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Wednesday, 26 June 1946

Mr BERNARD CORSER (Wide Bay) . - The troubles which afflict Australia are mostly of our own making. If muck of the time that has been devoted to discussing strikes and strikers were directed towards the development of Australia, this country would be in a better position than it is in to-day. We should clear the industrial outlook so that the consideration of the Government may be directed to such matters as the reduction of taxes, the control of illegal strikers and the prevention of illegal and petty strikes, ' the review of soldier settlements, the rehabilitation of ex-service men and women, water conservation, the development of hydroelectric power, a progressive immigration policy, the stabilizing of primary production, the building up of overseas markets, and, generally wise planning for the future. Especially should we consider providing water for country towns, and more amenities in country districts. We should engage more in scientific research, and should provide better transport facilities than now exist. Our telephone services should be extended and made .available to every country home at reduced rates. Instead of planning in these directions, the Government contemplates the expenditure of £220,000,000 on the standardization of railway gauges. If our experience of other projects is a reliable guide, the estimate . of £220,000,000 is likely to be doubled. ' I am disappointed that after nearly twelve months of a so-called " peace ", huge sums of money are still being expended for war purposes. Although Australia is not at war, and has not been at war for nearly twelve months, its defence expenditure this year will be about £34S,000,000. This includes £40,000,000 credited to the Treasury for the disposal of war plant. The Government continues to raise Avar loans, but only 55 per cent, of the amount raised has been contributed by the public. A large proportion has been taken from the savings bank accounts of the people. That is not sound policy, and it must be disquieting to the public to realize that their savings are being expended so wastefully. During the last twelve months, £1,000,000 has been expended on man-power controls, whilst £400,000 has been expended on the Rationing Commission, the Food Control and the Prices Commission. During the discussion on the last budget, I said that the Government had probably underestimated its revenue for the year, and it now appears that it did so by about £18,000,000. If its estimate for next year is as faulty, it should be possible, from this source alone, to reduce taxation by £36,000.000, that being the amount to credit, plus an equal amount deducted. The Government has made a gift of £6,000,000 to the States in order to enable them to accept, more ,graciously the uni form taxation scheme. That money could also have been applied to the reduction of taxation and proposed expenditure to the amount of many millions of pounds.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has said that the policy of the Government is arbitration. If that be so, it should not put up with strikers who refuse to abide by arbitration. In Queensland, an illegal strike has been in progress for some months, and recently the State Arbitration Court set up by virtue of legislation introduced by a Labour government, deregistered the striking union. The dispute extended because ex-servicemen and others were trying to run a co-operative bacon factory to prevent a total loss to farmers. From there it spread to all the meat works in the State and affected the pastoral, industry. Now the coalminers have been called out, with the result that no coal is being produced for the railways, the power houses, or by industry generally. Great hardship and loss are being sustained by industrialists and householders alike. Greater hardship, however, is being suffered as a result of the strike by stock-owners whose stock were ready for killing. In some instances, fat stock has been held on owners'* properties for as long as three months, and now, because of drought and lack of transport, they are deteriorating in value. Farmers cannot shift stock off drought areas, because others in more favoured areas will not buy stores, seeing that they cannot sell their fats. In the circumstances, the National Government should take a hand in order to ensure that the strikers shall not be allowed to hold the country to ransom. To-day, I asked the Prime Minister whether he would intervene in the strike as it had now spread beyond the borders of Queensland. Exports from Queensland to New South Wales have been declared black, and the waterside workers in Sydney refuse to handle such products. Therefore, the Commonwealth has grounds for intervening, and it should insist that the unionists abide by the awards of the Arbitrating Court. During the war. the miners held up industry over and over ag::in. and went unpunished.

