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Wednesday, 17 October 1956


Mr ROBERTON (Riverina) (Minister for Social Services) , - This, after all, is a comparatively simple bill. It provides for the expenditure of £8,500,000 for war service land settlement, £5,000,000 to go to the agent States, and £3,500,000 to go to the principal States. But the simplicity of the measure is not to be confused with its importance. It is designed to help the States of the Commonwealth to discharge their important responsibilities in relation to war service land settlement, and simple though the bill may be, I suggest that no other measure of this kind has so clearly demonstrated the fatal flaw in the socialist philosophy. Providing as it does a sum of £8,500,000, it is a measure of very great importance to land utilization in this country. It is of importance to ex-servicemen throughout Australia, and also to the economy. But when it comes up for discussion, introduced as it was by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) with a second-reading speech that covered, in a most comprehensive way, the operations of war service land settlement since its inception, it is discussed by only two members of the Opposition, both from Victoria. There is complete silence from honorable members on the opposite side of the chamber who come from the other States.


Mr Ward - The debate has not concluded, has it?


Mr ROBERTON - The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asks whether the debate has been concluded. I assure him that the second-reading stage of the debate will be concluded as soon as I finish my speech. As I have said, we have heard from only two members of the Opposition, both from Victoria. There has been not a word from honorable members from New South Wales, the most populous State of the Commonwealth.


Mr Ward - The Minister has only eight supporters of the Government behind him.


Mr ROBERTON - We have heard not a word from honorable members opposite who come from South Australia and Western Australia concerning the position in those States. There has been not a syllable from Opposition members from Queensland.


Mr Duthie - You are a coward, and you know why.

Mr.ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence). - Order! The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) will remain silent, or he will find himself outside the chamber.


Mr ROBERTON - He does not matter.


Mr Ward - Evidently the Minister does not matter either, because there are only three members of his party listening to him.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! I shall not have these interjections. If they continue, somebody will find himself outside very promptly.


Mr ROBERTON - I suggest, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that the quality of the honorable members listening to me is entirely different from that of those likely to listen to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward).

As I have said, this simple bill demonstrates the folly of socialism in the most significant way. I have vivid recollections of the inception of this war service land settlement scheme by a socialist government. I remember clearly the scheme taking shape in this Commonwealth Parliament, as the result of conferences between representatives of the Commonwealth Parliament and the six State Parliaments. Because there was a socialist government in office in the Commonwealth Parliament, and because some of the States also had socialist governments, there was a degree of unanimity which augured well for a scheme of this description. The original scheme provided for the acquisition of land by compulsion under, of course, the National Security Regulations which operated at that time. Qualified applicants from all of the services could register under the War Service Land Settlement Act, and on their experience and history they would be granted qualification certificates. It was intended to provide those granted qualification certificates with properties of every description, covering the entire range of the pastoral and agricultural industries.

The authorities said, at that time, that it would be comparatively simple to acquire land and they sought to do so in the most vindictive way, without regard to the equity of the owner of the land and without regard to its true value. They said, " We have the machinery to do so under socialism, and we shall put the machinery into operation. We shall develop the land. We shall clear it, subdivide it, build fences, sink dams, build houses and effect improvements. After all that is finished, we shall put qualified settlers on it". As soon as the scheme took final shape, I, who have had some cause to understand the socialist processes, said at the time that it was utterly impossible of operation, because no socialist government could settle any one effectively on the land. 50 it was that, when the war terminated in 1945, this socialist scheme was ready. The socialist governments acquired vast areas of land in the three principal States.

At this point, I wish to refer particularly to New South Wales. The New South Wales socialists said, " We will compulsorily acquire the land at 1942 values plus 10 per cent." The 1942 values, of course, were the lowest values in the land utilization history of our country. They said. " We will usurp the ownership of the people who possess these areas of land. Wewill take this land at 1942 values plus 10 per cent, if the owners are not willing to sell their land on these terms, then we will take it willy nilly at 1942 values without the addition of 10 per cent."


Mr Ward - And give it to the qualified ex-servicemen.


Mr ROBERTON - The honorable member for East Sydney - and no one could know less about land settlement than he does - says, " Give it to the qualified exservicemen ". What actually happened was that New South Wales acquired one or two properties on these objectional terms - terms which can only be described as dishonorable, as far as the Commonwealth is concerned - until the court said that the practice of acquiring land at 1942 values plus 10 per cent, or on any other arbitrary terms must cease forthwith. This Commonwealth Government and every other Commonwealth government is bound by its own constitutional responsibilities and Section 5 1 (XXXI.) of the Constitution lays down in precise terms that, although this Government has the right to acquire land, it must acquire it on just terms. The High Court has interpreted "just terms" to mean the value of that which is acquired at the date of acquisition.

The socialist States tried to escape that constitutional responsibility. They said, " In this instance, it is not the Commonwealth that is acquiring the land; so far as principal States are concerned, it is the State governments acquiring the land in these particular cases". But the court said that the Commonwealth had no right to provide the means for acquisition on any terms other than just terms. After a great deal of travail, when comparatively few men were being settled on the land, the situation was ultimately resolved in a constitutional way by this Government standing up to its constitutional responsibilities. In the meantime, some 40,000 qualified ex-service men and women had received qualification certificates. They were led to believe that as soon as the war terminated the socialist government would hand them fully improved properties.


