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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) .- My friend, the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) has made to the House a speech which, I believe, in fairness can be described as a speech containing criticisms of a constructive nature. Those criticisms were temperately presented. There was no heat about his critique as such. Of course, he has had the singular good fortune to have had empirical contact with the administration of land settlement. He served in a Victorian government, I understand, as Minister for Lands. I for one, and I am sure the great majority of members in the House, listened to him with respect for his views. Victoria, of course, has had the good fortune to have had a soldier land scheme which has worked, i have heard this evening a few criticisms of it, but as a scheme it has worked. That, of course, is in striking and dramatic contrast with Queensland.

If honorable members read the secondreading speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), which was presented to the House a few days ago, they will gather one fact above all else. That fact is this: The State of Queensland will not be affected in any shape or form by the legislation when it is approved by this House. That fact is very quickly stated. It may be described by some honorable gentlemen as a simple fact. It is, however, a fact which commands a background and a story which, while I describe it as one of the most shabby stories that can be told, 1 believe is a story that deserves to be told. However, this evening I can but sketch the story in outline, putting in a few of the details of substance and consequence.

When the ex-servicemen's land settlement agreement was drawn up, the Queensland Government of the day decided to become a principle State, along with New South Wales and Victoria. That is a decision which it was entitled to make. I for one do not quarrel with the mechanism, as it were, of its decision. It made the decision. One of the main arguments used by the spokesman for the Queensland Government of the day was that Queensland regarded itself as being a sovereign State and, therefore, wanted to conduct its own affairs. There again, I say at once that the argument of sovereignty is a legitimate one. It is an argument that I appreciate and recognize. If the Premier of Victoria, .Mr. Bolte, were to say, "We believe in State sovereignty and therefore we want to remain a principal State", or if the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, had said - though he did not - " We want to remain a principal State because we believe in State' sovereignty ", then the argument would have been completely understandable to me. But when a Labour government says, "We refuse to become an agent State because sovereignty is involved ", the argument strikes me as being an extreme absurdity. For a Labour government to persist in declaring that an issue of sovereignty was involved and that that was the main basis of its decision, strikes me as being a very curious and a very unreal attitude.

The simple truth is that the Labour party and the platform of the Labour party declares quite plainly and in simple language that State sovereignty shall be destroyed. If the platform of the Labour party aims at the destruction of State sovereignty, and that is an overriding and abiding objective-

Mr Bryant - Hear, hear!

Mr KILLEN - The honorable member for Wills affirms my contention. But when a Labour government says, "We cannot embrace this because a principle of sovereignty is involved ", then that peculiar arrangement of argument passes beyond the wit and ken of simple-minded mortals like myself, although some of the more learned gentlemen on the Opposition benches may be able to understand it.

It may be for the benefit of the House if I mention, in brief, some of the terms upon which States undertook to become principal States. I believe it is germane to the argument I wish to propound this evening. A principal State undertook to provide capital moneys required for the purpose of acquiring, developing and improving land for settlement. The Commonwealth at the same time undertook, first, to provide a capital contribution of one-half of any initial writing-down; second, to bear half of any losses arising from advances approved for working capital; and, third, undertook for one year to provide allowances and to bear one-half of the cost of any remission of rent and interest. I do not deal with the details relating to agent States. The agent States undertook to act on behalf of the Commonwealth.

It is abundantly clear that a State that undertook to become a principal State was entitled to claim credit for any successes that attended its efforts as a principal State. On the other hand, any State that elected to become a principal State should be identified as the authority responsible for any failure or failures attending its efforts in the sphere of land settlement. Such, of course, is the case in Queensland.

I present to the House four specific charges which I lay at the door of the Queensland Labour Government, or the various sections of the Queensland Labour

Government. It is extremely difficult to identify the nuances of politics from one day to the other. The first charge that I make is that the Queensland Government repudiated the whole concept of ex-service land settlement*. In that repudiation it stands charged with a vicious violation of a solemn undertaking. At the end of the war, the Commonwealth undertook to rehabilitate ex-servicemen. Included in the broad proposals for rehabilitation was a proposal for land settlement. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) properly observed in this House a few days ago that land settlement is constitutionally a prerogative of the States but the Commonwealth undertook to inaugurate a scheme of land settlement, and a spokesman for the State of Queensland said at the time, " We are prepared to assist you in this enterprise ". That strikes me as being the kind of arrangement that no one would quarrel with. It was an arrangement that was thoroughly approved of at the time. But the salient fact remains that the Queensland Government has gone back on its word and has repudiated its obligation to exservicemen.

