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Wednesday, 14 July 1926

Senator CARROLL (Western Australia) . - It is not my intention to traverse the bill from stait to finish. My remarks will be confined to that portion of it which relates to land settlement in Australia. I was rather struck by the reference of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) to the glorious climate and the vast empty spaces of Australia. Why are those spaces empty when we have a glorious climate and splendid land ? No person enters into any business unless he can make money out of it. A tremendous amount of sentiment is indulged in regarding the ties of emplire in relation to the development of this country. Land settlement, however, is undertaken not for sentimental reasons, but with the object of making a living out of it. That was the motive which actuated the original pioneers. Senator Grant has said that there is no land available in Australia for settlement. With all due respect to him I say that there are millions of acres available, and it can be procured if any one can be induced to take it up. That it has not been taken up and developed is very largely the fault of the Commonwealth Government. That is not mere assertion on my part. In support of it I can point to an admission by the Government itself. It recently issued a statement, which appeared in the daily newspapers of the 19th May last, in which it advanced proposals for placing the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States upon a different footing. In the course of that statement it said that the Commonwealth alone could reduce indirect taxation; that that was not within the province of the States. It went on to state that already indirect taxation had been reduced by £750,000 a year, and that, when the finances permitted, further reductions would be made, because it was recognized that the present impost retarded the national development of Australia and hindered the development of our overseas markets. Immediately a migrant is settled upon the land he is penalized, because, as a result of the increased costs due to the indirect taxation imposed by this Government, the advance which is made by the State for the purpose of developing his holding is worth only 13s. 4d. in the £1.

This bill has been framed by the Government to give effect to the agreement, and since it has already been signed, no argument that we can advance will lead to its alteration. Although the bill does not come up to my expectations in all respects, I approve of the proposal to administer it by a board of commissioners. To my mind it is not within the province of a ministry to administer a measure like this. At any rate, that is the experience I have gained in Western Australia. I feel sure that a great deal of money will fee saved to the Commonwealth and the States by entrusting the administration of the scheme to a commission, provided that the men charged with thatduty are fit to do the work. I do not know who will be appointed, but as the scheme deals mainly with land settlement, I sincerely trust that some of the commissioners will know something about land settlement, and the difficulties attaching to it, and be competent also to judge the value of land. If I read the bill correctly, the old agreement between the "Western Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government and the Imperial Government, will be superseded by that which forms the basis of this measure. It is quite openly recognized in Western Australia that many of the men who were placed on farms under that agreement were settled on unsuitable land. Quite recently the State Minister for Lands has admitted that a. number of them must be removed to other blocks.

Senator Foll - Queensland has had a similar experience.

Senator CARROLL - I quite believe it. Mr. Bankes Amery, the representative of the Imperial Government in Australia, has praised the Western Australian scheme as being the outstanding feature of . the whole enterprise, but I know that it is far from perfect. Those of us who realized what was likely to happen, strongly urged the previous Government of Western Australia, and also the present administration, to place the settlement of immigrants under the control of a board that would have some knowledge of the task entrusted to it, and would be likely to take every means of informing itself as to the best means of carrying it out. Our advice, however, was not accepted. I congratulate the Commonwealth Government on its proposal to appoint a commission to administer this scheme. As some honorable senators opposite have said, there may be a little duplication and some clashing with existing State authorities; but such things have happened before. We all come into this world to find that everything in it is owned by others. We have to find a place for ourselves, and we do so without a great deal of friction.- I hope that this commission, when it gets into working order, will co-operate harmoniously with the existing Federal and State boards.

Senator Findley - Why should that body have the power to turn down- pro posals which "have been seriously considered and recommended by State bodies 1

Senator CARROLL - It has no power to turn down a State proposal unless the State is asking for assistance under this scheme, and surely it is right if a State is asking for assistance to carry out its proposals, that all who are concerned should take counsel together, so that we may get the best scheme possible before public money is spent upon it.

Senator Foll - The States have made many mistakes in' soldier settlement.

Senator CARROLL - I have a considerable amount of sympathy with the returned soldiers and immigrants who have not made a success of their undertakings. It is not altogether their fault that they have failed. ' After all, many, grievous mistakes have been made in our land settlement schemes, and it would be a miracle if there were not some failures. It- has been said that quite a number of the immigrants from Great Britain are absolutely unsuitable. T have never been to the British Isles; but, having read of the deplorable conditions under which great numbers of the people in the Old Country live, the wonder to me is that we are getting such a good class of immigrants as are .coming to Australia. I am satisfied that, although there might be some improvement in regard to the quality of some of the migrants from Great Britain, we have not a great deal to complain about. Our .own parents were migrants to Australia. Certainly conditions were different when they came here, but, like the immigrants of to-day, they had a great deal to learn. I do not quite understand the provision in the agreement that immigrants shall receive the same rate of wages as Australians of similar experience. As they will have absolutely no experience of Australian conditions, it will be exceedingly difficult to pay them the same rate of wages as Australians of similar experience. The rate of wages to be- paid to immigrants until they are settled is linked up with the declaration of several honorable senators that nothing must be done to reduce the standard of living in Australia. I agree with that declaration, but I want to know what standard is referred to. It . has been said, during the course of the debate, that dairymen and others engaged 011 the land are doing marvellously well, but the dairymen, the wheat-growers, the wool-growers, and others engaged in rural occupations work very different hours from those prescribed for organized labour in the centres of population. In fact, I will go so far as to say that butter would cost at least 5s. a lb. if .the basic wage and other conditions applied to organized labour were extended to those who are endeavouring to develop our rural areas. Therefore, when we talk about doing nothing to reduce the standard of living in Australia, we must have a clear conception of the standard we have in view. There is a certain amount of unemployment in Australia, just as there is and always will be in every country.

