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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) . - The reference by the honorable mem ber for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) to people who have gone insolvent, or dropped out of business reminds me that in the early days we always heard of the men who were lucky, but never of those who had gone under financially in the search for gold, and who had lost their health as well. We all know that while some nien are unsuccessful in a certain line of business, others can make a huge success of it.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Especially those who have been '"' over the top."

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Yes. If they were good enough for that, they must be good enough for these businesses. I owe my conversion to the amendment if conversion were needed, to the arguments of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) when the Bill was going through. His arguments reminded me of a well-known advertisement - " it touches the spot." We know that men who left their labouring jobs to go to the Front were the men who could be depended upon to do things. Whenever there was anything to do, they were the men who attempted it. They did it, and Australia rang from end to end in praise of their glorious achievements. The soldier was good enough to go away to fight, and do everything necessary to make him a successful soldier; but because he was a labourer, a factory hand, or a farm employee, he is not good enough to be given a start in business on his return. Are the Government in favour of keeping such men navvies or labourers for ever,, merely because they happened to be so employed before they went abroad ? I am supporting the proposed new clause because I am strongly in favour of giving them an opportunity to improve their positions. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) says that the soldiers should sub? scribe £1 for £1. In my own case, if it had not been for the generosity of a squatter at Barcaldine I would not have been worth 5s. to-day. In my early days, when I was employed in the country, this gentleman asked' me how much I was prepared to provide if he gave me a chance to start dairying. I informed him that I had only £10, and he replied, "Keep that to buy utensils, and I will supply you with the cows." He did as he promised, and thus gave me an opportunity to start on my own account. To-day I am a member of the Commonwealth Parliament, mainly because I received some assistance when I needed' it. At that time I was a shearer, or shed hand, and was also casually employed on railway or other work. But I was young, with plenty of ambition, and I succeeded because I was helped. Do honorable members who are opposing the proposed new clause say that the men whom we say should benefit are not competent to be their own masters? Why should we ask them to find £100? We did not ask them for anything when they were going to fight for us.

Mr Fenton - Merely to take the oath.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Yes, that is all we asked them to subscribe. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) seems to think that co-operative undertakings of the character mentioned are not likely to bo successful. We know that many who start in business fall by the wayside, but most of these men, if given the opportunity, will be successful. Many who have benefited largely by their experience abroad would prove satisfactory employers, and I do not think a large percentage would make mistakes if given the opportunity. Many of the returned soldier's who have been placed on the land in Queensland are doomed to failure because they know nothing of rural work, and when they realize that they do not understand the business they naturally become disheartened. Certain sections of the industrial community are seeking to limit a week's work to forty hours, but we have to remember that men engaged in rural pursuits are in many instances endeavouring to do forty hours' work in twenty-four hours. When many men who have recently gone on the land realize that they have to work laboriously and continuously to reap any reward, they will lose heart. The honor-, able member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) has said that the land is always an. asset, because it cannot be removed; but every one knows that. In Queensland some years ago Mr. Barlow established a group system of land settlement, and I, in common with others interested, hoped that we were going to show what could be done by successful cooperation. At the time I was earning 9s. per day at railway work, and I placed 4s. of each day's earnings into a co-operative concern in the belief that it would succeed. The incident occurred after the 1891 strike, and I do not quarrel with the honorable member for Capricornia concerning his fears, because he knows what happened'.

Mr Fenton - I suppose you were all short of cash at the time.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Yes. But when we are dealing with men possessing the independent spirit that most Australians have - and, thank God, they have it - we have no occasion to fear. In connexion with the Alice River settlement, to' which I am referring, the Government of which Sir Samuel Griffith was then leader helped the settlers, and in 1900, when only five settlers were left, freeholds were granted', with the result that the settlers immediately disposed of their land to the highest bidder. The honorable member for Capricornia believes that something similar will occur in this instance, but he must remember that there is a different feeling abroad to-day, and men know that they have to work to live. Our returned soldiers have gone through fire and water, yea, in many instances, hell itself could not have been worse, and' surely they are able to launch out now on their own account in their own country. Even supposing the proposal may mean a loss of millions, we should be prepared to give the system a trial, without which there is no chance of achieving success. Fancy asking men to put up £100 when all the money they possess is what they earn. The honorable member for Wakefield is afraid that men will desire to be assisted in " wild cat" schemes - enterprises that are not likely to prove profitable. Quite a number of people would say that the honorable member himself is not a success.

Mr Jackson - But they do not say it.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - They say worse than that. It must be remembered that no co-operative concerns can be established without the consent of the Minister.

