else that a decent man abhors, and I think the Government would be wanting in their duty if they did not at at once institute an inquiry. This is a time of war, and we must, of necessity, resort to drastic measures to prevent people committing such crimes as the honorable member for Bourke alleges have been perpetrated in this instance. But the honorable member has given us no evidence in support of his allegations. I shall support him in his demand for a full investigation with the object of bringing the guilty to justice, but I do not think we should release these men on mere casual statements. It is not usual for the honorable member to bring forward mere haphazard evidence in support of any charge that he makes. He usually comes before us fully prepared with statements to support his case; but, in this instance, the House will be voting in the dark. “Until the Minister has given his side of the case I shall withhold my judgment in the matter.
.- The honorable member for Bourke, no doubt, has been influenced by the best of intentions in submitting this motion. We all know that he has such a feeling heart that he Would fight to the last against injustice, no matter by whom it was suffered, but I think be has asked the House to do rather much to-day, and that when honorable members have heard the statement that I intend to read, they will refrain from carrying any motion at this juncture until the whole matterhas been thoroughly sifted and investigated. We have heard what the honorable member has said, and Inow wish to read the following statement from the Defence Department -
Statement re trials by Court Martial of Privates T. J. Wilson, W. Penny, J. R. McDonald, R. Hunter, A. J. Clogg, and others at Rabaul.
The above mentioned soldiers were tried by Field General Court Martini at Rabaul on dates between the 27th October, 1914, and the 14th November, 1914, for very serious offences, full particulars of which are set out in the attached schedule. This schedule also contains particulars of other cases held at Rabaul about the same time, and shows the manner in which each case was dealt with by the Minister.
The men mentioned in Mr. Anstey’s notice of motion received sentences as follows : -
Wm. Penny, 4 years’ penal servitude.
All of these men were found guilty of rob bery, with the exception of Wilson, who was found guilty of receiving moneys knowing them to have been stolen.
The robberies were of a very serious nature, the first-mentioned four men being concerned with the robbery of a Chinese of large sums of money, and the last-mentioned (A. J. Clogg) with the robbery under arms of a German R.C. Missionary.
The Field General Courts Martial were convened in accordance with the power granted by section 49 of the Army Act, and the findings and sentence of the Court were confirmed by the officer so authorized in that behalf by section 54 of the Army Act and rule of procedure 120 made thereunder.
Before confirmation the proceedings were referred to the Assistant Judge Advocate-General at Rabaul, who is a qualified barrister-at-law, and who was satisfied regarding the legality of the proceedings.
On arrival of the proceedings in Melbourne the question of the sentences of penal servitude was referred to the Attorney-General’s Department, as such a sentence is not one which is usually inflicted upon criminals in Australia. That Department advised that the sentence of penal servitude should be commuted to imprisonment with hard labour. This was done by warrant of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral.
While this matter was being considered and dealt with, the men concerned (Penny, Wilson, McDonald, Hunter, and Clogg) were kept in military detention, and werenot actually committed to a civil gaol until the end of January, 1915.
The proceedings of the ‘ trial of these men were carefully considered by the Minister, who decided that the due course of the law was not to be interfered with, but that after the expiration of six months of the sentences he would again review the cases, with a view to a remission of a part or all of the unexpired portion of the sentences.
As the sentences take effect from the date of the signing of same, this six months period will expire in one ease on the 27th ins’t., and in the others early in May, when they will again be reviewed by the Minister.
Since their return to Australia these men have made allegations to the effect that others, including the officers at Rabaul, were also concerned in acts of looting. In support of their allegations, sworn statements were obtained from them at Goulburn Gaol, and these statements have been placed before a Court of Inquiry which was convened at Sydney to investigate the allegations re looting at’ Rabaul. This Court of Inquiry, which been sitting for several weeks-
Mir. Anstey. - That is not true; that is one lie. It should be “several months.”
– If the honorable member will allow me to proceed. The report continues -
This Court of Inquiry, which has been sitting for several weeks, has obtained evidence upon which the trial of several other individuals will take place at an early date.
The actual proceedings and the evidence taken by the Field General Courts Martial at Rabaul are not available for production at present, as those documents have been sent to the Court of Inquiry at Sydney in order to assist them in their investigations.
– Who are investigating the charges - military or naval officers?
– The military authorities, as provided under the Defence Act. If the Government created some other Court another honorable member would get up in the House and denounce them. We have only one course to follow, and that is to act under the law.
– I suppose that among your officers you have some who will see that justice is done?
– Hear, hear! We have not got so low that that cannot be claimed. I hope honorable members will stay their hands. Some of these men will be out of gaol almost immediately if the Minister lets them off at the end of six months.
– Why should they be let out of gaol if they are guilty?
– Honorable members can be assured that no class distinction will influence this Government. If officers have committed offences which privates have committed, they will have to suffer similar punishment to that inflicted upon the privates.
– The authorities have the evidence in their possession, but will not act.
– Let the honorable member have a little patience. The Court is now sitting dealing with the sworn testimony of these persons in gaol, and everything is being investigated. What more can the Minister or the Government do ? I hope that honorable members will not be carried away by the statements made by the honorable member for Bourke. Certainly some of them were true, but I doubt whether all of them were. The honorable member may have taken for granted the truth of statements he heard that certain things had been done.
– Have the Government determined to remit the sentences on these men at the end of six months 1
– No. The Minister will be guided by the inquiry which is taking place, as well as by that which has already taken place. The position is simply that he has promised to reconsider the sentences. I hope honorable members will not pass the motion. To do so would be an injustice to the Minister of Defence and to the Government, who are doing everything which can possibly be done in the circumstances.
– I intend to vote with the honorable member for Bourke, and I hope that he will press the matter to a division. There is a gentleman, named Mr. Wilson, now serving three years’ imprisonment at Goulburn, who held a very high position in Manly, and very eminent citizens of Manly, including an ex-mayor and alderman, have waited on me to put his case before me. He was not at the robbery at all. He was doing sentry duty when others came to him and handed him a parcel to hold. Soon after, an officer approached him, and asked, “ Have you a parcel ? “ He said, “Yes.” He was then asked, “Prom whom did you get it?” and he hid nothing from the officer, telling him at once who had given him the parcel. For this he was .sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in the Goulburn gaol, and he has a wife and children who are almost in a state of starvation. I say that it is a shame.
– The story is too thin.
– That is the evidence. He was doing sentry duty at the time.
– How did the others have the opportunity of approaching him without being challenged?
– They were soldiers under arms. Probably the authorities were not very strict at Rabaul in those matters. I am informed that he did not ask what was in the parcel. At the court martial he was simply asked one question, “ Are you guilty or not guilty?” He said, “ Not guilty,” and the officer presiding at the court martial said, “ You are as bad as the rest; three years.” I feel that the statements made to me by most highly respectable citizens who knew Mr. Wilson in the Manly district, are absolutely true. All the man asks for is a fair trial. All these men should have a fair trial in a civil Court. Once men have been committed by one court martial another court martial will support the action of the other, and, therefore, now that these nien are iu a country where civil law is being dispensed, the civil Courts should revise the court martial proceedings, and give these men a fair trial.
– I feel sure that the honorable member who has brought forward this motion, as well as the honorable members who are supporting it, are not fully aware of the consequences that would attend the carrying of a motion of this character. I know nothing whatever about the merits of this case. I have not been approached, nor have I had any representations made to me on the subject. The facts may be as the honorable member for South Sydney has just stated, and it is always possible that there may have been a mis-trial under a tribunal, military or civil : such things do happen; but if we are to have anything like military discipline or efficiency in connexion with our Defence Forces, those who join the Forces must submit to the determination of military tribunals.
– That is the old system.
– It is; but let the honorable member suppose the substitution of another system such as he suggests, whereby there should be in every case of military discipline an appeal from the properly constituted military tritunal to the civil courts; when such a system comes about, good-bye to discipline. Under such circumstances, it would be quite impossible to maintain a defence force in Australia. I do not dispute that this House ought not to shut its eyes to any strong prima facie case of injustice on the part of any tribunal, whether military or civil ; but we cannot, on the mere ipse dixit of the person accused, who says that all he did was to receive a particular parcel from somebody else, say that this House has sufficient grounds for upsetting the considered judicial determination of the tribunal appointed.
– We have enough ground for inquiry.
– And I understand that an inquiry is being held. Of course, the inquiry is by a military tribunal, as all inquiries into such things must be. We cannot carry out military service in any shape or form if we are continually to have an appeal from the decision of the military tribunal, which must deal with the facts on the spot in the best way it can, to this House, or any civil tribunal. I feel sure that honorable members will realize that unless they get evidence a great deal more definite and better supported than the mere statement of the convicted person that he did not intend to do the thing he was accused of, the House, by carrying this motion, would be taking upon itself an improper responsibility, and an action which would be detrimental to the best interests of the Defence Forces.
.- I quite agree with what has been said by the honorable member for Flinders, because we are dealing with a court martial by persons governed by the Defence Act and the War Precautions Act, subject to Ministerial revision ; but I do hope the Minister, as a sort of court of appeal, will look into the whole of the evidence in the case referred to. It is not for this House to decide whether there has been an error of judgment on the evidence, or an excess of severity in the penalty imposed ; but when it comes to the exercise of military jurisdiction in respect of civilians, I would draw the attention of the Government to the fact that they are apparently introducing a measure to extend the provisions of some of the legislation passed last session in respect of British subjects who are not members of the Military or Naval Forces.
– That is quite a different matter.
– Yes ; but I wish to draw attention to it, because I understand that a Bill has been introduced in another place which apparently is extending the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians. The experience in the Old Country of the working of military tribunals is that in some cases these powers have been misapplied. These powers in respect of civilians have passed through the House of Commons apparently without criticism, as if the whole debating power of the House had fallen to pieces immediately members were told that such legislation was necessary because of the war. Two of these powers were described by Lord Halsbury as the greatest violation of the principle of Magna Charta yet attempted in the United Kingdom, and yet they seemed to pass with only a mild protest from one or two members in the House of Commons. Those powers have been mis- applied in’ England. In one instance a major ordered all subjects of German origin to disappear from a particular district, but the moment this order came before the responsible authorities it was cancelled. So this misapplication of powers continued until at the end of February last an amendment of the War Precautions Act was introduced in the Imperial Parliament in order to give civilians again the right they possessed under Magna Charta of electing to be tried by a civilian tribunal. I speak feelingly on this matter, because I know of the unjust incarceration in Australia of a man of very high character. If the Minister of Defence has heard anything to the contrary, I have not had it communicated to me, although I have had a lot of correspondence with him on the subject. In the light of the fact that the legislation we are copying without consideration has been amended, let us not extend the power of the military tribunals over civilians. I hope the Minister will introduce an amendment of the Act in order to bring it into line with the British legislation, and I would appeal to Ministers to revise every decision of any tribunal, civil or military, but particularly the latter, where the liberties of subjects are involved. I do not wish to impugn military tribunals, but they have not the skill and experience of the civil tribunals. Therefore, I ask the Minister to revise, with the care that a responsible Minister ought to exercise, all decisions that0 affect the liberty of the people. If a man is arrested under some military order, let him not be kept too long awaiting Ministerial consideration, or the reference of his case to some military tribunal.
– What evidence have you in regard to the gentleman you refer to ?
– I know every fact connected with the case. On one occasion I spent a good part of three days in trying to get to the bottom of the facts.
– Where does this person reside?
– In Eudunda, South Australia. The gentleman I refer to is Pastor Nickel, the head of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Australia.
– Had he arms in his possession ?
– He had not, when arrested.
– Are you sure?
– I am only mentioning this instance to show that if the Minister does npt look into every such case a man may be kept under arrest without trial for nineteen or twenty days.
– Why did you not bring the case forward earlier ‘?
– I did bring it forward departmentally, and I am sorry I cannot refer to it at greater length. Pastor Nickel was arrested about the 10th December last. A few days previously he had come to Melbourne to ask me, as the member representing his district, to see the Prime Minister on his behalf; that I did. Being doubtful of the treatment likely to be meted out to members of his congregation, the pastor came, as any man has a perfect right to come, to make what was really a superfluous reassertion of his loyalty. I had the honour of presenting his letter to the Prime Minister, and the pastor asked some questions as to the meaning of a certain proclamation. I could not answer them, because I had not seen the proclamation. “At that time he was concerned about the surrender of rifles. As a matter of fact, he had a rifle in his possession, and he desired to know whether he would come under a certain proclamation or notice; if so, he would immediately deliver his rifle to the authorities. He said that he did not desire to consider himself an enemy subject if, as a matter of law, he was not one; and, as a matter of fact and law, I believe he is not an enemy subject. Although I wrote several letters to the Department, I must not be taken now as complaining; indeed, I had no wish to mention the matter in the House. But I have never had any clearance of this man’s character from the Department; and, from what I know of him, I believe him to be a man of perfect loyalty and high character. I have asked the Department to inform me of .anything contrary to that view, and the last I heard was that some reports, which T have not seen, are confidential. If this matter did not affect the honour and character of a man whom I believe to have been, if anything, over-scrupulous in obedience to the notice, I should not have mentioned the matter here; but I think it is due to him, as the occasion has arisen, to refer to it. I repeat that I am not in any way blaming the Minister of Defence. The moment a full letter was written by the pastor, through me, to Senator Pearce himself, there was a reply, and action taken within twentyfour hours.
– You are very lucky!
– I know I am, but I may say that, in the case of a communication referring to another question, I waited two months for an answer which could have been furnished within four hours. I hope that the Government, in the legislation they are introducing, will not extend the powers in relation to civilians who are British subjects. On the whole, I dare say the authorities have been prompted by a strong sense of duty in the administration of the Act; and in the case to which I am particularly referring, I am certain that the Minister on the facts in his possession acted with perfect uprightness.
– Was this gentleman delivering German literature ‘concerning the war ?
– I do not believe he was. I forwarded a statement extending over about twenty sheets of foolscap, and requested the Department if they knew of anything to be wrong regarding this gentleman to let me know; and if such information had been furnished I should not have gone an inch further in the case. I wrote to the Attorney-General and also to the Secretary to the Attorney-General, asking whether any action had been taken, or was to be taken, under the Act as to the grounds of arrest, but I got no reply from the latter. I may say that I was afforded every opportunity of seeing this gentleman, and I obtained from him the long statement, which he had written, I believe, for the press, but which, very properly perhaps, he was not allowed to publish pending an inquiry. My communication reached the Minister on the Saturday or the Monday, and on the following Tuesday this gentleman was released; and I myself expressed my opinion to Senator Pearce that he had then acted with celerity. I told the pastor that I was certain that, if the matter came under the personal cognisance of the Minister of Defence or the Attorney-General, and they had time at their disposal, justice would be done. This case has been much discussed in South Australia; and on the facts as known to mo, I express the conviction - which, however, may be wrong - that this is a man of very high character, and, as I say, perhaps over-scrupulous, to his own detriment, in the reassertion of his loyalty. I again express the hope that the Government will modify the legislation so far as it extends jurisdiction over civilians. As to the rifle, I may tell the Prime Minister that the moment the pastor asked me the meaning of the notice to deliver up arms, I telegraphed to the Department asking the meaning, and< expressing that which I attached to it.’ The notice really did not say what it meant, but I was given to understand that my interpretation was the correct one. I told the pastor that it would be better not to take legal advice, but to give up the rifle, considering the difficult times and the great responsibility which rested on the authorities. The next morning he wrote to me saying he had delivered up the rifle; but, nevertheless, he was arrested four or five days afterwards for some alleged technical breach of the regulation. I have spoken with some emphasis, because, although the Department may have acted for the best, according to its lights, this man suffered nineteen days’ incarceration, while, to my own knowledge, he is a man, in appearance at least, of honour and loyalty.
– This matter is undoubtedly important, both in a particular and in a national sense. Citizens who are in the Defence Forces may have grievances, but when they joined they knew exactly the conditions under which they would have to serve. I have been in the ranks myself, and, as a soldier, I was never able to agree with all that was said and done by officers. However, I knew the conditions before I joined.
– Do you not think that grievances ought to be redressed t
– Yes, but this is not the way to redress them.
– I do not car© how 1 secure redress.
– I deny that there is any court of officers so incompetent or corrupt as to do injustice to any one.
– My word, you do not know them !
– The Prime Minister has not been in the British Army !
– Well, then, if that suggestion is well founded, the inference is that the court ought to be constituted from the ranks. Would that be better 1
– I do not know that it would be any worse.
– If the court so constituted would be no better than a court of officers - if we have no men judicial and fair-minded enough to do justice on evidence offered-
– When a man is tried in a civil Court there is a jury; there is no jury in a military court.
– Does the Prime Minister know that in a military court the defence is limited - that a man is not allowed to make a defence properly ?
– I have been in the ranks myself.
– But you have not been tried by court martial.
– I may say that I have defied an officer.
– Yes, but that was only Saturday afternoon soldiering. -Mr. FISHER.- Be that as it may, I express the opinion, from personal knowledge of the men, that it would be absolutely impossible to get a court so corrupt as to do an injustice of the kind suggested - to sentence men to three or five years’ incarceration.
– You believe that?
– I do, unless there be evidence against them. If there are such officers, then they should be imprisoned, not for five years, but for life - nothing less. The honorable member may be bold in referring to this matter; but I remind him that we have no evidence here. Surely he will agree that the Minister of Defence is a fair-minded man ; and, with the whole of the evidence before him, no doubt he will make it the subject of review. But the end of discipline^ - the end of the Military and Naval Forces - will come if this Parliament begins to interfere and declare whether any sentences passed are just or otherwise. Neither this nor any other House of Parliament is competent to do that.
– A civil tribunal would be competent.
– Yes, a civil tribunal would he competent to review these sentences. It is no new thing for an independent Court to be asked to review the judgment of another Court when it is thought that there has been a miscarriage of justice. The charge made by the honorable member for Bourke is that the officers who were members of the court martial were equally guilty; that they had participated in the crime for which they sentenced these men.
– The honorable member said that they were worse than the men.
– It was enough to say that they were guilty of the same crime. If that were true, they were incompetent to try the men. If the officers who formed the court martial participated in the same or similar crimes, they were unfit to try these cases and, further than that, any others, and if the honorable member’s statements are substantiated, there must be a re-trial. But this Parliament would not be acting in accordance with its position and dignity if it were to order remittal of the sentences without a rehearing. It is for the Government to review these cases. I ask the House to accept the statement which has been made on behalf of the Minister of Defence, that he has sent for the full record of the proceedings at the trial, and that as soon as it is available the case will be reviewed. I go further, and say that if the honorable member’s statements are substantiated the decisions of every other court martial at Rabaul must be reviewed. If the officers who formed the court martial, and meted out punishment, were guilty of the crimes attributed to them by the honorable member for Bourke, they were not competent to try any one. The whole administration of the expedition to Rabaul must, under tlie circumstances, be reviewed. I ask the honorable member not to press his motion.
– I regret that I was not in the chamber when the honorable member for Bourke was speaking, but I understand that he has made a serious charge against Colonel Holmes and some of the other officers in command of the Expeditionary Force which was sent to German New Guinea.
