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Friday, 9 July 1926

Senator MCLACHLAN (South Australia) .- The Minister should be gratified at the sympathetic reception that has been given to this measure by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber, not because of the inherent virtues of the bill, but on account of the great principle that underlies it. This is probably the most important measure with which we shall be called upon to deal during this or many future sessions. It touches a question that is vital, not only to our development, but also to our defence; and, in addition, it is based upon the principle that immigration should be removed from the realm of party politics. Whilst journeying through England last year I was grieved to see many persons making their weekly pilgrimage for the dole. We should endeavour, not only to relieve the Old Land of the incubus of unemployment, but also to restore to a certain section of our brothers and sisters overseas the selfrespect and moral fibre that the system of doles is breaking down. Senator Duncan stated that those people are not likely to prove attractive settlers. The sooner this problem is solved the more unlikely will be the possibility of its ever obtaining a fresh grip of men and women who belong to our race and breed. Their removal from their present surroundings, and from an atmosphere that is having such a damaging effect, will prove beneficial to them. It is unquestionably the duty and the prerogative of every unit of the Empire to assist in the settlement of this problem, which will overwhelm the people of Great Britain if it is not promptly removed. The favorable reception which this measure has had, is no doubt, due to the fact that it is. a bold and sincere, and probably the first real, attempt that has been made by any Australian Government to grapple with the problem of immigration. I am not quite sure that this is the best way to encourage migration or to make it successful. Senator Kingsmill voiced a similar apprehension in slightly different language. Settlement in Australia in the early stages was advanced, because those who handled the matter knew where every man and woman could be placed, and were familiar with the conditions that existed at each end. We require a clear understanding of what is visualized by the Government. The measure is, in the main, machinery in its character. It provides for the appointment of a board of commissioners, and proposes to make it a body corporate. It also fixes the tenure of the commissioners and the conditions governing their retirement. The essence of the measure is the provision that the commission must administer and give effect to the migration agreement signed on the 8th of April, 1925. The Government will be wise if it pays regard to various factors when making appointments to the commission. I understand that a gentleman of great eminence has been selected as chairman of the commission. I pay my tribute to his worth. He possesses exceptional qualifications mid considerable organizing ability. But in addition to organizing ability we shall, at this end at all events, require upon the commission a man who possesses a practical knowledge of the requirements of Australia and its powers of absorption. That knowledge is possessed only by men of long experience, who are familiar with the various branches of industry. I give the Government and the gentleman who is to be the chairman of the commission the credit of having in mind those considerations. The whole scope and ambit of the agreement relate to the settlement of migrants in our primary industries. Paragraph 1 provides that the Commonwealth Government shall endeavour to make arrangements .with the Governments of the States for suitable areas of land that are available for development and settlement, and for the carrying on of public works that will tend to promote the development of Australia, either directly or indirectly, and increase the opportunities for settlement. Those are the two main objects. The agreement then goes on to state -

To this end, the State Governments will be invited by the Commonwealth Government to submit' to them full details of any undertakings proposed, such details to include the estimated total cost of each undertaking classified under appropriate headings, such as -

(a)   acquiring or resuming alienated land ;

(b)   clearing of land or preparing it for farm settlement;

(c)   construction of roads, bridges, &c. ;

(d)   construction and equipment of developmental railways, tramways, &c, directly conducive to new settlement (but not including main trunk railways) ;

(e)   construction of hydro-electric and water conservation or other similar works, in and for the purposes of rural areas;

(f)   construction of irrigation farms;

(g)   advances to settlers (including persons settling or in process of settlement on farms) for the purchase of stock, equipment, housing materials, &c. ;

(h)   advances to farmers or other rural employers for the. erection of cottages for employees;

(i)   construction of sugar mills, butter factories, and similar enterprises tending to assist in the development of rural areas;

(j)   afforestation;

(k)   settlement of persons upon farms;

(l)   any other undertaking or expenditure agreed upon.

Throughout the agreement, provision is made for only one form of settlement; and that is settlement the result of which will be the production of wheat, possibly wool, and other primary products. Afforestation and hydro-electric works are merely incidental. We must make sure that we have the land, and that it is available for settlement. There is an abundance of land that could be made ready for settlement. The existing position reminds me of the experience of an eminent chemist who considered that he had solved the problem of the destruction of the prickly pear in Queensland.

SenatorReid. - That has allegedly been solved on many occasions.

