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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) . - The Postmaster-General's Department comes into closer touch with the general community than does perhaps any other of our public departments. The amount voted for expenditure upon it in 1926-27 was £9,450,480, and the amount actually expended was £9,415,022. The proposed vote for 1927-28 is £10,040,253, or an increase of £625,231 on the expenditure of last year. I do not object to the expenditure of this money, for I consider that we should do our best to provide adequate postal, telegraphic and telephonic facilities for our people. A good deal of this money will be spent in the country districts and that is as it should be. The more conveniences we can provide for our. outback areas the more settlers are. we likely to encourage to go there. People who live 100 miles from the nearest railway and 40 or 50 miles from their nearest neighbour, as many do, deserve every assitance and encouragement. They are more entitled to consideration at -the hands of this Parliament than any other section of the community, for they do not enjoy many of the facilities which city dwellers look upon as indispensable.

I regret that the Government has not seen fit to spend some of the accumulated surplus on the work of this department. I may be asked - " Why should revenue be spent on it?" My reply is that we should do our best to prevent our national debt from increasing, and that to the extent that we spent available surplus revenue in improving the equipment of this huge undertaking, we should succeed in doing so. Until the last few years it was the custom to allocate a portion of the surplus to the Postmaster-General's Department. Not so long ago we spent £3,000,000 of surplus revenue in one year in increasing the efficiency of the department, and on another occasion £1,250,000 of the surplus was allocated for the same purpose. It is worth our while considering whether the time has not arrived for us to place this enterprise upon its own feet. We expect our well-established railways to meet working expenses and interest charges, and it would perhaps be wise for us to look for similar results from our postal business. Even now the department is showing a small profit over working expenses. I urge the Government to keep down the expenditure of loan moneys on the department, though I realize that Ave must allow it to expand in accordance with requirements.

While the progress of the department has been satisfactory in a general way there are still many towns and settlements that are not receiving the consideration that they deserve. I have not made many complaints in respect of the postal facilities provided in my district ', but it is not to be understood that everything is satisfactory there. It is high time that Cardiff, one of the most rapidly- developing towns in the Newcastle district, had a post office. At present the business of the department is transacted in a shop and under totally unsatisfactory conditions. We have been told that the department has purchased a block of land for the purpose of building a post office, but that it is not the policy, at present, to proceed Avith such works. It can hardly be argued, however that the adoption of that policy is justifiable in relation to a rapidly developing town like Cardiff when far less important adjacent towns have almost palatial post offices. I have made many representations to the Postmaster-General on this subject, and I hope that before long he will agree to undertake this work. The1 people of Cardiff belong principally to the workingclass, but like many others who live in the Newcastle district, they prefer to own their own homes rather than pay rent. It is for this reason that they have settled at Cardiff, where land is cheaper than it is in some of the more thickly populated centres of Newcastle. I have made representations to the PostmasterGeneral on other occasions respecting the lack of postal facilities in other parts of the division of Hunter, and I hope they will receive his attention.

Last year the amount made available as loans for the States for development and migration Avas £1,566,518; this year it is estimated at £3,750,000. This is a burning question. Unless something is done promptly Australia will be in a bad position. I am not a pessimist. No one has more faith in the possibilities of Australia than I have ; but I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that in the immediate future things will not be as buoyant as they have been in the last few years. This season the rain has not fallen at the proper time; the wheat crop in most States is short; and the wool clip is not what it has been in other years. Everyone knows that the prosperity of Australia depends on its yield of wheat and wool. A shortage of wheat and WOOl means the circulation of less money in Australia and considerable unemployment in every State. The numbers of the unemployed are increasing every day in all the States; their outlook is black; many of them will have a gloomy Christmas, because they have no hope of employment in the near future. As I have already said, Australia, is in for a bad time. It is certainly not the time when we should be bringing more people- to this country. If ever there was a time when the migration agreement should be suspended it is the present. Expenditure on migration cannot be justi- fied while we have so much unemployment in Australia. Our first duty is to see that our own people are employed. I do not say that every individual in Australia should be at work before other people are brought here; but sufficient n venues of employment should be available for the absorption of every ablebodied Australian willing to work, and then, and only then, if there are openings for people from overseas we should spend money in bringing' them here. No one is opposed to a proper migration scheme that would enable us to regulate employment, and, by the development of territory in different States, permit us to absorb, first of all, those of our own people who require land and then newcomers from overseas. Who are the best fitted to go on the land, and who are most likely to make a success on the land ? Surely they are those sons of farmers who have been reared on the land, and are accustomed to an agricultural life. They will make good where others may not succeed.

