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Tuesday, 22 June 1937

Senator HARDY (NEW SOUTH WALES) - -Ref erence to the Hansard report of speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition will show that what I have said is quite correct. He has stated over and over again that he doubts the wisdom of increasing our exports. Mr. Scullin, when Prime Minister, held different views. In 1931 he made an urgent appeal to our wheatfa rmers to grow more wheat, and so enable Australia to meet its overseas obligations. There was no talk then of Labour's policy to restrict export production. On the contrary, our primary producers were urged to go full steam ahead and provide a large surplus for sale overseas. Apparently there has been a change of front lately. Senator Collings now holds that production for export should be strictly limited, though his misgivings about marketing difficulties are not justified by the facts. In the years 1931 to 1935, our main primary industries - wheat, wool and butter - did not suffer appreciably from having an exportable surplus. I doubt that the Leader of the Opposition can cite one single instance of an unduly large carryover. Therefore, we should heed the lessons of the past and see that future closer settlement schemes are established on a sound economic basis.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator had better leave that to a Labour Government. Thousands of migrants who were settled on land in Victoria had to be repatriated.

Senator HARDY - It is impossible to avoid trouble if settlers are placed on marginal lands. I am not now advocating the adoption of any mass scheme of closer settlement. Obviously it would be dangerous to place inexperienced men on unsuitable land and expect them to make a success of their undertaking. What I am urging is that provision should be made for the known large number of experienced men with the necessary capital who are seeking land. The time has come when, in the development of the Commonwealth primary production should once more march with the times, side by side with the expansion of secondary industry. It is, however, essential that only the right type of settler - the man with experience and financial resources - should have a chance to settle on the right class of land. Only in this way can we expect to avoid a repetition of the mistakes of the past. It is hopeless to expect a man, accustomed only to working behind a shop counter, to make a success of dairying. Furthermore, land for future settlers should be made available at a price that will not load them with excessive annual costs, and what is equally important, should be in districts with an assured rainfall, thus making possible a diversity of production.

Some honorable senators may be sceptical as to the demand for land at the present time, and I have no doubt the Leader of the Opposition will be surprised when I say that it is very keen in the State which I assist to represent in this chamber. Recently in a ballot for 11 blocks of land in the Eastern and Western division of New South Wales, not a great distance from the scene of our election activity, a few weeks ago, there were no fewer than 3,600 applicants.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Most of them were dummies.

Senator HARDY - The honorable senator is wrong. They were all genuine applicants. There are also registered, in the Lands department of New South Wales, 6,000 applicants for land, and I am further informed that there is a great number of unregistered applicants. My information is that in New South Wales alone there are at least 11,000 applicants for land, all with practical experience of some form of primary production. This being so, it is only right that the Senate should support every feasible scheme for closer settlement in order to provide those applicants with the land which they desire in areas of assured rainfall, thus avoiding as far as possible a repetition of mistakes of the past, when men were placed on marginal areas in uncertain country.

Senator Collings - Another important factor is the right price for money.

Senator HARDY - I agree with the honorable gentleman. Recently the New South "Wales government, through its Lands department, made a survey of lands available in that State for closer settlement. The committee which made the investigation consisted of men with wide experience in all forms of primary production, and their report was a revelation. They showed that in the central and eastern divisions of New South Wales, there were 2,299 estates, each having an unimproved value of £10,000 and over and capable of subdivision. The committee estimated that the total area was capable of subdivision as follows: - 537 living areas for wool production only; 6,153 areas for sheep breeding and fattening; 2,855 areas for wheat and sheep; 4S4 areas for wheat, sheep and fat lambs; 349 areas for fat iambs and fodder crops; 1,911 areas for dairying; 129 areas for dairying and fat lambs; 1,277 areas for dairying and mixed farming; 210 areas for t attle raising and 137 areas for miscellaneous farming and intensive culture. On this basis the .aggregate acreage of the 2,299 estates in New South Wales could provide 14,042 living areas to be devoted to the various forms of primary production I have named.

I do not suggest that all of the estates included in the survey could be made available for closer settlement. Some are being operated under sound scientific management, and are being fully utilized, so their subdivision would not lead to an increase of the economic output. It is also reasonable to urge that those estates which are being used for stud purposes could not he subdivided without economic loss to the wool industry, but I should say that of the total area covered by the report, at least 10,000 living areas could be created by subdivision.

Senator Collings - Has the Commonwealth power to deal with such estates?