– He has made charges against all the officers of that force. *aS
– I should be wanting in my duty if I did not state what my belief is in this matter.
– Does the honorable member know anything about the case?
– No; but I know Colonel Holmes, whom the honorable member does not know.
– No; thank God
– The honorable member thanks God that he does not know an officer whose reputation is, at least, equal to his own. It is amazing that, in a national Parliament, a member who does not know an officer will traduce him, and make odious accusations against him. Is there any fair play in that? It is the action of skunks to condemn a man one does not know, and to make odious charges against his character with no evidence to support them.
– The honorable member did not hear the statements that were made.
– It was stated that all the officers were guilty of practically every crime under the sun.
– The honorable member for Bourke did not say all of them.
– Colonel Holmes has a reputation for uprightness of character and all those qualities which fit a man to exercise command over his fellows, second to that of no other man in Sydney. In private life he is Secretary to the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage, and has under his control thousands of men, whom, so far as I know, he treats well. I am not intimately acquainted with Colonel Holmes, but I know of him and of his work, and I say that few men have done more than he for his country.
– Did the honorable member apply the word “ skunk “ to me ?
– I did not apply it to anybody in particular. I say that any man, I do not care who he may be, who makes charges such as have been made against an officer whom he does not know, and without proof, is what I have termed him.
– The expression was a very vulgar one for an ex-Prime Minister.
– Better be vulgar than make charges against an innocent man. Colonel Holmes has done more than most men for his country.
– Did the honorable member hear what I said about him ?
– I have been told that the honorable member charged Colonel Holmes with all the crimes in the calendar. If the honorable member did not do that, there is no point in my remarks.
– The honorable member is talking about something of which he knows nothing.
– Then the honorable member for Bourke said nothing about Colonel Holmes?
– The honorable member does not know what I did or did not say.
Other honorable members interjecting
– I ask honorable members to cease from interjecting. The interjections are so continuous, and in so loud a tone, that it is almost impossible for me to hear.
– I content myself with saying that I hope this matter will be sifted to the bottom. I express my regret that a series of charges have been made against a man who, where he is best known, and where his whole life has been spent, stands for all that is high and reputable. That, perhaps, is all that needs saying at the present moment. In addition to the work which Colonel Holmes has performed in his semi-public capacity in Sydney as Secretary to the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage, he has given all his spare time, for many years, to military matters.
– The honorable member is not opposed to an investigation ?
– No. It is necessary, because of the charges that are flying about, that there should be an investigation. In my judgment, Colonel Holmes need not fear the result. His whole life gives the lie to the statements which are current. He is a man of the highest integrity and reputation, who has lived in the full blaze of publicity for many years, occupying a high administrative position, and performing his work successfully and well. We should best consult the dignity of Parliament by refraining from making charges against a man who, in public and in private life, has the highest possible reputation. If a miscarriage of justice has taken place, no one will regret it more than I shall. But I believe that the men concerned will get justice from the present Administration. I have full confidence in Ministers so far as that is concerned. But I should have been wanting in my duty if I had not risen in defence of a man who is not here to defend himself, and against whom charges have been brought in so reckless and indiscriminate a manner.
.- It is evident from interjections that were made when the Prime Minister was speaking that some honorable members have not read the motion. It does not seek for an inquiry, but asks the House to direct Ministers to release certain men whom the mover of the motion did not even say were innocent. What the honorable member stated was that the officers who tried them, or other officers, were as bad as, if not worse than, they. It would be impossible for any one to vote for the motion as it stands. The House should be satisfied with the statement of the Assistant Minister that the whole matter will be investigated, and that the sentences passed on the men will be reviewed at the end of six mouths, a period which has all but expired. We understand by that that if the Minister considers that the men are innocent, or have been sufficiently punished, he will release them.
– If they are innocent, why wait six months?
– The six months have nearly expired, and it is not worth making trouble in regard to a week or two. The motion does not ask for the reconsideration of the case; it demands the immediate release of men who the mover did not say were innocent. The more serious part of the speech of the honorable member for Bourke consisted of charges of the gravest nature that he made against officers who were either members of the court martial or in command at Rabaul. The Minister says that an inquiry has been proceeding for some weeks; but the honorable member for Bourke says that it has been going on for months. In justice to the officers and to our military establishment generally, there should not be a day lost in sifting this matter to the bottom. The matter is too serious to allow of departmental delays. I should not expect an inquiry of this kind to be finished iu a day or two, but for it to take weeks would be too long. The matter was dealt with impartially and judicially by the honorable member for Flinders and the honorable member for Angas, and that is the spirit in which the whole House should approach its consideration. The motion is one that should not receive the support of any honorable member.
.- My objection to the motion proposed by the honorable member for Bourke is that it asks this House to constitute itself a jury to decide the merits of the case, when, unfortunately, we have no evidence before us in regard to it. My sympathies are entirely with the honorable member, but his whole argument hinged on the contention that, while the men sent to gaol had done some wrong, those who sentenced them had been guilty of greater wrong, and that, therefore, they should be released. Two wrongs do not make a right, and I do not think it reasonable to expect us to judge of the merits of the case on such a statement. I confess that I am very nervous regarding the military courts. If it be true, as I am advised, that these men were volunteers - that they were citizens who volunteered for service in the tropics - then we have reached a very unfortunate situation if men so circumstanced can be tried by a court martial. The question of whether or not the court was tainted does not affect my argument. My point is that it is unfortunate that volunteers should be tried by court martial, and have no redress in the civil Courts. Something was said by the honorable member for Flinders, who was supported by the Prime Minister, regarding the need of discipline.
– This action is taken on legislation passed last session.
– And I say now, as I said then, that I am very nervous regarding the establishment of these military courts. The honorable member for Angas has told us that the Imperial Government, shortly after the outbreak of war, rushed through the House of Commons a measure entitled “ The Defence of the Realm Bill,” under which they actually gave away all the civil rights of the people. All that the people enjoyed under Magna Charta, habeas corpus, and the Bill of Rights was given away under this measure. It remained for a Tory member of the House of Lords to save his country from such a sacrifice by pointing out what was being done, with the result that a new Bill had to be introduced. We are in danger of doing something of the same kind here, and I hope that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Angas will be attended to. In rushing through Bills which we are assured by the Government are urgent and necessary - and we know that these measures are suggested, if not instigated, by the Imperial authorities as necessary to safeguard the interests of the Empire at this juncture - we must guard against handing over to the military authorities all our civil rights. While military offences ought reasonably and properly to be tried by a military tribunal, citizens who volunteer for active service should not be expected to sacrifice their civil rights. One of the greatest privileges that we enjoy is the right of a man to be tried by a jury of his peers. But no such right is given to members of the military forces. A private, charged with an offence, is tried by his officers - by the very men who make the charge against him.
– He is not tried by the officers who make the charge against him.
– At all events, a charge against a private must be laid by an officer, and it is the peers of the officer, not of the man in the ranks who try him. A private has no rights or standing. Every one knows that military officers are so jealous of their position and of their honour, such as it is, as between themselves, that an ordinary private has very little chance of obtaining even justice at their hands. My objection to this motion, however, is that it asks us to condone an offence admitted to have been committed by the men imprisoned, and to condone it because of an offence alleged to have been committed by the officers who tried them. The honorable member for Bourke will see that he is placing us in a difficulty. I am entirely with him as to the necessity of an inquiry, and as to the desirableness of giving soldiers in the ranks some sort of chance against the officers; and if he will amend his motion in such a way as to provide for a searching inquiry, either by a Select Committee of this House or some other tribunal, I shall support him. But it is impossible for those of us who are most in sympathy with his object to place ourselves in the position of a judge and jury, and to order the immediate release of these men.
Mr. POYNTON (Grey) r3.40]. - I cannot vote for the motion as it stands, since I feel that we should not be justified in releasing men who had done some wrong merely because of an allegation that those who sentenced them were also guilty of wrong-doing. The inquiry now proceeding is not the outcome of any charge such as has been made here to-day. We have had the most damning statements that could possibly be made concerning any public men, and Ministers ought not to rest twenty-four hours before appointing a proper tribunal to investigate the charges which have been made by the honorable member for Bourke.
– The matter is being investigated.
– It is being investigated by a tribunal of officers, who are practically trying, themselves. My experience of the Defence Department is that officers are - I was going to say, artists in lying - but I shall say that they are past masters of evasion. It is impossible to approach some of them. I have had some experience of their attitude in these matters during the recent adjournment. When beaten on one point.- they will turn to another. I had occasion to bring a case before the Department, and to demand that it should investigate, with the object of proving whether or not the statements of certain officers were correct. The most serious charges have been made against officers by the honorable member for Bourke. I do not think we have any large body of men in the service who could be guilty of such offences as be has alleged, but there may be some, and any officer who has committed such outrages is certainly not fit to try others. If such offences have been committed, then the offenders should be punished in such a way as to show the Army and Navy that we will not for a moment tolerate on the part of our own men that which we condemn when committed by the enemy. Few of the German atrocities concerning which we have read in the press exceed in seriousness the offences with which the honorable member for Bourke has charged certain officers today. There should be a thorough investigation of the whole matter. I cannot, however, support this motion, since we have no evidence as to the guilt or otherwise of those whose names are given in it. If they are guilty, they should remain in gaol; if they are not, they should be released. But other men - officers of the Army - are now charged. I presume that the honorable member for Bourke has had sufficient political experience to know what is the effect of making such charges, and that he has evidence to support all his allegations. I understood him to say that he was not allowed to use the evidence available to him, and I certainly think that the Minister, in the interests of the country, should give him an opportunity to produce it.
.- No more extraordinary motion than that now before us has ever been placed on a parliamentary business-paper. This House is asked, because of certain statements made by the honorable member for Bourke - statements that do not reflect much credit on him - to direct the Government to release several prisoners. We are asked to do this, not because the honorable member alleges they are innocent of the charge for which they were convicted, but because of the allegation that certain officers were guilty of like offences. These men have been dealt with according to law. The honorable member for Bourke knew that the whole matter was being investigated by the authorities, yet he submitted this motion, calling upon the House to order the release of these men, although it has no knowledge of the actual facts.
– How does the honorable member know that the House has no knowledge of the facts?
– I and other honorable members have no knowledge of them.
– But the honorable member cannot say that the honorable member for Bourke has no knowledge of them.
– He is merely acting on the statements of others. I, for one, refuse to believe the allegations he has made concerning some of our military officers.
– Would the honorable member believe it of men in the ranks?
– No ; it is not for me to prejudge any case. If the case is as bad as the honorable member has made out, then the persons guilty of such outrages as rape should have been shot, and those guilty should not have had an opportunity to try to bring to bear political influence.
– That is what they try to do - to shoot the men so that they may not appeal.
– Should not men who have committed such outrages be so treated ?
– Not unless their guilt has been proved.
– There is now before another place a Bill to amend the Defence Act, and when it is sent down to us honorable members opposite, if they are not merely actuated by a desire to use political power to aid these people, will have an opportunity to move for the abolition of courts martial. But it is unfair that the House should be asked, with no evidence before it save a few ex parte statements, to direct the Government to release these men. That would be a most improper course to take. I regret that the Assistant Minister of Defence did not resent, on behalf of the officers of our Defence Forces, the statements made by thehonorable member for Bourke.
– I did. I asked whether we had come down as low as the honorable member suggested.
– The honorable gentleman gave the honorable member for Bourke to understand that an inquiry was being made, and that it was more than possible that these men might be released in a short time.
– Those words are very significant.
– They are. It occurred to me, when they were used, that everything depended upon the degree of political pressure brought to bear upon the Government.
– If it can be shownupon investigation that other men were implicated, then those men will certainly receive just treatment from the Ministry.
– If it is shown that officers are implicated, will these men be released ?
– If the officers who tried and sentenced these men were themselves guilty of offences, then the position will be very serious.
– It is just as well that we should clearly understand the position. The argument of the honorable member for Bourke is that, because in his opinion, some officers have been guilty, the men should be released from prison. I hold that if these men are proved to have been guilty, they should suffer for their crimes; but that if any officers are found to have been guilty, double punishment should be meted out to them, because, as they were in a position of responsibility, their punishment should be double that inflicted on the men.
– The Minister may consider that six months is sufficient punishment instead of three years.
– What ! For robbery under arms?
– I do not say that he will do so, but he may do so.
– Of course he may do so. I am sorry to reflect on the Assistant Minister, whom I respect very much; but, although they came from the back benches, I think that he should have resented strongly the charges made by the honorable member for Bourke. I do not believe them, and the honorable member did not produce a single piece of evidence to bear them out.
– I should like to say a word or two on this matter, which seems a very serious one. I did not hear the honorable member for Bourke speak, but I gather, from the wording of the motion, that he wishes the House to order the immediate release of certain persona convicted by ‘a court martial. The basis of his desire for the House to take this drastic action must be that he considers the men were innocent, and were unjustly convicted. If there is a suspicion that innocent men have been unjustly convicted and imprisoned, every honorable member would desire that there should be an immediate inquiry held which would, if they have been unjustly treated, enable them to be released at the earliest possible moment. It has been stated, I understand, that the judges who sentenced these people were corrupt. That is a very grave charge, that needs immediate investigation, and I suppose that the honorable member for Bourke is prepared to prove his case if an inquiry is held. I do not know whether he is prepared to do so, but he has no right to come to us and ask us to take this very drastic action unless he believes, and is prepared to prove, that these men are innocent. Is the honorable member prepared to stand or fall by his grave accusation ? Is he prepared to prove his case, and, if he does not succeed in doing so, take the only course open to an honorable man, that is, to resign his position in this House ? Does he say that an hon orable member can make the charge that Judges are corrupt, and doing great injury to others, and not be called upon to prove it ? If that is the method of the honorable member, or his thought, it is not my method nor my thought. My idea is that, before an honorable member should make charges, he should know whether “ they are justified and whether he can prove them. The honorable member has an obligation to himself and to the House to tell us that he believes in the accusation he makes, and that he is prepared to prove it before any tribunal that is appointed. That is the proper course which is open to him, and if he is not prepared to take it, he is running the grave risk of doing a great injustice to honorable men, and of trying to get from the House a decision which would be altogether unjustifiable and improper.
.- I am satisfied that my motion has served its purpose. The right honorable gentleman who has just sat down wishes to know whether I am prepared to stand or fall by my charges. Let me tell him that I am prepared to resign my seat on condition that he gives me that pension he received - that old-age pension of his.
– I ask that those remarks be withdrawn. They are most offensive.
– Do not take any notice of the honorable member.
– I ask that they be withdrawn.
– I understand that there are some remarks to which’ the honorable member for Dampier takes exception.
– Yes - remarks concerning a pension having been improperly received by the honorable member for Swan.
– I called the honorable member to order.
– Certainly, and at your request, Mr. Speaker, and at the request of the honorable member who is battling for the right honorable member for Swan ‘as Leader of the Opposition, I withdraw the remarks. It is a case of “ you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” I am satisfied with the debate on the motion, though it has been said that it was a scurrilous attack on certain people which had no foundation. As a matter of fact, if it had no foundation there was no need for so much talk. However, I am satisfied with the debate, and the language used in connexion with it. Many of the criticisms were absolutely fair, and it is most remarkable that the only persons who Gave used language in any way violent were those - unlike the honorable member for Flinders and the honorable member for Angas - who heard nothing of what I said. Not one word did I use that could be said to have been out of place, and the only charge against me of having used language that was out of place came from honorable members like the honorable member for Swan, and the honorable member for Parramatta. It was like their damned impudence.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that language. He knows that he must not make use of such language.
– I apologize; I meant to say “damnable.” I stuttered, and cut the word off in the middle.
– To make use of unparliamentary language, and then apologize, is not sufficient. The honorable member must not do it.
– Very well, sir. The honorable member for Maranoa, who has Deen on active service, has told us that he has known of mock trials. The honorable member for Dampier will not hear of any accusation against the officers. “ Why,” says the , honorable member, “ does not the Minister rise and resent any accusation against them?” Against the poor man in the ranks one can make accusations of robbery under arms. But how does the honorable member know that these men were guilty? He is prepared to accept any accusation against Tommy Atkins, but becomes very indignant when one says anything about the man on top. It is the same old cry, “ All for the man o?i top, damnation to the ranker.” That is a sample of the honesty, fairness and justice of the honorable member for Dampier. What was my position to-day?. I came forward to deal with a particular case of men in the rank and file at Rabaul, and in the first place I made certain general statements, but, most unusual for me, I made them without any supporting evidence. Those who know my parliamentary life know that this is a most unusual course for me to follow, because whatever charge I have had to make, or whatever case I have had to present, I have always tried to buttress it up with facts and evidence. In this case, however, I had been told that the presentation of the evidence might impede the course of justice, and, therefore, I could not present it to honorable members, but I felt that it was necessary to introduce the matter to the House and make honorable members conversant with the case, although, perhaps, not to deal with it. I felt that it would be well to give publicity to the matter, which would still enable the military authorities to do tardy justice to these men. If we cannot do it to-day, we can do it some other day. Let us come to the report presented by the Minister. There was a Court of Inquiry, which passed the case on to the court martial, and the period from the actual charge to the condemnation of these men was only twentyfour hours. Then they were put into gaol, and no one had a word to say on their behalf. The right honorable member for Parramatta, who walked into the chamber without hearing what I had had to say, came to certain conclusions because some one had said something to him as to what I had said, and the right honorable gentleman claims that any accusation against a certain person was impossible, because he had known that person for many years. The position is apparently that any man who is known to the honorable member for Parramatta is for that reason a clean, pure, and angelic character. What about the men in Goulburn and Parramatta gaols deprived of their liberty on the condemnation of the Court at Rabaul ? Their characters were no less clean and their reputations were no less honorable than those of the man who commanded the expedition. Men can walk through their lives with characters clean and unsoiled, but to them comes the hour of temptation and’ their fall. If it be true that these men fell, may it not be equally true of the man whom the right honorable gentleman considers as outside the pale of condemnation ; may it not be equally true that he is guilty with those poor devils languishing in gaol ? The Assistant Minister says that the Court of Inquiry has been proceeding for a few weeks. It was in January last that the men asked for something to be done. - They said, “ We will not argue it; let us go to the front and fight, and if you wish to mete out justice keep in mind those whose crimes are equal to our own. If we are guilty, let justice be equal-handed.” But the military authorities said, as the honorable member for Dampier said, “ It is a base insinuation. No one must take any notice of these charges against the officers. They are without foundation. We shall not listen to them.” Thus a few more weeks went by, but the evidence began to accumulate until the authorities could no longer close their ears or eyes to it, and they began to hold an inquiry. When did they begin the inquiry ? I do not hold the Minister of Defence responsible. The responsibility rests on the military heads, who, out of a spirit of camaraderie, are endeavouring to cloak up crimes and keep from the punishment due the men with whom they have been associated for so many years. They began to hold an inquiry, however, in the middle of February. I ask the Minister to give us the date on which the inquiry commenced. That is the crux of the matter. It commenced two months ago, and yet the authorities have waited for two months with the evidence in front of them, and have done nothing - the same class of men who, in twenty-four hours, could find the evidence to condemn privates, and sentence them to three, four, and five years’ penal servitude. When it comes to the crimes of officers, however, months must be spent over the investigation. Is that justice? One of the reasons why I bring this matter forward is that I believe that this Court of Inquiry is only a means to the hiding up of the affair. The matter is being prolonged from month to month, while the other men are languishing in gaol, and so it will continue until the case is forgotten, and the evidence has eventually disappeared. Is it not necessary for us to do something? Every action of the Minister only prolongs the inquiry, and brings no result. We are told that something is to be done, but the authorities shut their eyes, and refuse to see anything. They were told, “ Here is the ship’s manifest, there is the list of looted property - the typewriter, the finery, and all the other things that were stolen ; you can get them all ; go and seize the property.” But they did nothing until they were compelled to. Then they said to the offending officer, “Is this yours?” He answered, “Yes.” “Do von plead guilty?” they asked: and he replied, “Yes; but I defend the act of purloining, although I am a commissioned officer.” What should be the next step ? Prosecution ; but because he is a commissioned officer, and although the authorities have the evidence of his guilt, they refuse to put the law into execution. Is that not a scandal 1 Then the authorities say, “ We cannot touch the officials higher up. Poor So-and-so seems to be gone, but we must work round the case; let us adjourn.” So they adjourned for a week or two, and then they made an inquiry to see if this looted property was a fact, or a figment of the imagination. Next they proceeded to inquire into the man’s guilt, although he had pleaded guilty. The other poor fellows were in gaol within twenty-four hours. The authorities will do nothing except when somebody pushes the evidence in front of them, so that they cannot deny it. I affirm now that this discussion will be sufficient for to-day; we can let the matter drop for the time being; but from my place in Parliament I give notice to the military authorities that if they do not make that inquiry full and complete, and proceed to put the same criminal law into execution against the highest officers as well as against the poorest rankers, I will produce other evidence in spite of every obligation of secrecy, so that those men who are now in gaol may walk abroad as free citizens, who have not deserved to bear the mark of the attainted. Every criminal, whether high or low, must be brought to the same bar of justice, or else the poorest guilty man must be allowed to walk abroad with the highest. They must not say that loot in the ranker is a crime to be punished with penal servitude, but when the offence is committed by officers, it must not be noticed. I have given the House my case ; it rests on solid grounds. When I return to this matter again I will produce sworn testimony and reputable statements that I reckon will make the hearts of members bleed, and their hair stand on end with horror. I cannot produce that evidence to-day, but if the authorities do not do something for these men so that equal justice is meted out, my voice will be again heard in this chamber on this matter. I know that honorable members cannot fairly be asked to vote on this motion. The discussion has served my purpose, and I have given an intimation of the action to be taken in the future. I therefore ask leave to withdraw the motion.