Since the war Australia has lost millions of pounds in its attempt to place returned soldiers on the land. In many cases the men were not suitable for an agricultural life. In other cases they had no hope of making a living while they had to pay the interest and instalments on the inflated values placed on their holdings. I am afraid that, iri order to relieve many of these men, we shall have to write millions of pounds more off the values placed on their properties. We are bound to do so, because we placed them on the land and led them to believe that they would be able to make a living. Many of them had wives and children when they went on the land, and many others have since married and have children. Their experience has been that they cannot pay their interest bill and meet their repayments and at the same time keep the pot boiling. Already some of them have thrown up their holdings, and others are on the verge of doing, so. Despite that unsatisfactory state of affairs the Commonwealth Government proposes to spend £34,000,000 on bringing people here from Britain and placing them on the land. The first duty of the Government is to make sure that the land is available. We have ample laud on which to settle millions of people, but the freehold of much of it has been given away. In close proximity to our cities and within easy access of railways, in every district can be seen beautiful country which, is not utilized to the best advantage. It is used solely for pastoral purposes. Yet we ask returned soldiers and migrants to go back hundreds of miles into the Never-Never, far removed from railways and markets, and expect them to make good. They might make good on some of this land held by others who are not prepared to put it to its full use. It is a problem that must be faced. I do not say that we should adopt a policy of confiscation, but a man who holds land suitable for agriculture and is not putting it to proper use, should be obliged to allow others to make use of it. The Development and Migration Commission, which is travelling all over the country, interfering with every Commonwealth activity, would do far better work if it had a stock-taking of the land available in the different States, and ascertained how it could be used to the best advantage. It could submit to the Government a. recommendation that an owner of land who is not prepared to utilize it to the best advantage has no right to hold it. I repeat that I do not suggest confiscation. But after all, the land of a country belongs to the people of that country. Although a man may have the fee simple of a piece of land, he should not be allowed to run stock on thousands of acres of good agricultural country, which would carry many families if put to its proper productive use. The Development and Migration Commission could say to the Government " There is so much land here and so much land there, which can be divided and occupied by a cert..l.i number of farmers. If the owner is not prepared to work it himself, he should be compelled to allow people who will work it to lease it from him, and if he fails to do that, he should be compelled in the interests of the people of the country to make it available to others." What is the use of talking month after month about developing this country and populating it, and borrowing money to bring immigrants to it if we are not prepared to get down to bedrock? We have the land available, and Ave ought to put suitable farmers on it. We ought to give them a chance to succeed by providing them Avith railways to take their produce to market. In a word, Ave ought to give them every opportunity to make good. Unless we are prepared to carry out a scheme of that kind, I fail to see how we can justify a migration policy while there are thousands of unemployed in the country. In the next month or two thousands more are likely to be thrown out of work. Things have never been so bad as they are now in the district I represent since long before the war.

We often hear talk about the high wages earned by coal miners. It is true that the miners do make good wages when they are working full time, but they work very hard for what they receive, and they do not get full time. I heard an honorable member say last week that the miners are paid by results. That is true; but the piecework system is bad, because it brings many men to a premature grave. They work too hard, and do more than they ought to do for the sake of getting an additional shilling or two. The miners make good money while they are at work, but half the men in the district I represent do not average more than five and a half days a fortnight. The Dudley, New Lambton, Waratah, Lambton B, Bur.wood, Pacific, Northumberland, Rhonda and Killingworth collieries last year averaged from six to five and a half days a fortnight. This year many of them have not averaged five days a fortnight, and the miners have to maintain their families on their earnings during that limited employment. At present, as the demand for coal is not sufficient to keep all the mines going, the large mines with the most efficient machinery, and the greater thickness of seams, which are capable of employing more hands', are kept going while other mines arc. closed down. Some of the big 'companies own several mines, and whenever there is a shrinkage in the demand for coal they close some of their mines and keep only one or two going. As a consequence of the present shrinkage in the demand for coal, there are thousands of men unemployed in my district. Before the steel works put off men recently, there were 2,000 unemployed in Newcastle. The same serious condition of affairs obtains throughout Australia. In the face of these facts, we are not justified in spending large sums of money o.u an immigration scheme. We ought to wait for better times, when there will be some chance of employing the people Who come here.

We are told that the new arrivals do not come into competition Avith those already engaged in industrial centres, but as many of them are not suitable for placing on the land - and even if they were the land is not available for them - they come into competition Avith workers in industrial centres, and serve to swell the number of unemployed. Every unit in the nation is an asset provided his energies can be properly utilized, but the man who is idle is a loss to a country. People say that Australia, Avith its big area, should be carrying a population of 50,000,000 people. I suppose that it will eventually carry that number, and probably a much larger population; but it does not follow that, because

Ave have a large area, it will support all the people that can be brought here: Our task is to pave the way for those AA-ho come here, and provide avenues of employment for them, so that they can be absorbed on their arrival. Strange to say, every prominent person who visits Australia, and most of our own people as well. conclude that since Ave have the area we have only to bring the people here, and everything will be all right. But these things cannot be adjusted in that haphazard way They can be adjusted only by the adoption of a scheme carefully devised to regulate the stream of migrants by bringing out only those that can be absorbed, and providing employment for them by protecting our secondary industries against foreign competition and by avoiding a big adverse trade balance. That must be cut down to begin Avith. , When our industries are supplying the needs of our own people, additional employment will be provided and a market created for those who are placed on the land. If we were to place 1,000,000 persons on the land tomorrow they would fail because there would be no sufficient home market for their products. "We can sell overseas only wool, wheat, a little meat, and some dried fruits. The chairman of the Dried Fruits Export Control Board has advised those who are growing fruit to discontinue, doing so, because there is not a sufficient demand abroad to make it profitable. Our industries must be encouraged so that they will produce what the people require and employ many more hands. After all, the primary producer is dependent to a much greater extent upon the home market than upon those overseas, where there is no chance of selling in any quantity products other than wool and wheat. If at any time other countries were in a position to produce wheat in sufficient quantities to supply the needs of Europe, the primary producers would experience a very bad time.

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