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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr HAMILTON (Canning) .- From the speech which we have just heard it would appear that the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) has a phobia about people who own land. He made no qualifications, and apparently did not consider the fact that some people with reasonably large areas might be working them to the best of their ability, and achieving maximum productivity. We have, of course heard the honorable member on this subject before, in the last couple of years he has adopted an attitude different from that which he adopted when he first came to this Parliament. He then said that this country could prosper only if the economy were based on the development of secondary industry. Recently, he has become obsessed with the idea of opening up the country, and whenever he speaks on this topic we hear this story about the number of rural holdings in Australia. Obviously, the honorable. member has taken his figures from the Commonwealth " Year-Book ", the latest of which is that for the year 1955. " Rural Holding " is defined in these terms -

For the purpose of these statistics, a holding may be defined as land of one acre or more in extent, used in the production of agricultural produce, the raising of live-stock or the products of live-stock.

I ask the honorable gentleman, through you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, what has happened in the years since World War II. Market gardens, small orchards and poultry farms contiguous to the metropolitan areas, have been subdivided into building blocks.

Mr Peters - And cabbages are ls. each!

Mr HAMILTON - That is due to seasonal conditions which is quite another aspect altogether. The arguments that the honorable member has used so repeatedly fall to the ground when one considers this process of subdivision. If he will take the trouble to read " Hansard " he will notice that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) recently replied, through his representative in the Senate, to a question on this matter. On the latest available figures, there has been in recent years an increase of 2,000 in the number of rural holdings. To-day the figure stands al 247,500. We cannot compile statistics on the basis of a requirement of one acre and, at the same time, ignore the effect of development in suburban areas. If small farms are to be cut up for building purposes the number of rural holdings must decrease.

Again, as my colleague the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) pointed out, the size of holdings, particularly those devoted to wheat farming, has become greater because of the advent of much better machinery than was available before the war. For the reasons which I have just given this story should no longer be rehashed by the honorable member for Scullin, whose vicious attitude to any one who holds land prompted him to say that whereas before the removal of controls in 1948, there had been an increase of only £300 on each block, to-day the figure had risen to £5,000. It is rather remarkable that from December, 1952 to May, 1955, during the regime of the Cain Government of Victoria - and I remind honorable members that Victoria is one of the principal

States under the War Service Land Settlement Agreement and can do almost anything it wishes in respect of land over which it has sovereignty - there was no attempt to settle the problem of which the honorable member complained so bitterly to-night. His contribution to the debate, in part, was a suggestion that this Government is handing an unearned increment to the landowners. I ask him to look back and consider what could have been done by the Cain Government when it was in office. But the honorable member dealt only with one State. Until last year, the New South Wales Government purchased properties for subdivision at prices based on 1942 values. It was only last year that the State legislation was amended to provide that a reasonable market price shall be paid for land acquired for war service land settlement, and that any land-owner who is dissatisfied with the price offered to him shall be entitled to appeal to a land court.

The honorable member for Scullin said that 36,000 willing, capable and eligible exservicemen originally wanted to go on the land. I do not dispute that figure, but I remind the honorable member that the legislation was introduced by a Labour government, and that there was written into it a provision that settlement should be based not on the number of applicants, suitable or otherwise, but on the amount of suitable land available for settlement. Every one who has had any association with the scheme knows that in many instances a project submitted by a State government has been refused by the Commonwealth on the ground that the nature and size of the block are such that the settler could not earn a living from it and also meet his commitments.

The honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) was, at one time, the Victorian Minister for Lands, responsible for administering the war service land settlement scheme in that State. Therefore, I am surprised that he said, as also did the honorable member for Scullin, that the Commonwealth is responsible for placing ex-servicemen on the land, because war service land settlement is a form of rehabilitation. I ask those honorable gentlemen: At whose door should the blame be laid for the fact that this scheme is not entirely a Commonwealth scheme? The blame must be laid at the doors of two Labour Premiers in 1944-45. The Labour Premier of New South Wales at that time refused to give the then Prime Minister, the late John Curtin, the green light to go ahead with war service land settlement as a Commonwealth scheme. He made a distinction between repatriation and rehabilitation. He said, finally, that land settlement was the prerogative of the States, and that he could not agree to the Commonwealth assuming responsibility for any form of land settlement in New South Wales. At the same conference, which was held from 3rd to 5th October, 1944, the then Premier of Queensland - a Labour Premier - supported the Premier of New South Wales. Two Labour Premiers prevented a Labour Prime Minister from making the war service land settlement scheme entirely a Commonwealth scheme.