– I desire to assure the House that the strictest inquiry is to be made into the whole of the circumstances which have been referred to. The Minister is well seized of many of the facts. He is quite aware of what has taken place in some instances. I will admit that looting has been taking place, and by others than privates; and I assure the House that the Minister of Defence will do everything possible in order to uphold the honour of the Australian Defence Forces.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Mcwilliams (Franklin) [4.12]. - I move -
That the Standing Orders be amended sn sis to provide for the choice, by exhaustive ballot, in this House, of members of tha House when required to serve in any of the following capacities : - -
As Members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works,
As Members of the Joint Committee of “ Public Accounts,
I wish you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, to understand that this motion has absolutely no personal application to you, the Chairman of Committees, or any of the other officers who are mentioned. I have for a long time held the idea that the position into which we have drifted in this House in regard to the election of our Speaker has not tended to secure the best results. Rightly or wrongly, the election of the Speaker has really become a party question in this Parliament. In the mother of Parliaments, it is not so. There the Speaker holds office no matter which party is in power; he is simply the umpire of the House. It is not for me to criticise the action taken by both parties in this House, by which the election of the Speaker has become an absolutely party question ; but it is because of that state of affairs that I think a reform is necessary in order that the best results may be secured. In the last Parliament there were in this chamber thirty-eight Liberal and thirty-seven Labour members. Suppose there had been a vote in the Ministerial party room for a candidate for the Speakership, and one man had been chosen by twenty votes to eighteen; every honorable member on the Opposition side might have preferred as umpire the man who secured the minority of votes in the party ballot, and the result would be that the man securing twenty votes in the party room would assume the office of Speaker, whilst fifty-five members on both sides of the House preferred the candidate who had been defeated. If the system 1 am suggesting were adopted. I believe that, whilst ‘the dominant .party would, as it must under the present party system, secure the election of one of its members, the result would be that the man who had the confidence of the greatest number of members in the House would be elected. By an exhaustive ballot, we would get a totally different vote from that which is given in the party room, and in this House, as a result of the party system; and we would get a fairer representation of the true feeling of the House. When an appointment is to be made, and it is in the interests of the whole House that the man best fitted should be selected, I do think that the system I am proposing would prove to be a decided improvement. In both parties, the party discipline has been so tightened that whatever candidate secures the selection in the party room is certain to be elected in the House, although he may not possess the confidence of more than about one-third of the total members.
– Under my system, the pledge would not be necessary, or of any service. The party machine would not have the same grip on honorable members as it has now.
– You think that honorable members are dishonest ?
– No; but there are honorable members who decline to give a pledge in their own party room to support any particular candidate in this House.
– Those honorable members can vote against the candidate in the House now.
– When it comes to a vote it is found that, in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, the whole party vote goes to the party nominee.
– You suggest that .honorable members would break their party pledge by the secret ballot, but in voting openly they keep it.
– Sometimes there is no party pledge given in regard to these matters. There may be a decision by a party that a certain candidate shall be nominated, and, no matter how unfitted honorable members may consider that candidate to be for the particular position, the party machine may be so rigid that honorable members are compelled to vote for him. That is certainly not a state of affairs which the House should encourage. I hope that some such reform as I have suggested will be introduced to remove the anomalies I have pointed out.
– Are you asking for secret voting on the floor of the House ‘(
– I am asking for a secret, exhaustive ballot for the election of Mr. Speaker and the other officers I have named, because the positions referred to affect in no way the rights and privileges of any person in Australia outside this House. In making these appointments we are simply selecting our own umpires; and that is very different from the settlement of other questions.
– Does not the selection of the members of the important Public Works Committee affect the people of Australia ?
– it may, or it may not. The decisions of the Committee have to be reviewed by the House; and not one of the occupants of any of the positions I have named can do ‘anything of himself to affect the lives, liberties, or financial operations of the humblest individual in the State. In selecting these officials we are simply creating necessary machinery; and I believe that my proposal, if agreed to, would result in fairer and more competent machinery.
– In New South Wales the Public Works Committee is selected in the way suggested; and if the honorable member knew the intriguing that goes on there, he would not advocate a similar system for us.
– My belief is that there can be no intriguing with an exhaustive secret ballot, though there may be, and is, with open voting, when the party machinery brings to “bear its complete power. The fact that there may be intriguing for similar positions in a State Parliament is not sufficient to justify us in condemning the plan I suggest. We all know that the present system is un satisfactory - that it does not give the majority of the House a voice in the selections made. A man may get a majority of, one in the party room, and in the House obtain the full support of the party; and this really means that onethird of the members make the selection, against, it may be, the real opposition of two-thirds. A gentleman outside expressed to me the opinion that my motion seemed a distinct step in the direction of elective Ministries. To that I replied that, whether that was so or not, the question ought to be dealt with on its merits; and those merits I believe to be such as to justify me in commending this motion to the favorable consideration of the House.
.- I oppose the motion, because, in my opinion, every vote given by representatives in this House ought to be an open vote. For elections outside I am heartily for the secrecy of the ballot, in view of the fact that, with open voting, men and women might be penalized on account of the manner in which they cast their votes. Here, however, we represent the people, and our constituents have a right to definitely know how we vote.
– There could be an open exhaustive ballot.
– But this motion proposes a secret exhaustive ballot.
– That is so.
– In the New South Wales Parliament, of which I was at one time a member, the Public Works Committee is elected on a secret ballot; and I venture to say that in connexion therewith there is a considerable amount of intriguing and engineering. Of course, honorable members will understand that I cannot give names or cases in support of that statement; but honorable members may accept it as true. The State Government of New South Wales nominate members for the Committee, and their names are submitted to the House, when, on the demand of any one member, a secret ballot must be taken. Of course, if all the names are acceptable t.;> every member of the House there is no ballot, but I cannot remember an occasion on which appointments were made without a ballot. In one case a member of the House, who thought his name ought to have appeared on the list, complained to a member of the Government, who said to him, “ Oh, well, old chap, it is like this: I did my best in Cabinet to have your name selected, but was out-voted. Anyhow, when the ballot is taken you shall have my vote.” Whether the Minister voted as he said, I do not, of course, know.
– If that Minister thought the member was the best man for the position, why should he not vote for him?
– The State Government, as a Government, submit the names of men whom they consider to be the best fitted; and the honorable member is suggesting that the Minister should go behind his own Government and vote for some one who has not been nominated. Would a Minister do that if the voting were open?
– With open voting he might vote for a man he regarded as quite incompetent.
– The honorable member is really suggesting that members should have an opportunity of voting secretly in a different way from that in which they would vote openly.
– I am asking that members should have an opportunity to select the best men.
– The honorable member says that if a man is selected in caucus by, say, 20 votes to 21, and the whole party in the House support that man, the selection is really made by 21 members; whereas, if there were voting by ballot, another selection might be made.
– My object is to break down the present system, under which selections are so made in caucus.
– Then it would appear that the only reason the honorable member has for submitting the motion is that he cannot depend on the members of his own party to vote according to the decision arrived at in party meeting. Of course, the proposal does not affect the party to which I belong, because I believe we are all honorable men; but I take it that the honorable member speaks with authority when he says that if his party, at a meeting, agree amongst themselves by a majority to support a certain man–
– They do not do that.
– But if they did so.
– They do not.
– Then what difference does it make whether the voting is secret or open?
– If there were an exhaustive secret ballot, a nominee of neither party might be selected.
– With an exhaustive open ballot the result would be exactly the same as at present; and the only difference the motion could make would be to enable members of the Opposition to vote secretly in a way different from that in which they would vote openly.
– Why impute that kind of conduct to the Opposition ?
– It is the inference of the remarks of the honorable member for Franklin.
– In the Labour room, for instance, two candidates are put up.
– We never put up any one.
– Well, one of two is selected by a narrow majority, and what happens?
– Then we come into the House, and, as honorable men, vote for the man who has been selected, as we would also do with a secret ballot. However, I take the stand that every vote we give as representatives should be known by our constituents, whether the vote be for the Speaker, on the Tariff, or any other question.
– Surely you see the difference between the election of the Speaker and a vote on the Tariff.
– The principle is exactly the same. What the honorable member means, if anything, is that, with the secret ballot, members would vote according to their conscience, whereas with open voting they might not do so. If it be a good thing that people should always vote according to their conscience and convictions, let us have secret voting on the Tariff and every other question. I fancy that, under such circumstances, we should see altogether different results from those at present obtained. Every one of our votes ought to be given openly, and, therefore, I am against the motion.
.- There is, I think, something in what the honorable member for Franklin contends, but he has forgotten to tell us how he is going to overcome in the House the same difficulties that are met with in the party rooms. The honorable member for Barrier has told us of the intriguing and engineering in another Parliament; and I ask whether the honorable member for Franklin desires to see a similar state of affairs here in connexion with the election of Speaker, and other officials ? There is ‘ no doubt that the system advocated would lead to “ caves “ on both sides of the House, and make matters really worse than they are at present. I think, myself, that some change in the form of procedure might be adopted; but the honorable member is not altogether on the right track. Open exhaustive balloting would, in my opinion, be much better than secret balloting; and I fancy that the honorable member for Swan would be only too pleased to see it adopted here in view of the fact that he has, on many occasions, declared that he likes everything to be done in the light of day. We can remember how, on one occasion, when an Electoral Bill was before the House, he propounded a scheme whereby agricultural districts which were separated might be regarded as one constituency, so as to provide for community of interests.
– That is the English system.
Mr. PAGE. They do very funny things there. As Ministers are opposed to the motion, there is not much chance of it being carried.
Question resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Tudor, for Mr.
Hughes) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act relating to contracts.
Motion (by Mr. Tudor, for Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Patents, Trade Marks and Designs Act 1914.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply - resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 21st April, vide page 2500) :
Department of the Treasury.
Division 15 (The Treasury), £24,0S4.
– During the recess some difficulty arose regarding the payment of travelling expenses to the members of the Committee of Public Accounts. The Act constituting that Committee does not authorize the payment of expenses to its members, and nothing has yet been paid to them, although, in pursuance of their duties, they have had to travel about the country. The Government is of opinion that the members of the Committee of Public Accounts should be paid travelling expenses at the same rate as members of Royal Commissions and parliamentary Select Committees.
– An amendment of the Act will be proposed ?
– We may have to, provide for the amendment of the Act in other respects as well. In the meantime, I wish to. announce that we intend to pay to the members of the Committee of Public Accounts an allowance at the usual rate for the travelling that they have already done, and for future travelling, but I did not think it right to make any payment until Parliament had been informed of the course proposed.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 16 ( Australian Notes Branch), £5 590, agreed to.
Division 17 (Invalid and Old-age Pensions Office), £48,440.
.- As the Treasurer was not in the chamber last night when I referred to the matter, I again draw attention to the need for some better arrangement for the withdrawal of worn coinage from circulation. The Government, I think, might authorize the various branches of the Commonwealth Bank to accept all worn coins, and give full value for them. In Brisbane two women would have been put off a tram in which I was travelling if some one else had not paid for them, because the conductor would not accept a worn sixpence which they tendered. It might be advertised in the newspapers that new coins could be obtained for old at the various branches of the Commonwealth Bank.
Mr. FISHER (Wide Bay- Prime Minister and Treasurer) [4.46J. - I am glad that the honorable member has brought up the matter. I had an experience of the kind in Sydney when tendering what was really a good coin, though the conductor refused to take it for the fare. I thereupon offered another in place of it, stating that I believed the coin to be perfectly good. The conductor wanted to know who . I was, and friends who were with me replied, “ Mr. Fisher, the Prime Minister.” Apparently he did not think that I looked like a Prime Minister, but when the statement was repeated, and my address given, he wished to know - Had I taken Mr. Holman’s place?
– He could not have been a unionist.
– He was a tram conductor, and the question was asked in Sydney, where they are supposed to know things. The incident is a remarkable illustration of the necessity of advertising. The worn coinage to which the honorable member for Maranoa referred is British coinage, for the calling in of which the British Government is responsible. No one who holds worn coins should be at a loss in respect to them. I shall instruct the Treasury to take steps to prevent that.
– Why not advertise that worn coins may be exchanged for new at the Commonwealth Bank?
– In this matter we have to deal with the Royal Mint. The British Treasury has been very good to us, but it does not wish to withdraw the British silver coinage at a faster rate than was arranged for. This coinage is gradually being replaced with Australian silver coinage, to our great advantage, and should it be thought necessary, we shall endeavour by negotiation to accelerate the replacement.
.- I should like the Treasurer to intimate what his attitude is in regard to the subject on which I spoke last night. At least 90 per cent, of the country hospitals have moved in the matter. Conferences have been held, and the questions involved have been fully discussed. It is considered that under section 45 of the Oldage and Invalid Pensions Act, which I read last night, the Commonwealth responsibility for the payment of old-age pensions ceases when a pensioner becomes an inmate of a public hospital. Before the Commonwealth old-age pensions system was inaugurated several of the States had systems of their own. In Victoria about one-third of the revenue of the hospitals comes from State grants; the remaining two-thirds of the cost of maintaining these institutions is subscribed) by the people of the districts in which, they are situated. The Commonwealth, disowns its responsibility for these old people as soon as they are stricken down by ill-health. This is an anomaly which should be rectified. The late Government, with that object in view, brought down a Bill under which it was proposed to pay to an institution which an old-aga pensioner entered four-fifths of his pension, the remaining one-fifth to be allowed to accumulate for his use on leaving. Under that Bill, which was read a second time, but did not pass, an old-age pensioner would have entered one of these institutions as a paying guest. The law at present empowers a magistrate to order a pensioner into a benevolent asylum, and to direct that portion of his pension may be paid to the committee of management for his support. Some of these charitable institutions in country districts consist of two wings, the one used as a general hospital, and the other as a benevolent asylum. There are, therefore, so to speak, two roads leading to them. Along the road leading to the benevolent wing an old-age pensioner, under the law .as it stands, travels as a paying guest, bub on the road to the general hospital wing he travels as a pauper. These old people are entitled to be relieved of the odium, of that position, and it should be recognised that these institutions are discharging a duty to the Commonwealth for which they should be paid.
Mr. FISHER (Wide Bay- Prime Minister and Treasurer) T4.52]. - The question raised by the honorable member is not an easy one with which to deal. The Bill introduced by the late Government did not remedy the difficulty, since it applied to only a section of the invalid and oldage pensioners of the Commonwealth. Under the existing system, if an old-ago pensioner falls ill he may enter a hospital established for the relief of the sick by the people of Australia. Such institutions are supported largely by the contributions of private individuals, and are subsidized by the State for the relief of the sick, whether they be young or old.
– Does the honorable member refer to public hospitals?
– Yes. When an oldage pensioner, because of sickness, enters a public hospital, the Commonwealth takes care to reserve to him four weekly payments of his pension, so that when he is restored to health he may leave with £2 in his pocket with which to make a fresh start. The honorable member for Wannon argues that these institutions, which are established by philanthropic citizens) for the express purpose of caring for the sick, should be paid for any assistance they give.
– An old-age pensioner entering a hospital should be enabled to pay his way, and not placed in a position in which he can remain in a hospital only during the pleasure of the committee.
– The honorable member says that these institutions should be paid by the old-age pensioners with whom they deal. They do not demand payment from other patients.
– In Victoria, all the public hospitals demand that patients shall nav whatever they can afford to contribute. 1
– If that is so, then *hey are trading concerns. In the light of the honorable member’s statement, I *:an now understand all this clamour. The honorable member spoke of “pauperizing” these old people. I hope that no one who. calls himself a Democrat will ever use the word “ pauper.”
– But under the present system the Commonwealth abandons the old-age pensioners as soon as they fall sick.
– No amount of allegation will ever convict this Government of any failure to do justice to those in need of help.
– Here is an opportunity to help these old people.
– The adoption of the honorable member’s suggestion would not assist them in the least. It would mean depriving old-age pensioners who enter a hospital of the £2 which they now receive when they leave. Under such a system, those responsible for the management of these institutions would be able to say that they had demanded from oldage pensioners who were inmates payment to the uttermost farthing.
– The chances are that the hospital committees would take the whole amount of the pension, 10s. per week, and not four-fifths of it, as was proposed.
