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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- I propose to address myself to the subject of the repatriation of ex-servicemen, which is a responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Although the Commonwealth can share certain functions with the States, ultimately the obligation to repatriate ex-servicemen rests on this Government. In 1953, I asked the then Minister for the Interior, the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) to inform me of the number of ex-servicemen who had applied for land under the war service land settlement scheme. He stated that 36,000 of those who had applied for land were regarded by the Government as qualified by age or training, or both, to take up land. More than that number had applied for land but only 36,000 had all the qualifications essential to make a success of farming. The other day I asked the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) to tell me the number of ex-servicemen who had been settled upon the land and the cost to the Government of their settlement. He informed me that throughout the Commonwealth 7,529 had been settled and the cost to the Commonwealth Government was. £56,645,491. In addition to that, New South Wales had spent £38,600,000. Victoria £38,000,000, and Queensland £4,700,000. That means that 7,000 persons were settled upon the land at a cost of £138,000,000.

Mr Mackinnon - That did not include single-unit farms.

Mr PETERS - That included all that were settled upon the land. Reestablishment agricultural loan applications were in addition to that, and. £10,000.000 was granted for that purpose.

The point I desire to make is that that is a vast expenditure to settle comparatively few people upon the land. The story, of course, is worse than it appears at first sight, because in Tasmania 340 exservicemen were settled at a cost of £9,338,000. nearly £30,000 for each settler. In Western Australia 692 ex-servicemen were settled at a cost of £24.241,000, again over £30,000 for each settler.- Of course, some additional work may be in progress that will mean that ultimately more ex-servicemen will go upon the land. However, the figures are staggering and national disaster exists in the fact that we cannot, as a nation, commence any type of civilian settlement until we have settled all the ex-servicemen seeking to go upon the land.

It is of the greatest importance to the people of this country that more and more people be settled upon the land. I recall that during the period prior to World War II. governments in this country were deploring the drift from the country to the cities. They were deploring the lack of balance that existed in the community due to a large preponderance of people being engaged in urban and city occupations whilst relatively few were settled on the land. As the years passed by those engaged in rural occupations were becoming fewer, and it was said that the position had to be remedied. To-day, we have a government that points out that we must bring more and more immigrants from overseas if we are to carry on efficiently as a nation and develop Australia as it should be developed and that our immigrants must be employed mainly in primary production. That being so, we should have more and more people upon the land. Even if the population of Australia had remained stationary from 1939 until the present time the position would not be satisfactory, but it has not done so. In 1939, the population was 7,077,586, whereas to-day it is over 9,090,000. The census taken in 1954 revealed a population of 9,090,000 people. So, there were 2,000,000 more people in this country at that date than there were in 1940.

I also asked the Minister for Primary Industry to state the number of rural holdings in 1939 and the number to-day. The Minister was unable to tell me the number in 1939 but he told me that in 1946 the number was 233,000. I am able to tell the Minister the figure for 1939 because I secured the information from the " YearBook'". In 1939 there were 253,000 farms in Australia whereas, to-day, there arc 20,000 fewer farms in this country.

Mr Mackinnon - That number included areas of under ten acres on which somebody ran a cow or a sheep. Those areas have been absorbed in building settlements adjacent to metropolitan areas.

Mr PETERS - The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) points out that the number I have quoted includes small farms. I am an advocate for small farms. The fact is that in 1939, 253,000 farms were owned by farmers and in 1946 the number was 233,000, a diminution of 20,000. At the present time, I am informed, the number is 243,000; so, the number of farms has diminished by over 10,000 although £138,000,000 has been expended in order to settle on the land 7,000 more farmers, and, in addition, £10,000,000 has been granted to farmers in occupation of farms or to others who were securing farms and required only reestablishment agricultural loans. Nobody can be satisfied with that position from a national point of view. 1 also asked the Minister for Primary Industry to state the number of people engaged in rural occupations in 1939. He informed me that in that year the number was 391.000, and in 1955 it was 357,000, a reduction of 34,000, despite the fact that we have an increased population of well over 2,000,000 people. No one can deny thai there is a lack of balance in the development of this country about which tie Government should do something. T)e Commonwealth Government, of course, las the overriding authority, lt provides tie finance and those who pay the piper shoud have a fair chance of at least calling tie tune.

I suggest to the Government that, in tie interests of the development of this nation and to encourage more and more people b go on to the land, it should immediately cai a conference of representatives of the Stat; departments which deal with land settle ment and Commonwealth authorities. Those representatives should investigate methods that will enable the completion of soldier settlement schemes and evolve some plan that will enable a greater settlement to take place throughout this country. Everybody knows that vast areas of land are not being used to their full productive capacity. From the east to the west of Victoria are vast areas of land with hardly a sheep or any other animal upon them. They are noi being used to their full productive capacity. Any one travelling by train from Victoria to Canberra will see areas of land in New South Wales that, under existing conditions, are not being used to their full productive capacity.

With the advantages that science has brought to agriculture, those areas could be made considerably more productive than they are to-day. The development of those areas would make possible the settlement of more people on the land and absorb some of those who have come, or who may come, from overseas to help to build up this great nation. But nothing is done! Eleven years have passed since World War II. ended, but governments admit that they have not completed the scheme for the land settlement of ex-servicemen that was commenced after the war. I do not know how many of those who fought in Korea have applied for land, but their prospects are distant indeed.

In a country like Australia, the settlement of people on the land should be a major and urgent consideration. The Commonwealth says that the States should undertake this responsibility, and the State* say that the Commonwealth does not provide sufficient money for the purpose. Because that method of evading responsiblity is adopted, the scheme of repatriation is not carried out. When I asked my question in 1953, I was told that 36,000 eli: ible, suitable people had applied to go on the land. If I were to ask the Minister today how many men wanted to go on the laid, I would probably find that there is net the difference between the 7,000 that hal been settled upon the land-

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