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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr STEWART (Wimmera) - The first reason given by another place for rejecting this amendment is " because it is not considered equitable to extend to collective bodies of soldiers benefits for which individual soldiers might ' hot be,' eligible." That objection carries very little weight, because nothing in the amendment excludes any individual fromito benefits; it merely proposes that when' a body of men desire to start in a co-: operative enterprise, the Government'shall give them the opportunity... The' second reason advanced by the Senate -was' " because the effect of the granting of the' benefits contemplated by the amendment.' would result in the unsettlement of the' large majority of men whose re-establish-; ment in civil life has been already accomplished." In other words, Private John; Smith may throw down his pick in order to take up something better. It would1 not do to unsettle the hewer of wood and', the drawer of water. He has become a' working bullock again, and it would not do to fill him with the hope of attaining to something higher. The third reason . is "because grave financial loss to the Government, and dissappointment to bodies of men, may result from the starting of enterprises which may not prove successful." The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Poster) said that this amendment might involve the loss. of mil; lions of pounds. " '

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was dealing with wool factories and big concerns when I said the amendment might involve millions of pounds.

Mr STEWART - The honorablemember has not much faith in the returned soldier's ability to manage his own business. .

Mr Richard Foster - I have as much faith as has the honorable member, and I; have, shown it. ;.' - .

Mr STEWART - I have a lot offaith in the! men who, without any previous knowledge of the science of war-' fare, more than held their own against; the finest troops of Europe. The mem-', bers of the Australian" Imperial Force, were drawn from every calling. Most; of those- who went from the rural areas did not own an acre oft land, or a head of stock, but the* Repatriation Act gives them the opportunity of becoming their own masters on" their return to Australia, provided that! they can prove that they had previous experience in agricultural pursuits. That1' section of the members of the Australias-'

Imperial Force who had previously been farm labourers are to be given a chance of becoming their own masters. I ask the Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Poynton) why he wishes to deny the same right to others? There are men owning farms to-day who never before were their' own masters. Some of them may prove failures, but the majority of them will succeed. Why deny the same opportunity to others? I will instance a concrete case: Asa member of the Victorian Parliament I was approached by a returned soldier, who, prior to enlisting, drove a horse and dray. He had an opportunity to contract for municipal work in one of the northern towns, and he applied, through me, for an advance sufficient to enable him to purchase some horses and drays. The Repatriation Department, having ascertained that the man had not owned horses and drays before he went to the war, decided that he was not a fit and proper person to own them now, and his application was rejected. Fortunately, some business men in his district, who had a little more faith in the soldier than the Department apparently had, advanced him sufficient money to enable him to purchase a horse and dray, which today are his own property. In this amendment we are making a plea for the cooperative principle and its application to returned soldiers. If a number of men club together, the Government may advance them money for the purchase of a plant and building in order to carry out their enterprise, the Government retaining a lien over the plant and building. In other words, we ask the Government to say to a co-operative society of soldiers, " We will set you up with £2,000 worth of plant, over which we will hold a lien. You pay interest on the money advanced, and repay the capital over a period of years. Immediately the capital is repaid the plant will become your own." We do not argue that there are no objections to the proposal ; we do not say that there will be no failures.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member's suggestion is not contained in the amendment.

Mr STEWART - I believe that the honorable member for Echucais willing to insert those conditions.

Mr Hill - The suggestion all along hasbeen that the money should be advanced on the Credit Foncier principle.

Mr STEWART - I do not think the Minister for the Navy is quite so dense as not to have known that.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I am trying to look at this amendment from a reasonable point of view. What other object can Ministers have in opposing it? We claim to have as much sympathy with the co-operative principle as have the men who are talking so much.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Why do not the Government show their sympathy ?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - We want honorable members to submit a practicable scheme.

Mr STEWART - Honorable members sitting in this corner have indicated their willingness to accept any reasonable safeguard that Ministers may propose, but I am not willing to accept the amendment suggested by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) that bef ore an advance can be made by the Department the men shall find half of the capital required, when possibly they have no money to put up. The Ministry do not attempt to help us; they seem determined to wipe the amendment out if they can. I appeal particularly to Ministerial members to support the amendment,which is put forward in no party spirit. When it was first proposed, the Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Poynton) said that it was the most socialistic proposal ever brought before the House, but ten minutes afterwards he mildy accepted it.

Mr Tudor - He said, " The numbers are up, and I will climb down."

Mr STEWART - I hope that the Minister will not regard the amendment in a party spirit. We are making a plea for "the bottom dog" - the man who threw down his pick and shovel, or his axe, in order that he might "do his bit" at the Front. We say that he should be given a chance to make good in peace as he did in war. If he fails in the enterprise, we shall at least have the satisfaction of having given him a chance. I ask honorable members on both sides of the House to show by their votes that they have faith in the men of the Australian Imperial Force to win through in their own country as they did. abroad.

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