Senator HARDY - Yes. The committee which made its report on closer settlement emphasized that Crown lands in New South Wales, were limited and also that the Crown must undertake each year the purchase or resumption of a number of these estates for closer settlement purposes. There are three ways in which land may be made available for closer settlement. One is by voluntary subdivision. This has been tried in New South Wales, and I should add, has proved unsuccessful. The second method is compulsory resumption on an equitable basis, and the third is compulsory acquisition, which, I have no doubt, will appeal to Labour senators. I wish it to be clearly understood that I and the members of my party do not stand for the compulsory acquisition of any property. Should there be no voluntary subdivision of the land, compulsory resumption may be resorted to. That is what the New South Wales Government now proposes to do. It proposes to embark upon a longrange scheme of closer settlement, based on compulsory resumption of land at equitable values. That being so, the Commonwealth cannot possibly stand aloof, but must take an active part in the development of the' country. We have only to call to mind the activities of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to realize how science can be applied to industry in order to increase production. Is not the Government entitled to extend the sphere of its activities in respect of land which is not being put to its full use?

Senator Collings - The Labour party thinks so, but the party to which the honorable senator belongs does not.

Senator HARDY - There have been ten Labour governments in New South Wales, but not one of them ever subdivided a private estate for closer settlement purposes. When the Labour party talks of closer settlement, and the right to free there locked-up lands, it talks with its tongue in its cheek.

Senator Collings - Why did not the honorable senator say these things to the electors of Gwydir in the recent byelection campaign? He did not suggest the compulsory, acquisition of land then.

Senator HARDY - I do not suggest it now. The Labour party believes in the compulsory acquisition of land, which really means the stealing of property.

Senator Brown - The acquiring of land does not mean stealing it.

Senator HARDY - The compulsory resumption of land is entirely different from its compulsory acquisition. Only after there has been failure to subdivide land voluntarily does the Country party believe in its compulsory resumption, and then only at an equitable valuation.

Let us now consider the legislation introduced in 1910 by a Labour government to impose a tax on land having an unimproved value of more than £5,000. The ideal aimed at in that measure should be supported by the present Labour party ; it is a national plan for co-ordinated closer settlement. When that legislation was introduced, Mr. Charlton said: -

In almost every part of New South Wales, and within easy reach of a railway, there are large estates to which the people cannot gain access. They are not being put to the best advantage, and this tax will do something towards placing them on the market. If the tax results in the subdivision of large estates, I believe it will prove the best thing that has ever happened to Australia.

Unfortunately effect was never given to the ideal underlying the bill. Speaking on the same bill, the then Prime Minister,Mr. Andrew Fisher. in his second-reading speech, said -

One of our great hopes is that it will convert large areas into small areas and bring about closer settlement ... As far as I can make out, in New South Wales, there are about ten times more people clamouring for small holdings than there are areas available on which they can earn a living.

Every honorable senator will agree with the vision of those who introduced that legislation, but not all will agree with the way in which the tax was imposed, or the manner in which the proceeds were used,

Senator Collings - Not every one agrees with the way in which the present Government recently distributed over £6,000,000.

Senator HARDY - Of the amount received from the land tax, 60 per cent, is derived from property in the cities and 40 per cent, from large country estates. What would have happened had the Commonwealth Government in -1910 decided to earmark the proceeds of the land tax for closer settlement purposes? Since the tax was first imposed it has brought £54,000,000 to the Commonwealth Treasury, and had that sum been applied to the purchase of large estates, instead of being paid into general revenue, how different things would be to-day! During the last five years nearly £7,000,000 has been received by the Commonwealth from this tax; and although I realize that there are difficulties associated with allocating the revenue derived from a particular tax to specific purposes, I urge the Government, if it intends to continue the land tax, to allocate the money to the States in pursuance of a long-range plan of closer settlement.

I urge that action be taken similar to what is done in connexion with the petro] duty, a proportion of the proceeds of which is handed to the States for the making and maintenance of roads. As I have said, I realize that there are difficulties in the way of doing what I have suggested, but I commend the proposal to the earnest consideration of the Government. I have brought this matter forward in the full knowledge that it bristles with difficulties, but the longrange policy of the New South Wales Government in connexion with closer settlement is my justification. I realize that the carrying out of the plan which I have suggested will add to the existing problems, and impinge on national policy; but, as I have said, the Commonwealth Government cannot stand aloof in this matter. It should stand behind the States to the full extent of its power in assisting them to carry out this plan. If I were asked how the Commonwealth can assist, I would say that it. can do so, first, through the instrumentality of the Loan Council, which, contrary to public opinion, is not a Commonwealth body. The States require money to finance any comprehensive scheme of closer settlement. Should they ask the Loan Council to authorize the issue of debentures in payment for the land to be resumed, I say emphatically that the Commonwealth should be prepared to give to the proposal its sympathetic consideration. The interests of the Commonwealth and the States in respect of the production and marketing of both ' primary and secondary products are so inextricably interwoven that it is the duty of the Commonwealth to co-operate with the States. I believe that the Government realizes its duty in that respect, and will co-operate with the States.

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