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Friday, 29 March 1946

Mr RYAN (Flinders) . - I draw attention to the treatment meted out to former residents of Darwin in connexion with compensation for property losses sustained during the war. In February, 1942, the civilian residents of Darwin were evacuated at very short notice. They were given only a few hours to pack such things as they could carry and were sent out of the territory. They were unable to make arrangements for the disposal of furniture or the care of their houses. Their belongings were left supposedly under the care of army authorities. Hardly had they left when looting broke out on a large scale and continued for a number of days. The contents of bouses were removed, property was des_troyed, and a great many houses were burned. I do not need to give details of disgraceful events, for they .are well known, to honorable gentlemen as well as to the authorities and the troops that were there. The losses were covered by war damage insurance, but no claims were met until twelve months ago. Compensation paid so far is inadequate and many are still awaiting payment. The compensation, which is fixed by the assessors of the Commonwealth War Damage Commission, makes it impossible for many former residents to re-establish themselves, as they desire, at Darwin. I could cite many cases but I content myself by citing one that is typical. The six-roomed house of one family that was evacuated was burnt down by looters. The house was insured with a commercial establishment for £500, and the contents for £400, and with the Commonwealth War Damage Commission for similar amounts. The occupant was offered £750 for the house in 1941. The amount of compensation awarded by the government assessors was £310. That was based on the purchase price of £325 plus £75 worth of improvements, . less £90 depreciation. One could not even build a shack for £310. Yet this man is asked to accept £310 with which to re-establish himself in a home at Darwin. The War Service Homes Bill, which was debated yesterday, discloses the Government's acceptance of the fact that .the cost of a war service home has risen by £300. In the southern States to-day, even the smallest house would cost £1,000, but in the Northern Territory costs are much higher than in other parts of Australia,. The only true basis of compensation, is the cost of replacement. The furniture was bought in Melbourne ten or fifteen years ago. Similar furniture is unprocurable to-day, but, if it were, the cost would be from 200 per cent, to 300 per cent, greater than it was then. Yet, the compensation has been assessed at the cost of the furniture when it was bought in Melbourne, not Darwin, less 10 per cent, depreciation.

Dame Enid Lyons - The Commonwealth War Damage Commission has had few claims upon it.

Mr RYAN - Yes, 1 was coming to that point. Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) disclosed that the funds in the hands of the commission amounted to about £14,000,000. Yet, it is niggardly. Compensation should bo based on the cost of replacement and made without delay, because otherwise it will be impossible for people who want to go back to Darwin to re-establish themselves.

I should like to know the basis of the valuation of privately owned land that the Government has acquired at Darwin under the Darwin Lands Acquisition Act. fs it to be the rateable value or some value that the Government may put upon the land ? Land values at Darwin have appreciated as they have everywhere else. One block sold in 1940 for £380 could- "have been bought ten years ago for £5. The value to be placed on the blocks must be stated now so that the owners shall know how they stand financially. The whole situation at Darwin needs to be cleared up immediately, first, by ensuring that people entitled to war damage insurance shall be paid the full cost of replacement, and, secondly, that people whose land has been acquired shall be treated justly. Fortunately Australia escaped lightly in the recent conflict and claims for damage are small compared with the premiums paid. So there is no excuse for niggardliness. T think the House demands that immediate justice be dore to the people concerned.

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