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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- As one who is accustomed to get to the seat of any disease at theearliest possible moment, I confess that I am becoming bewildered by the forms of parliamentary procedure.

Mr Jowett - It is always like this just before the suspension of the sitting for dinner. :., Dr. EARLE PAGE. - To my mind the powers to be vested in the Commission should have been definitely settled before any other portion of the Bill was dealt with. With that object in view I interviewed the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook)-

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - As I construe the Bill, it empowers the Commission to do everything, even without this proposition. Dr. EARLE PAGE- Upon the powers exercised by the Commission will depend the value of that body to the community and to the soldiers themselves. If the Commission is not to have the powers which the Minister says, it possesses, it will not, be worth much.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The amendment, if it means anything at all, is a mere direction to the Minister.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister is to have power to approve or disapprove of the establishment of industries on a cooperative basis. The amendment does riot provide that he must grant the requisite assistance. If the Commission is to be worth anything, if it is not intended merely to provide billets for . a few men, it should be endowed with' all the powers with which it is now sought to clothe it. If it is to be a useful body it will need to be absolutely independent of political control. I voted as I did last Friday because I considered that if it is to be a plenary Commission, it should be vested with all these powers, whilst if it is not to be a plenary Commission it will riot be worth much. Before I conclude, I would like to deal with a few of the matters mentioned -by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) in the comparison which he instituted between the settlement of our returned soldiers upon the land and the points raised by the amendment of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). I was rather astonished to hear him preface his remarks with the confession that, to a considerable extent, the attempted settlement of our soldiers upon the land had been a failure. He then went on to suggest that the adoption of any proposal based upon similar lines would only bo inviting failure. But those of our returned soldiers who desire to settle upon the land number only a few thousands, whilst those who wish 'to engage in other occupations number hundreds of thousands. There should be no invidious distinction drawn between these two classes. The returned soldiers of New South Wales are allowed to purchase land up to a value of £3,000, and there is no denying that this fact has considerably enhanced the value of farm properties in that State. At first, an applicant was required to deposit 6 per cent, upon the total value of his purchase before he was permitted to secure the land. But some fifteen or eighteen months ago the Minister for Lands in New South Wales abrogated that provision, so that to-day the' whole amount is advanced ' to the soldier to enable him to purchase his land. In addition, he is entitled to a grant of £625 to enable him to secure a house, stock, and implements. It is well known that in the great majority of cases the land upon which soldiers have been settled in New South Wales has been considerably over-valued. The local Repatriation Committees have regarded the claims of our- soldier applicants with more favour than 'they .would have done under normal conditions. As a result men have been ..settled upon land which is not worth by. hundreds .of pounds the money that has been paid for it. Of course} that is no argument in favour of making' a worse deal.

Mr Fleming - The honorable member does not say that the bulk of the land upon which soldiers have been settled in New South Wales has been over-valued ?

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A large portion of it has. In several instances big estates have been purchased by the .Government at exorbitant prices. These estates have been subdivided for the purpose of soldier settlement. Before the men have entered into possession of their blocks, the Minister himself has admitted that the land has been purchased at too high a price, and has reduced the valuation of it to the soldier purchasers. In that way a dead loss of £3 or £4 per acre has been sustained by the State. There is one settlement, of which I have some knowledge, which is to be devoted to the cultivation of prune trees. In that case provision has been made that for seven years a certain amount of sustenance will be paid to the soldier settlers until the prune trees come into bearing. In such circumstances it seems only right that soldiers who wish to enter into our secondary industries should receive at least equal, or approximately equal, assistance in their co-operative efforts. Let. us suppose that a saw-mill is for sale-not a saw-mill which is a "wilderness of machinery," as we have been told. As a matter of fact, despite the statement of the Minister for. Repatriation to the contrary, a saw-mill is usually distinguished by the comparative absence from it of machinery. I admit that there is often a wilderness of tramways leading into the bush. Let us assume that a sawmill is worth £1,200.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would not advocate the establishment of any secondary industries without adequate security, but I am endeavouring to show that the proposal, as presented by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), does not furnish a sufficiently liberal margin for co-operative undertakings by soldiers who may desire to enter this field of business activity. In connexion with the establishment of saw-mills, I have in mind a case, which came under my own observation, of three soldiers who were able to muster about £200 or £300 between them, but could not purchase outright, as they were unable to find a deposit equal to half the value of the mill, which was about £1,200. I am satisfied from my own experience of these men that the venture was a thoroughly profitable proposition, and would have given a return of about £5 per day. I believe the margin of security should be such as to enable men to engage in co-operative undertakings of this nature, and carry them through successfully, without being worried by the fact that their working capital is hopelessly inadequate. The original proposal will provide this safeguard for the soldier. The honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) has told us that his only wish is to consult the soldiers' interests. But if I understood the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) aright, the purpose of the new Tariff is to decentralize industry. I do not know of any proposition calculated to do this more effectively than the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). There is another phase of the question with which I should like to deal. This scheme will permit of returned soldiers engaging in occupations of a nature different from those with whichthey were associated prior to the war. Under the present repatriation scheme the men have only the right to apply for assistance if they wish to engage in a business with which they were connected prior to enlistment. Every country member can give instances of men whose earlier business undertakings were not remarkably successful, and who only found their real avocation during the war. I know of many men, formerly blacksmiths and engineers, who, since their return, have become very successful saw-mill owners. From a business point of view they have never looked hack. These men did not find their real job until the multifarious activities of the war disclosed their capabilities. Theyhave come back, and it is now only fair that Government assistance should be available to enable them to undertake those business enterprises which are more attractive to them, and for which they may be more fitted.

I desire to refer briefly to the reasons furnished by another place for disagreeing with the amendment made by the House of Representatives. The first states -

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

If there is one blot on the Repatriation Act it is the provision that even individual men are not eligible for positions which they did not fill priorto the war. I know of one man who had half-finished his tailoring apprenticeship before enlistment, but the Repatriation Department demurred at his request for assistance to become a cutter, so that he could set up in business for himself, the objection being that he was not following his prewar occupation. If the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Echuca is incorporated in the Bill, there will be provision enabling bodies of men to engage in occupations with which, as individuals, they were not connected before the war, and thus a substantial benefit will be conferred upon our returned soldiers and the country. It has been stated that men will be rushing into these co-operative enterprises, but if our soldiers are properly repatriated - I take it that is the desire of this Parliamentit would be remarkable if those who are

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.

Now, we have been told that the Commissioners should have a tenure of five years, so that the Government may reasonably expect to get capable men whose value would be unquestionable, and capacity extraordinary. But we now learn, on the authority of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) that Parliament would not be able te trust the Commissioners- to give permission for the establishment of co-operative enterprises by returned soldiers . for fear that their non-success would occasion "grave financial loss to -the Government, and disappointment to bodies of men."' The argument is absurd.

Mr Riley - The Government had better drop the Bill altogether.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; or else declare, that the Commissioners would be able to do their work satisfactorily. Finally, we are told that another reason for disagreeing to the amendment is -

Because if it is desirable to promote enterprises by means of Government advances, the proposal should be the subject of special legislation. . . .

Apparently, then,' the acceptance by the Government of the amendment by the honorable member for Capricornia

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