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Thursday, 11 June 1970

Mr DAVIES (Braddon) - 1 second the amendment. I would suggest, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this would be a convenient time at which to suspend the sitting.

Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2 p.m.

Mr DAVIESPrior to the suspension of the sitting we heard a very constructive speech from the honourable member for Dawson on war service land settlement and closer settlement generally. He referred to the early mistakes and the effects of those mistakes on the war service land settlement scheme and compared this policy with the brigalow scheme. The initial planning of the brigalow development areas was correctly carried out before the settlers went on to the blocks. Of course it makes a tremendous difference when proper planning is carried out. While the honourable member was speaking I was thinking to myself that we had this type of problem on King Island where the earlier settlements at Pegarah were in a very rough state when the settlers first went there. When the settlement authorities went north to Reekara they had learnt to benefit by their mistakes, and the properties were reasonably well developed for the settlers to go on.

This of course leaves us with a problem, and I intend to develop this later in my speech. I would like now to relate this problem to the remarks made by the honourable member for Dawson. Immediately after the war, because of pressure from the Returned Services League bodies, other local organisations and men who had come back from the war and were anxious to get on to settlement blocks, the settlement authorities were inclined to let them go on to these areas before they were fully developed and ready for the settler. We know in our own case how the settlement authorities approached the settlers and practically gave them unlimited advances for improvements to the properties. These should have been carried out by the settlement authorities before the settlers were allowed to go on to the blocks. We find now that these unlimited advances are a rope around the neck of the settlers when they come to settling up, when they are anxious to get the option price and to find out what they owe the settlement authorities in order to gain ownership nf the property. I will refer to some cases in which these people have received tremendous bills :n relation to these advances. The responsibility should not really belong to the settler; it should be wholly and solely the responsibility of the settlement authorities, because after all they are the people who made the mistake of allowing these people to go on to the blocks well before the blocks were properly developed.

This brings up another very interesting facet to which the honourable member for Dawson referred, and that is the need for equity for the settlers in these properties. Of course it is only too true that this is one of the great problems that is causing a lot of confusion and a lot of mental anxiety to settlers in my area. It is true, as the honourable member for Dawson said, that T have lived with this problem now for a decade or some 12 years. These settlers are in rather isolated areas. It is remarkable that when a senator is first elected or a member is first elected to a State house of parliament he is keen to go to these people and tell them that he intends to carry on with great crusading zeal to put everything right in these areas. But soldier settlement becomes a political hot potato before long and it is dropped. These people in the settlements have very few friends in State Parliaments or in Federal Parliament to advance their arguments.

At the outset I must pay tribute to the right honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann). When he was Minister for Primary Industry and in charge of war service land settlement, he came to King Island on 2 occasions. The people there always speak with a great deal of affection for him because he realised the problems that were there. He made an advance of f 750,000 for redevelopment and an advance of £750,000 for write-offs to assist these people and to try to correct the mistakes that had been made earlier by the settlement authorities. This amounted to some $3m in today's currency, lt was a very good shot in the arm for these people and a good attempt to correct the earlier mistakes and to get the settlement of this area back on to its feel. Of course, this has flowed over into other settlements and redevelopment was carried out under the jurisdiction of the then Minister for Primary Industry. So when speaking on matters of war service land settlement 1 always like to pay a tribute to him for the work that he did, the knowledge that he had, and the sympathetic attitude with which he approached the problems of these people. 1 supported the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson, the terms of which are as follows:

Whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House is of opinion that a Select Committee of the House should be appointed to inquire into all aspects of war service land settlement in Australia in order to form guidelines for any future land settlement scheme.

We have been seeking such an inquiry for a long time because we believe that it will give us the guidelines for any large scale land development undertaken by the Government in the future. More importantly, as it pertains to the present it will provide us with a formula and a determination to wind up the present scheme, making sure that the settlers involved receive their just entitlements for the work they have done on their farms. An inquiry would answer many questions that have been concerning us for years, and I intend to pose some of these questions during this debate on the Bill before the House to provide additional funds for war service land settlement. This Government has persistently stalled off all requests for an inquiry. The State Congress of the Returned Services League and then the National Congress and later the National Executive of the RSL sought a royal commission into all aspects of war service land settlement. This was refused in the first instance by the then Minister for Primary Industry, the right honourable member for Fisher, and then by the former Prime Minister, the late Mr Harold Holt. This refusal has been confirmed by the present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony). The late Mr Harold Holt advised us that Cabinet had rejected the request for the royal commission, but, as 1 have pointed out before, wc find this difficult to follow because a Mr Peter Ireland reported to the annual meeting of the RSL in February 1968 that the present Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), who was at that time a senator and a senior Cabinet Minister in the Holt Government, had advised a Liberal Party meeting at Launceston that he had never heard of any discussion in Cabinet for a possible royal commission into war service land settlement.

