Northern Territory Legislative Council

Representing the community

Political change was a constant theme of the 1950s and 60s in the Northern Territory.
Citizens lobbied long and hard for more say in their own affairs. There were increasingly strident calls for real self-determination. According to official member of the Council, Assistant Administrator Reg Marsh, ‘the issue for judgement in debates was “is it good for the Territory?” not whether it was in line with party policy.’ In fact, there were no political parties.

The Council met, symbolically, in its own parliamentary building on the site of the post office bombed during the first raid of World War II. Although the seven official members could outvote the six elected ones on any issue, the Council nevertheless provided a showcase for campaigns and grievances that were enthusiastically taken up by The Northern Territory News.

Marsh noted that a member, official, elected or nominated, was also ‘a citizen; he lived in the community and he was subject to all the pressure that came on him from the community, not from us [the government].’ …It was in essence a Council of Territory patriots. ‘As fruits of that patriotism…they got self-government.’

See Reg Marsh, Interview, NTRS 226, TS 90, 1984, Northern Territory Archives Service, Tapes 1 and 2;  Peter and Sheila Forrest, The Northern Territory News , 15 March 2005, page 28

Social welfare policy in the Northern Territory of the 1950s and 60s

'Despite the legislative setbacks, the 1950s witnessed significant increases in government expenditure on social welfare in the Northern Territory, even when other spheres of expenditure were being cut back, and an expanding role for the Welfare Branch. The term "welfare" in the Branch's title had much broader connotations than it normally carries today. In the case of Aboriginal policy, it implied responsibility for fields such as education, health and the creation of economic infrastructures. Under Harry Giese's administration responsibility for Aboriginal education was transferred from the Commonwealth Office of Education to the Welfare Branch. The Welfare Branch already had control over health services in Aboriginal communities, although its authority came under strong challenge from the Commonwealth Department of Health in the 1960s. A housing program for part-Aboriginal families living in urban areas was also established.

Even with respect to the wider community, Giese did not see the Branch's role as limited to providing a residual support for the poor and needy, but rather as being a vehicle for social development. He believed that, while the government was not the appropriate body to provide social and recreational services, it had an obligation to facilitate the growth of a strong non-government community sector by offering incentives to bodies such as the YMCA and YWCA to set up branches in the NT. A pre-school centre program was also put in place...

In February 1964 Giese, representing the Commonwealth, formally introduced into the Legislative Council three bills that incorporated radical changes in social welfare, the removal of restrictions on Aboriginal access to alcohol, and changes in Aboriginal employment conditions. Disgruntled local members responded by setting up a Select Committee, from which Giese was pointedly excluded.

Once again, the attempt by local members to wrest control over social policy away from Canberra failed. The Select Committee accepted the broad direction of the new bills, which together constituted a dismantling of most of the remaining restrictions on Aboriginal people. A new Social Welfare Ordinance was passed in May 1964 and took effect in September of the same year.'

See Giese, Harry Christian entry, Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, Charles Darwin University, 2008


See also A Chronology of Northern Territory Constitutional and Statehood Milestones, 1825-2007, compiled by Nicholas Horne, 2007 at

Nicholas Horne, Northern Territory Statehood: Major Constitutional Issues, 2008 at

Dean Jaensch, The Legislative Council of the Northern Territory: an electoral history, 1947-74, NARU/ANU, 1990 at

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