– If they did, they could add the amount to their general funds, and probably obtain a subsidy on it> from the Government of the State. Would that be straight dealing?
– Does the right honorable gentleman think that a poor oldage pensioner, who entered a public hospital and paid nothing for his support because of his pension being withheld from him by the Government, would receive the same treatment as others?
– Yes; and I say that as one who has been a patient in a public hospital. The bare idea of such differential treatment as the honorable member has just suggested would have led the people amongst whom I was living at the time to pull down the hospital.
– The Prime Minister cannot escape from the position that the Commonwealth is shirking its duty in the case of old-age pensioners who become ill and enter these institutions.
– The next statement we shall hear, probably, is that these institutions will close their doors to old-age pensioners who fall sick. I do not think they will. I can foresee a time when it will be considered much better, more economical and straightforward for the Commonwealth to erect its own institutions for the care of the aged and infirm - institutions where such people will be properly looked after without any stigma attaching to their names. I can foresee the time when those who are able to work in this democratic community will feel it an honour to provide funds necessary to insure that the declining days of the aged poor are not clouded by want, and to protect their independence to the utmost. Having said so much, let me tell the honorable member that the question raised by him will receive the consideration of the Government; but the proposal that there should be a contribution to every institution which an old-age pensioner enters-
– I am dealing only with public institutions.
– We cannot deal with one without dealing with the other class. The question is a larger one than it would at first sight appear to be. I do not think that public institutions subsidized by the State should demand a double payment. The late Government did not push on with the Bill to which the honorable member for Wannon has referred. I made a few inquiries as to what it covered, and learned that it applied only to certain State institutions. That was considered unsatisfactory, and the Bill was dropped. I repeat that this matter will receive the consideration of the Government, and I shall make a statement later on in regard to it.
.- I should not like any reflection on public institutions which have done so much for the people of this country to pass unchallenged. To suggest, as the Prime Minister has done, that the committees of management desire to make a profit out of payments made in respect of old-age pensioners by obtaining from the State a subsidy on their total contributions - including the amount paid by the Commonwealth in respect of old-age pensions - is hardly a fair return for what these institutions have done. In country districts, and particularly in mining towns, our public hospitals are maintained only as the result of the splendid work done by public-spirited citizens.
– It is a labour of love
– A labour of love deserving no derision, even at the hands of the honorable member. Those responsible for the management of these institutions are not the class of men to come cap in hand to any Government, or to try to evade their responsibilities. But the Commonwealth, having taken over the care of the aged poor, should not withhold the payment of pensions to pensioners as soon as they fall into ill-health. I hope that the Prime Minister will not deal with this matter in any captious spirit, because of any warmth that has been imported into the debate, but that the representations made on behalf of 90 per cent, of the hospitals of this State will be carefully considered by the Government.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 18 (Maternity Allowance Office), £10,745; division 19 (Land Tax Office), £80,300; division 20 (Government Printer), £20,132; division 21 (GovernorGeneral’s Office), £3,600; division 22 (Coinage), £12,000; division 23 (Miscellaneous), £487,010; division 24 (Unforeseen Expenditure), £2,000, agreed to.
Division 25 (Stamp Printing), £1,761
.- I wish to ask the Treasurer whether something cannot be done to secure the printing of stamps on better paper than is at present used. Whether from motives of economy, or some other reason, our stamps are printed on such inferior paper that they will not even survive the perforations, and half of those which I use fall to pieces in my hands.
– I take it than the honorable member is referring to perforated stamps. I think that the word “ shocking “ will best describe the manner in which the stamps have hitherto been perforated; but the trouble is now being remedied.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 26 (Refunds of Revenue), £275,000; and division 27 (Advance to the Treasurer), £700,000, agreed to.
Division 28 (Secretary’s Office), £6,198; division 29 (Crown Solicitor’s Office), £9,335; division 30 (The High Court), £11,611; division 31 (Court of Conciliation and Arbitration), £5,639; division 32 (Patents, Trade Marls, and Designs), £25,204, agreed to.
Division 33 (Copyrights Office), £697
.- Is it possible for the Government to deal with the matter of reducing solicitors’ charges? In many instances people are loaded with heavy legal expenses without having even the opportunity of testing whether their solicitor’s charges are correct; and as the States, apparently, are not prepared to take action in the. matter, I think it is reasonable to expect that the Commonwealth may do so. I should like to see the Commonwealth establish its own legal offices in every big capital. It is only a matter of time when this must be done. There are many other things in regard to law reform that are necessary and pressing now, but, for the present, the Attorney-General might give honorable members some idea as to whether the Commonwealth is prepared to do anything in the direction of relieving many people who look to solicitors for advice, which, I am confident, is not always correctly given.
– I gather that the honorable member wishes to know the attitude of the Government in regard to what may be termed the nationalization of law. I have not had an opportunity of considering just how far the proposition of the honorable member will lead us. Although it seems almost like the confession of a black-leg to say so, no doubt there is room for reform in the law; but between reform and that iconoclastic revolution which the honorable member suggests, there are very obvious and real distinctions to be drawn. I may here shortly state my own personal views on the matter. I am in favour of affording to persons accused of offences the same facilities as are afforded to the Crown itself, and to prosecutors under the law, in laying and proving charges. A defendant is often hard put to it to establish his innocence. Though the law proceeds on the assumption that a man is innocent, it has a way of showing its opinion of his innocence that is calculated to, and does, cut many defendants to the quick. In various State Parliaments the suggestion has been made that there should be public defenders as well as public prosecutors. I favour such an alteration of the existing practice as will enable a prisoner or defendant to obtain legal assistance without the necessity of doing so in forma pauperis.
Mr.Watt. - Is that your personal view ?
– Certainly it is my personal view. As I have said, I have not had an opportunity of bringing the matter before my colleagues, or of considering it carefully. I am not at present prepared to go any further in the direction of nationalizing the law. I do not think that gratuitous advice in matters of law would be likely to prove satisfactory. I have noticed - and I think it is the almost universal experience of men through life - that that which is easily got is little valued. I notice that even my own friends prefer to go to the highest-class barrister, and pay the highest fees, when they want an opinion, and that they seem to derive a considerable exaltation of feeling from the fact that they have paid what they call exorbitant fees. I do not say, however, that the present system is satisfactory, and I promise the honorable member that I shall bring the subject before my col leagues and give his representations very careful consideration.
.- The Committee is just about to pass a sum of nearly £59,000 to the AttorneyGeneral for the conduct of his Department. In view of the fact that a recent decision of the High Court has declared that the powers that were vested in the Inter-State Commission in regard to trade as between the States is nonexistent, and, in effect, that the Inter-State Commission has no greater power than to investigate and pass a pious opinion on the legal aspect of the trade and commerce provisions of the Constitution as between the States, has the Attorney-General in contemplation any change in the Act, or does he think that it is within the power of this Parliament to vest the Inter-State Commission with the necessary judicial power to investigate and pass a finding that will be conclusive at law - practically to determine, as a question of law, the relationship between the States in regard to the trade and commerce provisions of the Constitution ?
. - Representations have been made to us in regard to this matter. In substance, what the honorable member asks is whether we are able, and, if so, whether we propose to, clothe the Inter-State Commission with such powers as will enable it to exercise the judicial functions given to it under the Act as it stands. The Government have not had the opportunity of considering this matter. I speak, therefore, with the reservations that this implies. Obviously, there are very considerable difficulties in the way. One of these may be stated at once. Under the judicature chapter of the Constitution, Judges who are to exercise Federal jurisdiction are to be appointed for life; on the other hand, under the Constitution and the Inter-State Commission Act, the Commissioners are appointed for seven years. Clearly, we cannot clothe the Inter-State Commissioners, as such, with She powers of a Federal Court. That much is perfectly obvious. The terms of the Constitution relating to the Judiciary and to the InterState Commission, as well as the decision of the High Court in the Wheat Acquisition Case, make it impossible. There appears, indeed, to be no way by which the Inter-State Commission, as such, can be clothed with the powers of the Federal Judiciary. In any case, to create the three Inter-State Commissioners Judges under the Judicature chapter of the Constitution, if that were possible, would not help the commercial community, because the Commission as such, would not then be able to exercise the general functions of the Inter-State Commission in regard to commerce and trade vested in it under the Constitution. For we cannot get behind the decision of the High Court in regard to the exercise of judicial functions by the Commission. Of course, there is another objection, and I think a very real one. Two members of the Inter-State Commission are laymen. It would certainly be impossible to make them Judges since they do not possess the necessary qualifications. I have stated the facts shortly. They have not yet been considered by the Government, but I lay them before the Committee so that honorable members may be aware of the difficulty confronting the Ministry in the matter.
.- Pursuing another phase of the question to which the honorable member for Wannon has directed the attention of the Minister, may I ask whether the Government have yet had an opportunity of considering the effect of the decision of the High Court in relation to section 92 of the Constitution itself, as apart from the powers of the Inter-State Commission ? If so, when do the Government hope to be. able to indicate the course they propose to take to establish Inter-State Free Trade as we thought it existed under section 92 of the Constitution? Obviously it can only be done by an amendment to the Constitution, but the matter is so important that honorable members are entitled to a deliverance from the head of the Government, or from the Attorney-General, as early as possible, as to’ the steps proposed to be taken to make the Constitution as secure in that respect as we thought it was before the decision of the High Court. The Attorney-General will understand that I raise the question of the force of section 92 of the Constitution as distinguished from the question raised by the honorable member for Wannon. The decision of the High Court has apparently invalidated this section. This is elementary, of course, but I wish to make my meaning clear. It seems to me that the Government should declare as early as possible, after due consideration, the steps they propose to take to establish that Inter-State Free Trade which we imagined existed under section 92 before this decision of the High Court was given.
– As I understand the decision of the High Court I do not think that it invalidates Inter-State Free Trade at all.
– In certain circumstances it does.
– As I understand the matter that question was not raised.
– I think that the Chief Justice made it abundantly clear that it was.
– The decision of the High Court was not as to whether trade between the States should be free, but as to whether a State Government has the right to expropriate private property.
– The effect of the expropriation and the exercise of eminent domain by the State Government invalidated that section.
– In my opinion the decision was that if a person decides to trade with another part of Australia the channel must be as free as air under the terms of the Constitution. The question decided turned on the right of the State Government of New South Wales to expropriate private property, and so prevent certain trade taking place.
– Quite so. That is but another way of stating the same thing.
– What was the cause of the expropriation ? Was it not a desire to prevent the commodity passing to another State ?
– Is not that an interference with Free Trade?
– It was deliberate and intentional.
– Incidentally it was; but it was not an interference with Free Trade so much as a decision by the Government of New South Wales, who possessed themselves of the property, that no trade should take place. Freedom of trade must mean the right to trade or to refuse to trade. There can be no freedom that does not work both ways. If I am free to trade, I must also be free to refuse to trade, if I think fit.
– What sort of heresy is this?
– There is no heresy about it. Freedom is a question of judgment and will, involving the right to trade or not to trade.
– What about the freedom of the man who wanted to send his wheat to Victoria?
– He was prevented by the Socialistic Government of New South Wales from doing so.
– And the honorable gentleman is defending that Socialistic Government.
– No, I am not: but I am at the same time amused and amazed that Socialistic Federal Ministers should be trying to prevent this little bit of Socialism on the part of their Socialistic confreres in the Government of New South Wales. I should have thought that our present Federal Ministers would have applauded the action of their confreres in the New South Wales Government. Ostensibly the reason for that action was to prevent middlemen and exploiters from getting hold of this wheat and fleecing the public. I think it was a reprehensible thing for them to do, and I have said so more than once. While I do not think it is right for Governments to break in upon contracts in this way, and prevent the citizens of their own State from realizing proper market prices for their produce, I do not quite see the consistency of our Socialistic Ministers here in complaining of the action of their Socialistic brethren in the Government of New South Wales. I am quite sure that if my honorable friends opposite carried their referendum proposals tomorrow, they would step in and do precisely the thing which they have just been fighting the State Government of New South Wales for doing. It seems to me that the farmer has to make up his mind whether he will be fried by the Socialistic State Government, or boiled by the Socialistic Federal Government. That seems to be his unfortunate alternative in these days when Socialism dominates both the Federal and State arenas. It is quite true that it was never intended that the Inter-State Commission should exercise full judicial functions; otherwise the appointments to that Commission would not have been such as they were. The memIters of the Commission were appointed, not because of their judicial capabilities, but, in the case of two of them, because of their expert business knowledge and experience. Those two men, exercising their ordinary common sense and their business experience in the solving of this problem, were all wrong, while the single lawyer on the Commission has been proved to have been right.
This raises fundamental considerations which I am afraid cannot be disposed of in this debate. It raises a question which goes to the root and the very essence of State sovereignty. In this case the State Government purchased private property, as they do in connexion with many other matters every day of their existence. It is necessary that they should do so in some other cases, for the operation of the instrumentalities for the purposes for which sovereign government is set up. I suggest that at an early date the Attorney-General should make a statement upon the whole matter as he views it from the inner stand-point of his Department. No doubt the matter cannot be left where it is. It is one of those very fine and delicate matters which the honorable gentleman and those with him propose to solve by the simple expedient of annexing the whole State power. If he annexes this power from the State, I am afraid he will have stripped the State authority of one of the elements of sovereignty it has exercised ever since the establishment of the State. The matter is not so easily disposed of as some persons imagine. The pity of it is that Governments will not let the people alone. They will not let them follow their own inclination, to do their best within legitimate and useful channels, to realize market prices for their produce when they have grown it by selling it whensoever and wheresoever they please. Just how we are going to get out of the tangle I do not pretend to know or to say at present ; but I express the hope that we shall soon have some statement on the matter which will clear the way for us without infringing State rights to the extent of depriving the State authorities of all their sovereign powers.
– I am not going to deal with this matter at length. The Leader of the Opposition has suggested that I should make some statement going to the root of the matter; but I cannot, of course, do that now. I should, however, like to state the position shortly, so that the attitude of the Government may be clearly understood by the general community, and by those who were, in fact and substance, the plaintiffs in the Wheat Acquisition Case. Under section 92 of the Constitution it is provided that -
On thu imposition of uniform duties of Customs, trade, commerce, aand intercourse among tlie States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.
The Government assumed that those words meant what they said. I think it is correct to say that that is .what was assumed by 99 per cent, of the people of this country. That was the meaning put upon the section which induced an overwhelming majority of our people to vote for Federation. It meant a sweeping away of all restrictions to trade within the Commonwealth. It represented a very real advantage and a very real gain. When I was approached by the wheatgrowers, I thought it only proper that the matter should be forthwith remitted to the only tribunal which was indicated in the Constitution as not only competent but proper to deal with it. I therefore referred the matter to the Inter-State Commission. I did so, not only because it was the only obviously competent and proper tribunal, but also because it was a tribunal which, shorn of all technicalities, would be expeditious in its proceedings. The matter was heard before the InterState Commission, and it was decided by a majority in favour of the Commonwealth. The matter was then remitted to the High Court by way of an appeal from the Inter-State Commission, and subsequently by way of an action by the Commonwealth. The High Court decided that the right of the States to acquire property within their own boundaries was not affected by section 92 of the Constitution. I do not for one moment attack or even criticise the action of the New South Wales State Government in endeavouring to protect the people from exploitation, and to prevent speculators in the necessaries of life from robbing the people. I only point to the limits of its application and the effect of these limitations upon the general community. The object of Federation was to place every citizen of Australia on the same level, that he should be subject to the same laws in respect of trade and commerce, and have equal power, so far as opportunity was concerned, from Perth to Sydney, and from Hobart to Darwin. When there was abundance, we should all alike enjoy the advantage of it, and when there was scarcity we should all suffer together. That was the idea of Federation. There were to be no water-tight compartments inside of which there would be plenty, and outside of which there would be scarcity. Yet this very position has arisen through the exercise by a State of its sovereign powers to acquire property within its boundaries. The exercise of the right of eminent domain by the Commonwealth would have a very different effect from the exercise of the right of eminent domain by any State. If the Commonwealth acquired any commodity, every citizen and every contractor throughout Australia would be in the same position, and every contract would be treated similarly. As the position stands now, the people of one State get their wheat for 5s. or 5s. 6d. per bushel, whilst the people of another State are required to pay 8s. 6d. I am not going to follow the matter any further beyond saying that the present state of affairs is, in my opinion, contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. If it is competent for one State in this” Federal partnership of ours to acquire any particular commodity, a subject-matter of trade and commerce for its own benefit, it may acquire all commodities. And what New South Wales has done in respect of one commodity, all States can do in respect of all commodities. But the very idea of Federation is unthinkable in such circumstances. And if the States exercised their powers, the position of Commonwealth citizens would be intolerable. If Queensland decided to keep within its boundaries all sugar and beef, what would be the position of the other States of Australia? There ought to be, and there must be, some alteration of the Constitution whereby, whilst every necessary precaution is taken to protect the people, it shall be the whole people of Australia who are protected, and not the people of any particular State, to the detriment of the people of the other States. That is the view of the Government in this matter. And I think it a proper view. We were perfectly justified in our action, which I regret only because it was unsuccessful, and I still think that the bulk of the people of Australia are of opinion that section 92 of the Constitution really meant what it said and guaranteed - that every citizen and every trader of the Commonwealth should be placed on the same level, and that, although we might cancel contracts, and protect the people from exploitation, we should not do it in such a way that one contractor should be caught, and another go free; one man have plenty, and another go hungry; one man pay 5s., and the other 8s. for the same article. The basis of the Constitution is that there should be no discrimination between States and parts of the Commonwealth - between one citizen and another by reason of geographical position. Without going into the merits of this matter any further, and without venturing to deal with the difficult question as to what sort of an amendment is necessary to meet this situation, I say that whatever amendment is required ought to be made, and without unnecessary delay.
– I should like the Attorney-General to give the Committee a little further light on this question. Assuming that the Commonwealth did acquire the right to seize any article of commerce, would the acquisition of that right by the Commonwealth deny a similar right to the States, and if it then became a race as to which authority should acquire the article first, would the Commonwealth be able to dictate to the States in the event of their being first to take possession of that article ? Would the Commonwealth have the same powers over the State Governments as over a private trader ?
.- I suppose I can, with some confidence for once in my life, hold a tentative opinion somewhat in disagreement from that of the Attorney-General, when I find myself in company with a unanimous High Court - a rare thing in our history - as well as the legal member of the InterState Commission. I am not prepared at this moment to discuss this matter at any length. But I do recall the time when I was stumping the country in advocacy of the referenda and pointing out the apparently unlimited powers which the States enjoyed in comparison with the extremely narrow powers vested in the Commonwealth. I ventured to point out that the States enjoyed an unlimited power to the extent of life and death over every domiciled resident, whilst the powers of the Commonwealth were defined in a clear and even arbitrary way by the terms of the Constitution. I would have been greatly surprised if the absolute powers possessed by the States within their own geographical limits did not extend to the right to possess themselves and expropriate from any individual any commodities within those boundaries. As to whether this is an interference with trade and commerce is another question, but I held the view then, and, as a junior member of the profession, I am not surprised to find that the High Court also held the view, that the States had, and have, wide and deep powers in regard to persons and property within their own boundaries.
