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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr COOK (Indi) .- The question that has been raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) is of very great importance. Although we cannot altogether see. eye to eye with him, we must agree with much that he has said. The present position has been brought about largely because of the difference that exists between the wages of employees in primary and secondary industries. It is impossible for the primary producers to pay to their employees the wages that are paid in secondary industries. The sons of farmers are not willing to slave as their fathers did, and are drifting in ever-increasing numbers to the cities, to which they are attracted by high wages and alluring conditions. 1 agree that the greatest care should be exercised in the selection of migrants. Quite a number are sent to Australia who ought to be refused admission. The Development and Migration Commission has been inquiring into the possibility of placing migrants upon land in Northern and Central Australia. It' would be more charitable to hang, a migrant than to send him up there, unless he was given admirable country and large holdings. If the land!" were cut up into reasonably large hold ings, and selectors were required to make certain improvements, it would be a wise investment if they were allowed to have it free of rent and taxes for a number of years. Closer settlement in Northern and Central Australia is out of the question for some time to come. We may realize that ambition when we have a population of 50,000,000 people instead of the paltry 6,000,000 that we have at the present time.

The Commonwealth Government's share of the cost of soldier settlement already amounts to something like £10,000,000, and it will become involved to the extent of a further £10,000,000. The soldiers were placed on good land and were given reasonable quarters. It was not the cost of the land that crippled them. I have had a great deal to do with soldier settlement, and I know something about the quality of the land which was devoted to that purpose. There is not a block in the two shires in respect of which I acted as honorary valuer for the department that would not have brought at auction more than we paid for it. The men who were put on the land without a penny, however, were loaded to the extent of between £2,500 and £3,500 for land, dairy herds, buildings, subdivisional fences and other improvements, and they could not make a success of it. I agree that Australia has experienced a lean season. The falling away in our wheat and wool yield this year, it is estimated, will be £25,000,000. I maintain, however, that in the past we have had far worse seasons and have emerged triumphantly from them. I do not view the position as seriously as the Leader of the Opposition, i. I am in favour of a conference of all parties, such as that outlined by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Seullin) to discuss the very important question of our adverse trade balance. The payment of a wage of even £10 a' week would be wise expenditure if the results were proportionately as good. The trouble is we are not getting those results. Millions of pounds have' been spent on roads and other works, but the value received, does not- approach anywhere near what it was 30 years ago. How can dairymen be expected to pay the rates asked by the rural workers' log when' they are receiving only ls. 6d., ls. 9d., or 2s. a pound for their product? If they had to pay those rates, in addition to an overtime rate of time and a half, and double time for Sunday work, they would be compelled, to cease their operations. No good is gained by trying to tickle the ears of the groundlings. I -might enjoy a greater measure of popularity if I were to say that the workers were splendid fellows and were all playing the game. No matter how distasteful it may be, we must face the facts. The dairying industry is down and out. That is the reason it. is asking for what is after all a paltry amount . of protection. The timber Industry is in a similar position, because its returns are out of proportion to the amount expended. Farmers cannot keep their sons and daughters on the land because they can obtain a wage three times as great in secondary industries. The country has been drained of its manhood. Secondary industries are working under artificial conditions.

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