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Wednesday, 19 June 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) .- The whole test of successful soldier land settlement is. not in the planning that may take place before the establishment of the scheme, but in the actual results achieved under it. And this test is proved by the number of ex-servicemen placed on the land, not only in the months since the end of the war, but also during the war when there was a continuous stream of men. being discharged from the forces. In examining the position under the Government's scheme foi1 the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land, I propose, first to refer to what has happened in New South "Wales, because that is the State about which I know most and with which, naturally, I am most concerned. In 1941 the New South Wales Parliament passed the War Service Land Settlement Act, under which provision was made for the settlement of exservicemen. In 1945 the Commonwealth Parliament passed a complementary measure and an arrangement was entered into by the Commonwealth and the State for the purpose of settling ex-servicemen on the land, I propose first to little or. nothing has been done. It is disgraceful that months after the end of the war only twenty ex-servicemen had been settled and those on western land leases in New South Wales, and that possibly twenty more will he settled on such leases during the present month. In the whole of New South Wales not one estate has been cut up for land settle- . ment, and in fact, not one farm has been made available in the 20- inch rainfall area in that State which Mr. Tully, the late Minister for Lands in the New South Wales Government, described as the only land suitable for settlement by ex-service personnel. Only one estate in New South Wales has been resumed by the Government. That estate, which is situated in the electorate of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully), has not yet been sub-divided and months may pass before soldiers are settled upon it. In New South Wales alone 15,000 men v have applied for qualification certificates and 7.000 certificates have been issued ; but little or nothing has been clone. There has been an appalling lack of co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth in regard to these proposals. It is useless for honorable members opposite to claim that it would have been better had sole responsibility for the -settlement of exservicemen on the land devolved upon the Commonwealth.

Mr Bryson - The honorable member does not want that to happen. .

Mr ABBOTT - No, particularly after the bitter experience we have had of past Commonwealth centralization. Let us consider for a moment what might have happened in such a case. The Commonwealth has no lands department, it has ' no agricultural authorities as have the States, and few if any of its officers have had practical experience on the land. It is obvious, then, that this task of settling ex-servicemen on the land should be left to the State governments which have facilities .to carry it out successfully and with expedition. Had that been done the bungling which lias taken place would have been obviated. Under the present set-up the States oan take no action without Commonwealth approval. Every estate approved by a State government for settlement must be referred to the Commonwealth and approved or disapproved by officials of the Commonwealth service who have had no experience on the land and whose sole knowledge of the problems of the man oil has been gleaned from text books.

On the 7th June, 1945, the New South Wales Government submitted proposals for the acquisition and sub-division of

JJ estates with a total area of 360,000 acres estimated as being sufficient to settle -tOO ex-servicemen. But what has haphened to those proposals? Only one estate has yet been taken up and that has not yet. been sub-divided, and the rest have been left, in the hands of their owners. So bad is- the position that the New South Wales Minister for Lands,. Mr. Dunn, stated in an address to the Shires Association Conference in Sydney recently that it might be sixteen years before some' of the soldiers were settled on the land. Mr. Dunn advocated the creation of a single authority, stating that dual control by Commonwealth and State authorities was the retarding factor. Under present conditions it does not seem likely that more than 400 soldiers will be placed on farms during the next year. Stagnation in government departments is so bad, and unwillingness of the Commonwealth Government to put soldier settlement on a prosper basis, is causing intolerable delays which are arousing the ire of ex-servicemen.

T propose now to deal with the matter of the acquisition ' of single farms for soldiers or the enabling of a soldier to acquire a portion of an estate for himself for development, a matter which was dealt with so admirably by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). Dealing with this subject the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture stated that the Commonwealth Government had placed an embargo on single-unit settlement.

Mr Dedman - That is quite untrue.

Mr ABBOTT - It is indeed strange then that the Minister should wait until now to contradict a statement made some time ago by a responsible Minister of the New South Wales Government; one who has served for 35 years in the Parliament of that State as a Labour representative and himself a farmer and one of the most trusted men in the State political sphere. Irrespective of how the Minister regards the statement, it cannot be denied that not a single ex-serviceman in New South Wales has been able to arrange, either through this Government or the State government of New South Wales, a single farm purchase.