Mr Whitlam - I rise to order. As 1 understand these Gaelic gabblings, the Minister is purporting to reply - and he can speak at this stage only if he is in fact replying - to matters raised during the debate. I refer to Standing Order 66. The Minister is not, in fact replying, nor indeed referring, to any matters which were raised during the debate. While all his remarks have a certain archaic quaintness about them, they have no relevance to the debate, from which, of course, the Minister for Primary Industry absented himself. Therefore, I submit that you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, have no power to allow him to continue with these remarks.


Mr Hamilton - I also rise to order. I submit that the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) is out of order. My recollection is that the Minister for Social Services is not the Minister who moved the second reading of the bill. Therefore, he is not replying to the debate.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER -

Order! That is precisely what I was about to say. The Minister for Social Services is not the Minister who moved the second reading of the bill. Before I resume my seat, I ask the honorable member for Werriwa to withdraw his remark about Gaelic gabbling.


Mr Whitlam - I found-


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member will withdraw that remark, or he will find himself outside.


Mr Whitlam - 1 will withdraw the remark because I found the gabblings offensive myself.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER -

Order! I will not allow the honorable member to qualify his withdrawal in that way. He will withdraw unconditionally.


Mr Whitlam - I do, sir.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member will rise, and do it.


Mr Whitlam - Yes, I will do it, and I am sorry that I raised your ire to that extent.


Mr Ward - On the point of order-


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER

Order! There is no point of order. I have given a ruling. The honorable member will resume his seat.


Mr Ward - I am rising on a point of order.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! If it is a new point of order, the honorable member may proceed.


Mr Ward - It is a new point of order. It arises out of your ruling. I want to know whether you are ruling that the Minister is not replying on behalf of the Government, and that Standing Order 66 does not apply in his case.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER -

Order! The honorable member cannot discuss my ruling. If he disagrees with it, the proper course for him to adopt is to move a motion of dissent. I call on the Minister to proceed.


Mr ROBERTON - It is most unfortunate that what I have said up to this point has incited the members of the Opposition to the degree of hostility that has been demonstrated during the last few minutes. But I assure you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that even if the honorable members of the Opposition take the question of war service land settlement lightly, there are those in this House and those out of this House - indeed, all those who were engaged in the services - who treat war service land settlement as a very serious matter.


Mr Ward - Why do not the Minister's own supporters come into the chamber and listen to what he has to say?


Mr ROBERTON - If the honorable member for East Sydney cannot desist from being rude, then may 1 appeal to him to be rather less rude for the next few moments?


Mr Ward - In that case, I will get the Minister an audience. I direct attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]


Mr ROBERTON - ft is once again my privilege to say that it is most unfortunate that what I have said has raised the ire of Opposition members to the degree that they have interrupted me in every way that is available to them, even to the point of calling a quorum. I was trying, so far as 1 was able, to reply to the Opposition members who have addressed themselves to this very important bill. Up to the point where I was interrupted, I had said that this bill was a classic example of the complete breakdown and the fallacy of socialism. Here was a scheme conceived in the minds of socialists to put an unlimited number of qualified ex-servicemen on to the land as rapidly as possible immediately the war ended. Although all the resources were available to them, and although they had the money and machinery needed and all the land available to them, they failed ignominiously to put a number of qualified ex-service men and women on the land during the last eleven years.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - That is totally untrue.


Mr ROBERTON - The honorable member for Darebin was one of the two members of the Opposition who addressed themselves to this bill. He was one of the two Victorians who spoke. Members of the Opposition, representing the other States, remained silent. In those circumstances, he deserves to be answered.

The honorable member for Darebin, when he opened this debate for the Opposition, said that he spoke for Victoria. The honorable member has every right to speak for Victoria, not only as a Victorian representative in this House, but also as a man who had a distinguished record in Victorian politics and who was, I believe, Minister for Lands in the State Parliament. But any member of the Opposition who speaks for Victoria with regard to war service land settlement must take cognisance of the fact that the war service land settlement scheme during the last eleven years has not operated in Victoria in the same way as it has operated in Queensland.

The honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) said that he was in favour of war service land settlement. He is a member of the socialist party. There is a State in the Commonwealth that is controlled by a socialist government which is diametrically opposed to war service land settlement. The Queensland Government will have nothing to do with it. Where can we find any common ground in these circumstances, in a debate on this matter? The same remarks apply, to a lesser extent, to New South Wales. The New South Wales Government is in favour of war service land settlement only so long as it can acquire land at a price below its true value. If the vendor is willing to sell at the 1942 valuation plus 10 per cent., the New South Wales Government will acquire land on those terms. If the vendor is not willing to sell on those terms, the New South Wales Government will then take the land at the 1942 valuation. Is the honorable member for Darebin in favour of that? If he is not, then I suggest that both he and the sonorous honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters), who was the only other Opposition member who spoke on this bill, have spoken in the wrong place, at the wrong time and to the wrong people. They should go to Queensland and say to the socialist government there, " We, too, are socialists, but we are in favour of war service land settlement. We are in favour of paying just terms for any land that is acquired. We are in favour of giving land to qualified ex-servicemen on the best possible terms, and if there is any loss incidental to the acquisition of the land and the settlement of the qualified exservicemen, it should be written off and be borne equally by the State concerned and the Commonwealth Government ". They should say that in New South Wales to the socialist government there. What is, perhaps, most important of all, is that they should say it to all the other socialist governments in this country. They should tell them that they are in favour of freehold tenure. New South Wales will not have a bar of freehold tenure in respect of war service land settlement. Queensland will not look at it on any terms. The other States, the agent States and the only other principal State, which is Victoria, are in favour of freehold tenure.

