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Thursday, 11 June 1970

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Minister for Primary Industry) - in reply - The Bill before the House is a machinery Bill. It is the annual appropriation for war service land settlement, an appropriation Bill which has come before this House each year since it was created in. .1945. The Opposition, along with members on this side of the House, has expressed its support for the Bill and the purposes of the appropriation. However the Opposition has added an amendment which proposes the establishment of a select committee to examine all aspects of war service land settlement in Australia in order to formulate guidelines for any future land settlement schemes. Whilst I am not critical of this amendment and can see some meaningful purpose in it. 1 can also see some difficulties and that, in some cases, it is not necessary. So for the present I take the point of view of opposing that part of the amendment. Before directing my remarks to the amendment I would like to make a few comments about the Bill and some of the remarks made by honourable members.

This Bill provides for an appropriation mainly to help with the settlers carry-on finance for stock, plant and general working expenses. The actual development expenditure is tapering off. The Commonwealth now provides 100% of the money for the agent States which contain the only areas where war service land settlement is being carried out. To date, the Commonwealth has provided $320m for all agent States which represents an expenditure of $260m. This money is lent to settlers on very attractive terms of 3i%. When one considers the ruling interest rates today, that is indeed an attractive rate for the borrowing of money.

The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) leading for the Opposition and, J believe, the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) mentioned that the Returned Services League had applied to the Commonwealth for an extension of the existing war service land settlement scheme to include national servicemen. This was put to me. I have replied to Mr Keys, the National Secretary of the Returned Services League stating that the Commonwealth was not able to agree to the proposal, mainly on the ground that the recipients for reestablishment benefits would gain an advantage far greater than that offered exservicemen who might be re-established in other areas of the community. To save time in this debate, with the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard the letter that I have written to Mr Keys. It reads: 10th March, 1970

Dear Mr Keys,

Further to my letter of 23¬ęt February, I am writing to you concerning the League's proposal for the inclusion of a laud settlement scheme among the benefits available to National Servicemen on their discharge. 1 have read, with a great deal of interest, the submission on this subject which accompanied your letter. I appreciate that a considerable amount' of thought and research has gone into the preparation of this document and I commend the League for this.

As you are doubtless aware, I am vitally interested in any matter relating to the farming community and look very sympathetically on any proposal made to me for its welfare. Many of the points made in your submission, particularly those regarding 'hard headed' selection of potential settlers, the desirability of adequate training and the backing of settler's bona fides by requiring some of their own capital to be invested in the farm, appeal to me hut I feel one of the most salient points included in your submission is the cost at establishing a settler on a property which will stand up to the vicissitudes and current problems besetting rural production, even when farms are under experienced management. I would agree wilh you that the costs of establishment set out in your submission are probably minimal.

This naturally makes me wonder whether such a scheme as you propose has a reasonable application to National Servicemen. 1 have a great deal of respect for the abilities of the agc group represented by the National Servicemen and have little doubt that they would take advantage of the technical advances made in agriculture and the services available for dissemination of this knowledge. But I must keep some perspective in my appraisal of the position.

I feel sure you would agree that those participating in a land settlement scheme such as you propose would be the recipients of assistance far greater than any other benefits available as re-establishment benefits for National Servicemen. From information given to me, it seems that a very minor proportion of those serving in the Regular Army Supplement could possibly participate in a land settlement scheme when the factors for selection arc recognised.

Perhaps one guide to this is the fact that over the last 2i years in excess of 20,000 National Servicemen have been discharged but applications for agricultural loans number only 400. E\en supposing all these applicants would he accepted as suitable for land settlement - and this is open to doubt - it will be appreciated that a very small proportion of National Servicemen would be given the extensive benefits associated with the scheme.

However sympathetically I look at your proposal, it seems to me the wide discrepancy in the capital requirement for each settler compared with that of the benefits which are available to the vast majority of National Servicemen makes it, if not impractical, somewhat unrealistic.

As you will recall, the League has made representations for a land settlement scheme on previous occasions but the Government has not acceded to them. I regret to say that I am not convinced that the decision previously conveyed should be varied.

Yours sincerely, (J. D. ANTHONY)

A.   G.W. Keys Esq., National Secretary, Returned Sevrices League of Australia, P.O. Box 303, CANBERRA CITY. A.C.T. 2601

The honourable member for Braddon spoke in detail today on the question of war service land settlement. His electorate incorporates considerable numbers of settlers, especially the area of King Island where continuing criticism of this scheme has been voiced over a good many years. I know that my predecessor, the right honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann) did visit King Island and meet the settlers. I know that he made arrangements which alleviated some of their problems. I, too, when I first became Minister for Primary Industry visited King Island to try to learn their problems and to help. This has been an issue of contention more so at King Island than anywhere else in Australia so far as I know. I think that it is unfortunate that this question never seems to be able to be resolved completely.

The honourable member for Braddon questioned why the Commonwealth and not the States was making the valuation for war service land settlement purposes. I answer the honourable member by saying that the relevant legislation passed in1952 empowers grants to be made to the States for war service land settlement on such conditions as the Minister determines. Among the conditions laid down in 1953, and still operative, is provision that valuations would be made by agreement between the Commonwealth and the State concerned. This agreement still applies. It includes Tasmania. The fact is that valuations are agreed valuations. In Tasmania the field work involved in determining the value for option purposes is carried out by the taxa tion valuers. These officers carry out their duties objectively. This statement is substantiated by the fact that the valuations placed by these same valuers on land that is offered for sale as being surplus to war service land settlement needs are almost always reached and nearly always exceed the reserve price put on the land for option purposes.

