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Thursday, 9 December 1965

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- This is a Bill to amend the Brigalow Lands Agreement Act 1962. The amendments are being made to meet proposals of the Queensland Government arising out of difficulties that some settlers have experienced and which were canvassed by honorable members of the Opposition when the original measure came before the Parliament. The Opposition welcomes legislation which has for its purpose the development of Australia and it will vote for this measure. We regard the measure as important because it will help to develop an important part of Queensland and will add to the wealth and strength of our nation. It will provide opportunities for settlers in an important part of our country.

The original Act provided for financial assistance to Queensland by way of a loan of up to £7i million for a period of five years to 30th June 1967. This Bill will extend by three years to 30th June 1970 the period within which advances will have to be repaid with interest at the long term bond rate. It should be remembered, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the people who will repay this money will be the settlers on the brigalow lands. Frequently, Government supporters talk boastingly of the money that is being provided and spent on schemes of this kind but they seem to forget who has to pay back principal and interest in respect of the advances made. The settlers, of course, have to make the repayments. To do this they will have to earn a competence from the land by their industry and their understanding of the soil. The Commonwealth Government has nothing to lose from a scheme such as this. It can only gain from the development of land by an increase in production and in taxes paid.

The area with which this Bill is concerned is in the Fitzroy River basin of central Queensland. This is part of a vast region of brigalow lands extending from Collinsville in northern Queensland to Narrabri in New South Wales, the mother State. It is estimated that the total area of brigalow lands is some 20 million acres.

I believe that this should be emphasised, because it restates the national aspect of the brigalow lands scheme as a facet of Australia's development. We must get away from the idea that only Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales or one of the Commonwealth Territories is concerned when we talk of schemes such as this. We have a responsibility to look at the overall picture of Australia. The area to be developed under the agreement between the Commonwealth and Queensland with which this Bill is concerned is to be increased from 4,271,000 acres to 4,971,000 acres. The area of holdings will be approximately 10,000 acres. Settlers will be obliged to develop their land if they are to win for themselves a permanent place in this fertile area.

The Bill provides for more flexible arrangements than have existed previously. I could not support more enthusiastically than I do this feature of the measure. It is most undesirable to apply a rule of thumb in matters of this kind, as has frequently been done, with governments making all the decisions and hard and fast rules being adopted. Conditions change from time to time and flexibility is necessary so that those who understand local problems and who meet the people on their land may reach decisions on the spot and make any adjustments that are needed. For instance, settlers should not be confined to one or two waterholes, as it were, to a certain type of fencing or to a certain class of production. Those who have to establish themselves and repay principle and interest on loans are the people who ought to be consulted about what is best for them. Their needs ought to be the dominant consideration in the planning of any scheme such as this.

Some time ago I visited the Fitzroy basin area. I was accompanied by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Gray), who represents a portion of the region, and members of the Parliamentary Labour Party's National Development Committee. I was greatly impressed by what is being done. The members of the visiting party had an opportunity to meet the local people and to watch work actually in progress. We saw brigalow being cleared and suckers and secondary growth being removed and we watched the treatment of the soil, the sowing of pastures and the like. All this was most interesting. I should like to express my thanks on this occasion to the honorable member for Capricornia for his assistance in helping me and the other members of the party to obtain a clear picture of what is taking place in an area in which the honorable member obviously is deeply interested.

This Bill provides for the resubdivision of original holdings. The land is to be divided among three classes of settlers - those with existing leases, those who buy land at auction sales and a third group made up of settlers selected by the Queensland Government. I think it will be admitted that the members of this third group come directly into the picture. They will have to meet the requirements of the legislation and will receive financial assistance. Their interests are of special concern to this Parliament. We can discuss this matter perhaps only in a general and rather abstract way because precise details of all features of the scheme are not before us, Mr. Speaker. The Queensland Government is* responsible for the adjustment of these matters and for the working out of policy directly relating to settlement. But the Commonwealth Government should not wash its hands of responsibility, for it also is directly concerned financially. It has a clear duty to the settlers to keep in close touch with them. I should like to think that from time to time Commonwealth officers will visit the area and take a deep and abiding interest in the welfare of the settlers and wherever possible help settlers to succeed in their chosen occupation. As I have said before, the success of this project can be achieved only by successful settlers. After all, the settlers are those who are most vitally concerned. I trust that the original holders of the land have received just compensation for the areas that they have been obliged to surrender to the Queensland Government for this scheme.

Looking through the development proposals for the area, we find a number of interesting aspects. The first relates to the extension of the boundaries of the areas of the scheme to take in some additional areas in the west and the south. Then there is the proposal for additional development work in the form of the ringbarking of forest country and the eradication of sucker regrowth. This, as you, Mr. Speaker, know as a practical man, is a most difficult problem, particularly in humid country with a heavy rainfall which stimulates growth. In such conditions, the settler has a full time battle trying to deal with suckers and the secondary growth that appears so rapidly and challenges his right to occupy the soil.

