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Wednesday, 17 October 1956


Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) began by congratulating the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) upon his analytical speech in which he discussed the land settlement of ex-servicemen without heat or vituperation, and then proceeded to attack the Queensland Government in phrases which contained the words " shameful ", " shoddy ", and " severest form of censure ". In general, he made a most extravagant attack upon the Queensland Government.

What is the story of war service land settlement? John Curtin, who led this nation during World War II., and his colleagues in the Labour government, knew that the question of rehabilitating those who fought and worked during the war would have to be considered. Accordingly, among other things, the Labour Government appointed a Rural Reconstruction Commission to determine what should be done for those who had left rural occupations to join the forces. The commission decided that 50,000 of the 80,000 rural workers serving in the armed forces would probably require rehabilitation, and that they should be rehabilitated if possible. In this task, of course, the co-operation of the States was needed. But the Commonwealth was responsible for raising the money and placing ex-servicemen upon the land under reasonable conditions that would enable them to establish themselves successfully. What happened? The Labour government placed a ceiling upon land prices, which' remained until 1948. When the war ended almost all the 50,000 men who the Rural Reconstruction Commission estimated would require rehabilitation applied in the various States for blocks of land to enable them to become rural producers. After the applications had been sifted, it was found that 36,000 were willing, capable and eligible according to the conditions laid down by governmental authorities for participation in the war service land settlement scheme. Some were young men who had lived in rural districts. The untrained applicants were trained at the expense of the State governments and the Common wealth in farming methods. What happened to them? Do they now occupy properties throughout Australia? No!

About 7,000 people were placed on the land at a cost of £138,000,000. Those figures were given to me by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) only the other day. In addition to this 7,000, there are a number of people who were placed upon single unit farms and the expenditure in respect of them is not included in the £138,000,000. There would be probably, at the outside, 5,000 of those. That means that 12,000 people out of 36,000 have been settled on the land, eleven years after the war has ended. Of those who have applied, 24,000 remain to be settled upon the land!

Some one might interject at this stage to point out that 24,000 are not still waiting to be settled upon the land because many of those people have decided to relinquish their applications. Many of them have grown too old to change their method of life at this time. Many of them have families and have settled in occupations in the cities and they do not intend now, eleven years after they have put in their applications, to go on the land. Why was there this difficulty in connexion with land settlement? Was it because of what happened in Queensland? Certainly not! It was mainly because of the fact that this Government and its supporters removed the ceiling on the price of land.


Mr Roberton - Nonsense!


Mr PETERS - This is the position in Victoria. Prior to 1948, Victoria acquired about 100 blocks of land. As the honorable member for Darebin pointed out, the governments of this country pay the owners for the land they acquire. They then determine the economic value of the land; and the economic value of the land is the price at which they make it available to the settler. That economic value is determined by a process of averaging the productive capacity of the land over a period of about five years. In every one of these cases, prior to 1948, the difference between the price paid and the economic value was about £300. That is to say, that the State and the Commonwealth had to pay £300 in addition to the economic value of the land in order that each settler might get bis block. But after 1948, the price paid for each block in Victoria was £5,000 more than its economic value.


Mr Failes - How is the economic value worked out?


Mr PETERS - The economic value is determined by the experts on the value of the production of the land over a period of about five years. In any case, there has been a difference between the economic value of each block and the price that has been paid for each block by the Government. Since 1948 the difference in those two prices has not been less than £5,000. Prior to 1948, it was only £300 in respect of each block.

What does the payment in excess of the economic value, which is increasing as the years go on, represent? Is it a contribution to the returned soldier who goes on the land? No! It is a contribution to the land-owners of the community. It is an unearned increment which is being paid to them by the governments of this country at the expense of those who settle on the land and at the expense of the community generally.


Mr Roberton - Rubbish!


Mr PETERS - It is easy for a Minister or an honorable member opposite to say that these remarks constitute rubbish, but, after all, if soldier settlement had been a glorious achievement, the Government would be able to say, " We have settled so many people on the land. It has cost so much to settle them on the land. There are a few more to settle. We will settle them within a reasonable time ". But, the Government cannot say those things. Do honorable members opposite consider that land settlement is undesirable? We who are in the Labour party believe in land settlement. We believe in breaking up all big estates.


Mr Roberton - In Queensland?


Mr PETERS - I know more about Victoria than Queensland. I know that the Victorian Government had a survey made very recently in the western district. It revealed that the Government could take 600,000 acres of productive land, which is in a condition to be made immediately available for land settlement, and leave with the present owners land on which they could still produce as much as they are producing at the present time for the markets of Australia and the world. The Government could settle on those 600,000 acres more than 1,000 soldier settlers. But these things are not done.

What contribution has been made by conservative governments of this country to the breaking up of big estates down through the years? They have whittled away and destroyed the effectiveness of land legislation introduced by Labour governments. It was in 1910, or thereabouts, that the government imposed land tax, on a graduated scale, but exempted the first £5,000 of the value of the land. As the result of that tax, more land went under the plough within three years than had gone under the plough within 30 years previously. More farms became occupied during the next decade than had become occupied during 50 years previously. But, immediately anti-Labour governments got into power, they destroyed the effectiveness of the land tax by reducing the amount payable. The present Government reduced the tax, which had already been reduced considerably by the BrucePage Government. When this Government reduced the land tax, it did not say openly, "We are out to abolish it". No! It said, in effect, "The land tax is too high. Of course, this is dishonest, but we are going to reduce it and make it more equitable". The Government reduced it. The next year, or thereabouts, it abolished land tax, and £7,000,000, which had been payable by land-owners, was presented to them as a gift.

