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Wednesday, 19 June 1946

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) . - I remind the Minister (Mr. Dedman) that the test that must be applied in connexion with soldier land settlement is, not what schemes' have been drawn up on paper in the department by bureaucrats, but the number of ex-servicemen who have been effectively settled on the land and are now earning a living from it. A scheme should have been in operation during the six years of war, so that servicemen as they became discharged could have applied to the proper, authority, acquired a farm, and settled on it. Unfortunately, not one ex-serviceman has yet been settled on the land in Australia under the Commonwealth scheme. The Government ought to hang its head in shame. On the 14th March last, I asked a series of questions in respect of soldier land settlement. The facts that I am now about to recite were supplied to me by the Minister. He replied that no land had been allotted to any ex-serviceman under the scheme at that date. He .advised me that 28,492 applications had been received from soldiers for permission to settle on the land. Had there been a ready response to the applications that had been made, that number would have been doubled. Exservicemen knew that it was not worth while applying when not one of the 2S;492 who had applied had been settled on the. land. I asked how many men had received certificates of suitability, and was informed that only .7,347 certificates had been granted up to that date. I asked how many certificates of suitability had been issued in Queensland, and all that the Minister could say was that no reply could bie obtained from the State authorities. Before any man can settle on the land, he has to be certified as suitable and has to be trained. Of the 2S,492 who had applied, only 133 were in training, and of that number only 26 came from Queensland. What a gloomy picture this is for our ex-servicemen who waited for so long to be brought back to Australia! While they were overseas, they visualized what they would do when they were discharged. Many of them expected to settle on the land, quickly build a home, and make themselves comfortable for the remainder of their lives. They were induced to believe that this was possible, by the promises 'that had been made to them by honorable gentlemen opposite. Yet not one ex-serviceman has been settled on the land. Contrast that with the progress that has been made in connexion with soldier land settlement in the small dominion of New Zealand.

Mr Calwell - Tell us what was done by the government which the honorable gentleman supported.

Mr FRANCIS - I shall show how dismally the honorable gentleman and his colleagues have failed, and how they have thereby destroyed the prospects of exservicemen who had hoped to settle on the land after having fought for their country.

Mr Calwell - The honorable gentleman and his colleagues " settled " them after World War I.

Mr FRANCIS - During that war, I had not an opportunity to discuss these problems in this House, because I fighting for my country. The record of the present Government ought to make everyone associated with it hang his head in shame. Ex-servicemen want to know, not what was done after World War I., but what is the position to-day. In New Zealand, the number of ex-servicemen approved for soldier land settlement is 10,093, of whom 7,175 have been graded for immediate settlement; 2,005 have already been settled permanently on the land, and 5,170 are awaiting settlement. The population of New Zealand is only about one-fifth of that of Australia. The advances made to settlers are £6,500 to those who take up grazing properties and £5,000 to those who become dairy farmers. The expenditure so far incurred amounts to £7,302,067. Those undergoing training number 1,763, compared with 113 in Australia. The serious delay that has occurred in the settlement of ex-servicemen is blighting the hopes, prospects and outlook of these men, .and it .cannot be allowed . to continue. They have been awaiting a decision, and their deferred pay has been dwindling. They are becoming financially needy while the Government is doing nothing. No satisfaction can be obtained in respect of even the land that is being acquired for soldier land settlement by the States as agents for the Commonwealth. When proposals are submitted to the Commonwealth, there is further inordinate delay. Despite the bungling which characterizes the handling of the matter, the Minister appears to be completely satisfied. Every conceivable delay occurs under the present administration. Discussing housing recently, the Minister said that he was opposed to men owning their homes, because that would make them " little capitalists ". The same principle is being applied in connexion with soldier land settlement. In each district, agricultural committees have been established, composed of many ex-servicemen of World War I. who became land settlers, and other prominent settlers. In New Zealand, such committees select men with the necessary qualifications, and the Government accepts them. That practice must be followed in Australia; otherwise, success cannot be achieved. If ex-servicemen, were given the opportunity to select farms, the properties could beacquired at the valuation placed on them by the Government. Ex-servicemen of World War I. and other local farmers desire to help these men to become successful. If they were short of farming implements, these could be loaned to them. Every encouragement and assistance could be given to enable them to settle effectively. Yet, the Government will not allow an exserviceman to go. into the country and, by his own initiative and industry, find for himself a suitable farm. If he does find one, he is not allowed to have it but must wait until the Government permits him to draw one in a ballot. In a letter written by the Minister on this point, he said -

The Commission agrees with that view and considers that, as a general principle, provision should not be mode to finance a returned soldier in the purchase of a farm for which he has privately negotiated.

Mr Dedman - That is quite correct.

Mr FRANCIS - The Minister cannot question its accuracy, because it appears over his own signature. He went on to say-

Any purchase of a single farm should be made by the State soldier settlement authority at a fair value, whereupon the farm should be dealt with under the provisions of the scheme, which are that it must be balloted for by every soldier who wants to get a farm. If a man is not prepared to come into a general scheme and take his chance for land with other applicants, he should not have the financial benefits of the scheme; he should be required to arrange his own finance.

That is the attitude of this Government to a man who has served his country, No matter whateffort he may make, or how highly , the local people may appreciate the services he has rendered to his country or how much they may wish to help him by finding a suitable farm for him, the Government says that he cannot have it. He may be the holder of the Victoria Cross, or may be suffering from wounds, There will never be effective soldier land settlement ifthe Government persists in imposing such conditions. The only successful means of soldier land settlement is by all getting behind the ex-serviceman, encouraging him, and giving him all the assistance they can. If he is short of farming equipment or. machinery, they should make theirs available to him. The Government does not want that. The goodwill of the local farmers is imperative, if the success of the scheme is to be assured. While the Government is toying with the proposals, it is breaking the hearts of ex-servicemen who are waiting to be settled on the land. The owners of the Jondaryan estate in Queensland, some of whom are exservicemen, have divided it into living areas, settled 50 ex-servicemen on it, and helped them to obtain finance. It is clear that the Government does not know where it stands in connexion with this matter.' The Minister' is not acquainted with the terms of the agreement. In the interests of ex-servicemen, the matter must be straightened out. The only way in which ex-servicemen can hope to obtain the assistance that was so glibly promised tothem, is by acceptance of the amendment of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), for the appointment of a select committee, which I have much pleasure in supporting.

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