– If the Commonwealth and the States have equal powers, and the States acquire a certain commodity which the Commonwealth wishes to acquire, can the Commonwealth obtain control of that commodity ?
– There is unlimited room for friction as well as unlimited room for the exercise of concurrent powers, but the fact remains that we cannot disturb the sovereign rights of the States over property and individuals, except by some such course as has already been proposed by the party on this side. We cannot prevent the States from dealing with their own property and their own citizens. They have unlimited sovereign powers. They are just as sovereign as the Commonwealth within their limits, and the fact that the Constitution says that there is to be no discrimination between States does not take one iota away from the States’ sovereign powers over citizens and property.
– The honorable member for Macquarie asked what the position would be if the States and the Commonwealth both possessed the same powers in regard to the acquisition of commodities. At the present time the power of eminent domain in regard to things not covered by the powers given to us in the Constitution resides in the States. If by an amendment of the Constitution or by any other means, as, for, example, by surrender, power in regard to property generally, or to the subject-matter of Inter-State commerce, were given to the
Commonwealth, then the power of eminent domain would follow. The concurrent power of the States would remain if it were not specifically taken away. Customs is one of the things specifically taken from the States, and Defence is another; the power of taxation, except through Customs, has not been specifically taken away, and it is concurrent. If concurrent power were exercised by the Commonwealth and the States, the effect would be that the Commonwealth power, so far as it conflicted with that of the States, would override the latter. Applying that statement to a concrete case, supposing a State had acquired wheat under the circumstances I have set out, and the Commonwealth had power of eminent domain over that commodity, and subsequently decided to acacquire wheat all over Australia, it would also acquire the wheat then in possession of the Crown in that particular State. The commodity would pass, just as would the wheat of an individualpass, to the Commonwealth, because, there being a conflict of authority and of law, the power of the Commonwealth would override that of the State. That is the position ; but, of course, these things are more technically important than real.
– They are very real to the farmer !
– I am talking of the conflict of authority, and not of the thing itself. Nothing could be more important than the position of the Commonwealth in this matter, because it affects us all very nearly. Like the honorable member, I am the representative of a State which has exercised this power, while other honorable members represent States which have not, and their constituents are in entirely different circumstances from ours, one enjoying advantages at the expense of the other. I do not propose to discuss the matter any further. It would be difficult, even if I were so inclined, to indicate the nature of the amendment of the Constitution that would give us the powers we thought we possessed; but I repeat that those powers ought to be vested in the Commonwealth, if vested anywhere.
– Apart from the surrender by the State, is there any. method whereby the Commonwealth can arm itself with the power of eminent domain over the whole of Australia? Is there any method that this Parliament can adopt, other than that offered by surrender by the State, that would affect the power of eminent domain of a sovereign State ?
– When the honorable member launches into these matters, I can only refer him to the judgment of the High Court; but what precisely that judgment does decide is still a matter of doubt. It is very probable that it does not go so far as at first sight appears - that it does not interfere with trade and commerce so much as at first one might think. Nevertheless, it has disturbed our firmly-settled conviction that trade and commerce were free under all circumstances. I agree with the honorable member for Batman that the power of eminent domain was not interfered with by the Constitution. At the same time, it is very obvious that if it includes the right over the subject-matter dealt with in section 92, then we have only words - the mere shadow of a power - and not a real power.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of External Affairs
Division 34 (Administrative),£22,343
.-I do not know whether the Minister at this stage intends to take honorable members into his confidence as to what is being done in connexion with the Northern Territory. It is about time that we were informed of what the Government are doing and intend to do. So far as I can see, we are committing blunders as great as those which were for a number of years committed by South Australia.
Apparently the method is the most costly one of developing the Territory from the tropical end, and this I regard, from an economic stand-point, as a wilful waste of money. There is, we know, an agreement in existence, but we have no knowledge ofwhether that agreement is to be carried out or whether it is to be honoured in the breach. At any rate, it is now some years since the agreement was entered into. I heard the other day that a surveyor had been sent to survey from a place called Kingunya, on the east- west line, to Coward Springs, with the object of making that part of the route of the north-south railway; but whether there be any truth in this we do not know, because we have had no official intimation. We have also heard of a proposal for a strategic railway, and 1 understand that Mr. Combes is engaged in this connexion at the present time. The expenses of the Territory are increasing very considerable, but. so far as we can see, the progress is not one bit greater than it was some years ago. This is a serious matter, involving the provision of large sums on the Estimates; and, in my opinion, the only way in which we can face the difficulty is to spend money with the idea of getting a return later on. As I have said repeatedly, we are merely courting failure in trying to develop the Territory from the Port Darwin end.
– How much did South Australia spend on the failure?
– I do not know; but South Australia had controlled the Territory for forty years. Every man who is sent up to the Port Darwin end of the Territory involves considerable expense, and quite a number of them leave the employment immediately they get there. Stock’ has to be sent a long sea voyage at almost prohibitive charges, and a similar remark may be made in regard to any machinery that is required. There are three distinct phases of climatic conditions in the Northern Territory. At the place where the present Administrator seems to anchor, the conditions are tropical, whereas in the more central portion, from the Macdonnell Ranges to the Barklay Tableland, there is as fine a climate as any one could wish. The altitude is from 4,000 to 5,000 feet.
– What class of settler would go there?
– Under present conditions, practically nothing is being done in the way of settlement. In my opinion, there is a certain policy required for the development of the Territory; although it may take years for the Minister to arrive at the conclusion that my ideas are correct. There are works that ought to be carried out, as it were, concurrently. First, the north-south line ought to be proceeded with as a fundamental start, and with that there ought to be provided sufficient surveyors to map out the land on either side of that line. Further, in certain localities boring ought to be going on, with a view to the development of a water supply. We know that water can be procured in some places at no great depth; but a piece of country which has been termed the “ Dead Heart “ of South Australia, or of Australia, has to be bridged, and until it is bridged, no kind of development is possible.
– What land isthat?
– It runs from Oodnadatta to ju3t across the border.
– I always understood that Lake Eyre was called the “ Dead Heart.”
– Oodnadatta is supposed to be practically in the centre of the “ Dead Heart.” In that more temperate portion of the country to which I have referred there is a rainfall of, say, 18 inches to 24 inches, with a defined summer and winter. At Port Darwin, on the other hand, there is a wet season, and what is called a dry season; but the difference in temperature, the year round, is only about eight degrees. In the temperate country, at one period of the year,, it is so cold as to cause freezing, and theheat of the summer, though high, is a dryheat. I have known men who have lived in the Macdonnell Ranges and thereabouts for many years, and all describethe climate as most congenial. The Minister has asked what settlers would go tothat part of the country; and my reply is that, under the present arrangements, nobody is going to the Territory. I donot contend that, even with the railway, we should immediately obtain what are called small settlers ; but I venture to say that, with a railway, a magnificent pieceof country, comprising something like 80,000,000 acres, would be developed. It is acknowledged to be the very best cattlecountry in Australia; and on a station, the name of which I have forgotten, a little further south than the Barklay Tableland, the sheep experiments have proved most satisfactory. This is the only station in that part of Australia that has been stocked with sheep, and the wool realized the highest price in the London market. Much has been done there in the way of water conservation, and the development has been conducted from theQueensland side. My own idea is that amongst the first to follow this railway line would be the sons of men whose lands are being cut up as a result of the progressive land tax. Subdivision hasbeen going on, and the room for sheep- raising in many localities is being limited. I have not the slightest doubt that, as the country is opened up with the railway and facilities given for getting stock such as do not exist at present, a large number of persons would take up holdings there.
-What tenure would they get?
– The Ordinance allows tenures of from twenty-one to forty-two years, with reasonable valuations.
– That is not sufficient for the development of that country.
– No pastoral lease for a longer period than forty-two years is given anywhere in Australia.
– Special conditions are needed to attract men to a new country.
-I have never met a pastoralist who has asked for a longer lease. Much of the country of which I am speaking is covered “with Mitchell grass, and Mr. Wells, who is now in the Taxation Office in South Australia, and knows the country well, would corroborate what I have said of it. A policy for the development of this country should be decided on, and then carried into effect. Every year increases our liability in respect to it, and adds to the expense. But there is no prospect of advantage arising from our efforts in the near future. To my mind, only a stimulus is needed to make the Northern Territory a valuable asset. The construction of the railway from Pine Creek to the Katherine River will do nothing for the development of the Territory beyond facilitating the movement of stock from stations on the Victoria Downs. That extension will form part of the main line, but if the railway stays at the Katherine it will not serve the temperate portion of the Territory between the Macdonnell Ranges and the Barklay Tableland.
– What is the future of that country so far as mineral development is concerned?
– There are deposits of minerals of all kinds, but so far they have not been successfully developed. The conditions under which the prospectors are working afford very small prospect of development except where the deposits are excessively rich. You could not get a case of dynamite carried to the Macdon nellRanges for £100, because the Afghans, whose camel teams provide the transport, will have nothing to do with the carriage of explosives. Consequently the miners have to be content with the almost obsolete hammer and gad, and only fabulously rich deposits are capable of much development. On the White Range, in the MacdonnellRanges, there are quartz lodes averaging from one to two ounces to the ton. There is hardly a shaft sunk, the work being mostly on the surface or at a very shallow depth. The ore is sorted by gins, and carried by them to the bottom of the hill, and thence to the battery by camel train, or dray. The average yield has been very good. In quite a number of other places gold has been found, the deposit in some cases being alluvial. The consensus of opinion of those who have been in that country is that with the facilities that a railway would afford other important finds would be made. I have not referred to the tin-fields, which are on the other side. I wish to know what the Ministry intend to do in regard to the Northern Territory. The people living there are now without representation in this Parliament, although it is possible under the Constitution to arrange for their representation. It may be that their needs are not receiving sufficient attention because they are without representation.
– How many persons are there in the Territory who would be qualified to vote?
– Over 600, according to the last figures.
– There used to be about 3,000 white persons in the Territory, which, at first, formed part of the division of Grey, but when the Commonwealth took over the Territory from South Australia its inhabitants lost their representation here.The Administrator is paid a salary of £1,750, and receives £500 as an allowance, an arrangement for which the honorable member for Barrier is responsible, I think. In addition, he has a very large travelling allowance. Last year £3,509 was appropriated for travelling expenses, and £3,623 expended. This year, the estimateis £2,000. I wish to know where all the money goes. I understand that the Administrator receives a travelling allowance of £2 a day.
– That is so.
– For what does ho receive the allowance of £500 ‘!
– For entertaining members of Parliament, and other expenses.
– I should like to see in the position a man who would not have $o much entertaining to think of. I do not know the Administrator, but, apparently, if there is any one who can get up a row in the Territory it is he.
– He is a very valuable man.
– He may have been an excellent professor, but I have to learn that he has any qualifications for the post of Administrator? His theoretical knowledge may be all right, but we need, in his position, a hard-headed, practical man, which I am afraid is not what we have got. The Administrator is really a horse doctor, a professor of veterinary surgery.
– He is a very sanguine man.
– He may be. I have not seen any of the results. Nothing is to be voted this year for the survey of a line from Oodnadatta to the Katherine River. Was the New South Wales firm of surveyors, Messrs. Chalmers and Company, paid for the survey from Oodnadatta to the Alice?
– Yes, but I knocked off £1,000 from their account.
– I understand that they surveyed so many miles a day ?
– The survey was arranged for under an agreement made by the honorable member for Barrier.
– I understand that they got so much a mile to travel so many miles a day. Before they set out, all information regarding 312 miles of the country over which they travelled was obtainable in a report made by Mr. Stewart, who is now Engineer-in-Chief for South Australia. That report deals with the nature of the country, the materials available for railway construction, bridges, and so forth, and gives all necessary information. Nothing seems to have been placed on the Estimates for the survey, which, according to the newspapers, is being made on a route from Kingunya to the east-west line.
– I do not know that that survey has been started yet. It is a survey for a direct route.
– What I and the Committee generally would like to know is whether the Ministry have determined upon any definite policy for the development of the Northern Territory, and, if so, what lines it follows. A good many years have elapsed since the Territory was. taken over by the Commonwealth, and we should be in a position now to lay down a proper scheme for its development. The Minister probably will giveus some information on the subject before the debate is concluded.
– I am glad that the honorable member for Grey has brought forward the question of the government and general administration of the Northern Territory. We all sympathize with the Minister ir* the difficult task before him with regard to the development and peopling of that part of the continent, and recognise, I think, that the problem of the development of two-thirds of the northern portion of Australia by the Commonwealth Parliament is one of the most difficult that has ever engaged the attention of any Legislature. The future success of this continent will depend upon the ability of the Parliament and of the people of Australia to provide a means by which the Northern Territory areas can be successfully settled and cultivated. I do not think that any honorable member has yet formulated any detailed scheme that is likely to be attended with success, but we are all convinced that we cannot allow the present conditions to continue. We are spending a large sum of money on purely administrative purposes, without getting one whit nearer the formulation of a definite policy for the development of the Territory. We search in vain for any item in the huge expenditure on the Northern Territory which is of a purely developmental character. I, in company with several supporters of the present Government, some time ago travelledover a large portion of the Territory. We were on horseback, and journeyed some 250 miles or more south from Darwin. I have heard it stated, and it is certainly true, that some 300,000 or 400,000 head of cattle are annually raised in the Territory, and that cattle stations are profitably conducted some 300 or 400 miles south of Darwin.
– On the Victoria Downs.
– We have the Victoria Downs station and the Wave Hill station. The Barklay tablelands generally are being devoted, with success, to the raising of cattle. That part of the country which is now being used for grazing purposes, and which supplies the export trade of the Territory, will never be settled in anything less than large grazing holdings.
– I disagree with the honorable member.
– It has a rainfall of from 15 to 20 inches per annum, which might be very useful in the southern part of Australia, where our falls take place in seasonable periods, and where we cad follow a system of agriculture such as is being carried on in the older countries of the world. But such a rainfall in the tropics is of very little use for agricultural purposes, since it occurs during only a limited period of the year. If we are to have any closer settlement in the Northern Territory, I am satisfied, from my own observations, that it can take place only in the area stretching from Darwin 250 miles southwards.
– Wheat is being grown on the Fink River mission station.
– It may be grow there to a limited extent, but to say that we are likely to have an agricultural community settled on a tropical area where there is a rainfall of from 15 to 20 inches is to disregard our own experience in Australia. I feel convinced that we cannot hope to develop anything like closer settlement in the Northern Territory, save on the country running from Darwin to a point 250 miles from the coast. There we have the river system of the Northern Territory. Although Darwin has a rainfall of something like 60 inches per annum, running down to about 40 inches per annum 200 miles south, the whole of it falls within three months - and those the hottest months - of the year. During nine months of the year there is practically no rainfall. How is it possible, in such circumstances, to carry on anything like agricultural production ?
– The period during which no rain falls is less than nine months of the year.
– Then let us fix it at eight months. Rain begins to fall in November, and is all over by March.
– Could we not have irri1gation thrre?
– I was about to say that in irrigation we have the salvation of the Northern Territory. When last year’s Estimates were under consideration, I suggested to the Minister of External Affairs that the first step to be taken towards the closer settlement of the Northern Territory was that of securing a comprehensive report on the river system of the Territory, and the extent to which it is possible to conserve and utilize water there for closer settlement purposes.
– Where are we going to get the settlers for closer settlement?
– We must certainly obtain them.
– Could not the area referred to by the honorable, member be devoted to mixed farming?
– Yes. Settlers could grow, not only jute and cotton, but fodder crops for dairy herds, and also fodder forthe fattening of stock for export. I am4 satisfied that we can hope to develop theNorthern Territory only by means of irrigation; and, as an initial step, the Minister should obtain a comprehensive report from experts who have had experience of irrigation in tropical countries as to the possibilities of the Northern Territory in this regard.
Sitting suspended from 6.S0 to 7.4.5 p.m,
– The task, as I stated before the sitting was suspended, of the Minister of External Affairs in formulating a policy for the Northern Territory is the most difficult work that any Minister could undertake. At any rate, it is equivalent in importance to the question of the defence of Australia, because the Territory is a part of the Commonwealth which will need to be defended sooner or later, and which can only be defended by the settlement of population. We should deal with this matter of the development of the Northern Territory apart from party considerations, but while I hold this view I am sorry to say that I think the Government have made a fundamental mistake in the very beginning of their Northern Territory policy, inasmuch as I consider that the leasehold system, which they have established is not likely to settle a permanent, prosperous, and contented population there.
– But the land is practically given away.
– The fact that land is practically given away is not sufficient inducement for people to go to a place and devote a lifetime and money, ability and energy in order to make a home there, when they realize that they will never have security of tenure over that home. In my opinion, we are pursuing a retrograde kind of policy in regard to the Northern Territory. For instance, we have appointed an Administrator who is an absolute ruler. There is no representative system of government, and I understand that even in regard to local governing bodies, the Minister is abolishing the representative system.
– The Minister says that he is not doing so.
– The people of Darwin are very much disturbed over what they think is the Minister’s decision to abolish the representative system in regard to their local governing body, and substitute a nominee system, and a statement from the Minister would do much to clear away any misconceptions on the point. Twelve months ago the Minister said that he would give, as far as possible, sympathetic consideration to my proposal for a thorough investigation into the water supplies of the Northern Territory, with a view to the conservation of water, an investigation preferably by an engineer from a part of the world where “tropical vegetation is cultivated, and tomight I would like the Minister to inform the Committee whether any action lias been taken in that direction. We are spending, probably, £600,000 a year on the Territory, and I do not know that, in regard to its development, we are one step further forward in the matter of settling people on the land than we were when we took it over from South Australia. We import very large quantities of tropical products, such as jute, rice, and cotton - probably to the value of about a million pounds sterling per annum - and these are goods which might be grown in the Northern Territory. This is one specific direction in which the Territory might be developed. Efforts might be made to raise these products. No doubt the question of labour would come in. It is said that cotton cannot be grown in Australia owing to the limita tion imposed by having to employ white labour only, but in the matter of devising machinery in order to get over difficulties that were thought insuperable the genius of the British race has always been to the front.
– Cotton is grown in Queensland.
– We have a market for these products, and some special effort should be made to lay down a policy for growing them in the Northern Territory. 1 see no reason why rice should not be successfully cultivated on the flats along the Adelaide River and other rivers. They should prove exceptionally suitable for the purpose; the rivers could be weired and the flats inundated with ease. But nothing is being done. We should be fully informed as to the capacity of the rivers for irrigation purposes, whether there are gorges where large quantities of water could be stored, and whether the soil is suitable for the growth of products of a purely tropical character, which we now import largely, and which, so far as we know, are the only products that are likely to be grown successfully in the Northern Territory. I think that there should also be opportunities to establish the dairying industry, as the country lying adjacent to the rivers seems to be specially suitable’ for irrigation by gravitation. In a country such as the Northern Territory, where the rainfall extends over not more than four months of the year, closer settlement and intense cultivation are impossible without storing water for irrigation purposes. Cattle do well in the Northern Territory as long as they have the necessary fodder by the growth of artificial plants, and if we utilized the streams to that end we should be able to establish a great dairying industry side by side with the fattening of stock for export. We have already freezing works being built in order to establish that particular industry. On the lines I Have indicated, we can lay down the foundations of settlement in the Northern Territory, and if we only build the necessary public works and railways and give a proper land tenure we shall always find people sufficiently enterprising to go there and settle; but we need to offer them facilities that they cannot get anywhere else in Australia. We have not yet exploited the north of Italy in order to get people accustomed to irrigating.
