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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Freeth) - Order!

Mr PETERS - I could not understand the honorable gentleman's confused comment, which was something to the effect that somebody had paid more in seven years than I have paid in my lifetime. But T am not talking about what I paid. I am talking about the necessity to settle people on the land in this country, and I am saying that the Government is negligent. I have stated previously that when, in 1945, the war came to an end, 36,000 exservicemen applied to be settled on the land, and that eleven years after the end of the war there are settled on the land only between 7,000 to 9,000 of those intending soldier settlers. The statements that I make that settlement on the land is essential are statements that are made by members of the present Government when they are out in the industrial and rural areas. They say those things. They give lip service to the principles of decentralization and closer settlement; but they do no more than give lip service to it. While they give lip service to this principle, they create the very conditions that produce greater monopolies and land aggregations.

I have here some figures that may be of interest, not only to members of this House, but also to members of the community generally. In 1927, the New South Wales Government Statistician estimated that the area of all land within a radius of 12 miles of railways in the wheat belt in New South Wales was approximately 35,000,000 acres. Of that area, 25,000,000 acres comprised alienated land, of which approximately half was suitable for cultivation. That is to say, approximately 12,000,000 acres were considered suitable for cultivation, but only approximately 3,500,000 acres were cropped annually. Allowing for fallow, the area under cultivation generally was in the vicinity of 5,000,000 acres. That position which existed in 1927 exists to-day.

The position that existed in New South Wales exists in Victoria. People in Victoria have only to travel from Mallacoota to the border of South Australia to realize the vast areas that have been only partly used. In a partial survey of one centre of Victoria in the western district which was recently completed by State authorities, they came to the conclusion that if the owners of 700,000 acres of land were left with approximately 100,000 acres of it, and 600,000 acres were made available for soldier settlement or closer settlement, those who were left with the 100,000 acres would be able to contribute as much production as they were previously contributing. That position operates throughout the length and breadth of Australia. It is the outstanding problem for which a solution is needed.

The sum of £7,000,000 a year was being collected by the Government as land tax until it abolished that tax. It now does not collect anything by way of land tax. As has been pointed out, a big proportion of that tax came from city areas. I believe in the taxation of land in city areas. I believe that emporiums such as the Myer Emporium, big insurance companies and great banking institutions that occupy vast areas in our cities should pay a land tax. The value of their properties has been increased, not because they are operating on them, but because they are surrounded by 1,000,000 people whose avocations and industry have produced a considerable appreciation of land values. So it is but fair to the community which creates the value of the land that the community should get a proportion of that value back in taxation. That is the ethical and moral ground upon which a land tax is based. That is the justification for a land tax upon very valuable lands within city areas - lands* which are rapidly increasing in value, as I have said, as a result of the activities of the community.

Outside the cities, of course, an important problem faces the governments of this country. That problem is the settlement of people upon the land. It is most undesirable that all the people who have come to this country from Great Britain, northern Europe and southern Europe should occupy positions only in the already overgrown cities. That is so, not merely from the point of view of the individuals who come here, but also from the point of view of creating national wealth and providing food for the increasing population of Australia. The course that I have advocated is desirable for the purpose of increasing our exports and is also desirable on defence grounds.

I remember reading, during World War 11., when the forces of Hitler were fighting against the forces of Russia, that Maurice Hindus stated that the recuperative power of Russia - the power of Russia to resist the pressure of Hitler - was due to the fact that Russia had no heart at which to strike. In this nation of Australia we have not merely one heart. We have Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Hobart, Launceston and a few other centres. A dozen bombs dropped on those areas would destroy a vast percentage of the population of this country and render inactive the war potential and industries of Australia. If our population were more scattered, if more people were on farm lands throughout the length and breadth of this country, then in the hinterland of this country would be growing cities greater than the cities of Ballarat and Bendigo and Sale in Victoria. These would be scattered throughout the length and breadth of this country. Many bigger cities would contain industries which would supply the adjacent rural population with manufactured goods.

These are the things for which Australians fight. These are the things in which we of the Labour party believe. We believe in a greater Australia. We believe in an Australia the wealth of which would be allocated more evenly than it is to-day. We of the Labour party are opposed to monopolies in any shape or form but we believe that the worst and the greatest monopoly in this country is the land monopoly. I have had private discussions with members of the Australian Country party in the course of which they have been terrified and have become almost pallid with indignation at the collectivization of land in Russia.

Mr Turnbull - I should say so.

Mr PETERS - We have the equivalent of collectivization in this country in the form of a land monopoly which is daily growing worse. Those people who allegedly represent the country areas throughout Australia are complacent. No voice is raised in protest. Nobody says that there is anything wrong with the fact that 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 people should come to Australia over approximately ten years and that most of them have settled in the large cities.

I remember, as most honorable members remember, that when the immigration policy was being initiated, we were told that immigrants were needed in order to supply labour to the farms. Our authorities in Italy, Britain, Germany and elsewhere were asked to select people who were capable of rural work. We wanted men with rural experience to help rural development that is so necessary in Australia. Only a minute fraction of those who have come to this country in the last ten years have been placed upon farms. However, during the same period a great many Australians have left the land to enter industrial occupations in the cities. There are to-day 34,000 fewer permanent farm workers than there were in 1939. That means that if 34,000 migrants have gone upon the land about 64,000 Australians must have left it.

I expect that certain honorable members will say, " We see tractors everywhere. Machinery has meant that fewer people are needed ". But mechanization should not have resulted in our having 20,000 or 30,000 fewer farms than we had in 1939. If our population had remained at the 1939 level one might have expected, with mechanization, fewer people on the land, but the population has increased by 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 - almost 33-J per cent. Employment should be available on the land for a substantial proportion of the additional population. However, it is not, and the Government is doing nothing about it.

The Government should call a meeting of State land settlement authorities. They should conduct a survey in order to find out what land is being used to SO per cent, of its productive capacity, what land is being used to 75 per cent, of its productive capacity, and what land, suitable for settlement, is still being held by the Crown. The Government should then ask, " What should be done to encourage people to go on the land? Are our resumption laws satisfactory? Should we adopt taxation as a means of putting people on the land? " In France in the days gone by, when land was falling into fewer and fewer hands, it was made mandatory upon the holder not to leave his land to one son but to divide it between all the male members of his family, so that there would be more and more farmers. Other countries, including the United States of America, have adopted what is known as "anti-land speculation" policies. Land aggregation and monopoly can be overcome in a number of ways. The first step is to summon State land authorities so that this most important problem can be solved, or methods put in train to ensure that aggregation will be reduced to a minimum, that a greater proportion of the people will be placed upon the land, and that there will be a removal of the present unbalance in regard to population and industry between the country and the metropolitan areas.

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