The second charge that I make against the Queensland Government is that it has obtained loan funds under false pretences.. Time and time again the representatives of Queensland at meetings of the Australian Loan Council have presented their schedules of works. They have indicated what they proposed to do with the loan moneys allocated to them, and on each and every occasion land settlement of ex-servicemen has been included in the programme. But, as I have proved, I am sure, to the satisfaction of at least every reasonable person in this House, the Queensland Government has repeatedly failed to spend the loan moneys made available to it for the purpose of land settlement of ex-servicemen. I know that it may be argued, and with some weight, that when loan funds have been obtained a State has the prerogative and the right to decide what to do with them. That is a point that must be appreciated, but if a State secures additional loan funds by announcing its intention to devote them to a certain purpose, there is a pretty heavy moral obligation on that State to spend the funds in the way in which it has suggested it would spend them.

The third charge I make is that the Queensland Government has failed to spend funds appropriated for land settlement of ex-servicemen. I have touched upon that particular charge already. The fourth and final charge that I make is that the Queensland Government is responsible for one of the most singular acts of administrative bungling in Australian political history. If that statement strikes some honorable members as being harsh, once again 1 say that if they are reasonable people they will be satisfied of the substance of my contention. There was a Minister in the Queensland Government, whose name is not unfamiliar in Australian political circles. I refer to Mr. Foley.

Mr Brimblecombe - The tobacco king!

Mr KILLEN - I do not know about his predilection for storing tobacco. In any case, he was the responsible Minister in the Queensland Government. Let me present to the House some enlightening figures. I know that figures are sometimes difficult to absorb, but I have extracted the figures for three particular years so that the House may assess the worth of the achievements of the three principal States in the field of war service land settlement. New South Wales is a principal State, and, in the year 1948- 49, that State spent 27.7 per cent, of its loan funds on land settlement of ex-servicemen. In the same year, Victoria spent an identical percentage of its loan funds, 27.7 per cent., in this way. The State of Queensland, however, which is also a principal State, spent only 1.9 per cent, of its loan funds on the land settlement of ex-servicemen. In 1949- 50, New South Wales spent 14.7 per cent, of its loan funds in this direction, Victoria 32.5 per cent., and Queensland made a modest improvement and spent 3.2 per cent, of its loan funds. In 1950-51, New South Wales spent 11.2 per cent, of its loan funds in this way. Its capacity in that year was showing marked signs of deterioration. Victoria, in that year, spent 17 per cent, of its loan funds on war service land settlement, but Queensland, again sinking back towards insignificance, spent only 2.7 per cent.

I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, and to every honorable member in this House, that those facts are not easily disturbed, because they are in the closest communion with historical accuracy. I challenge any honorable member in this House to disturb them. The House can see at a glance the shocking and abysmal record of failure of successive Queensland governments.

I mentioned, a few moments ago, the fact that the Queensland Government has failed to spend moneys appropriated for the purpose of war service land settlement. For example, in 1950-51, an amount of £141,000 of the total appropriated for war service land settlement remained unspent. In 1951-52, the amount unspent was £320,000, and in 1952-53, an amount of £452,000 remained unspent. Over the three years, £915,000 of the money appropriated for war service land settlement remained unspent. Once again, I suggest that no reasonable-minded member of this House can consider that record and say, " This is something that kindles our admiration for the legislative and administrative capacity of the Queensland Labour Government ".

