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Thursday, 23 March 1961

Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- The population of Australia in 1939 was 7,077,000. To-day, it has more than 10.000,000- an increase of 3,000,000 people in about twenty years. Of those 3,000,000 people not one person has become a proprietary farmer, not one person has gone into rural production, without displacing some other farmer or some other rural worker. Not one ex-serviceman has gone upon the land since 1939 without displacing some other farmer. Not one immigrant has gone upon the land without replacing one other person. Not one farmer's son has gone upon the land since 1939 without displacing one other farmer. Not one of those persons has gone into rural occupation without replacing another person. My authority for this statement is the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann), who now sits at the table. This week he gave me the following information in reply to a question I put on notice about the number of rural holdings -

At 30th June, 1939, there were 253,536 such holdings, excluding the Northern Territory for which figures are not available . . .

The nature and extent of assistance to civilians to secure farms since 1939 is not available to me

To 30th June, 1960, 8,974 farms had been allotted under the War Service Land Settlement scheme and 14,307 applicants had received agricultural loans. Of this latter number, 4,840 used these loans to assist in the purchase of land . . .

To 30th June, 1960, the direct expenditure on the scheme by the Commonwealth and States was approximately £184,000,000. In addition, agricultural loans made under the Re-establishment and Employment Act total £10,200,000 of which £4,000,000 is estimated as being used for the purchase of land . . .

The number of rural holdings at 30th June, 1960, was 251,974.

That is, despite the vast expenditure, despite the number of people put on farms by Government assistance to ex-servicemen, despite the number of civilians put on the land with the assistance of governments - about which the Minister can tell me nothing - there has been an annual reduction of 2,000 in the number of farms in the period in which the Government has been in office. More than 1 7,000 farm-holders have gone off the land. But that is not the worst feature of it, because the Minister's reply contained the following statement -

While this number showed a decrease on the 1939 figure, the aggregate area of rural holdings increased from 897,000,000 acres in 1939 to 989,000,000 acres in 1960; that is, by 92,000,000 acres.

Ninety-two million acres more of rural land in this country since 1939 and 2,000 fewer farms each year since this Government has occupied the Treasury bench! What is the cause of that vast aggregation of land and the diminution in the number of people on the land? It is the high price of land. People want to go on the land. About 50,000 returned soldiers applied for land under the soldier settlement scheme and, although they were suitable applicants, they were unable to secure any allotment. To-day the Lands Department in Melbourne has 20,000 applications from civilians and others who want to settle on the land. In every capital city there are thousands of people who want to go on the land, but they are unable to do so because the price of land has skyrocketed. The Government is responsible for this inflation in land prices which, apart from keeping people off the land, has raised the price of commodities to such an extent that the general development of this country has been retarded.

When the Arbitration Commission froze wages in 1953 and refused to hear an application for an increase in margins, prices continued to rise. What was the reason for this? The reason is that wages are not the only component in costs. The price of land is also a component to be taken into consideration because it adds vastly to the cost of commodities that are necessary for our secondary industries and for every person in the community. Not only that; there are also the high interest rates that have to be paid. These also play their part in multiplying costs. Because of the increase in land prices, for which this Government is responsible, and because of the other increased costs that primary producers have to meet, we are unable to sell our products abroad. Every secondary industry depends upon some primary product, so our secondary industries also are unable to sell their commodities at competitive prices.

The Government has now proposed an impossible scheme in an endeavour to rectify the position, but its scheme will fail. All that the Government has done by its credit squeeze and by the flood of imports that it has allowed into this country has been to strangle to a large extent the secondary industries that have expanded despite it. The Government is strangling secondary industries because primary production is being restricted due to there being fewer people on the land.

I know that some honorable members will say that more land is being intensely farmed to-day than ever before. When the Cain Government was in office in Victoria, a survey was made of an area in the western districts and it was found that in that fertile area alone 600,000 acres could be taken away from the big land-owners without reducing their production or their income in any way, and that the land could be used for a soldier settlement scheme. This country must be evenly balanced.

Mr Adermann - Would you know which end of the cow to milk?

Mr PETERS - That is the futile kind of proposition that the Minister puts forward. I was in the Victorian Lands Department for twenty years, and for ten years I was secretary of the Victorian Public Works Committee which investigated all kinds of land settlement schemes, so I speak with more authority than does the honorable gentleman who spent his time acting as Uncle Joe speaking over the radio to the children in an effort to inveigle himself into a position that he cannot carry out adequately.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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