The RSL has not dropped this issue. At its State Congress held on 30th May last year in Devonport it carried unanimously a vote of no confidence in the present Minister for Primary Industry for his handling of his Department. I sometimes feel sorry for him because he inherited the whole sorry mess from the right honourable member for Fisher, who previously had inherited it from the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes). The honourable member for Chisholm, when he was in charge of war service land settlement, said when introducing a Bill such as this in 1954 that the scheme would end in 5 years. An inquiry such as we seek would tell us why this prediction that the scheme would end in 1959 was wrong and what were the circumstances and conditions that have prolonged the agony for the further 1 1 years to date. Last year the Senate carried a motion for an inquiry. It was moved by Senator Drury on 11th September last year as an amendment to the

Repatriation Department estimates, it sought an inquiry into the operation and inadequacy of the War Service Land Settlements Act. 1 repeat that the motion was carried by the Senate but the inquiry has never been instituted by this Government. The Legislative Council of Tasmania has set up a select committee to inquire into war service land settlement. At present this committee is actively engaged in taking evidence. It has been to many of the settlement areas in my electorate; it has been to King Island. It has taken evidence in several other parts of Tasmania as well.

Mr Duthie - Has it taken evidence from you?

Mr DAVIES - Not yet, my friend. The terms of reference for the Tasmanian committee are as follows:

1.   The administration o£ war service land settlement in relation to the amount of rent and other commitments demanded from settlers and the option of purchase price of properties.

2.   The responsibility for, and the basis upon which option prices should bc determined.

3.   Whether the basis of fixing option prices preserves sufficient equity to settlers having regard to the effluction of time since holdings were occupied.

4.   Any other matters incidental to the above terms of reference.

The chairman of the Committee, the Hon. C. B. M. Fenton. M.L.C., arranged to visit the other 2 agent States, South Australia and Western Australia, recently because he was naturally keen to obtain some first hand information on war service land settlement in those States. Tasmanian parliamentary officials made the necessary appointments for him in Adelaide and Perth. When he arrived in Perth the official representing war service land settlement in that State telephoned Mr Fenton the night before the interview was to take place to say that the Crown Law Department had instructed him not to discuss ::ny matters with Mr Fenton.

When 1 questioned the Minister for Primary Industry about this refusal to cooperate he indicated by way of a subsequent letter to me, for which 1 thank him, that at the time of the proposed interview in Perth he had not received certain legal advice. This is very strange indeed. I cannot quite comprehend it because the Perth official said that he was under instructions from the Crown Law Department. The Minister in his letter said that this official was a temporary officer. The answer stated:

Whilst this officer is very comp.'tail in the work required of him, he would not he in a position to comment on the policy determined for the War Service Land Settlement scheme anil it would be unfair bo.h to the officer and the Committee to expect him to give evidence.

It is nol for the Crown Law Department to determine whether he is competent to give evidence. Mr Fenton made it quite clear in arranging for the discussion in Perth that the gentleman was not required to give any evidence as referred to in the Ministers letter. He was simply to have some discussion with Mr Fenton. We were quite upset when the official in Western Australia informed the chairman of the Tasmanian committee that under instructions from the Crown Law Department he was not even to see Mr Fenton. I am pleased to note in this letter of 21st May that the Minister is prepared to make an officer of his Department available to give evidence to the Tasmania parliamentary committee. I hope the Minister for Primary Industry will see that his departmental officers are prepared to give all the evidence which the Tasmanian committee requires. I fail to see why any evidence which this committee requires should be withheld for any reason. I think the Commonwealth should co-operate with the State people. (A disturbance occurring in the public gallery) -

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