Special authorities were set up to control the coal-mining industry, and to encourage production; but the miners refused to co-operate. Since the end of the war, conditions have been even worse. Industrialists who are trying to restore peace-time production are hampered by strikes. The Commonwealth Government should take heed of the situation, and ensure that industrialists, farmers and graziers shall be given an opportunity to live and pay their way. Housewives and children in many parts of Australia are to-day suffering because of the inactivity of the Government, which is too spineless to insist upon obedience to the law. The present wave of industrial lawlessness is due, not to a desire on the part of the workers to improve their conditions, but to the determination of those in control of the unions to break down our institutions, and create the impression that democracy has failed. In view of the fact that there are so many millions of people starving in the world to-day, and particularly in view of the need to get food to Britain, the Government should insist that the production of food shall not be hampered, and that food ships shall be worked and despatched promptly. Those who want to work should be allowed to work, instead of being held up by a few irresponsibles who have gained control of the unions. The Government should govern, and not allow a little coterie to impose its will on the rest of the community. We must insist on obedience to the law. If the law is wrong, let it be amended, but whatever is the law must be obeyed.

I am sorry that the settlement of exservicemen on the land is not proceeding in the way it should. When we listened to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) introducing the land settlement bill, we expected that more would be achieved. At a conference of State and Commonwealth Ministers an agreement was reached, and subsequently ratified by the Commonwealth Parliament and State Parliaments, providing that the Commonwealth should advance money for settling ex-servicemen on the land, the Commonwealth to exercise a measure of supervision, and to satisfy itself that the land selected was suitable for settlement. Tn Queensland, no action was taken to settle ex-servicemen on- the land until after the war was over.

Mr Blain - Why did not the authorities plan two years ahead ?

Mr BERNARD CORSER - Because they pronounced that they wanted to wait until the war was over. Then, when the war ended, nothing was ready. The State Government brought down legislation of its own which created a favorable impression, and wa3 much applauded. Under it the State Government was to .provide up to £5,000 to enable a soldier to buy an existing farm. Upon examination, however, it was found that this was merely the old Agricultural Bank Act which had been in operation for years, the only difference being that, in the case of the exservicemen, no interest would be payable on the advance for three years. I know of one ex-serviceman who. asked for a loan of £2,000, and was offered £1,000. He was an experienced cane-farmer, but because he had not been either a land-owner, a manager, an overseer, or a share-farmer before the war, his application for assistance was refused.' He was advised that it was the responsibility of the Government to get an ex-soldier back to the job in which he was before the war. Soldiers who applied to join a ballot for Western lands in Queensland recently are complaining that they cannot because they have not the necessary finance, and the State Bank cannot finance them under the Commonwealth's scheme until they get the land. When an exserviceman applies for land he must say how he proposes to finance the transaction. His application must be accompanied by a letter from a bank or a private person stating that the money will be available. Without such a letter he cannot even go to ballot for the land, and the State Agricultural Bank will not finance him until he has the land, even if he is experienced. I maintain that the exserviceman should be given an opportunity to get finance and ballot for the land. Afterwards he could get .his training from the authorities which it is proposed to set up for this purpose. There is so much delay in securing Commonwealth approval of estates to cut up for settlement that much discontent has been > created. In New

South Wales, the Minister for Lands, Mr. W. F. Dunn, has stated that 7,000 qualifying certificates have been issued to ex-servicemen out of 15,000 applications received from those who desire to go on the land in that State. Mr. Dunn stated that ten or perhaps fifteen -years would elapse before all applicants were placed. He added -

The State authorities are eating out their hearts to obtain blocks and make them available for soldiers, but there are depressing delays for approvals, purchase prices and subdivisions from the Commonwealth Government. When the State authorities find the land we must obtain Federal approval for that, and when we sub-divide we must again obtain approval.

From what I have been able to gather of the activities of the New South Wales Department of Land, all that Mr. Dunn has said is true; the State authorities are really eating out their hearts in an endeavour to place men on the land. They have secured some of the best estates in New South Wales, excellent land in respect of soil and irrigation, and though much of it was available before the war ended they have not been able to obtain the approval of the Commonwealth supervising authorities in respect of either its subdivision or the price. I urge the Government to appoint practical men to review the propositions put up by the respective States and to make available without delay all such good land as is awaiting settlement. In Queensland much of the land available for soldier settlement is leasehold which, has reverted to the Crown. In New South Wales, however, large areas of good freehold land are available for purchase by the State. Queensland could provide a greater area of land for soldier settlement than any. other State, principally because of the large areas of Crown land becoming available for that purpose. In that State only 7 per cent, of the total land has been alienated or is in the process of alienation. All such land as reverts to the Crown can be thrown open for the settlement of exservicemen at no cost to the Crown except for survey charges. Some of it may be described as the best land in the Commonwealth for cattle and sheepraising, and on the coast there is dairying land. I trust that many of the hide bound regulations which are preventing the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land will be repealed and that the Government will implement its much vaunted policy of settling ex-servicemen on the land without delay.