Mr.Rodgers. - Victoria could not get Italian irrigationists, though it offered inducements.
– The inducements offered were in the shape of land at a very much dearer price than that at which we can offer it in the Northern Territory. I cannot see why the Territory should not be made self-supporting in regard to public works expenditure. If we offer the land at 5s. an acre, and make the payments spread over forty or fifty years, the revenue derived will pay the interest on the money we spend on the necessary public works. But the whole matter must be considered in a comprehensive way, commencing on a sure and solid foundation, and that,I consider, is the conservation of water, the preparation of the land for irrigation, the classification of the country, the plotting of the holdings in convenient sizes, a vigorous system of irrigation, and freehold tenure for cultivators.
SirRobert Best. - What is the cost of clearing the land ?
– Clearing is not an expensive operation. Large tracts of country adjacent to the rivers capable of being irrigated by gravitation can be cleared at a negligible cost. I hope that this question of a policy of settling the Northern Territory will be taken into consideration by the Government. My first suggestion is that the Minister should secure the services of an eminent engineer, such as Mr. Elwood Mead, who is about to leave Victoria. This gentleman has had the widest possible experience in the United States, he is eminent in his profession, he is a practical man, and knows the practical side of irrigation, and he has a considerable knowledge of the various irrigation schemes of the world. A report from him on our great Territory, with its splendid river system extending 200 miles south from Darwin, would be of great value. We have to deal with a tropical country. Every one knows that India, which is a tropical country, would not support 50,000,000 people without irrigation. It is its irrigation system that is responsible for supporting 200,000,000 out of the 300,000,000 population of India.
– One river in India has more water than flows over all the watersheds of Australia.
– While that is so, the honorable member will agree with me that a considerable portion of the irrigation in India is carried on by lifting water from wells. It may be a primitive system, but the people “get there” all the same. I offer these suggestions in no, critical spirit. I think that the development of the Northern Territory is a question for Australia; in fact, it is a question for the Empire; and, therefore, I trust that the Minister will consider the matter of securing the services of an eminent engineer who has had the widest possible experience of utilizing water for the development of tropical products. It might be as well to go to India, where the conditions approximate those in the Northern Territory, which it is the duty of this Parliament to handle, and to handle successfully.
.- I view with considerable regret the position in which we still find ourselves in regard to the Northern Territory. Year in and year out we hear the same wail, when the Estimates are before us, as to the condi-. tion of that portion of Australia. When it was decided by this Parliament some years ago to take it over, I argued that it was our obligation as a nation to as sume the responsibility of financing and developing this northern section of the Commonwealth, seeing that it was so vulnerable a point in our defence system, instead of leaving it to an individual State to carry the whole load. We took it over; but so far we cannot say that we have done any better than the State, of South Australia did with it. When they handed it over to us, the debt on it was something like £6,000,000 or £7,000,000.
– I know that very soon there was a liability of £6,000,000, so far as the Commonwealth was concerned.
Mr.Poynton. - The Oodnadatta railway brought it up to about £6,000,000.
– The interest bill, at any rate, is £129,000 a year, and the Territory is by no means earning it. Nothing of a reproductive or remunerative nature is being carried on there, and we have to decide whether we are going to nurse it as a white elephant- if a white elephant can be nursed - or abandon it altogether. If we go on as we are going, we shall be piling up a heavy load for posterity, and creating a constant source of annoyance and worry to ourselves. If we cut it a drift, and raze Darwin to the ground, which is the only sensible alternative, it will be a splendid opportunity for the eastern races to take possession of a country that we do not know what to do with. If we are capable of governing Australia ourselves, surelywe are capable of devising ways and means of making this part of it reproductive enough to pay, at all events, the interest on its own debt. I have always contended, and still contend, that the first step towards any permanent solution of the Northern Territory problem is effective railway communication. The history of all settlement seems to point to the fact that people will not go weeks away from civilized centres. I say “weeks” advisedly, because distance is measured now by the time it takes to got to a place, rather than by mileage. Whilst the Territory is so far away in point of time, we cannot expect to get settlement there. No one is prepared to say that it is not worth settling, or that it is absolutely useless. If it is, it is of no more use to other people than it is to us. Otherwise we are inferior to other people in the capacity to manage territory. It is not a useless waste. People have lived there, and are living there to- day, although the numbers, unfortunately, have dwindled. If people cannot live there, at any rate cattle can, and that is pretty conclusive evidence of a certain amount of fertility. When, some fifty years ago, the old Port Elizabeth settlement was broken up, a few Indian buffalo were left there. These have s’ince increased to many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, and probably would have increased to millions but for the way in which they have been shot. The fact that they have multiplied under natural conditions, without control, at least goes to show that the country is self-supporting, so far as animals are concerned. If it will support animals which make good beef, that is prima facie evidence that it is habitable by human beings. We have also the statements of the honorable member for Grey, which go to show that the proposed route of the line to connect the north and the south will pass through country eminently suitable for settlement. The Barklay
Tableland comprises much good land. The Macdonnell Ranges contain many mineral deposits that have not been, and will not be, exploited until effective means of communication is provided. The honorable member pointed out that even those engaged on rich lodes in those mountains cannot adopt up-to-date methods to win gold or other metals from the ground. They cannot get explosives, and that fact alone is enough to damn the show. The Afghans will not handle the explosives for them, and they have no other means of getting them up, no matter what they are prepared to pay. That is a pitiable state of affairs, and it is a reflection on the intelligence of this House that we have let this country drift and drift. I do not say this in any way as an impeachment of the present holder of the portfolio of External Affairs. He has been in office only a brief time; in fact, the constant changes of Government in this House are largely responsible for many deficiencies in administration. We must assume the blame, if any, as a House, and I attach none to the present Minister; but it is high time a definite attitude was adopted by the House towards the Territory. It is time we wiped out this standing disgrace. If the Government like to give me an option over the place for six months, I will undertake to see it developed. If I had the option to run a railway up there, with certain land rights to recoup me, I would retire from this House in the interests of Australia and get it done. There are plenty of business men who would jump at the opportunity. The country is good enough for any business man to accept an option over. If it is not good enough, rather than spend money on it, let us cut it loose; leave it to any alien that likes to come along and take it.
– We dare not.
– Of course, that would be folly. Even if it is of no use, we cannot afford to abandon it, and as we have to hold it we may as well do something to make it reproductive. The preponderance of the evidence that I can get is that it is a good business proposition. There are pessimists who say it is of no use, but we are familiar with that attitude in this country. Many of our fair lands were considered useless for many years and damned with faint praise. Part of the west of New South Wales, where I come from, was supposed, for a long time, to be uninhabitable, but, somehow, I managed to grow there, as did a good many other Australians. I have seen the wheat belt of New South Wales extend 200 miles further west in my short life, in a country which, in the early days, was said to be unfit for human habitation, and certainly to be country which would not produce cereals. I have, therefore, little time for those who flippantly condemn the possibilities of the Territory, especially where we have rainfall such as we have there, and certain altitudes as well. The outstanding fact that beef animals have multiplied there in a wild state, and that cattle stations are doing well - and I have seen astoundingly good figures from some of those stations - added to the fact that there are mineral deposits there worth exploiting, prove that there is every reason why the Government should get a move on. I took up a stand on this subject in the public press, because I considered that the Prime Minister was saying too much about a strategic railway which would cut right across the grain of the proposal for a north-south line. If we tinker with the Port Augusta junction, and begin linking it up with Queensland, before we move out to the far north, it is going to be an answer very soon to those who want to see the north-south line constructed to tap the mineral deposits in the Macdonnell Ranges, afford quicker transit for our mails, and give the people in the Territory a chance. It is a mistake to continue the railways now being handled up there upon the gauges formerly adopted. They are too narrow, and do not permit of that heavy traffic which will be swift and sure.
– Nearly all the lines in Queensland are of the same gauge, and carry big traffic.
– That is no reason why we should adopt their system, or adapt our lines to theirs. The new line should run as nearly as physically possible direct north and south, and should be broad gauge and fast running, so that it may carry perishables as weil as mails, and give every facility for settlement. Then let the States link. up as they like. The Commonwealth may link up with the State branch lines, but that is a development which will come later. Queensland is only too anxious to connect up with some trunk line which will give her access to all the Australian railway systems, and until that trunk line is constructed, we shall not have the nucleus of what may become a splendid railway system that will permit of trade flowing in its natural channels, which is what we want. I certainly do not think that in the administration we are getting now in the Northern Territory we have the right man in the right place. I say this without hesitation. If we are going to continue to handle it on the lines adopted by the present Government, it will pay us to get a man with a more practical knowledge of what is wanted, with some experience of great irrigation works, and of handling arid or semi-tropical country - a man of engineering skill, who will grapple with these problems and get a move on.
– We should have a report from one, anyhow.
– That is another point. We are not clear as to what is actually being done.
– Can you nominate the genius you are-speaking of?
– Not at the moment, but there are such men. We have seen them in India and Egypt. I suppose the Minister would say that men like Lord Kitchener or the man who built the Panama Canal were too expensive. Such a man, however, would not cost us as much as we are losing on the Territory from year to year. If the Government do not feel inclined to get a man of that kind, let them give an option to some one who will build a railway.
– It has cost us £4,000,000, and we have practically nothing to show for it.
– A man at £10,000 or £20,000 a year would be cheap if he took hold there, and got the necessary backing. It is of no use to ask any one to develop that country unless we give him the necessary railway facilities. In proportion as he makes it attractive people will go there, but to ask any one to go three weeks away from civilization, and put up with all the inconveniences of isolation, and suffer commercial disabilities in addition, puts an effective bar against development. We shall never develop the country as it is, and to spend money on narrow gauge lines, which will not fit in with the bigger conception of a broad gauge fast running service, is also folly. We want to see things move, and the present Minister has a splendid opportunity of getting something done. I believe the House will be behind any Government that puts forward a definite clear-cut proposal for a good railway system for the Territory. It will offer a much more attractive prospect for settlement when proper facilities for communication are provided.
.- I have listened with a good deal of pleasure to the remarks of various members on this subject, which is certainly one of the big propositions with which we have to deal. My sympathies are entirely with the Minister, who has to administer a big estate with no definite lines upon which to work. It stands to my credit that when the Northern Territory agreement was first introduced, I said in the House, and I repeat it now, that before ever the agreement was adopted, we should have known what the policy of development would be. That has not been done, and all that has happened has been a policy of drift from the commencement to the present time. The financial seriousness of that is evidenced in the various amounts which stand to the debt of the Territory year by year. The deficit for the .year 1912- 13 was £390,000, and for the year 1913- 14 £460,000, while the estimated deficiency for the current financial year is no less than £467,000. I am well aware that the Minister has made an effort to get men who may be termed “ small “ men to settle in the Territory, and that a report of a most disconcerting character was laid–on the table. The men sent up there were, without exception, adversely commented upon, some more severely than others, and one of the striking features in connexion with this effort on the part of the Minister was that those men were taken to the’ Territory at the expense of the Commonwealth, and they were to be given certain areas of land, which, however, were not ready for them when they arrived. Some weeks had to be spent by them in idleness, and in order that the men might improve their knowledge of the Territory, earn money for themselves, and recoup the Commonwealth, to some extent, the money expended in getting them there, they were asked to take work on the Batchelor farm. That they point-blank refused to do. It. is of no use sending that kind of individual there. I shall be much surprised if we are able to develop the Territory along the lines suggested by the honorable member for Wimmera. The honorable mem ber made what is certainly a new proposal, namely, that we should engage an eminent engineer to report as to the practicability of a system of irrigation for the Territory. There are two primary essentials for successful irrigation; one is that there must be a means of getting to market what is produced under irrigation conditions, and the other is a plentiful supply of comparatively cheap labour. Without those two things it is impossible to make a success of irrigation. We have before us the experience of the United States of America, and to some extent that of Australia. The first development of all our country has been by men with large holdings, and the only thing which tempts men to go into the outback country wherethere are no social conditions, few pleasures, aud a great deal of hard work and anxiety to be endured, is that some of theprizes of life will be reasonably within their grasp if they go there. Of course, I know that the policy of the present Government is leasehold tenure only. Success along those lines could be made by giving the settlers a leasehold of a certain area, varying according to the district, but with the right to acquire for themselves the title of 25 per cent, of the leasehold. By that means the men are offered an inducement to improve not only the portion which they will make their own, but also the balance of the lease, and it will then be worth while for men to go there. I am quite convinced that they will not go unless they see n prize ahead of them. I am sufficiently acquainted with human nature to know that no man will aspire to a position unless it is one calculated to lead to his own personal advantage. The honorable member for Grey said that the present Government were prepared to offer a forty-two years’ lease. Such a tenure might be sufficient if it were coupled with the proviso that the leaseholder should have the right of acquiring a title to portion of his holding. The honorable member for Macquarie threw a little light on this question, and I hope he is not the only member on the Government side who holds the opinionshe expressed. He suggested that the construction of railways in the NorthernTerritory was a business proposition. He did not directly refer to a land-grant system, but he referred to it by inference;. and in view of the large expenditure that will be involved in giving that country the necessary railway facilities in order to take its produce to market, I am inclined to think that, from the points of view of the Commonwealth, of the individual, and of Australia generally, some such system ns the land grant is the best to adopt. That system is just another means of making to the people an offer of a prize which will make possible those conditions of settlement which will lead to success. I should like the Minister of External Affairs to inform the Committee what policy he proposes to adopt in order to attract people to the Territory.
– Build the north-south railway !
– The honorable member for Grey gave us something worth thinking about when he mentioned the fact that most of the people who have gone to the Territory as land seekers came from Queensland.
– No. I said that the only sheep run in the Territory has been developed from the Queensland side.
– By taking over the Northern Territory the Commonwealth relieved South Australia of a great obligation. We paid back every penny of principal and interest which the State had expended on the Territory, and, in addition, entered into an agreement to construct the north-south railway. We could build a railway from Queensland for much less money, and complete it at an earlier date, and it would be of much greater benefit to Australia.
– You are not going to tear up that “ scrap of paper.”
– We have not to consider the welfare of one State. Our first consideration must be the necessity, from the Commonwealth point of view, of doing something to stem the continual increase of expenditure without any increase of receipts. We have to consider what type of person is most calculated to make a success in the Northern Territory, and if we take people from Queensland we shall get a population already acclimatized, to a large extent, to the conditions of the Northern Territory.
– Those people will not develop Northern Queensland, which is nearly as empty as the Northern Territory.
– Northern Queensland is making gigantic strides, and will soon become one of the most important portions of the Commonwealth. People acclimatized there are better fitted for the development of the Northern Territory than men from South Australia. Let us build the north-south railway in due time when we can afford the expenditure, and when the conditions justify it. But at present the conditions do not justify it. The House is entitled to know from the Minister what proposal he has to make in order to stem this continual financial drift. A protest has been raised against the 3-ft. 6 -in. gauge of railway. In that I do not join. I am impressed with the idea that the essential length of line is so great that the cheapest construction we can adopt at the commencement will be the best.
– The 3-ft. 6-in. gauge has done wonders in Western Australia.
– It is in operation in Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, and the inference is that if that gauge is sufficient for those States, for the time being it will be amply sufficient to serve the far-back conditions in the Northern Territory. The width can always be increased at some subsequent date. In my mind, there is no question that the Victorian 5-ft. 3-in. gauge is better than even the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge; but our problem is to establish proper communication between the Northern Territory and the other portions of Australia; and I shall vote in favour of doing it in the most economical way in the first instance, and when conditions are so far advanced as to justify it the gauge can be increased.
– What is the gauge of railways on Norfolk Island 1
– Just about as wide as the honorable member’s vision. My own impression is that the Territory can be developed, in the first place, only by graziers operating in a large way.
– There must be railway communication before grazing is undertaken.
– There must be railway communication before even” grazing can be made successful. As the Territory develops, a system of closer settlement can be introduced, and men will find that it is advantageous to occupy those lands in smaller areas; but, for the time being, until men have gone there who can start an industry and carry it on on a large scale, we shall not get men to go to this new country and successfully occupy it. I have had some experience in the “ Never Never” country, and I do know, from personal observation, that if the Minister were to take any steps to settle small men in the Territory, his scheme would end in failure.
– What do you call a small area ?
– That depends on where the land is. In some districts 1,000 square miles would not be too great for a holding for one man, and the land will have to be offered in large areas in order to induce settlement.
– The whole of the Barklay Tableland, as well as the lands a long way to the west, could be thrown open for grazing lease.
– If we offer the land in sufficiently large holdings we shall probably get a class of men who will make a success of settlement there.
– If we construct the railway through the Northern Territory we shall induce settlement.
– In the absence of settlement we are at present running the line to Oodnadatta at a loss. So far the administration of the Northern Territory has not been such as to attract settlement. This year we have authorized the expenditure of £34,000 upon new works there, almost the whole of which is to be spent in erecting buildings. Not a single pound will be expended for the purpose of settling people on the land. So far, the policy adopted has been that of putting the cart before the horse by erecting expensive buildings, and establishing- a large staff of civil servants there, instead of encouraging settlement. I recognise that the administration of that Territory is a big proposition, and the Minister in charge of it has my sympathies. But I think that he ought to take honorable members into his confidence by telling them what he has in his mind, and how soon there is a reasonable expectation of effect being given to his policy.