A third aspect is provision for greater flexibility in the development of individual blocks in regard to the provision of fencing, cattle tick control units and water facilities. This is of great importance. One of the weaknesses in the earlier legislation dealing with this scheme was the restrictive conditions that dictated to settlers with respect to important features of the control and management of land that rightly belonged to the settlers themselves. It is for those who work the land to determine what is desirable and necesary. A fourth interesting feature is the provision of breeding cattle. This matter should be carefully considered by the Queensland Government. Many people going on the land might find it much more profitable to buy up store stock and fatten them for sale so as to get quick returns. If a farmer breeds cattle on a property he has a time consuming job, and quite a considerable period elapses before he will receive any income from the young stock bred on his property. This ought to be considered very carefully by those who administer the scheme.

The next proposal is for additional road work for the area, both in the form of main roads and access roads. I should like to know, if the Minister can tell me - perhaps not today but some time in the future - the amount that will be expended on access and other roads in the area. These are, of course, quite necessary. They are vital to the area. It is necessary to have access to get the produce to market. A matter of very great concern is that if a great sum is to be spent on roads of access it must inevitably cut down the amount of money which will be available for other purposes. The final proposal is for an extension for three years to 30th June 1970 of the period within which financial assistance is available to the State.

These are matters of very great interest and importance and they should be noted by this House. I have mentioned the problem of the land, its growth, the regeneration and secondary growth of the soil. May I put forward the view which I hold very dearly that land should not be made available to settlers until it is improved to the extent that a settler will have an opporunity to earn a living almost immediately without interminable delay during which he has to expend vast sums upon his property and wait for years until he brings his property into productivity? It was said originally that settlers would require from £35,000 to £40,000 over this period and that their immediate cash requirement would be £12,000. In regard to this matter one serious thought which lingers in my mind and which could challenge the success of the scheme is the fact that there is a second group of settlers who are brought into the scheme. There are persons who can buy land at auction. They will go into the area, bid for blocks and lift land values to inflated heights. They will thus cause a great problem. Inflated land values and rising rates will be a threat to the hardy settler. Without very great resources he will be obliged to meet this challenge. We all know from practical experience over recent times that many people with hot money, made in quite a number of fields far removed and remote from the land, will go into the countryside, buy up properties, spend large sums on them and make the pace so great that the original settler will have great difficulty in meeting this challenge. People of this type invest in this way in order to evade taxation.

I refer also to the problem of water supply. It is all very well to say that in all of these projects thought has been given to the provision of water. The practical farmer, as does the average Australian, knows that one can never be sure of rain in this country. Our weather is capricious and our rainfall is uncertain. We have the driest continent in the world. Consequently we should look to the problem of water conservation. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Gray) can speak with detailed knowledge of proposals that have been made in respect of the Fitzroy River Basin in Queensland - not to be confused with the Fitzroy in Western Australia - the Nathan Gorge and other projects. No doubt my colleague will discuss such projects with a good deal of understanding. However, I emphasise that the Fitzroy River basin in Queensland offers very great opportunities as a major storage proposition. The Commonwealth Government, through its organisations and its instrumentalities, especially the Snowy Mountains Authority, should send officers there to investigate the possibility of a vast storage scheme that would provide an assured water scheme for the area concerned.

We have discussed the need for water and we have discussed the problems of the man on the land and the need for positive planning and careful consideration. When one considers that despite all our war service land settlement, all our closer settlement plans, all the great ideas we had in the past of putting more men on the land - my mind goes back to Carruthers of New South Wales with his slogan of a million farms for a million farmers - one becomes dismal and unhappy to be reminded today that whereas in 1939 there were 253,000 rural holdings in Australia, in 1962 there were 252,000 - 1,000 fewer after all those years. This is a disturbing feature. I was interested to read in the Quarterly Review of Agricultural Economics, Volume XVIII, No. 3, that the number of primary producers is stated to be 306,000 other self-employed persons 417,000, and male wage and salary earners 2,323,000. The article went on to say -

Over the decade to 1961-62 the number of wage and salary earners has been rising steadily, and an increase of 17 per cent, was recorded. The number of individuals liable to tax among the primary producer and other self-employed groups has fluctuated over the years. Comparing 1961-62 to 1952-53, the number of other selfemployed persons liable to tax rose by 25 per cent., and the number of primary producers liable to tax by 8 per cent.

That is an effective answer to those who feel that every person on the land is making millions from his modest holding. It is true that some who are in a big way are extremely fortunate. A footnote to the article is of very great interest and should be remembered. It states -

The actual number of primary producers (as distinct from primary producers liable to tax) has varied very little. For instance, the number of male owners, lessees and share farmers rose by only 2.1 per cent, between 1952 and 1958.

These figures came from the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics and they speak for themselves. The Opposition welcomes this legislation. We wish settlers in this area every success. We look forward in the course of the years to hearing reports from the Government respecting this area and we, in turn, would like from time to time to have the opportunity to visit the area and learn of the progress which we hope will be made.

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