Another matter to which attention might be given by the Government is the provision in country districts of feeder air-fields capable of providing aerodrome facilities for aircraft of the smaller type to act as feeders to the larger aircraft operating from the principal aerodromes. If such feeder aerodromes were established the development of air transport of many of our products to the western portion of Australia and across the seas to India, Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong and other valuable markets, would be greatly expedited. To-day no private firms are engaged in that class of airborne trade. Yet we have air-fields stretched right across the continent, and around our coasts which could be put to much better use if our rural products could be transported to them from feeder air-fields established in country districts. These feeder air-fields should be provided without cost to the local authorities; their construction could be financed from the revenue raised by the petrol tax. I trust that the petrol tax will be cut considerably, and that a much greater portion of its proceeds will in future be made available for the improvement of roads in country districts. Some portion of the revenue raised in that way might also be applied to the construction of boat harbours along our coast for the benefit of the fishing industry, and for the improvement of our tourist attractions.

It is rather staggering to find that the Government is proposing to expend no less than £200,000,000 on the standardization of our railway gauges. Whilst I do not oppose such a work in its right perspective, I "question whether the time is ripe to essay such an undertaking. In my opinion, it would be very much better to utilize such a large amount of money on water conservation schemes and other measures which would ensure a much quicker national and personal return for the investment. Queensland to-day it suffering one of its severe droughts, and its impact is all the greater because of our failure in the past to conserve water in good seasons. ' "Water conservation and the production of hydro-electric power should be given first place in our post-war plans. A sound policy of water conservation, allied with hydro-electric projects which will make cheap power available to country dwellers, would do more to attract migrants and money in this country than any other measure the Commonwealth could undertake. Schemes for the conservation of water should be planned on a Commonwealthwide basis, with provision for the linking up of hydro-electric power in all areas in which dams and weirs have been constructed.

One of the disabilities that confronts country dwellers to-day is the absence of adequate telephonic communications, partly caused through the lack of receivers. I trust the shortage of telephones will be rapidly overcome. Another factor operating to the disadvantage of the country dweller is the excessive charge by the Postmaster-General's Department for the transfer of private telephone exchanges from one place to another. Tn some instances this change ranges from £100 to £200. In this respect the country dweller is at a distinct disadvantage compared with the city dweller, and something should be done to bring about a more equitable assessment of costs. Only by providing improved amenities for country residents, and better roads, both main and subsidiary, will people be attracted to rural occupations. The provision of better feeder roads will facilitate the transport of a farmer's products to the market, lessen his transport costs, and enable better mail services to be provided. Provision should be made in the Federal Aid Roads Agreement to relieve local authorities of much of the burden of constructing subsidiary roads.

I trust that the Government will reconsider its decision to allow the foreign policy of this country to be fashioned by one man. No matter how astute the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) may be in the legal sphere, he has certainly not distinguished himself in the sphere of foreign relations. One has only to . recall the regrettable incidents associated with the hold-up in Australia of Dutch ships which could have taken £7,000,000 worth of our products to Java and the East. This cavalier treatment of a former ally and a nation which is perhaps closest to us in sentiment and ideals, has amazed the world. It is indeed unfortunate that 99 per cent, of the people of Australia should have foisted upon them by a few outlaws a policy which has brought nothing but discredit upon this country. The Government has not taken any action to enable the Dutch ships to sail. Yet it claims that it cannot import sufficient tea into Australia because it has not the ships in which to transport it here. The Dutch people are willing and anxious to trade with us and to bring to these shores supplies of tea, rubber and petrol and many other valuable commodities the shortage of which has prevented our industries from expanding and our people from enjoying the comforts to which they are entitled.

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