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Wednesday, 12 May 1920

Mr HIGGS (Capricornia) .- I sincerely regret that the Minister has not given the Committee more opportunity to consider these proposals. I take very grave exception to his suggestion that my amendment was loosely drawn. It was most carefully drafted, and the addition of the last paragraph, at the request of the Minister, providing that regulations might prescribe the conditions under which any loan should be repayable, made the clause almost perfect.

Mr West - Was it not drawn by the draftsman ?

Mr HIGGS - No; but it was submitted to the draftsman. Reading hurriedly the first portion of the amendment which the Minister has just placed before the Committee, it would appear that the Government propose to grant not more than £150 in any one loan.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - That is in conformity with the regulations under the existing Act.

Mr Poynton - Exactly.

Mr HIGGS - Of what advantage would such a loan be in carrying out the desires of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), whose original amendment was designed to encourage cooperative enterprises in saw-milling, bootmaking, and other industries.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The limitation to £150 applies only to individual soldiers.

Mr HIGGS - The proposed new alternative does not say that, thus indicating how loosely it has been drafted. If the amendment does mean that £150 may be given to each soldier engaged in a co-operative enterprise, how far will the £250,000 go ?

Mr Poynton - At any rate it will provide an opportunity of seeing how the scheme will work.

Mr HIGGS - I ask the indulgence of the Committee while I read the following letter sent to me by Mr. George Lawson, the Honorary Secretary of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, Brisbane branch: -

At a largely attended meeting, comprising returned sisters, sailors, and soldiers, held on Friday last, I was directed to forward to you the following resolution, which was carried unanimously : - " That this meeting of returned sisters, sailors, and soldiers urges the Federal Government to support the proposal whereby the Government will subsidize the soldiers' cooperative scheme, either by assisting on the basis of £1 for £1, as outlined by Mr. Higgs,

M.H.R., or by making advances to returned soldiers for investment in co-operative enterprises. This meeting is of opinion that a successful co-operative scheme will do much to solve the present high cost of living, and to foster Australian industries."

I commend the foregoing resolution for your kind co-operation, and trust that you maybe successful in placing this concession on the statute-book.

I do not desire to delay the passage of this Bill. It should be put into operation as soon as possible. But I fear that the alternative proposal suggested by the Minister can only lead to delay. I am satisfied that honorable members will not accept the amendment in its present loosely drawn state, for the reason that there is a doubt as to whether the £150 is to be granted to each individual or to each group.

Mr Poynton - We can easily rectify that.

Mr HIGGS - If there is something to be rectified in the Minister's amendment, why did he cast reflections on the drafting of my amendment? Here is another difficulty. Sub-clause 7 reads -

Notwithstanding anything in this section, a loan shall not be granted for the establishment of a co-operative business -

(d)   If in the opinion of the Commission, the applicants have been satisfactorily established in civil life.

Probably over 200,000 soldiers are at work to-day. I understand that of all who have returned only about 18,000 are receiving sustenance. The great majority of the returned men are engaged in the factories, workshops, mines, or other places of employment. I suppose that most of them are, in the opinion of the Department, satisfactorily re-established in civil life. Therefore, if the Minister can prove that " Digger " Jones has been working at, say, Bedggood's factory for over six mouths, that man will be considered satisfactorily re-established in civil life, and he will not be entitled to any loan. The very men who might make a success of the co-operative scheme are probably those men who have been already re- absorbed in civil life. I suggest, and I will vote accordingly, that the Minister should withdraw his alternative amendment, and bring in a Bill to give effect to this scheme. If the proposal is to be placed on a proper basis, it ought to be introduced in the form of a Bill, so that the clauses may be properly drafted to insure a practicable scheme in which the interests of both the Commonwealth and the returned soldiers will be properly safeguarded.

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