Senator McLACHLAN - It is quite possible of solution. After having been assured of the effectiveness of the chemist's method for the destruction of the pear, a gentleman who had had experience in land settletment said : " I want to know exactly what it is going to cost per acre to clear the land of prickly pear?" He informed him, and then my friend turned to another gentleman from Queensland, and asked him at what price adjacent land of equal quality, but free from prickly pear, could be obtained. It turned out that it would cost more to clear the ground of prickly "pear than it would to buy land free of prickly pear. That is the economic side of the question to which regard must be paid. There are places in South Australia and New South

Wales, and there are no doubt vast areas in Queensland and Western Australia, that will permit of greater settlement, but we shall have to see that they are prepared for the reception of settlers and that suitable settlers are brought out to place on them. These settlers should be men who will understand what they will have to face, and men who are equipped by nature and by training to discharge the duties that will appertain to that branch of settlement. It is a fundamental necessity that we must provide for the absorption of the settlers we bring from overseas. The agreement provides for an examination of the suitability of migrants before they are brought here to settle on the land, but we must pause for a moment, and consider the position of the primary industries of Australia. We have given bounties on beef, wine, butter and various other things. The two primary industries that stand out, and have stood right through without assistance, are woolgrowing and wheat-growing. With regard to wool the future prospects appear to be far better than those of any other industry. Australia is not likely to be faced by any serious competition from any other part of the world in regard to its wool; but can we say the same with regard toour wheat? Once Russia gets back to some stable form of government such as it enjoyed before the cataclysm from which it is suffering, and from which it is likely to suffer for some little time - once it gets back to wheat-production, what will be the position of our wheatgrowing areas in Australia? The price then obtained will be a great deal lower than the price now obtained, and I doubt very much whether wheat can be grown in Australia to give anything more than a basic wage to the grower at anything under 5s. a bushel. Already in Australia there are men engaged in primary industries who are not receiving what city men are receiving under the minimum awards of arbitration courts. Therefore we need to be wary in what we are doing in this regard. Although I do not see any provision in the bill ratifying, adopting, or authorizing the agreement, we shall probably learn from the Minister when he replies how that is done. When I examine the agreement, it seems to me that it fails in one or two respects to meet the requirements of Australia. Apparently all the efforts of the commission are to be directed to the immigration of menfolk. Although there is ample room in Australia for more domestics to help our womenfolk, there apparently is no provision to deal with that aspect of the question. The Minister may say that it is foreign to the subject-matter of the agreement, but I should like to know if we are to have two systems in operation at the same time - the system at present in vogue, if we are pleased to honour it by calling it a system, and the method controlled by the commission - or if all the duties in connexion with immigration are in future to be left to the commissioners. There is nothing before us to show that provision will be made for boy immigrants. Speaking, not as a party man, but as one who has watched this question abroad as well as in Australia, I can say that the scheme of bringing boys into Australia is the very best one that can be adopted. The boy who is brought here, goes to a home, and there is an individual interest taken in him. He grows up amongst his fellows in this country, learns their habits and their ways, becomes accustomed to his environment and ultimately goes out into the world equipped for the undertaking he is to follow. It is' wise to catch your bird young and train it. It is far better to get a young immigrant and mould him to Australian conditions, than to bring out a man of mature years whom it takes a long time to train, and equip for the duties he is ultimately to undertake. Unfortunately, owing, possibly, to the exigencies of party politics, the South Australian Government stopped the flow of boy immigrants under the Barwell boy scheme; but, while that scheme was in operation, it was an admirable one. There are, no doubt, individual cases of failure, but we must look at the thing in the mass in order to see whether it is working well. I venture to say that the Barwell boy scheme, so far as it was in operation, proved an unqualified success. It is regrettable that a similar provision is not made in this bill. We heard something yesterday from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) about idle capital and idle men. I suggested at the time, by interjection, that there was no idle capital in Australia, although there might be some idle men; but I agree with the honorable senator that neither condition is economically sound. I suppose that the honorable senator had in mind the fact that some people are not developing their properties, holdings, or buildings as rapidly as they should. I shall tell him why they are not doing so. Their capital is not idle in the ordinary sense, lt is idle only in this sense, that they are not employing, it on those improvements to which the honorable senator referred, because no man with a true sense of economics would improve his property to-day when he knows that any improvement he may undertake will cost a good deal more than its true intrinsic value may be if the present period of inflation comes to an end. That is one of Australia's troubles at the present time. Yesterday we had in this chamber an illustration of the very same thing. Honorable senators criticized the cost of houses at Canberra. Every one who buys one of those houses at the prices that are being charged for them has staring him in the face an economic loss when the day of deflation really comes. The man who has_ the control of money to-day is far-sighted enough to have regard for this fact, and, if there is any idle money in Australia, it is due entirely to that fact. In bringing out a large number of immigrants, we shall risk a considerable sum of money, an aspect with which I shall deal in a moment or two. When I was visiting the Old Land, I took the opportunity to make inquiries into migration methods, and to ascertain how Australia was viewed as a suitable country for emigrants. In. many places in England I found that little or nothing was known about Australia, and that men and women were afraid of the tremendous distance between this country and the Motherland. That was a general feeling prevailing in the rural districts of England. In Scotland even less was known about Australia, and I encountered one striking instance of how Australia missed quite a number of immigrants from that country. Through the editor of the Weekly Scotsman, I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Dr. Lawrie, who takes a tremendous interest in migration, and, through his introduction, I met others similarly interested in the north-west of Scotland. They had taken part in an emigration scheme from that part of the