Sitting suspended from G.SO to 8 p.m.

Senator CARROLL - In Australia it is largely a question of whether unemployment is real or otherwise. By the means which the Government proposes to adopt under this bill, settlement should be increased and production stimulated. Some time before I left Western Australia I was informed by the Government Analyst that wheat at 6s. a bushel represented only one-third of the price of bread, and the cost of bread, as we know, has a considerable effect upon the cost of living. Even if bakers were supplied with flour free of cost, -bread would still be 4d. a loaf, as against the 6d. a loaf now charged. This indicates that the producer is not receiving a fair deal. Until producers receive greater consideration, I do not think this or any similar measure will be of much assistance to them. Production and distribution costs* are such that they have a restrictive influence upon production in Australia, and production is not likely to increase until conditions are altered. Australia is not populated as it should be, and production is not what we should like it to be, merely because it does not pay to produce many of the commodities we require. I was rather interested in Senator Findley's description of the Northern Territory as " our glorious and sunny' empty north," in which people should desire to settle. I remember, however, that when a Labour Government was in power it offered, free of cost, areas of 5,000 acres in the Northern Territory to those who would settle on the land there, and that Senator Findley and others of his party were not attracted by the offer.

Senator Needham - I think the honorable senator is wrong.

Senator CARROLL - I am sneaking only from memory.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That Government offered areas of from 1,250 to 5,000 acres.

Senator CARROLL - Whatever was the area offered, the proposition was not attractive to Senator Findley and his colleagues and supporters. However fertile the country may be, it is useless to seriously consider its development unless the commodities it is capable of producing can be sold at a profit. Some time ago meat works were established at Wyndham, in the north-west of Western Australia. Theoretically it appeared a good proposition to assist small cattle-breeders, who had difficulty in finding a market for their stock; but on 28th March, 1925, the Colonial Secretary of Western Australia, who administers the department controlling the meat works, said that during the preceding four years 107,000 head of cattle had been treated, for which £450,000 had been paid, and that during the same period £577,000 had been paid in salaries and wages. In other words, the Government paid £4 8s. 6d. a head for the cattle, and -paid those who handled them £5 13s. 9d. a head for skinning and dressing them. Those figures, which do not include shipping and other charges which had to be incurred in order to place the meat on the London market, indicate the extent to which development is being retarded in this glorious country, with its vast open 'spaces. Similar figures could be produced in connexion with many other primary industries in Australia, with the exception, perhaps, of the sugar industry, which is in a particularly favorable position. I sincerely trust that when this measure is enacted, and the commission is engaged upon its important work, it will profit by the mistakes which have been made in the past by Federal and State Governments, and that it will use to the best possible advantage the money which is being advanced by the British Government. It has been said by some that the agreement will operate to the advantage of Great Britain; but it must be remembered that Great Britain has her interests to protect, and that, if the agreement does not protect Australia, it is the fault of those who signed it on our behalf. I am an Australian native, but I have always contended that the Mother Country has treated Australia very generously, and that it is our duty to absorb her surplus population. "With a country consisting of 2,974,000 square miles and a population of only 6,000,000, we should be able to profitably absorb hundreds- of thousands of migrants without in any way detrimentally affecting our own people. We have to depend upon production for our national existence; but, up to the present, an efficient scheme for the effective settlement and development of Australia has not been formulated. The average wheat yield in Australia is from 10 to 13 bushels an acre - in Western Australia it is from 10 to 12 bushels - but there is no reason why the commission, in co-operation with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, should not be instrumental in increasing the average yield .by 2 or 3 bushels per acre. I was not born in the Wimmera, but I was taken there as a child, and I can remember when the wheat yield in that district was about 9 to 12 bushels an acre. It is much higher to-day, hut there is no reason why it should not be further increased. Many years ago, in this very chamber, when the Macpherson Grant Land Bill was being considered by the Legislative Council, the representative of the Northwestern province, the late Sir James McBain, was asked how many acres of land in the Wimmera District were suitable for wheat growing. He replied, "Not a single acre." To-day, however, the Wimmera is one of the best wheatproducing areas in Victoria. What has been the reward of those who have endeavoured to-improve the position of Australian producers? I recall the late William Farrer, who devoted the whole of his life to the improvement of our breeds of wheat, and, without offending any one, I think I can say that that gentleman was responsible to a greater extent than any other individual for increasing our wheat yield per acre, and in so doing adding millions to the wealth of this country. What did he receive for his services? Not so much as an ordinary prizefighter obtains, for bashing the head of another human being into a shapeless mass. Even the wheatgrowers gave him .no tangible evidence of their appreciation, nor have they since his death done anything to perpetuate his memory. That was the reward paid to one who endeavoured to increase the wealth of this country, and to place it in the position which the Minister said he hoped would be the result of this legislation. If his hopes are to be realized, it will be necessary to exercise great care regarding the personnel of the commission. Speaking to the representatives of the Chamber of Manufactures in Sydney recently, the Prime Minister said that the Government intended to get the best men possible to act on the commission. Seeing that the success of the scheme depends upon finding markets, I hope that the Government will not make the mistake of appointing any Australian manufacturer as a member of the commission. Australian manufacturers have so far been unable to find overseas markets for their own products. Markets outside Australia are essential to the success of this scheme.

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