Mr McWilliams - And" if the Minister is not sure, he will take the proposal before Cabinet.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - If I was administering the Act, and any doubtful schemes were submitted, I would not have any hesitation in telling the men why the Government could not give their support.

Mr Fowler - Every one would not be as firm as the honorable member.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) -Honorable members are well aware that it was as hard to get anything out of Mr. Webster when he was Postmaster-General as it would be to draw a camel's tooth. This measure needs to be administered sympathetically, and, as I have often said in this House and on public platforms, there is no man in Australia, either in public or private life, who' could have administered the Repatriation Act more satisfactorily than the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen). He has been both sympathetic and firm. He has made a lot of enemies by his firmness, but he has steered clear of all danger, and the public of Australia, and the soldiers particularly, should be grateful for what he has done. Knowing now what the feeling of the Committee is, I feel sure that the Minister will stand by the clause, and' I can imagine I hear him saying, " Colonel, don't shoot; I will come down." If he wishes for a repetition of what happened on Friday last, he will get it,

Mr Poynton - How long is it since you changed your mind on the subject?

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I have not done so. I was one of the chief supporters of the proposal when it was first brought forward .

Mr Tudor - Why did the Minister accept the original proposal ? The records show that it was amended at his suggestion, and accepted.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I suppose he saw that the numbers were against him. The first reason of the Senate for disagreeing to clause 47a is -

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

No one could present a better case for the clause than has been made out by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). If a boss can make £100 a month out of a saw-milling plant, and pay men to work for him - a plant need not be very big to give that profit - why should not returned soldiers, working in co-operation, make similar profits ?

Mr Bell - I know men who have lost a lot of money this year.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I know men who have lost money in squatting, and in other businesses. ' But, generally speaking, success or failure depends largely on management. A number of soldiers could take up milling, some devoting themselves to the finding and fell ing of the timber, others acting as teamsters, others working at the mill. They would have to choose one of their number to manage the concern, but there is as much intelligence among working men as among those of other classes, and, given a chance, many men would make a success out of a business of this kind. Of course, in a case where all wished to be the boss, the thing would fail. What better can we do than to give these men a chance? I do not think that if they were put on their honour, it would cost, as the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) said, millions of pounds.

Mr Poynton - It would cost £12,500,000 if only 25 per cent, of the men took advantage of the arrangement.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - If these- men become productive agencies, it will be a great thing for the Commonwealth.

Mr Mcwilliams - Is it suggested that they will all fail?

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - That is the contention underlying the argument that I am combating.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member for Franklin would not put his money into a venture of this kind.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I should be willing to do so, and to give my personal assistance, feeling sure that within twelve months, if we could get rid of our produce, the venture would prove a success.

Mr Stewart - There are thousands of business men who would be only too glad to give the dinkum soldier a chance.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Yes; and the community would be glad of their production. I hope the Committee will insist upon its amendment, which gives a chance to those on the lowest rung of the social ladder. It is the men who cannot put up a few shillings that we want to help, not those who are already provided for.

Mr.jowett (Grampians) [4.48].- ' The members of the Committee should be grateful to the circumstances which have brought about this very ' illuminating discussion, and have elicited the valuable speeches of the honorable members for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), Echuca (Mr. Hill), Maranoa (Mr. James Page), and others. Having carefully studied the reasons given by the Senate for disagreeing to the clause, I consider them insufficient, and although there is considerable merit in the proposal of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), I hope that the Committee may prefer to it one which I shall submit at sl later stage, which will, I think, remove all possible objections to the original proposal of the honorable member for Echuca. The clause, as it stands, may, if carried, tend to increase the enormous disproportion between the urban and rural populations of Australia, and therefore I wish to amend it that it may read -

The Commission shall, subject to the approval of the Minister, have power to assist soldiers in establishing industries in country districts and inland country towns on a cooperative basis, such industries to include the manufacture of boots, woollen goods, and clothing, tanning, wool-scouring, fellmongering (and kindred industries), sawmilling, and other enterprises.

Full significance is rarely attached to the gradual drift of population from the country to our seaport towns, and the gradual decay of once flourishing and important country towns. -Yearly during the past decade the capitals have grown at the expense of the country districts, and at the present time in two States the population of the capital is greater than that of the rest of the State. In 1918 the population of Adelaide was 235,751, and that of the rest of South Australia 210,000; and the population of Melbourne was 723,500, and that of the rest of Victoria 700,258. A similar state of affairs is gradually coming about in the other States.

Mr Tudor - Is not the same thing occurring in every country in the world?

Mr Fleming - And' at a greater rate in most countries than in Australia.

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