This policy will not enable the land of this country to be subdivided. I believe that the settlement of soldiers upon the land is a vital necessity. It is a vital necessity because until those soldiers are settled who desire to be settled, they have first priority, and we cannot embark on any vast scheme of civilian land settlement. Civilian land settlement is essential in this country. I have given on previous occasions the figures I am about to give, and I repeat them because they contain a warning to the people of Australia. In 1939, there were 253,000 rural holdings in Australia; to-day, there are 242,000 rural holdin.es in Australia - 11.000 fewer than in 1939, despite the expenditure during the intervening period of £138,000,000 directly on war service land settlement, £10,000,000 in advances to settlers, and £19,000,000 paid by various Victorian governments in order to put people on the land. Had it not been for that vast expenditure there would be 20,000 fewer farms in Australia to-day.

To-day there are 34,000 fewer people employed on the land in Australia than were employed on the land here in 1939. How well I remember not only this Government but governments of its ilk in days gone by stressing that we must bring people into this country to populate it, develop it, and fill its empty spaces. Two million immigrant's have come into Australia since 1939. In that year the population was 7,077,000; the last census disclosed that the population in 1954 was 9,090,000 - an increase of more than 2,000,000 people since 1939, concurrent with a decrease of 11,000 in the number of farms and 34,000 in the number of people employed on the land.


Mr Hamilton - Rot!


Mr PETERS - " Rot ", says the honorable member for Canning.


Mr Hamilton - I shall prove it afterwards.


Mr PETERS - He will prove it afterwards! If the honorable gentleman proves that the figures I have given are rot, then he will prove that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) has presented us with false figures, because the figures that I gave are the figures that the Minister presented to us only the other day. The Minister said that there are 34,000-odd fewer people in permanent employment on the land than there were in 1939, and the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who spoke after I had read the Minister's statement to the House the other day, said that that was a fact.


Mr Turnbull - But there was a reason for that.


Mr PETERS - That is the point. Our friend says that there was a reason for it. The reason he gave is the mechanization of the farming industry in this country. And I agree with him. There are tractors where there were not tractors before; there are all kinds of machinery where there was no machinery before. In every occupation in this country machinery is taking the place of manual labour. But that does not justify the reduction in the number of rural employees in Australia. I know that rural employees in Australia are mainly ownerworkers. We want such people on farms, with their families, and the more of them on small holdings the better. But we cannot get more of these people on the land to-day under present circumstances, and the proof of that fact is that there are not more, of them on the land.

About a year ago I approached the leading official of the Department of Lands in Victoria and said to him, " Have you any applications by civilians, as distinct from ex-servicemen, for blocks of land, so that they may become rural producers? " He answered, " Yes ", and I asked him approximately how many such applications he had. He told me that he had about 20,000 applications. I say, as I said to that official, that that would be a small number of settlers to spread throughout the length and breadth of Australia, giving them land at reasonable prices and all the other assistance that governments should give to people who wish to become primary producers. I suggest that if the conditions were right we would have 100,000 people in this country putting in applications to-morrow to engage in rural occupations. The engagement of these people on the land would increase the volume of our primary production. It has been agreed on all sides of this House, and among the people generally, that we have to increase our exports so that we shall earn sufficient funds overseas to enable us to purchase the goods that we require from other countries to permit our economy to function. Where are we to get that increase of exports? We cannot get it from our manufacturing industries. The greater portion of the increase must come from primary production. That is so because of the situation of this country. Because of its lack of population, Australia cannot compete in secondary production, in markets overseas, against the intense competition of nations like Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and eastern countries like Japan. The only way by which we can achieve a real increase of our exports, and thereby of our overseas earnings, is through increased production and increased sales overseas of our primary commodities.


Mr Anderson - Why cannot we gain it by secondary production? Will not the workers work, or what?


Mr PETERS - Why can it not be done through secondary production, the honorable member asks. What an amazing statement! It could come only from a member of the Australian Country party.


Mr Anderson - In rural production the workers do work, but they do not work anywhere else.


Mr PETERS - Why, the cost of wages in Japan is about one-tenth what it is here. Wages in the United Kingdom, where industry is more mechanized than it is here, and which has greater industrial experience than we have, are about half what they are in Australia. Germany and the other European nations also pay their wageearners considerably less than the workers in Australia are paid.


Mr Anderson - That is not so.


Mr PETERS - Our friend says that that is not so. How can we compete, in the production of machinery, for example, in the production of textiles, in the production of any of the goods that are made in the factories of Australia, in the markets of Asia with similar goods produced in Japan by workers whose wages are only one-tenth of the wages paid to Australian workers? How can we compete in the markets of Europe with the goods produced by Germany, Italy and Greece, with the goods produced by Russia and Czechoslovakia?


Mr Anderson - Tell us.







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