That brings me to my next point. Unhappily, the Queensland Government has fallen into the habit of trying to disguise the manner in which it has spent money for land settlement of ex-servicemen. If we read the report of the Auditor-General for the year 1954, and particularly the section that deals with war service land settlement - which, I think honorable members will agree, is not an inappropriate section to turn to - we find that, in the year 1953-54, an amount of £107,243 was spent on war service land settlement. The AuditorGeneral goes on to say that, from the inception of the scheme until 30th June, 1954, a total of £1,874,105 had been spent. I find the greatest difficulty in trying to reconcile the figures presented on occasions by the various Ministers for Lands and other spokesmen of the Queensland Government with the figures presented from time to time by Ministers of this Government.

We find that money has been made available through the Agricultural Bank, and the point that I wish to make in this regard is this: Loan funds were raised for the purpose, as stated at the time, of providing exservicemen with an opportunity of settling on the land, and it seems pretty clear that if one takes at face value the contention of spokesmen of the Queensland Labour

Government, these funds have been passed over to the Agricultural Bank, and, instead of being used for settling ex-servicemen on the land, they have been diverted to other purposes. I ask the House whether it thinks that that is a reasonable procedure.

In 1953, of course, we arrived at what I describe as the apogee of agony as far as war service land settlement in Queensland is concerned, because in that year the act of repudiation occurred. The Queensland Government said, "We are no longer interested in pursuing any policy directed towards establishing ex-servicemen on the land ". I believe that at that time the Queensland Government was responsible for one of the most shameful, shocking and shabby acts in the political history of this country. In the following year, 1954, the then Minister for the Interior offered, on behalf of the Australian Government, to make available to Queensland £1,000,000 for war service land settlement, provided that the Queensland Government would spend £2,000,000. I understand that the other two principal States accepted similar offers. The Queensland Government dismissed it with contumely and contempt. Then came the other approach. The Queensland Government, trying to save face, attempted to obtain the best of both worlds. It wanted to be half an agent State and half a principal State, blending the two in some peculiar and extraordinary arrangement that, quite understandably, was not approved by the Commonwealth Parliament.

Looking back on the eight years of inactivity on the part of the Queensland Government in the sphere of war service land settlement, one finds that only 471 exservicemen have been settled on the land. The Minister for Primary Industry in his second-reading speech pointed out that in Tasmania 340 ex-servicemen have been settled on the land. I do not say this with any desire to be unkind to Tasmania, but I have jackerooed on properties on which Tasmania would hardly be regarded as a respectable paddock. Yet in Queensland, which offers greater scope for land settlement than any other State, only 471 exservicemen have been settled on the land in eight years. Surely that record warrants the severest censure and not the least approbation! The Queensland Government has repudiated the land settlement of ex- servicemen, and its record in this sphere does not evoke any approval from me. 1 know of a number of successful applicants who won blocks of land in ballots when in their late sixties. I suggest that that is not an age at which a man should be expected to start from scratch, build shearing sheds, construct yards, provide water facilities for stock, fence his property, and undertake the many other tasks involved in establishing a farm. I do not say that with any desire to be unkind to men of advanced years, or in a disparaging spirit. But this is the sort of thing that has happened in Queensland while young, keen men with practical experience on the land have been denied the opportunity to obtain properties.

Mr Wight - People from other States have won ballots in Queensland.

Mr KILLEN - As my friend the honorable member for Lilley points out, people from other States have successfully participated in ballots in Queensland.

As the House is aware, a short time ago a series of contretemps in the administration of the Queensland Lands Department resulted in the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into various activities. The four charges that I have made this evening, taken together, I believe, constitute charges of great substance which require an answer. I believe that they can be answered only if the Queensland Government appoints a public committee to inquire into the circumstances which led to its decision to repudiate the whole programme of war service land settlement, and the reason why moneys appropriated for the programme were not spent, and to explain the Queensland Government's misdemeanours in this sphere of activity to the satisfaction of the people of Queensland and of the great majority of Australians.

I say in conclusion that, as has been said repeatedly - it is something that one listens to and does not take to heart particularly - Australia depends in a very real sense on its capacity to export. One can only speculate whether or not we shall eventually overcome our balance-of-payments problem, but unless we are prepared to proceed with a vigorous and virile policy for the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land in order to enable the great State of Queensland to produce to its full capacity, we shall deny to ourselves, to the country, and to posterity the opportunity to turn Australia into what I describe on the spur of the moment as the food arsenal of the world.

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