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Wednesday, 12 May 1920

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- I differ from the Minister (Mr. Poynton) when he states that the proposal of the honorable member for Grampians will increase the Government's liability by 50 per cent.

Mr Poynton - I said it will reduce the Government's security by 50 per cent.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In one case the Government would be advancing 50 per cent., and in another case 66§ per cent., or 16-§ per cent, more than originally pro- posed, and every one knows that among bankers a two-thirds security is regarded as ample in a properly-conducted business. I am pleased that the Minister has prefaced this discussion by stating that he is not willing to accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), because it is a happy augury. Almost invariably we find that there is a volte face, and that the Committee is usually willing to go further than the Minister intends to go.

Mr Poynton - This will be an exception to the rule.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I trust that in this case the experience we have had in the past will be repeated. The Government do not seem to have known their own minds on this question, which has been a game of battledore and shuttlecock between the two Houses for over two weeks. We have had divisions on nonparty lines here to some extent, but in another place the party whip seems to have cracked, and, as a. consequence, our proposal is now before us in! a mangled form. The debate to-day would not have been so extended if honorable members had been allowed ample time to consider the proposal brought forward by the Government this afternoon. In: common with the honorable member for Grampians, I was compelled to retire from the chamber in order to consider it in quieter surroundings, but when we examined it we found that its provisions were almost wholly those which had been discussed at length in the chamber, and had . been advocated by honorable members sitting in this corner. We found that we were in perfect agreement with the proposal except as regards the amount of money to be advanced, and the classes of .soldiers to be assisted. On this occasion there is no need to debate the general question of co-operation, but as we are wedded to the principle we ought to insist on its finding a place in this Bill. However, we are discussing co-operation among men who have the spirit of camaraderie well developed, and who have proved, even when- they are not officered by men senior in rank, and are left to their own resources, that they conduct themselves with the greatest order and to general satisfaction. We ought to look with a conciliatory eye om this proposition, and be prepared to give it more favorable consideration than if it were one applying to civilians. Early in the debate on this matter we were told that the amount at which the Government would be involved would be anything from £40,000,000 to £100,000,000, but we find now that the amount has been reduced to £500,000, and there is not a great deal of difference between this amount and the small sum which the honorable member for Echuca (Mi\ Hill) indicated would be required when he was setting forth his proposal. I am afraid that if we adhere to the £1 for £1 basis a large number of men whose gratuities would not amount to £100 each will be shut out. It is not expecting too much of honorable members to ask them to take a sporting risk when dealing with soldiers. We have heard a great deal about the millions spent on repatriation, and the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) has told us about the enormous improvements that have accrued from that expenditure, but many millions have been spent on land settlement under conditions which are not very much more liberal than those which were in vogue for civilians before and during the war, and which still apply to them. It has always bean possible in New South Wales for two or three men who see a property they like to agree among themselves and the owner' as to its value, and having done so,, to get the Government to resume it, so that they may cut it up into small blocks, the Government finding 96 per cent, of the total outlay. In Queensland, also, the State will advance up to 75 per cent, for the purchase of homes, whereas the War Service Homes Act only goes a little further. But surely men who have been away for four or five years at the threshold of their manhood, and who have had to give up their careers and the possibilities of making money that the man who stayed behind had, d. serve a little more consideration in the matter of getting homes than those who did not goaway. I admit that .there has been a large amount of money paid away in sustenance, and that a great deal of work has been done in the matter of repatriation, particularly by the Local Committees, but there are hundreds of men who cannot get assistance because they had no proper calling or business before they enlisted. Under the present proposal they will now have an opportunity of establishing themselves in businesses with reasonable assistance from the Government. Otherwise they will not be able to do so. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) has alluded to the need for a scheme similar to this, or perhaps an amendment of the regulations under the Repatriation Act to enable men who were not in a position to complete their training in any calling to set up in new businesses. At present there is no such provision. A case in point is that of two brothers who went to the war. One was a tobacconist, the other assisted in the shop. The elder brother was killed, and the younger would now like to get possession of the business his brother carried on, and which must be carried on, because the building has no value except from the fact that it is a tobacconist's shop. However, as the business did not actually belong to him, he can get no assistance from the Repatriation Department. Five* or six men may be anxious to establish themselves in a tannery or in a saw-mill, but they cannot get assistance by reason of the fact that they have had no previous record of business. I think that in this case the Commonwealth should act as their banker. That is all the amendment asks, and surely it is not asking too much to amend this proposal in order to make it sufficiently generous to the men, to whom it will be really valuable.

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