Mr Dedman - Because none has been submitted.

Mr ABBOTT - The real reason is because / the Rural Reconstruction Commission reported against single-unit purchase. That commission consisted, no doubt, of very worthy gentlemen; but they .did not know everything and obviously they could not make provision for every type of case that might arise. It is a curious thing that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) and his colleague the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully), who both sit in the same Cabinet, seem to be diametrically opposed on the question of single-farm purchases.

Mr Dedman - Not at all!

Mr ABBOTT - They are like Siamese twins in some respects, but they do not speak with one voice on this, important" question. In order to demonstrate their divergent views, I shall read an extract from the Northern Daily Leader of the Sth May last relative to an interview which took place between representatives , of the land settlement subcommittee of the Inverell branch of the Returned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Imperial League and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. The representatives of the league brought to the notice of the Minister the following resolution of a meeting of the subcommittee : -

That the Federal Government be strongly urged to approve of the purchase of single farms through the War Service Land Settlement Scheme.

Mi-. McLennan, a member of the deputation, remarked that this system of soldier land settlement had not been approved by the Commonwealth Government because the Government considered it was not true closer settlement. He added that if an owner had, say, 5,000 acres, and the soldier son of - a small farmer could obtain 1,000 acres off this property, it was certainly closer settlement, as the country gained another farmer. The Minister for Commerce is reported to have replied -

That angle was never discussed when we considered the closer settlement scheme. I. must confess how bona fide it appears to be, and how reasonable it is.

Mr. McLennansaid that what was wanted was the SO per cent, advance for singlefarm purchase. The Minister was reported to have said that when they re-assembled in Canberra, possibly in a fortnight's time, he would discuss that point with his colleagues and support it. He admitted that it was likely to be the most successful method of establishing servicemen on the land. Yet his blood brother, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, denied my allegation that they do not speak with one voice on this important matter. He has characterized the statement of the Minister for Lands in New South Wales as untrue, but without waiting to hear what his colleague in the Federal Parliament had to say, he unhesitatingly states in this House that both he and his colleague have identical views on the subject and that they are both opposed to singlefarm purchases. To say the least of it, this conflict of opinion on the part of Ministers sitting in the same Cabinet is extraordinary.

I propose now to deal with the subject of group settlement schemes of three soldiers. As far as I am able to gather, no group settlement schemes of this kind have yet been instituted in New South Wales. One proposal of which I have personal knowledge was with regard to a property known as Dim by Plains, which is situated in the electorate of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully), 28 miles from Qui rind i and five miles from the Werris Creek-Binnaway railway line. The Dimby Plains estate consists of 6,000 acres of very fine Liverpool Plains land. It is heavy fattening country, which has possibly been overstocked in recent years. The fencing is out of repair but could be very easily rectified by energetic soldier settlers. Three soldiers applied for settlement on this property, all of them with western lands experience. All were very hard workers and men of the best type for land settlement. The property was offered for £3 10s. an acre on a freehold basis. It was submitted to the local committee and approved by it. Highly improved properties in the surrounding district had been selling from £5 10s. to £6 an acre. Yet this Dimby Plains property is refused by the technical advisers of the Minister.

Mr Scully - Commonwealth or State

Mr ABBOTT - As far as I know, the proposal was sent to Sydney, but whether it was refused in Sydney, or by the Commonwealth at Canberra, I do not know. The Minister must be acquainted with the property.

Mr Dedman - Does the honorable member mean me?

Mr ABBOTT - No; I realize that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction knows nothing about the land. But the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture must know the full particulars of this property, because the State member for Liverpool Plains took up the matter, and great publicity has been given to it in northern New South Wales. It is an admirable property for soldier settlement.It affords a chance for men to take over at a comparatively low price a valuable piece of country. There is no house on the block, but within half a mile there is a good house which could be rented on long terms andlived in while the property is developed. Yet the proposal has been turned down. The Government will do nothing. That is characteristic of what is happening all over Australia in regard to soldier settlement. As far back as October, 1945. the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction made a statement on the CommonwealthState scheme of war service land settlement in paragraph 7 of which he said -

On the 7th June, the State of New South Wales submitted proposals for acquisition and sub-division of 21 estates involving a total area of about 360,000 acres. It is estimated that these areas will provide for the settlement of about 400 servicemen. On 17th of this month, the State, at the Commonwealth's request, supplied further information about its proposals and they will be considered by Commonwealth officers and a recommendation made to the Government.