The damage has been done. We have now principal States and agent States, the agent States being financed almost entirely from Commonwealth sources for this purpose and the principal States finding the money required from their own resources. The honorable member for Darebin - I say again that he should know better - has said that in Victoria settlers are waiting for valuations because the Commonwealth and the State cannot agree on them. There would be nothing to prevent the Victorian authority from issuing all valuations tomorrow, if it wished to do so. Victoria is a principal State. It has its own land settlement authority, which could issue valuations. But if, having made a valuation that was substantially less than the cost of the property, it asked the Commonwealth to pay a half of the difference, the Commonwealth would be entitled to refuse to do so. The Commonwealth takes the view that it has a responsibility to the taxpayers and that while a State adopts the unrealistic attitude to the writing down of the value of properties that is being adopted by Victoria, no agreement will be reached. I repeat that there is nothing to prevent Victoria from issuing valuations, but, if it does so, there may be arguments between the two governments about what should be paid to recoup the State - whether it should be paid the sum for which it asks, or whether it should be paid what the Commonwealth regards as a realistic amount

The second-reading speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) contains a table showing the money ex«pended on war service land settlement and the number of farms allotted to exservicemen. 1 gathered from the remarks of the honorable member for Darebin that he had some criticism to offer of the position in Western Australia. Honorable members will recall that the honorable member said that all we had to do to find out the cost of a farm in Western Australia was to divide the amount expended in that State by the number of farms allotted. That would not reflect the position in any of the agent States, particularly Western Australia and Tasmania. I remind honorable members that under the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States - or the letters of memorandum, to use the correct title - the procedure is that a State initiates a project and puts it up to the Commonwealth. Then the Commonwealth inspects the project. It may be necessary to make an analysis of the soil and do a number of other things before approval can be given, but if the Commonwealth is satisfied that the land, be it virgin land or otherwise, will enable the ex-serviceman to earn a reasonable living and meet his commitments, it gives permission to the State to go ahead.

I say again that I am surprised at the honorable member for Darebin, who was a State Minister for Lands at one time. Does he think that a project can be brought into production in five minutes? Surely he realizes that in the majority of cases it takes five years or more to bring a block into production. In many cases, the block is in virgin country, covered with heavy timber. That timber has to be removed, and machinery is essential for that. Then the stumps have to be dug out - what we used to call "emu bobbing". The land has to be cleared, ploughed and sown to pasture. There must be a proper tilth, so that there will be a decent seed bed. Then the pasture must be allowed to establish itself. Surely an honorable member who was once the Minister for Lands in Victoria must realize that to divide the amount of money expended by the number of farms allotted would not give a true indication of the cost of a farm. Millions of pounds have been spent on projects that will not be allotted to fanners until next year. Do the honorable members who criticize the scheme that has been put into operation in the agent States realize that millions of pounds worth of machinery has been employed to get the work done? Do they realize that roads to a project have to be constructed and that subdivisional roads between the properties must be made before men can be put on the land? Obviously, then, the expenditure divided by the number of settlers does not give the true position. I am reminded of a position which obtained in Western Australia only about four years ago. Some criticism was levelled by public men at the war service land settlement scheme. The returned servicemen's organization thought that it might be a very good idea to send a couple of their executive members to have a look at these farms. Two retired farmers who had been successfully engaged on the land in their own right for years were sent, and they reported -

In general we can say that practically all settlers are satisfied. There are a few pinpricking complaints that certain politicians have been pleased to magnify in the press.

I am afraid that the criticisms of this scheme come from those who do not know very much about it. Nobody could expect to put these properties into operation from a state of virgin bush in a matter of a couple of years; it takes time.

Mr Whitlam - How long do you say will elapse before all eligible ex-servicemen are settled on properties?

Mr HAMILTON - It has been the aim of this Government to have war service land settlement completed by the middle of 1958, that is, the end of the financial year beginning on 1st July, 1957.

Mr Whitlam - So a similar appropriation to that which is now proposed will finish the job?

Mr HAMILTON - I am glad that the honorable member for Werriwa interluded that remark, because some little while ago I had the privilege of sitting with the former Minister for the Interior in conference with the principal States, to ascertain whether they could find ways and means of spending in three years from that date an extra £15,000,000 which would be provided by this very Government. The terms were that for every £2 spent by the States, £1 would be forthcoming from the Commonwealth, with a maximum of £2,000,000 in any one year for any one State. I notice from the bill and the figures supplied by the Minister for Primary Industry that the

States have been unable to measure up to that offer. Speaking from memory, £3,600,000 was expended last year, and another £3.600,000 is provided for this year. I am reminded by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) that the Queensland representatives will have nothing to do with that offer. The criticism made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) to-night, reveals that in Queensland a very sad and sorry state of affairs exists. The honorable member for Moreton could have gone further and castigated the Government of Queensland, because it is very, very vivid in my memory and the memories of other honorable members, that Queensland representatives got money from the Australian Loan Council for the express, purpose of clearing and preparing land for war service land settlement, and having expended the money on so preparing the land, the Government threw the land open for civilian settlement. Fortunately, some ex-servicemen did acquire some of that land. I do not doubt for one moment that, if the States could pep up the programme a bit more, the job could be completed in a shorter time than we expect at the moment.

