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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr HILL - I was about to draw the attention of the Government to the remarks of the Minister for Work3 and Railways (Mr. Groom) when dealing with this amendment on Friday last. That honorable gentleman said that the Government would stand to its "duties," and, going further, added that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) sought to go back on a decision of the House. But what are the Government attempting now but to go back on a decision of the House? The Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Poynton) accepted the amendment when the Bill was originally before us, and it was passed on the, voices; but now, judging from that honorable gentleman's remarks and interjections to-day, it is desired to reverse that decision. Now that the Commission is to be appointed, I shall endeavour to insist that this clause be retained in the Bill. The measure, as it stands, may be classed as purely and simply a Pensions Bill. The Commission would not have anything to do were this clause to be deleted. Its retention would, at any rate, provide some work ; it would, in a measure, justify the Commissioners' appointment. The principle underlying the. establishment of industries, as set out in the clause, is one which has been welcomed by returned men, and by thousands of people in the country districts, if the shoals of letters which I have received are at all indicative. I wish to deal now with the reasons furnished by the Senate for opposition to the clause. The first is -

Because it is not considered equitable to extend to collective bodies of soldiers benefits for which individual soldiers might not be eligible.

There are large numbers of men for whom no provision has been or can be made individually; but by forming them into groups on the co-operative principle very many could be provided for who otherwise would be left outside the scope of any provision which has yet been made. "When our boys enlisted we were so anxious to get them that we made solemn promises to the effect that when they returned we would see that they were placed in positions identical with, or quite as good as, if not better than, those they had previously occupied. In many instances these promises have been honoured. But, with regard to men who have no definite trade or calling, this " co-operative '' clause was intended to supply their requirements. I ask the Government and the people whether they propose to honour their promises, or to regard them as scraps of paper.

Mr Richard Foster - Does the honorable member infer that the Government have not honoured their promises to the soldiers?

Mr HILL - I mean to say that there are many men to-day who are without work. The Government have honoured their promises to some extent, but there are very many men who have not yet been repatriated. The principle of cooperation provides the only way in which to give them a fair deal, and to fully honour our promises.

Mr Richard Foster - That is the' honorable member's opinion.

Mr HILL - It is, and I give it for what it may be worth.

Mr Austin Chapman - Is not the opinion of the honorable member as good as that of the honorable member for Wakefield?

Mr HILL - I hope it is. The second reason furnished by another place in supporting its rejection of the clause states -

Because the effect of the granting of the benefits contemplated by the amendment would result in the unsettlement of the large majority of men whoso re-establishment in civil life has been already accomplished.

It knocks over the contentions of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) if so many have been already provided for. True, there are not so many left who still require that provision shall be made for them; but the fact remains that numbers have not yet been re-established in civil life, and it is these whom I wish to help. The establishment of such industries as I have suggested would certainly prove of very great assistance to men who are without regular employment, who do not follow any defined trade or calling. While dealing with the matter of woollen mills and similar enterprises a few days ago, I was pointing out that there would be very little risk of loss in launching upon such industries, provided that the right class of men were chosen.

Mr Austin Chapman - And provided that they were established in the right localities.

Mr HILL - I would undertake to find right localities, and would begin by nominating Echuca and Shepparton

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - A selection based upon broad national lines, of course.

Mr West - Does the honorable member want them all in "Victoria ?

Mr HILL - I would leave it to the honorable member to choose localities in New South Wales; but I would nominate Echuca, the capital of the north, and Shepparton, the capital of the Goulburn' Valley. Surely, the Government will not want everything in Melbourne. In the course of my earlier remarks, I demonstrated that huge profits were made from woollen mills. A little time ago, I made my way down

Flinders-lane, and bought a suit length of cloth, 3j yards, for 32s. per yard; the piece cost me £6.

Mr Richard Foster - Preparing for the Prince's visit, I suppose?

Mr HILL - It was not good enough for the Prince' ; there was some cotton in it.

Mr Fowler - Which is dearer than wool.

Mr HILL - The suit length contained 3 1-5 lb. of wool. Allowing a high price, namely, 4s. 6d. per lb. for clean, scoured wool, that would amount to 14s. 5d. That is to say, out of my suit length, the producer would get 14s. 5d., while the manufacturer and the middleman would make £5 5s. 7d. Do not honorable members think that that example suggests a good opportunity for our returned men to make a payable proposition out of the establishment of a woollen mill? Do they not think that here is demonstrated a far better opportunity to succeed than returned men are ever likely to have on the land ? I do not wish to say anything with regard to the Government's land settlement policy; but I fear there will be a lot of failures among returned soldier settlers. The principle held by the various Governments of buying out one man in order to put another on the land is most unsatisfactory, and altogether unsound. In my own district, land values have appreciated from £1 to £4 an acre during the past three months, and more land has changed hands during, those three months than in the course of the previous three years. There are large areas of unalienated land in the Commonwealth. I do not know to what extent they exist in other States, but, presumably, they would be even larger than in Victoria. In our north-western mallee country there are 5,400,000 acres which have been graded as first, second, and third class land. I have consistently advocated that this land should be given to our returned boys in living areas of, say, 640 acres of first-class land, or 1,000 acres of second, or 1,500 acres of third-class land. There are very few but who would make a success upon such blocks. Of course, I would stipulate certain conditions, and not leave the way open for returned soldiers to leave their holdings in twelve months, or in two or three years. I would compel them to live on their lots for a certain time. It would be "up to " the Government to furnish necessary improvements, such as good roads, railway facilities, water conservation, and the like. There is sufficient land in the north-western mallee areas to repatriate 5,000 men; and, as an outcome of their activities, the opening up of this territory would mean, within five to ten years, an increase of the wheat yield in Victoria amounting to between 40 per cent, and 50 per cent. The Government have continually cried out for increased production; the only way to bring that about is to place more men on the land. They cannot hope to look for increased production, however, by going in for a policy of buying out one man and putting in another. The third reason given by the Senate for disagreeing to my amendment is -

Because grave financial loss to the Government and disappointment to bodies of men may result from the starting of enterprises which may not prove successful.

I am perfectly sure that a number of the returned soldiers have been settled on the land under conditions which make it impossible for them to hope for success. I regret to have to say that I believe we shall have a great number of failures amongst the returned men settled on the land. I will not say that there would be no failures under my amendment, but I believe the number would be less than we may expect under the land settlement proposals for repatriation. In any case if we advanced a certain amount, and I have suggested £250, in connexion with the building of soldiers' homes, the bricks, mortar, and machinery would not run away, though a number of the men might become dissatisfied, and leave their cooperative organizations.

In regard to the last reason given by the Senate for disagreeing to my amendment, I should like to say that the Government, by accepting the amendment in the first- place, showed that they approved of the proposal. T3o provision has been made for soldiers' industrial concerns. I challenge the Government to say whether any provision has been made for the proper repatriation of large numbers of men who are not skilled in different trades and callings. My main reason for submitting my amendment was to meet the case of these men. I hope that honorable members on both sides are fully alive to the necessity of doing something for these men for whom at present no provision has been made. Nothing can be done for them as individuals, but we may hope to do something for them collectively. I hope that the Committee will insist on the amendment, and" with all due respect to the honorable member for Capricornia, I trust that his alternative amendment will not be agreed to.

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