Delay continues month after month without any returned soldiers being put on the land. They are desperately anxious to know whether the Government is sincere in its desire to settle them on the land or whether the statements in these admirably printed pamphlets issued by the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, like " Farms for Fighting Men " are shallow promises that the Government has no intention of carrying out. This shilly-shallying must end.

Of greatest importance in the matter of land settlement of ex-servicemen is the granting of wheat licences to these soldier settlers. Some weeks ago, at a conference in Sydney, I declared that they could not obtain licences in perpetuity to grow wheat, either on farms acquired by them since the war or on farms that they owned before the war, if they had not been wheatgrowers in the* basic year through their having been sufficiently patriotic to enlist in the armed forces. A member of the Wheat Stabilization Committee, Mr. Tilston, took me to task, in the local paper, about that statement, saying that not one returned soldier had been refused a licence. Yet, at that meeting at Inverell, which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture attended, the first resolution was -

That permanent wheat farm registrations be given to all ex-servicemen wheat-growers.

Mr. McLennansaid that, with the prospect of- the re-drafting of the wheat stabilization scheme, they brought this resolution under the notice of the Minister hoping that he could do something to rectify what were considered injustices. He said that one case that had come under notice was that of a man who had land at North Star, in the Inverell district. He had killed the timber, cleared the land, and was about to plant wheat, but enlisted and went overseas. He was now back, but the only permission he, could get was to grow wheat for one year; a permanent registration was refused. If he had stayed at home the property would have been a registered wheat farm. There were more than 25 similar cases in New South Wales, and the deputation at Inverell urged that something be done very promptly to overcome such injustice. The Minister, in replying, said that he was very glad that 'the servicemen had come along to bring these points under notice. He would give authority to issue licences for at least the duration of the act. That is the National Security Act, which is supposed to expire on the 31st December this year. It is cold comfort to returned soldiers to know that their right to grow wheat is to last only to the end of this year. The Minister said that he had' no power to go beyond the end of the year but later he must have forgotten what he had said, because, he added that another point he particularly, wanted to emphasize was that returned soldiers would definitely be given permanent wheat licences. What can the returned men believe when in the one- speech he expresses two divergent views as to the rights to a licence to grow wheat. Returned men cannot be successfully settled on the land in agricultural areas if they are denied the right to grow the staple product of Australia.. The Government is not sincere in its profession of a desire to settle returned men on the land or to assist the States to do so. If it were genuine it would be prepared to advance money for soldier settlement to the States and allow them to go ahead. It could place an officer in each of the State departments to ensure that valuations were right. It should depend on the States to carry out the conditions laid down and put the whole land-settlement scheme through.

An important matter that has been raised on many occasions by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and other Commonwealth Ministers and . the Government of New South Wales, is the delay in reaching agreement with landowners on land values. There is ample power under the Land Acquisition Acts of New South Wales for the State to resume land out of hand. If the State authorities and the land-owners cannot agree on land values, let the Land Valuation Court fix the value, and let the owner be paid interest on the money owed to him from the time of his dispossession. ,

Mr FULLER (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And how long does it take to do that?

Mr ABBOTT - Very little time; no time compared with the time lost under the present method. The powers of the Land Valuation Court are ample.

Mr Fuller - It is said that that procedure takes nine months.

Mr ABBOTT - Nine months! Why, the Minister for Agriculture .in New South Wales, Mr. Dunn, says that the present method will take sixteen years. Is it not better to spend nine months than sixteen years on Carrying out a proposition? The objection' raised by the honorable member for" Hume (Mr. Puller) is utterly ridiculous. Doubtless, the procedure could i;be speeded up ;?o that only four or five months might be occupied in bringing the matter to completion. I genuinely believe that this Government has no intention 'of settling ex-soldiers on the land. It will not face the question of wheat licences because it consists of craven .curs and cowards, frightened of offending some of the wheatgrowers of Australia.

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