– Every year we have a discussion on the Northern Territory, and everybody professes to be appalled by the expenditure upon it. But when we took over the Territory it was well known that it would prove a financial sink for generations. I am one of those who may be credited with holding extreme Socialistic views. Talk about the settlement of the Northern Territory ! I would rather see it unsettled than have a railway constructed through it on the land-grant system, which implies the alienation for ever of large tracts to bring about the socalled civilization that we enjoy to-day. In the Northern Territory we have an opportunity of demonstrating to the world that private ownership of land is noi essential to civilization. What is the trouble in the Territory? Does anybody imagine that it is the land tenure which is keeping it back? As a matter of fact,, market facilities are all that are necessary for its development. Since the House met we have heard a good deal about the proposed strategic railway. I shall never cast a vote in favour of that undertaking until the north-south transcontinental line has been built. I reluctantly voted in favour of the Commonwealth takingover the Northern Territory, because T recognised that portions of Australia would have to make substantial sacrificesfrom a financial stand-point. But havingtaken over that Territory, we must manfully face our obligations. I was rather surprised to hear my honorable friends advocating the adoption of a land-grant railway. In this connexion I may be pardoned for referring to a new territory of the Commonwealth, namely, Norfolk Island. If, when the settlers were placed upon that island, the laud had been leased to them they would have had it to-day. But, instead, they were given a sort of title in fee-simple. With what result? There are only about 4,800 acres of the island alienated, and of this area one man owns nearly 1,000 acres, two others own 300 acres each, and another owns 100 acres. At the beginning of the island’s history no person was allowed to hold more than 50 acres. Unless the Government take action to prevent the further aggregation of land there, the whole of the island will be in the hands of four men in less than a decade. The same result will be achieved in the Northern Territory if we introduce the system of selling land there. Rather than that such a system should he adopted, it would be better that the Territory should remain undeveloped. What is the trouble in Victoria to-day? It is that large areas are in the hands of a few individuals. When the State Government desired to acquire land for closer settlement recently, they had to purchase it at a figure which represented much more than its real value. In other words, they had to buy back land which should never have been sold. I hope that in the Northern Territory the lands will not be alienated, but merely leased. The sooner we set about giving effect to that idea the better will it be for the Territory and for Australia as a whole.
.-I have risen for the purpose of inviting from the Minister some statement in regard to Papua. Recently there has been considerable unrest amongst the white inhabitants there - unrest which is directly traceable to the futility of an agitation which, honorable members are doubtless aware, commenced with the object of securing representation in the Executive Council of Papua. The demand was resisted by the Governor of the Territory, and the Federal authority refused to accede to the request of the settlers. Since then there has been a feeling which, unhappily, has assumed very considerable proportions, that the interests of the white inhabitants of the Territory are being entirely overlooked. That feeling has been accentuated by the laxity of the Administration.
– Where is the laxity ?
– The Minister asks me “Where is the laxity?” Yetthis afternoon when he answered a question which I put to him in regard to a crime which was committed there in July or August last-
– The present Minister was not in office then.
– Does my honorable friend suggest that if he had been the crime would not havebeen committed? In July or August of last year a murder took place there-
– The honorable member’s party were in power then.
– Therefore our party were responsible for the crime, and we must accept that responsibility. That is the honorable member’s method of reasoning. Really it is too funny. Let us examine the answer which the Minister gave to my question to-day. I asked him when this crime was committed, when the trial opened, whether it had yet been concluded, and whether the sentence of the Court had been put into execution.
His reply showed that the murder was committed in July or August, 1914, that three natives who were alleged to be the murderers were arrested, but that one escaped, and that the last advice received by the Department was to the effect that the trial had not yet taken place, as the necessary witnesses were not obtainable. He also stated that a telegram had been sent to the Lieutenant-Governor asking for information as to the present position of the case. In other words, a trial for murder was not yet opened, although the crime was committed in July or August last. What does that mean? We know that all over Papua we have settled in isolated places a white man or two, who employ a large number of natives. The safety of these men is absolutely dependent upon the white man’s prestige, and upon that of the Government. If a white man can be murdered, and the crime can die out of native memory - because six months is a long time in native memory - what safety can white men enjoy in any isolated settlement there? It is a very serious thing indeed that this crime should have remained unrighted all these months. That is one instance of laxity of administration. I do not say that the present Minister is any more responsible for this condition of affairs than are his predecessors. But it is very unfortunate that the Government cannot act with sufficient vigour to insure the trial of the accused taking place within a reasonable period after the commission of the crime. I understand! that in the Sogeri Ranges there is a Government nursery, which Has been established for the purpose of teaching intending settlers what to plant and how to plant it - what to use in the development of the country, and how to use it. Recently in that district the people wished to sell land to the Administration, but the Administration was not in a position to buy. It seems absurd to establish the whole paraphernalia of a Government nursery there without providing intending settlers with the land upon which they may utilize the results of the experience of that nursery. To me it appears to be a question of alternatives - ofwhether we shall unlock the land in the neighbourhood of the nursery or lock up the nursery. I think that many similar instances maybe found in Papua at the present time. I do not know what the reason is, and I”. am not blaming the present or any Minister; but I think, especially in view of the fact that quite possibly in the future our coloured dependencies may be very largely augmented, it is worth while for the Minister to go into this business again, and see what can be done to perfect our administration of such places. One cannot say that we are altogether. successful. We cannot compare with any satisfaction our administration of Papua with, for example, the Dutch administration of Java, not so many miles away; and what we have done compares very unfavorably with what the Germans were able to do with a less valuable adjoining possession. We could do more than we have done; and nothing more is required than a little fostering care to see that the primary intention of this Parliament is carried out, namely, that these possessions shall be administered Tn the interests principally of the native inhabitants, but with a view also to their contingent white development. Care should be taken that this policy is put into effect in a radical and energetic manner, because at present I think the administration is asleep. We require less flagpole and flag and more common 01 garden energy. So far as I can understand Commonwealth administration, the moment we come into possession of a piece of land, we place a man in control with a highsounding title. But having christened the Administrator “ His Excellency,” the object seems to be to starve him out of the proper exercise of his functions; and if there were less pomp and more active work, we should all be the better for it. I urge the Minister to prepare for the taking over of further responsibilities of the kind, by seeing that our present responsibilities are exercised in the proper spirit. We should do all within our power to make these possessions habitable for our own citizens as well as for the natives, towards whom we stand in the relation of trustees.
.- My remarks will follow on lines similar to those traversed by the honorable member for Wentworth. As an Australian believing in adult suffrage, my regret is that every white man and woman of the Northern Territory, when we took over its administration from the brave little State of South Australia, which had borne the responsibility for so many years, was de prived of the right of representation. That, in my opinion, was a backward step unequalled in the most despotic country of Europe. It is almost incredible to me that such a thing should have been done in these days; and I feel sure that the Minister will confer with the Government in order to see whether the Northern Territory cannot be attached to the constituency of some honorable, member, so that the residents there may be able to make their voice heard in this chamber, as they are justly entitled to do. The same step should be taken in regard to Papua. Unfortunately, in Papua the white residents are alongside a darkcoloured race, which is by far the more numerous; and we know that when two such races meet it is always the darker race that suffers. I am sure that the honorable member for Wentworth will agree with me when I say that Germany, in its administration of its possessions, had little sympathy for the coloured race.
– That was the only disfigurement of their administration.
– I take it that no civilized men would really wish to make any coloured people work against their will, provided that they could, in their own native way earn enough to keep themselves and their families. I have in my time visited savage and cannibal tribes, and I must say that those in the southern beas, to their honour, never allow orphans to want - never allow any one. to starve in their villages if there be food enough to go round. The question of giving representation to the white people in our possessions must be dealt with in a spirit of justice. As to Papua, the honorable member for Wentworth might have added that a resolution has been passed in favour of giving the white people there representation. It is an old adage that taxation without representation is a wrong and an infamy; and how much more is it so when an autocrat is placed in control ? No man, I do not care who he may be, can exercise such autocratic power without being the worse for it.
– The honorable member is not arguing that the blackfellows should have votes, is he?
– I wish the blackfellows were sufficiently educated to exercise a vote. This is a difficulty that has had to be faced in the United States; and I remember Mr. Bell, the inventor of the telephone, saying to me that the negroes had had to be disfranchised in Washington because they were so corrupt. I do not say that the Papuans would be corrupt; but we know that they are a subject race, and as yet untried; but, on the other hand, I do not wish to give the few white people there control- over the lives and destinies of the black race. Tt has been the duty, not only of the present Minister of External Affairs, but of his predecessor, to stand by the black races under our control; but, at the same time, the white race ought to have a voice in the election of the Assembly which controls them. I cannot understand, except on the ground that unlimited power spoils any man, how the present dictator of Papua should have changed his opinion in this regard.
– The people are not even allowed to elect their own representatives to the Roads Boards.
– And trial by jury has been done away with. Surely we have not arrived at that depth of degradation when it can be said that, if a white man is charged with the murder of a black, a white jury cannot be found to convict? If that were once proved to be so, then all power should be taken away from the whites; but I should be very loth to believe anything of the kind. In one case a native was fined between three and four years’ wages simply for obeying orders; and it was really the master of a boat, by whom the orders were given, who should have been punished. What kind of a magistrate, what kind of a Judge, imposed such a penalty as that? If the recall were in operation there he would be removed from the Bench; but the people have no voice. It is for these reasons I hope that some member of the House will be appointed to voice the thoughts and desires of our fellow citizens in those far-flung portions of the Empire - the Northern Territory and Papua. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that rather than see the land of the Northern Territory handed over to land grant companies, he would do without a railway; and so say I. In Western Australia, the largest of the States, which I have recently visited, narrow-gauge railways are opening up vast tracts of country, and through lands selected only a year or two ago, the lines are running. If I may make the suggestion, the Go vernment could very well follow the example of Western Australia and adopt this system of settling people on the land. If we go to the Lands Office in Melbourne, we find every difficulty placed in the way. Many hundreds of people have applied for land year after year without success, and, sick and tired, have been compelled to go to some other State. Large sums of money are spent in Victoria, and quite rightfully, on Agricultural Colleges, but when the students have obtained their diplomas, they are compelled to go elsewhere in order to find land. If a person goes into the Victorian Lands Office and asks for a map of available land, he is called upon to pay for it, whereas, in Western Australia, such maps are supplied free. Then again, the map sold in Victoria gives no information as to the quality of the land, and other matters of the kind, while in Western Australia, not only is the class of land plainly set forth with other particulars, but, in figures across each block, there is shown the amount of money that the Agricultural Bank is prepared to advance the settler at 5 per cent. What was my experience forty-two years ago, when I took up land in Victoria ? I was a poor miserable little bank clerk, with an idea that I should like to settle on the land ; and I found myself planted by the Government in one of the heaviest timbered areas, some 8 miles south of Warragul.
– You would have been wealthy had you kept the land !
– My honorable friend is wrong again. This land, after a great number of years, waa offered as partly cleared land to the Government, at only 10s. per acre over what it had originally been purchased for, and it waa refused. The timber was too heavy, the cost of clearing being over £20 per .acre. The only advantage I got out of my life on the land was a fairly good chest, and a good constitution; and for these I am thankful. But that is not the way to put people on the land. There is no doubt that I should have settled there had I been given a “ dog’s chance “; but honorable members can imagine what it was to a man of no experience, gnawing away at those huge trees, which numbered as many as twentyfive on a single acre, and were over 8 feet in diameter. I held on for twenty-five years, and then had to give it up. I desire to pay my meed of praise to the
Government, even though it be a Labour Government, which controls Western Australia. In that State, heavily-timbered land, in the Karri country, such as costs £25 an acre to clear in Gippsland, is being cleared, the huge trees being torn out by the roots, at a cost of £3 5s. to £4. 15s. an acre. When the land has been cleared, thirty-furrow ploughs are brought into use, and these have reduced the cost of ploughing from 8s. to 4s. per acre. No other State in all Australia is endeavouring to clear land for future settlers in the same way.
– What pulls the thirtyfurrow plough ?
– A traction engine; and their success is so great that the idea is to ultimately have fifty-furrow ploughs.
– Where is that place ?
– Down south in the heavily-timbered country. It must be the desire of all honorable members to do what they can for the benefit of Australia as a whole. Mr. Hedges, a late member of this House, was, I think, the first member to bring under the notice of the Government of the day the fact that if we possessed a bureau of agriculture, it should be one of the duties of that body to find out from every part of the world the character of its herbage, with the object of ascertaining if it were suitable for any part of Australia. In South America, for instance, the plant that is food for the lama, if planted in the dry areas of Western Australia and in some of the central portions of our continent, might become a suitable fodder for our own stock. Tn the wide areas of Western Australia, there is a fodder which, while unfit for sheep or cattle, has proved a useful fodder for the camel. I am satisfied that, with a bureau of agriculture working properly, our dry farming areas, with a rainfall of from 8 to 14 inches, could be profitably occupied. Then there is the problem of the settlement of the Northern Territory. No member of this House will deny that it is the duty of any Government to complete the north-south railway. An honorable understanding was made with the State of South Australia which, for many years, bore the burden of the Territory, and, in fact, acted as a sentinel for Australia against the Asiatic invasion which was taking place. I well remember a report that was obtained on the initiative of the late Mr. Kingston, then a member of the State Parliament, showing the number of ships that called at Port Darwin, the number of Chinese they had as crew, the number on board when the vessels arrived at the end of their journey at Melbourne or Sydney, and the number on board when the ship returned. There was a marked discrepancy between the figures, indicating that a substantial settlement of Chinese was taking place somewhere in Australia, contrary to the law of the land. Every credit, therefore, is due to South Australia for the splendid fight that State made to preserve the Territory from the Asiatic invasion; and can any honorable member deny that that vast area, with its millions of acres, and some of the best rivers of Australia, will not in the future become a great asset to this country ? £100,000,000 ? It is worth far more than that, for it has double the territory of Germany and Franco, and is capable of supporting the white race in comfort. History shows that in the development of the Gold Coast of Africa, where formerly one year’s service counted as three, the country has become comparatively healthy, because reasonable precautions were taken to safeguard the people. What was it that checked the genius of de Lesseps in his effort to build the canal across the Panama? The mosquito, as we know, was the effective barrier, but, thanks to the preventive measures taken by Colonel Goethals, when the United States commenced that undertaking, that work has been completed, and the district has become a healthy resort with a death-rate less than that of some of the countries in Europe. By the destruction of the lurking places of the deadly mosquito and other disease-carrying insects, life is safe to the white man, and, as I have said, it has been proved that the white race can hold -its own under these conditions. I look forward with confidence to the future when the brave settlers of the Northern Territory will have a chance to get their produce to the centres of civilisation. When this opportunity is given, settlement will be rapid. The Government should take into consideration the question of settling in the Territory the time-expired men of the Indian Army. These men have had experience of a climate similar to that of the Territory, and therefore it would be well to consider a proposal to bring them out here and induce them to settle in the Northern Territory? The Federal Government could insist that they should keep up their drills and practise their shooting, and by that means we would be able to settle the country, and they would act as a factor in the defence of the country if ever danger came to Australia. I hope the Government will push on with the railway, and I can assure them that I will give no vote for the strategic line until this railway, pledged and promised by the honour of the Commonwealth, is carried to its full and complete settlement.
.- I do not ‘desire to discuss the External Affairs Department, except in regard to the Northern Territory, and I rise, not to criticise the Government, or to find fault with anybody, but in the hope that I may be able to interest honorable members in regard to the matters specially under thenconsideration, and in order that we may be able collectively to do our best for that large area of country which has been intrusted to us. The problem before us is a difficult one, as ‘it proved a difficult one to South Australia in her efforts to settle the country a long time ago. More than forty years have passed since the enterprising people of South Australia undertook that great work. They constructed a telegraph line right across the continent through an unknown and an uncivilized country for a couple of thousand miles, and an immense amount of money was expended in trying to develop the Territory. I may say in passing, however, lest there should be any wrong impression, that all the money South Australia ever expended upon the Territory has been returned to that State by the Commonwealth, and I am not aware that South Australia has lost anything in regard to those transactions. That State employed a large amount of capital, and a great deal of energy, in the effort to develop the Territory; but it was not successful, and the problem was too great for a State with a small population. Therefore, the responsibility and the obligation came over to the Commonwealth, and we have to ask ourselves what we are going to do with it now that we have it. It is not an easy task. Some years have passed since it was taken over. More than one Government has been in existence since then. and still there has not been much progress.
– We are pledged to the railway, though.
– I will come to that in a moment. During the last time I was in office, in conjunction with my honorable friend the honorable member for Angas, I gave a great deal of attention to this matter, with the object of seeing what we could do with the Territory. I felt that the responsibility was a heavy one, for the annual loss in connexion with the interest on the loans, and including the loss upon the railway from Oodnadatta to Port Augusta, was about £500,000 a year, and of course, as Treasurer, I was anxious to see what could be done to place the Territory in a position to do something in the direction of paying its own way. I had many opportunities of consulting with the Administrator, Dr. Gilruth, and I would like_to say here that, while I was rather prejudiced against him at first, thinking, perhaps, he was extravagant and not practical, I quickly realized that he was a man of great energy, full of ideas, and very sanguine. I formed a good opinion of him, and did my best to assist him. The opinion which I have already expressed in this chamber in regard to the development of the Northern Territory, and which I repeat with more confidence now that I have had the advantage of speaking with the Administrator and of studying the question more thoroughly, is that the first thing to be done is, metaphorically speaking, to let daylight into the country. We must open up the Territory by railways, and make it possible for the people of Australia to get there. At the present time that part of the continent is in darkness. The only practicable way of getting there is by taking steamer to Port Darwin. To travel there overland one would have to ride for hundreds of miles, whether he went from the nearest point on the Queensland railway system or from Oodnadatta. When Treasurer in the Cook Administration, I drew up a scheme of which the Prime Minister of the day approved, and which the Government communicated to the Government of Queensland. We suggested that the Government of Queensland should extend its railway from Cloncurry to a point on the western border of the State, a distance of about 150 miles, and that the
Commonwealth Government should undertake to proceed with the construction of a line from that point through Alroy Station and Anthony’s Lagoon to Newcastle Waters” on the overland telegraph line, carrying the railway thence as far as the Katherine, and then joining the railway from Port Darwin.
– That scheme absolutely ignored the agreement with South Australia.
– In saying that, my honorable friend is incorrect and ungenerous.
– The honorable member for Angas did not approve of the scheme.
– I think that he did ; but whether he did or not, I have views of my own on this question, and submit them to this House with confidence. What I proposed would have let daylight into the Territory, and would have made it, in a year or two, accessible by means of the Queensland railway from the port of Townsville. Had my suggestion been carried into effect, the Northern Territory would, within a year or two, have been made accessible by railway from all other parts of Australia. There was no wish to ignore the agreement with South Australia. We had no desire to repudiate that agreement, nor should we have failed to keep faith with the people of South Australia. No member of this Committee wishes to do that.
– There was no proposal for the construction of a main line through South Australia. I have the correspondence.
– The honorable member has read only one-half of it. He has an eye only for the interests of Adelaide, while I do not forget the interests of that city, but regard as of supreme importance the speedy development of the Northern Territory. The Administrator, Dr. Gilruth, had travelled overland from Cloncurry to Camooweal, and on to Bitter Springs or Newcastle Waters, and thence down the telegraph line to Alice Springs, where his motor car broke down, forcing him to return on horseback to Port Darwin. He had, therefore, some knowledge of the country across the Barclay Tableland, and along the telegraph line, and reported to me that the country along the telegraph line from Bitter Springs and Newcastle Waters to Alice Springs is of the poorest nature.
– We knew that when we made the agreement with South Australia.
– The Administrator said that he would not recommend the taking of the railway through that country. His recommendation was that we should continue the railway from the Katherine River south along the telegraph line, past Bitter Springs or Daly Waters, from there making a detour to the eastward, through the good country of the Barclay Tableland as far as Anthony’s Lagoon. He recommended that, later, a branch line should be taken- north-east from Anthony’s Lagoon towards the Pelew Islands, to a good harbor at the mouth of the Macarthur River. . The great southern railway he thought should go from Anthony’s Lagoon to Alroy Station, and from there to Alice Springs, and on to Oodnadatta. There would then be a line from Port Darwin to Oodnadatta, with a branch line, having a length of 150 or 200 miles, from Alroy Station to the Queensland border, connecting with the railway system of Queensland at Camooweal.
