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Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1008


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Minister for Air) -I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill provides for the raising of loan moneys amounting to $6. 5m for war service land settlement in the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania during the 1972-73 financial year. It is anticipated that the money will be made available in the following approximate amounts: South Australia, $4,156,000; Western Australia, $1,600,000; and Tasmania, $744,000.

For the current financial year, the sum provided for war service land settlement purposes in South Australia has been increased by $2. 5m compared to. the levels that have ruled over the past few years. This significant increase has been made available for 2 broad purposes. Firstly, there exists on Kangaroo Island a unique combination of circumstances that has led to serious financial difficulties for many of the soldier settlers there. I use the word unique' advisedly. The problems of the

Kangaroo Island settlers arise from a combination of physical and biological problems. Clover disease is prevalent particularly in the western part of the Island. It is believed that this disease is caused by high oestrogen content in pastures which contain a predominance of certain strains of subterranean clover such as Yarloop, Geraldton, Dwalganup and, to a lesser degree, possible also Wooginelup. In lambs, the disease is reflected in low survival rates while in wethers it can cause up to 10 per cent morality per annum.

This difficulty in maintaining flock numbers on Kangaroo Island is compounded by seasonal feed shortages, the high cost of replacement stock, limited transport facilities and the higher than average production costs on the Island. In addition, the age level of the settlers is steadily rising. There are other islands carrying soldier settlement, like Flinders Island. Clover disease exists elsewhere in Australia. But nowhere else in or around this continent does the unique set of difficulties recur that are faced by soldier settlers on Kangaroo Island. There is unfortunately no one solution to these difficulties. What is needed is a range of measures.

During 1971-72, a detailed investigation of Kangaroo Islands problems was made by officers of the Department of Primary Industry in conjunction with State officers. Following these investigations and after discussions with farmers and farmer organisations, an improvement programme has been developed for Kangaroo Island and approved in principle. The programme is a flexible one capable of being modified in the light of research findings and of financial experience. It will be based on the need for scientific investigation to achieve breakthroughs to overcome the underlying problems of soil-plant-animal relationships that are presently reflected in practical farming problems in this enviroment. South Australia has already taken action to increase reseach activities financed from State resources, supplemented by money from the Commonwealth extension services grant. Now additional funds will be made available for work aimed at the selection of suitable livestock types appropriate to agronomic conditions on the Island.

However scientific investigations and breeding take time. So the programme will also include initially provision for partial rental remission for those soldier settlers whose circumstances are most adversely affected by the physical and biological problems of Kangaroo Island farming. Other measures in the improvement programme will include the provision of credit for fodder conservation facilities and, in appropiate cases, a recasting of settlers accounts to reduce annual calls and to provide improved flexibility of repayment.

There is a further and most important measure, namely, the provision of advances to pay out stock mortgages in cases where the settler's prospects of future success are considered reasonable. Giving the settlers access to departmental finance in this fashion will have a most beneficial effect on the settler's financial position. The rate of interest charged on advances under the war service land settlement scheme is only 31 per cent, much lower than on money borrowed from stock firms and pastoral houses. Also the annual working expenses which settlers are able to borrow from such firms are, in many cases, insufficient for the reasonable operation and maintenance of their farms. This aspect of the settlers' financial problems should be largely overcome by the measure just outlined.

To recapitulate, the Kangaroo Island improvement programme will comprise initially scientific investigation; partial rental remission; credit for fodder conservation facilities; recasting of settlers accounts in appropriate cases; and provision to pay out stock mortgages for credit-worthy settlers. The provision to enable credit-worthy settlers to be given access to departmental finance will also apply to soldier settlers on pastoral holdings elsewhere in South Australia. This is the second broad purpose for which the extra $2,500,000 has been provided in the Bill now before Parliament.

Soldier settlers in Tasmania already have access to this type of relief through the financial management scheme introduced in that State some years ago. In Western Australia, the majority of settlers still rely mainly on war service land settlement finance. However, should there prove to be settlers in pastoral pursuits in Western Australia or Tasmania who are having similar difficulties brought about by obtaining carry-on finance from private sources, officers of the War Service Land Settlement Branch would consult with the authorities administering the scheme in those States about the possibility of remedial measures.

Honourable senators will recognise that such action is in line with the general policy for debt adjustment under the rural reconstruction scheme. Soldier settlers already have access to rural reconstruction as well as having had the benefit of assistance under the emergency assistance scheme for wool growers and wool deficiency payments during the period of depressed auction prices. Soldier settlers on horticultural blocks will be able to participate in the tree pull scheme.

Apart from the extra $2,500,000, funds are raised in this Bill for purposes that have been stated when similar Bills were introduced into Parliament in previous years. The greater proportion of the balance of this money is required to make advances to settlers for working capital, to purchase stock, to purchase and replace plant and for like purposes in the normal operations on settlers' properties. Some funds will also be made available for developmental purposes, mainly on continuing work on block drainage for improving horticultural holdings in the Upper Murray region of South Australia and on the irrigation headworks, including channels and pipelines, which supply water to settlers on holdings at Loxton, Drainage maintenance has also to be carried out in Tasmania, until such time as drainage trusts are formed.

I stress that this is a loan Bill. The funds advanced to soldier settlers in consequence of this piece of legislation will over the years be repaid by the settlers according to the customary terms of repayment. The war service land settlement scheme as conceived by the Commonwealth and State governments is an excellent programme. There has been a tendency for economic difficulties of an industry-wide nature to be wrongly attributed to defects in the war service land settlement scheme. The Government has brought in programmes to counteract these industry-wide difficulties including improvement in the supply of credit to the vital rural sector of the Australian economy. The Government recog nises the difficulties that have arisen foi primary producers consequent on the generally changed fortunes of rural industries over the past several years. While soldier settlers benefit equally with other producers in governmental backing through stabilisation schemes and direct financial assistance to particular industries, some of their difficulties relate to the fact that they are soldier settlers. A comprehensive review of the scheme has been undertaken by the Department of Primary Industry. As a result, some further adjustments may be introduced to offset particular difficulties where such are demonstrated. The Government will, as necessary, effect improvements in the war service land settlement scheme, and has done so here, even though in general it can fairly be claimed that the scheme has stood the test of over 20 years of operation. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Wilkinson) adjourned.







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