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Thursday, 15 July 1926

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - So much has been said regarding the various phases of this bill that very little is left for me to put before the Senate. I am of the opinion that the matter before us embodies a great experiment, which certainly deserves to be successful. Had tha bill contemplated merely the bringing of migrants to our shores, I should have felt that the appointment of a commission was unnecessary; the existing departments could do that work. As, however, developmental work is also to be undertaken, there is scope for the energies of the best men available in the Commonwealth. It may happen that the able men whose names have been mentioned in connexion with this commission, and who have been successful in other spheres, may not be the best men for the purpose, but we can do no more than give them a trial. As large sums of money are involved, it is desirable that the most suitable men be obtained for the positions.

I need not dwell on the advantages which a proper system of migration would confer on Australia, because they have already been mentioned by other speakers. By increasing our population, especially by the introduction of people of our own race, we shall provide for our own defence and meet the objections which are certain to be raised by various members of the League of Nations as to the empty spaces in this great continent. The more people we have in Australia, the more there will be to share the great burden of debt incurred in connexion with the Great War and for other purposes. Then there are the general advantages that accrue from additional population, that is to say, an increase in the avenues of employment for people already here as well as for those who come to Australia. I suppose there will be openings for the new-comers in our secondary industries, but I assume that the majority of them will be placed on the land. On this point T am reminded of the statement made by Senator Grant that land is not being made available in the different States. 1 think Senator Andrew replied very effectively to the honorable senator. While Senator Grant was quoting figures showing that there were hundreds of applicants for certain blocks of land in New South Wales and also in Queensland, I interjected that those were special blocks, and that the applications, for them were largely of a speculative character. In many instances, practically every one in a district in which a special block is thrown open lodges an application, knowing quite well that even if they have no money they can readily secure financial assistance on the security of the land as a sheep-carrying proposition.

Senator Pearce - Or they may sell the lease.

Senator THOMPSON - Exactly. The fact that for some blocks there are thousands of applicants is not evidence that there is no land available. Within the next three years a large area of suitable land will be open for selection in Queensland. I will say that, although I am opposed to the present Labour Government, it certainly has sound ideas in regard to the distribution of land. Possibly it will make the mistake of making the land available in areas that are too small, but evidentally it is determined to bring about a better distribution of suit able areas, and, as I have said, in the course of a year or two there should be plenty of openings in Queensland for migrants as well as good Australians. Unfortunately, as my colleague, Senator Reid, said this afternoon, much of that country is at present in the throes of a drought. Droughts recur periodically, and we must be prepared to face them, . but the country which is at present suffering in this way has wonderful recuperative powers, and I feel sure that if the land-holders can get assistance to restock with sheep they will be on their feet again in a few years. In addition to the possibility of a considerable area of good land being made available within the next three years, we have in Queensland millions of acres which are suitable for agriculture, dairying and particularly cotton-growing. It ' was to stress this phase of our migration proposals that I rose to take part in the debate. In my opinion cotton-growing offers better inducement for close settlement than any other branch of primary production. An area of 10 acres, 20 acres or 30 acres is sufficient, in conjunction with dairy farming or maize-growing. A man and his family can look after a crop of that size quite easily. Moreover, cotton will grow on land that is unsuitable for other purposes, and although the price may fluctuate somewhat, there will always be an unfailing demand for more than we can produce in Australia. The industry is passing through temporary difficulties. We were hoping that the Government would grant a bounty of 2d. per lb. for raw cotton, but unfortunately the Ministry does not see its way clear to give more than l£d. Perhaps in view of the effect of cotton-growing on migration generally the Government will reconsider its decision. At all events, I shall do what I can to help' in that direction, though I think that even with a bounty of 1 1/2d. a lb. cotton-growing will be an important factor in ensuring successful land settlement. A great deal has been said about unemployment in Australia. I am satisfied that, as land settlement increases, unemployment will not be particularly pronounced. It is also suggested that it is the desire of the British Government to dump a large proportion of its unemployed population into Australia, regardless of how the migrants fare after their arrival. I have just read in the Umpire Parliamentary

Journalthe debate which took place in the House of Commons on this subject. Perhaps it will interest honorable senators if I quote a few extracts from a speech made by the Right Honorable L. S. Amery, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the Colonies. He said - " We have no right to push, or even encourage, the people who, under our existing industrial system in this country, have found themselves stranded and in difficulties, and who are. perhaps, no longer fitted for any other life than that for which they have .been trained - wo have no excuse if we push them out, only to find themselves no less stranded elsewhere. We have no right to shake off our responsibility in that way. Nor have we any right, from the point of view of our relationship with the Dominions, to try to send out to them people who arc not really going to make a success of their life on the other side, or to be really valuable elements in the community which they join."

It was, however, undoubted, the Secretary of State said, that a better distribution of population in the Empire might do a great deal to help the whole economic situation in Great Britain, and in that sense help the unemployment problem.

In all these questions what they had to consider really, looking upon themselves as citizens of a great Empire, was what was the most efficient distribution of their population for their own well-being, for the raising of the standard of living, for the strength of the nation and of the Empire. They had to consider that question of efficiency both from the point of view of a sound geographical distribution and also from the point of view of a sound distribution as between industries of different kinds - as between primary production, agricultural production, mining, and the great secondaries.

There was a great deal to be said for encouraging, by practical measures of all sorts, those who wished for an opportunity of a new life overseas by making the passages easy and making reasonable arrangements for their reception at the other end. Reference had been made to men who went out to come back because they were unfit. It by no means followed that all those men were unfit. Quite possibly a little training might have given them a chance when they started at the other end. Anything that could be done in the way of organization and co-operation between the Governments to give a better chance to those who wanted to go overseas was well worth while doing.

Those sentiments indicate that the people in the Mother Country appreciate the situation in Australia quite as much as we do. Reference has been made by several speakers in this debate to the influx of Italian migrants. Naturally, this subject interests me as a Queenslander. Whilst I agree with other honorable senators that our object should be to en courage the migration of the people of our own race, I do not think that we should raise any objection to Italians. Certainly the migrant from north Italy is about as good a settler as we can get from any part of the world.

Senator Lynch - It would be difficult to work the sugar farms without the Italians.

Senator THOMPSON - I agree with the honorable senator. We are on delicate ground when we oppose Italian immigrants in the way that is being done in certain quarters at present. I have received a letter from a nephew of mine in north Queensland. He tells me that not long ago an Australian returned soldier sold his farm to a- number of Italians on terms very advantageous to him, and by way of reprisal, when the Italians sent their cane to the nearest sugar mill, there was a strike amongst the sugar workers, with the result that the cane produced by these Italians was held up. I do not know how the trouble was settled, but I hope that good sense prevailed. Racial discrimination of this kind is bound to involve us in international difficulties. And, after all, Italians are very good settlers and they are entitled to our respect. We have heard a great deal, from time to time, about the brotherhood of man. I wonder sometimes why those who subscribe to the principle do not work together in amity in northern Quensland. I hope that the suggestions made by Sir Arthur Rickard, in London the other day, will bear fruit. It will be remembered that he said that this problem of migration should be looked upon rather as the business of transferring some of the population, the wealth, and the manufacturing power of the Mother Country to the dominions. ' I think that most of us are agreed that eventually the population of those little murky islands in the North Atlantic must be more evenly distributed than it is at present. I believe that this bill will assist in that direction. If it does, the scheme will be well worth the risk we are taking, and the money that will be expended upon it. I trust that the bill will be passed, and that, when it is translated into action, the migration proposals of the Government will be entirely successful.

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