Can honorable members wonder at my confusion regarding the socialist philosophy as applied to land settlement of any kind? We hear two representative Victorian socialists in this Parliament speaking like Tories, speaking as I would be proud to speak, in favour of land settlement, in favour for the best possible terms for the vendor and for the qualified ex-servicemen, and in favour of the right to convert at any time to freehold tenure. Those are the things that the Australian Country party has been advocating for years, and never before have we had any sign of support from any one. Now we have two valiant Victorians - the only two members of the Opposition who spoke - saying that they are in favour of that kind of war service land settlement. The other members of the Opposition, from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, were utterly silent. They had not a word to say on the matter. There is, of course, a complete explanation of the silence of the Queenslanders. They must be consistent and adopt the policy of the Queensland socialist Government. They must oppose land settlement in all its forms, and they must oppose war service land settlement, which gives an absolute preference to qualified returned service men and women. There is some justification for their silence, because in eleven years the Queensland Government, having received allocation after allocation from the Australian Loan Council for purposes of war service land settlement, has succeeded in allocating only 470 farms. That is a practical demonstration of the breakdown of socialism as applied to land settlement in a socialist State of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The honorable member for Darebin and the honorable member for Scullin also expressed some concern about the valuations and what was proposed to be done with regard to writing down. The New South Wales Government, following its policy of acquiring at 1942 valuations plus 10 per cent., decided to charge the original land-owner with the losses incidental to the acquisition of the land and the settlement on the land of the qualified returned serviceman. When the Government discovered that that could not be done, ii suggested that the losses incidental to those processes of acquisition and settlement should be the exclusive responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Now the honorable member for Darebin and the honorable member for Scullin ask what is to be done in a case where the value of the land acquired is greater than an amount that could be discharged by the qualified ex-serviceman who is allotted that land. I refer them to the Minister's second-reading speech, in which he explained completely and lucidly what would happen in those circumstances. The Minister said, inter alia -

The Commonwealth provides the cost of training applicants for land, grants a non-repayable living allowance during the first year of occupation - the assistance period - and shares on a SO/SO basis with the State, the loss of revenue incurred by remitting the rent and interest due during the assistance period.

That is, perhaps, of no great importance in regard to the point raised by the honorable member for Darebin, but the Minister went on to say -

The Commonwealth also contributes to the State half the amount by which costs of acquisition and development exceed the valuations agreed upon by the Commonwealth and State and halt the losses on advances to settlers.

There is a complete explanation. The Commonwealth Government will bear 50 per cent, of the losses involved in any writing off that the State decides upon. That is a perfectly reasonable way out of the difficulty.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Does the Minister believe that?


Mr ROBERTON - I believe it.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The Minister does not know what he is talking about.


Mr ROBERTON - Of course, I believe it. It is being done. Not only is it being done, but it is necessary that it should be done. The honorable member for Scullin was also in some confusion. He spoke of the valuations and their relation to what he called the economic rents of these properties. The States, of course, can devise their own system regarding land use, and decide their own terms. They can decide whether the land shall be leasehold or freehold, whether a lease shall be a perpetual lease or confined to a definite number of years, and what the rent shall be from time to time. But the Commonwealth is bound by the agreement that was entered into with the States in 1945 so far as that agreement measures up to the constitutional competence of the Commonwealth. That has been acknowledged ever since this Government took office in 1949.

The record of the agent States gives us cause for some satisfaction. Under the agreement three of the States elected to become agent States, and, as the House knows, three decided most vehemently that they would remain principal States. Of the three principal States, Victoria alone, which is small in area, is rather better developed than the other States are, and has a population which is rather better informed about the rural industries than is the case in the other States, has a reasonable record in war service land settlement. New South Wales has nothing to be proud of, and the record of Queensland can be described only as shameful. South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia, the agent States, have a continuously good record which is likely to continue so long as a responsible government is in office in the Commonwealth. So we have these facts: Of the principal States, Victoria alone gives us cause for satisfaction, and the three agent States are advancing year by year and discharging their responsibilities to ex-servicemen. Indeed, Tasmania is rapidly reaching the point at which it will have to look to the mainland for qualified ex-servicemen to occupy the properties that will become available there in the next few years.

I shall leave it at that. This bill will make available for war service land settlement £8,500,000, of which £5,000,000 will go to the agent States.

Mr. ACTING DEPUTYSPEAKEROrder! The Minister's time has expired.







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