I know that the honorable member for Werriwa, who proposes to follow me in the debate, will talk again about the scarcity of loan money. The State of New South Wales particularly - 1 cannot say this of Victoria, which has stuck manfully to its proportion all the way through - when its loan allocation has been reduced by 25 per cent., has cut the allocation for war service land settlement by 50 per cent. New South Wales would never make a cut which was only proportionate to the cut that was made in the available loan moneys. Some States, and their representatives in this Parliament, repeatedly claim that this Government should find more and more money for them. If the Commonwealth sees fit, as it has over the recent years, to vacate the loan market completely and leave it for the exclusive use of the States, and sufficient loan money cannot be raised for the States, the deficiency is augmented from Consolidated Revenue, which is nothing more nor less than taxation of the people. Let the gentlemen who represent those States which are continually demanding extra money from the Government, rise in their places and say that they are prepared to support this Go vernment in the imposition of increased taxes for the purpose. I have never yet heard them say so, and I do not think that I ever will.

There has been much criticism of this scheme. I have been associated with it for some years and in my experience every time a batch of men is settled on a project there is criticism. That criticism can never be obviated. As pastures improve, the land looks better, and this and that attended to, that criticism diminishes. Then another batch goes on, and so criticism begins again. I venture to say that there will be criticism from individual settlers for at least three years after we have closed the scheme. Anybody who has any nous at all about the conditions faced by men going on the land will expect that criticism. These men are being settled in far better conditions than have applied to any other settlement scheme in this Commonwealth since Federation. They are provided with all manner of things. A first year's living allowance is provided free to them. I do not toss this up in their faces, but it is a concession which no man going on the land in his own right ever enjoys. In the agent States an assessment arrangement applies. In the first year the settlers do not have to pay interest or rent. The next year they carry some stock, and as their land and pastures improve and they can carry more stock, their commitments become greater. I defy any man to say, particularly in regard to Western Australia, that the assessment arrangement applied to men settling on the land in any way jeopardizes the opportunities of settlers to make progress. I have shown details of this assessment arrangement to farmer friends of mine in other States and on each occasion T have been told that we have been too light in the charge and too heavy in the contribution we make. But this is a scheme to settle men on the land and I feel certain that the persons who criticize it know very little about it. Over the years from those persons who do not have a full appreciation of the matter, we have heard criticism of the averaging system in the agent States. I think that the averaging system is the fairest system that could ever be devised. From where do most of these complaints come? They emanate originally from the fortunate person who gets the homestead block of an estate that has been cut up. An estate of 10,000 acres may be bought for £2 an acre. The homestead block of 2,000 acres is most highly improved, with buildings, water supply, fencing, and cultivation. I assume that the 10,000 acres would be cut up into five farms of 2,000 acres each. Obviously, farms 2, 3, 4 and 5 will need some work done on them, such as fencing, the erection of buildings, water supplies, clearing, and so on, which will cost money. If these farms are to measure up to the outlay involved, and if productivity is to be improved to the hilt, so that it will be possible for the settler to make a reasonable living and meet his commitments, a certain write-off must be provided. Why should the settlers on farms 2, 3, 4 and 5 be asked to pay £4, £5, £6 or £7 an acre, while the man who is fortunate enough to get the homestead block has only to pay £2 an acre? 1 think that that would be most unjust and inequitable, and as a returned soldier of two world wars, I should never subscribe to it. In my opinion, the averaging system is by far the best. After all, in order to improve the properties, a large number of workers would have to be engaged, and I contend that each property should stand some of the overhead involved in that work.

In my opinion, the war service land settlement scheme is one of the finest schemes ever to be put into operation. It is giving ex-servicemen an opportunity to settle on the land and to obtain for themselves and their families an asset that, probably, they would never have been able to obtain otherwise. Since this Government has been in office, it has altered the conditions for the agent States to make it possible for settlers to exercise an option in respect of freeholding their land. They may please themselves whether they do so or not. When the Australian Labour party was in office it tied settlers to leases in perpetuity. I do not care which way the settlers exercise their option - whether they decide to acquire the freehold or to remain forever and a day lessees of the Government. That is their affair.

In addition, this Government has made it possible for the relatives of an exserviceman who is unfortunate enough to die to have an equity in the property - a benefit they did not enjoy when Labour was in office. I believe that the Government has approached this matter in a humane and democratic way. I feel certain that, having regard to the composition of the Government, any man settled on the land under this scheme who is prepared to pull his weight and keep in touch with the authority under whom he works, has nothing to fear, no matter how bad the seasons may be or what bad luck he meets. Provided that he does those things, he will have every opportunity to become a successful farmer.

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