British Isles, which had just passed through some very bad seasons. Although there had been thousands anxious to emigrate, they did not wish to go to Australia, and the efforts of the immigration agents and those people who, very humanely, formed themselves into committees to give the emigrants every assistance, had been directed towards sending them to Canada. Altogether 15,000 were sent to Canada, and some of the men who were instrumental in sending them there were almost demented afterwards when they learned of the conditions that had to be faced there. Rigorous as may be the climate in the west of Scotland, it is nothing compared to that of Canada, and, as it was put to me, the men who had been sent to Canada were "dying like flies." If there is one class of man suitable for attending sheep, it is the western Highlander. He knows nothing whatever about agriculture. Where he lives there is no land fit for cultivation beyond a few small plots here and there. But he understands sheep; and if there is one class of immigrant that ought to be sent to Australia, particularly for the development of the pastoral areas like the Barkly Tablelands, it is the man from the north-western Highlands of Scotland who is now emigrating to Canada. I have given an illustration of the confusion which arose when sufficient attention was not given to the conditions under which migrants were expected to work.

Senator Thompson - We lost the services of good men.'

Senator MCLACHLAN - Yes, and whether flock-masters or shepherds, the men of whom I speak make fine citizens, and do their work well. T am particularly concerned with the fact that there seems to be no provision for parliamentary control over the money to be expended under this scheme. So far as I can gather from clause 5 of the agreement, the financial responsibility incurred will be the liability of the Commonwealth. We are certainly incurring a grave risk in handing over to commissioners, however highly qualified they may be, the control of such a large sum of money. The liability of the British Government, so far as I can gather from the Minister's speech and the agreement, is £130,000 for every principal sum of £750,000, which liability under the agreement is limited to a total of £7,083,000. A sum of £34,000,000 is to be invested in this scheme of bringing migrants to Australia, and in handling them by a rule of thumb method of government organization. It is a new system, and one to which the British Government, in its desire that we should take our share in some of the problems of the Empire, readily subscribed. In one sense, I support the Government's proposals; but I wish Parliament to have control, so that if the occasion should arise a halt may be called. If the productive capacity of the new settlers is not sufficient to maintain them, the Government may be placed in the position it has been placed in connexion with soldier settlers, and may be faced with the responsibility of lend-' ing a further helping .hand. . No doubt the Minister will say that that is a problem which the commission will have to consider; but we have a duty to perform in the interests of the taxpayers. I am whole-heartedly in favour of bringing migrants to Australia and of keeping our people within the Empire, but I would be recreant to my trust if I failed to direct attention to the fact, that the bill proposes to hand over extensive' power to a commission which we cannot control, and this may be subversive of the best .interests of the country. The Government is to be commended for its courage in launching such a big undertaking, but in admiring its .activities in this direction we should not assist in incurring heavy expenditure that may not be recoverable. If the undertaking should prove a failure the tide of migration' will undoubtedly be against Australia for many years. I should have preferred a smaller scheme providing for a steady inflow of desirable migrants. I have no doubt that large numbers can be profitably absorbed if provision has been made for them, and the commission will no doubt be expected to undertake an extensive developmental policy as outlined, under which land will be made available to our kinsfolk from overseas. I do not think there is any justification for the fears expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) concerning the arrival of foreign migrants, particularly from southern Europe. That subject need not be discussed at this juncture, as I believe the necessary action is being taken to prevent an undue number of foreign migrants coining to Australia. There are, however, other phases of foreign migration, particularly in relation to conduct which provides ample scope for future discussion. I intend to support the bill subject to an assurance from the Minister that some control will be vested in the Commonwealth Parliament. The liabilities of the Government will, I expect, be fully explained by the Minister.

Debate (on motion by Senator Chapman) adjourned.

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