– How did the Administrator describe the country from Alice Springs to Oodnadatta ?
– He did not see that country, but it is well known that it is very poor. Of course, you have sometimes to go through poor country to get in rich country. The country between Alroy Station and Alice Springs has not been examined, but the Administrator told me that he had had good reports of it. That country could have been examined by a surveyor with a few camels in a couple of months: I do not know whether the examination of it has been made. But those who accuse us of a breach of faith with South Australia forget that, with, the exception of a length of from 150 to 200 miles from Alroy Station to the Queensland border, the line that we proposed would be part of the main line through South Australia via Oodnadatta to Adelaide. Whether the agreement with South Australia was wise or unwise, I am prepared to give effect to it, because we cannot go back on a bargain definitely made. To continue the railway northwards from Oodnadatta would have some advantages in respect nf the obtaining of labour, and so on, but it would not immediately assist in developing the Northern Territory, because an extension of 330 miles would take it only as far as the Macdonnell Ranges to a point 1,000 miles from Port Darwin.
– Tt would tap the very best of the country.
– Between Oodnadatta and Alice Springs the average rainfall is only 10 inches per annum, and the country some of the poorest in Australia. In 1874 I came down the Alberga River from the interior, for a distance of 100 miles or more, and could not find any water, except by digging in the bed of the river, which is formed by the storm waters of the Musgrave Ranges. That country is very poor, and there is little hope of settlement there. From the Macdonnell Ranges northwards there may be a rainfall of from 14 to 15 inches, and still further north a rainfall of from 15 to 25 inches. But on poor country, with a rainfall of only 10 inches, settlement cannot be expected, and after many years there is practically none between Oodnadatta and Alice Springs, notwithstanding the existence of a railway to Oodnadatta.
– There is not much settlement on the Pine Creek railway.
– That may be because the Northern Territory is not yet easily accessible from other parts of Australia. I think that I have disposed of the charge of breach of faith which has been levelled against me and against the Government of which I was a member. Underlying the proposal that we made to the Government of Queensland, there was no intention of ignoring in the slightest degree the obligations of the Commonwealth towards South Australia. But if I am asked, as an honest man, and as one who has some knowledge^ of these matters, what my opinion is, I say that to construct a railway all along the telegraph line through South Australia without connecting with the Queensland system would delay the development of the Northern Territory for many years, and that there is neither sense nor judgment in such a proposal. What we should do i9 to open up the good country quickly, making it accessible from Queensland, and from some convenient point - we thought from Alroy Station - turn south to Alice Springs and north from
Oodnadatta, junctioning at Alice Springs, and thus finish the railway from Port Darwin to Adelaide through the centre of the continent. Queensland rejected the offer made by the Cook Government to connect Australia with the Northern Territory with its railway system, and I think there never was a greater mistake made on the part of any administrative Government than that. The offer, it seemed to me, was one that was to the great advantage of Queensland. The railway would have given Queensland an opening for its stock, and for its people, right into the Northern Territory, and the railway would have utilized all the timber it could have supplied for sleepers. It would have made Townsville a port of the Northern Territory in the same way that Port Darwin is the port further north. For some reason Queensland rejected the offer. I do not know why, but I should have thought that it would have been greatly to their advantage to have accepted it with open arms. I have studied the geography of the country; I have had the advantage of knowing the views of Dr. Gilruth, and all the people who have gone into this question are absolutely in accord with my views on the subject; and yet I find my honorable friend, and other people, charging the Government of which I was a member with a breach of faith, whereas, if the facts were only known, we were their best friends. T am not) responsible for the views of members like the honorable member for Grey, who has the one idea of benefiting Adelaide and nowhere else. In the views I put forward I have no “ axe to grind “ but I think they will be shared by all reasonable people. I have denied that we had any thought of not keeping fair.h with South Australia, and South Australia will find that we will keep faith, fmd will do what is right.
– In the next century.
– Not at all. If I were actuated by the honorable member’s taunts it might be the next century, but I will take no notice of the unfair and unjust remarks he makes. There is another matter to which I should like to refer for a moment. What about the gauge of this railway? The honorable member is advocating that we should first ga north for 337 miles with, a railway which will not open up the Northern Territory one bit, but he has not told us what are the defects of the proposal. This railway is 3 ft. 6 in. from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. Is he going to continue it at 3 ft. 6 in. or 4 ft. 8£ in. ?
– -It should be 4 ft. 8& in.
– And there will be a change of gauge at Oodnadatta.
– There would have to be an alteration from Coward’s Springs-
– I think the people of South Australia will disapprove of the honorable member if he goes on to a platform and advocates the closing of the line from Port Augusta by Hergott Springs to Oodnadatta.
– There is no proposition to that effect.
– Does the honorable member propose that the Commonwealth should keep two lines open, then? The difficulty of the gauge, I admit, is most troublesome. I should like to have a uniform gauge throughout Australia, and it was with some reluctance that I acquiesced in the suggestion - though the matter was agreed to by the House - that we should keep the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge from Port Darwin to the Queensland border, making provision for the sleepers to be long enough for the width between the rails to be increased, and the weight of rails to he 80 lbs. to the yard. That was because Queensland is on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, and we thought perhaps it would he better to have the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge through Queensland to the Northern Territory. But what we shall do in regard to the line north of Oodnadatta is another matter, which I am not in any way committed to, and I should prefer that, if possible, we should have the broader gauge. I find, according to the papers before us, that the public debt on the Northern Territory is £3,500,000, and the existing railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta has cost £2,000,000 odd, so that we have nearly £6,000,000 spent in connexion with taking over the Northern Territory and this railway. The expenditure on these Estimates is about half a million, while the revenue is under £50,000. I have had long interviews and long arguments with Dr. Gilruth, and I have come to the conclusion that the best course for us to pursue is as I have stated, and the only reason why we have not gone ahead is that we have not had the consent of Queensland in regard to the offer that was made to them. There is also the question of ways and means ; but I am not going into that matter, which is one for the Government.
.- This ‘debate has been interesting and, to some extent, instructive. I should have liked to have been able to add that it also had broken much new ground. That, however, would have been scarcely correct. It seems to me that most of the opinions voiced on this occasion have often before been heard in this chamber. The only new suggestion, apparently, was that of the honorable member for Wimmera. He thinks that much can be done by irrigation through the advice of some irrigation expert. But he seems to have forgotten flint an eminent irrigationist nearer home, presented with a similar, if less complex, problem, has comparatively failed.
Several Honorable Members. - No.
– Then all those newspaper complaints are unfounded?
– I wish we had a few like him in the Territory.
– Perhaps I had better put it that his success has not been so clearly manifested as some of the anticipations held out concerning him led us to expect it would be. But irrigation in a small and compact territory is quite a different proposition to that which faces a man in a great empire like the Northern Territory. There you have not only a spacious territory, but also diferent degrees of rainfall, and an infinite variety of conditions. I know the irrigation area is comparatively limited. However, the suggestion is not altogether outside the realms of practicability, and no doubt we should benefit if we could obtain the advice of men of eminence and experience in regard to it. The honorable member for Echuca seems to think that the development of a policy for the Northern Territory is a simple matter. He asks for it as one might ask a draper in a shop for a waistcoat. To formulate a long-sighted policy for such an extensive country as this, and to deal with the varying conditions which have to be faced, is not a matter for a few weeks, but one for very mature consideration, after consultation with experts and the examination of experiments made in other countries. It is unreasonable to expect a Minister, as soon as he takes up the administration of the Department of External Affairs, to discover a new policy for the Northern Territory. He has not a clean sheet on which to work. He has to consider the policy of his predecessors and the position arising out of that policy. To put into operation a new policy would be to undo immediately some of the acts of previous Ministers, regardless of whether or not they had reached their culmination, and since they are experimental they must be carried to a finish before it can be determined whether or not they are successful. As I have already said, this debate is interesting, although not very novel in its developments. It reminds me a good deal of the problems of my early school days, and especially those algebraic conundrums. It sometimes happened that, if pursued far enough, the factors cancelled each other, and that ultimately zero appeared as the result. Very many of the arguments adduced during this debate by honorable members on one side have been effectively answered by honorable members on the other. The honorable member for Grey, for instance, pins his faith to the construction of a railway along the telegraph line from north to south.
– I spoke of a north to south railway, but said nothing about the telegraph line.
– The honorable member advocated the construction of a line running north and south in the vicinity of the telegraph line. On the other hand, the honorable member for Echuca and the right honorable member for Swan, whose cyclonic eloquence we have appreciated very much to-night, favour a railway from the Katherine making a detour towards the Queensland border.
– Not into Queensland, since the Commonwealth has no power to enter that State for railway construction purposes; but, as I said, to the Queensland border, leaving the State Government to determine whether it is to their interest to extend their line from Cloncurry to the border. From the point of view of the right honorable member for Swan, I am not sure that this is not the best expedient for bringing about on the part of the outside world a more rapid acquaintance with the Northern Territory. In discussing these various projected railways, we must not overlook the fact that we have not unlimited funds, and that we have neither the men nor the plant available to construct the whole of them simultaneously. Before entering upon a large enterprise such as the building of a railway from Oodnadatta to the Katherine, we should complete the east to west railway.
– The West, of course, must come in !
– Surely the honorable member does not favour the hanging up of the line now being constructed to Western Australia, and which is being laid down fromboth ends at the rate of from 1 mile to1½ miles per day.
– I understood that the Minister was advocating the construction of a line from the Katherine to the Queensland border before building the north to south line.
– No. The right honorable member for Swan said that in order to let light into the Northern Territory - in other words, to bring the people outside into more intimate acquaintance with the Northern Territory - a line from the Katherine to the Queensland border should be built, and I expressed the opinion that from that point of view his project appeared to be more feasible than that of constructing a railway running from north to south.
– But does the Minister favour a line to the Queensland border as against the north-south line?
– I have expressed no opinion on the subject, because I have not yet had an opportunity to consult all the documents necessary to enable me to arrive at a conclusion. I believe, however, that, as the honorable member for Grey has said, there is a belt of country of very great value from a pastoral point of view further on than Oodnadatta - that after passing through a barren tract the traveller comes upon a very fertile country enjoying a good rainfall.
– That may he said of the southern portion of the Barclay Tableland, extending right down to Alice Springs. That country would not be touched by a line going to Camooweal.
– It would.
– Setting aside for a moment the question of which route should be followed, I should like the Committee to consider what effect an immediate extension of the present railway to Oodnadatta would have upon the settlement of the Territory. Whilst the honorable member for Grey was speaking, I inquired what class of settler he expected would take up land there. The honorable member was not very explicit in his reply.
– I said that it would be taken up by graziers.
– Then we should not have much use for our railway.
– There is room for many millions of sheep there.
– There is probably room for the raising of millions of sheep along the present line to Oodnadatta, yet, as the honorable member knows, that railway has proved a veritable sink in relation to Commonwealth expenditure.
– Because it stops at nowhere.
– There would have to be a terminal point for the railway which the honorable member favours. If the construction of a line from north to south would not facilitate the introduction of closer settlement - if it would not lead to such an increase of population as would make it a payable line- then, in existing’ circumstances, it is a very doubtful proposition. On the other hand, I am quite satisfied that this Territory will have to be developed largely in the first instance, by pastoralists, and by the opening up of new mining areas. I pin my faith to those two factors rather than to the experimental plots that have been settled along the Daly River. Our experience teaches us that greater care than has hitherto been shown will have to be displayed iri selecting settlers for the Territory.
– What became of the 500 cows v * purchased ?
– That investment has not proved altogether a failure. Some of the cows have perished, but others are thriving. The sheep on the station, in regard to the purchase of which the right honorable member was so dubious, are also doing very well.
– I said nothing about that.
– I can produce a statement in the honorable gentleman’s own handwriting showing that he was very dubious regarding the purchase of this sheep station.
– They wanted us to buy it, but I would not do so.
– The station was purchased, and it is not the failure that the right honorable member predicted.
– The Minister is referring ‘to a sheep station that was purchased by our predecessors.
– And the right honorable gentleman, when Treasurer, wanted to nullify what had been done in that regard by refusing to stock the station with sheep. Coming to £he desire of honorable members that there should be laid down a policy for the settlement of the Territory, is it not idle to talk about a policy until we know where to find the people? Where are we to get the people whom we are to settle in the Northern Territory ? We read almost weekly of 500 or 600 disappointed land seekers in one or other of the States balloting for half-a-dozen blocks. But we do not find any of these people seeking land in the Northern Territory.
– Because there is no railway communication.
– Not wholly; rather because of the remoteness, the isolation, of the Territory, and the absence of the advantages of civilization. That is why people who are hungering for land in the more accessible portions of Australia will not settle in the Territory. I shall not say that there is any deterioration in the fibre of the people of to-day j but they certainly do not display the spirit of the pioneers of Australia. If “the people of fifty or sixty years ago had been content only with the selection of choice blocks of land, the Commonwealth would not have been so developed and settled as it is at the present time. The honorable member for Wim- mera suggested that we should obtain from the north “of Italy settlers for the Northern Territory. The problem as to where we are to obtain settlers has haunted me ever since I took office. I confess that I do not know where we are to secure them. I have spoken to people well acquainted with all the little kingdoms of Europe, but have not met with much success. It would be far more acceptable and satisfactory if we could settle the Territory from the rest of Australia; but since Australians, apparently, will not go there while the conditions of life are so severe, where are we to look for people who will be prepared to suffer the hardship, the isolation, and the absence of the conditions of civilization which must be endured there until we get some reasonable settlement? That is the problem which confronts us, and I see no hope of its immediate solution. If Parliament were prepared to vote sufficient to enable us to assist people to emigrate, and to wet-nurse th’em for years, we might make some sort of success of settlement in the Northern Territory. But I was never at any time optimistic in regard to the Territory. I did not vote for the agreement under which the Commonwealth took it over.
– You will have to settle it, you know.
– Yes. I admit that it is now an Australian obligation, and while I was not averse to the Commonwealth taking over the Territory, I was against taking it over under the conditions under which it was accepted. I recognised from the first that, in dealing adequately and properly with the Northern Territory, we have one of the most perplexing problems which have ever confronted a Government in this world. We have to hold the country, and to settle it : that is beyond the shadow of a doubt. We have to defend the Territory, because that would be the point of attack by an enemy, and the only way in which it can be defended is by having a virile white population settled on the soil. The development of a policy for this country, which has exhausted the ingenuity and ability of other administrators, is not to be achieved in a month or two, or even in a few years. It is a matter which will have to be settled, and this Parliament will have to vote the necessary funds, I think, to bring out people in large num bers, or if it be practicable to do so as soon as the war is over, to induce a number of men of military age who are reluctant to return to the prosaic life of commercialism to go there and settle on the land.
– Do you not think that that would follow the construction of a railway ? You would not put them there without a railway ?
– Certainly not. I would not merely put a railway there, but I would give them all the other adjuncts of civilisation - telegraphs, telephones, schools, and everything else which would make them contented settlers. Furthermore, I would give a premium to married men who were prepared to take their wives and children, and make permanent homes in the Territory. One of our common experiences in settling the country is that when single men go there and get a little money together, they grow discontented and return to the more attractive parts of Australia. If a man took his wife and children there, and made a home, we would have some guarantee, and some assurance that he intended to stay in the Territory.
– Will the Minister explain the action he has taken in respect to the form of municipal government in the Territory?
– I am obliged to the honorable member for the reminder. My first experience in the Department was being required to deal with the friction which existed between the local council at Darwin and the Administrator and his officials. The local council refused to carry out the necessary sanitary measures which are required in a place like Darwin. It is not a village; it is not like an inland township, where nobody is concerned except those who live there, and those who happen to be passing through. It is a place at which ocean-going steamships frequently call, and persons coming to Australia for the first time necessarily obtained an unfavorable impression iron. the insanitary hovels permitted by the local authority. The requisitions of the Health Officer of the town were continually ignored. It was necessary, therefore, to abolish this body, since it would not do the work it had undertaken to perform. Again, the local council, I found, was proposing to rate all the Government property, and making protests against the Administrator having built on park lands. I found, too, that a comparative handful of persons elected the council, that the majority of the ratepayers at Darwin were absentees, and that the council was the elect of less than a hundred electors, some of whom were Asiatics. In short, the council was an impossible body to work with. Amongst other threats which emanated from this quarter was that the Administrator on his return should be mobbed, and refused a landing at Port Darwin. That threat indicates the frame of mind into which some of the local residents had drifted. Hence I determined that the shortest way with the council would be the best, and that was to abolish it and to establish a council which would be representative of the people. The charter now given Port Darwin enables every adult to vote for the council after a residence of three months. Every adult is also eligible to be a member of the body. I have given to the ratepayers a majority in the council.
– Does that include the Asiatics?
– No Asiatics, except those who already have the franchise, are to be allowed to vote. As the Government is now the largest property holder at Darwin, and will pay most of the rates, I decided that the Administrator should have power to nominate two out of the five councillors.
– Is it a nominee body?
– It is a partially nominee body, but) the other members will be elected on the most democratic franchise ever proposed for a municipal body. There was a good deal of dissatisfaction at first in connexion with my proposals, but. now that they are better understood, I think they are being more generally accepted by the people.
– Has the Administrator indicated the conditions to the residents at Darwin ?
– I think that they must be fully informed of the position, because the whole matter was settled before Dr. Gilruth left Melbourne. In regard to
Papua, the honorable member for Wentworth said that, because we were not able, in a few months, to track down some person who had murdered a man, that was evidence of laxity in the Administration. It is quite a familiar thing, even in highly-civilized countries where there are ample police and detectives, that murderers escape altogether.
– We have several cases in Victoria.
– In Papua there was only one white policeman when I was there, and even he may have disappeared. It is quite common for crimes to be undetected, and I think that the honorable member for Wentworth must have been listening to some of the discontented people who are to be found in all small settlements.
– Was not his complaint rather as to the lapse of trial after the man had been captured ?
– That comes to the same thing. We cannot try alleged murderers until we have found witnesses who are capable of testifying to the crimes. I do not think that there is very much in the complaint of the honorable member for Wentworth. With regard to natives applying to the Government to sell their land, I understand that it is most unusual for natives to approach the Government at all. It is the other way about: the Government must approach the natives in order to induce them to sell the land. However, there is no information in the Department about the matter of which the honorable member complained. At a later stage I shall be glad to offer any further explanation which may be required in reference to any other portion of the Estimates.
– I understand that there is quite a number of honorable members who wish to speak on the Estimates, and, as we do not want to sit late to-night, I am willing that the Chairman should report progress now.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Fisher) read a first time.
House adjourned at 10.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 April 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1915/19150422_reps_6_76/>.