The objective valuation made for option purposes becomes basic data from which is deducted the value of structures already purchased by the settler. To a large extent, those values of structures are the 1946 values, a basis that is most favourable to the settler. The figure arrived at after deducting these sales values of structures becomes the option price. So the settler in Tasmania, when exercising his option, has the right of either taking the market value or accepting the cost of actually providing the holding, whichever is the less. That is how options are determined.

The honourable member for Braddon mentioned various difficulties and cited different holdings. I would hope that the present committee that has been set up by the Tasmanian Government would be examining these questions which have been brought up by the honourable member for Braddon. A Commonwealth officer has been made available by me to provide information and to answer questions. Originally the position was that the only officer available was a relatively junior officer from Western Australia. The Crown Solicitor's Office informed me that no obligation was imposed on Commonwealth officers to provide information. This officer certainly did not have the capacity or the experience to speak on any areas that might involve policy, and therefore I was not prepared to make him available. But I have agreed to make a more senior officer available. I hope that this meets the needs of the Tasmanian committee. I give the honourable member for Braddon an assurance that when that committee eventually presents its findings I will take note of those findings. So I think it would be most inappropriate for a Commonwealth committee to be set up at the moment while this other committee is doing a job in Tasmania.

The honourable member for Braddon also mentioned an accusation by Mr Chisholm, a member of the Tasmanian

House of Assembly, made last year to the effect that there was a semblance of corruption in the way in which valuations were determined by Commonwealth officers in relation to the valuations that were declared by officers of the State Government At that time I replied in a Press statement to Mr Chisholm's accusation. No further disputation has arisen about this point. I am sorry that the honourable member brought it up today in the terms in which he stated it today. The valuations that he talked about are valuations by the State for rating purposes. These are generally unimproved values. If one looks at State values and Commonwealth values - or market values as is the case with the Commonwealth - one sees a considerable difference between them, with the State unimproved values being considerably less than the market value. That is the reason why a discrepancy may be found between the two values.

The Australian Labor Party has suggested a committee to look into the general question of war service land settlement. I have said that I would have to oppose that at this time. I oppose it because the record of the Government on war service land settlement gives no reason for a general inquiry. Demands by eligible settlers in the agent States for land have been satisfied. In South Australia there was a limited number of world-be settlers who did not obtain blocks due to land being held very tightly in that State, a lack of suitable areas of Crown land and a decision not to become more heavily committed to horticulture or viticulture under irrigation because of concern about the future outlook of these industries and about limited water availability. Any eligible South Australian applicant who did not receive a block in that State was given the opportunity to apply in Western Australia.

The Government does not claim to be free from difficulties. There are pockets where problems exist. However, for the most part the current problems are industrywide - not confined to the scheme - in relation to which settlers under the scheme have been making representations to me. I will state some of them. One is the economic situation in recent years of settlers in the Mount Barker area of Western Australia. This is clearly a case of an industry prob lem - the low prices being received for wool, mutton and wheat in the region. Another is a series of issues which have been raised by the Upper Murray Ex-Servicemens Land Settlement Association. On 3 occasions 1 have received deputations from that Association, as mentioned by the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) this afternoon, the most recent being in March this year. Action has been taken to meet the Association's request for more flexible provisions governing the transfer of leases. When that deputation last saw me and 1 told it what the Government was prepared to do, the representatives expressed their appreciation of the new arrangements. Their claims for a review of leasehold valuations are currently being examined by a team comprising senior Commonwealth and senior State officers.

Settlers in what is known as Zone 5 in South Australia - the north western portion of the south east - are appealing to the court against the increase of the provisional rentals for their blocks. The case was listed for hearing in Adelaide and it commenced yesterday, so it would be most improper to have an inquiry on this issue while the matter is before a court. The problem facing settlers on Kangaroo Island is an industry problem but it is accentuated by freight charges. The South Australian Government however gives a subsidy to help settlers on Kangaroo Island with the problem of freight charges. Continued representations by Tasmanian settlers against the prices determined for their blocks which they would have the option to convert from leasehold to freehold, is a matter I mentioned earlier. On both King Island and Flinders Island one of the very great difficulties facing the settlers is the high cost of transport and freight charges. The Commonwealth is giving subsidy atd to those settlers to reduce their freight costs.

Mr Barnard - Not on Flinders Island.

Mr ANTHONY - To the King Island settlers.

Mr Barnard - I suggest that the Minister keep the record straight

Mr ANTHONY - I will. I hope I have straightened it for the honourable member. Again this is a question which I imagine the committee will consider. In other words, leaving aside the groups whose difficulties derive from industry problems in general, the difficulties of the other limited areas are currently being dealt with in one way or another. A select committee of the House of Representatives would be a sheer duplication of the work already being done. The number of complainant settlers is very small when compared with the 3,000 exservicemen re-settled under this scheme in the agent States and about 9,000 settlers in Australia as a whole. For the reasons I have outlined I must oppose the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson on behalf of the Opposition.

Question put.

That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr Patterson's amendment) stand part of the question.

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