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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) leaves unanswered the question which has occurred to every honorable member, but has been asked only by Opposition members: When will the eligible and willing ex-servicemen at last be settled on the land? The war has been over for a full eleven years. Many years ago, it was stated - I speak from memory - that 36,000 exservicemen who had served overseas and were qualified to work on the land, wanted to be settled on properties under the war service land settlement scheme. Up to the present date, one-third of them have been so settled. At that rate, we can assume that the last of them will be settled, not eleven years after the end of the last war, but 33 years after it ended. Even if we can take the word of the former Minister for the Interior, the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes), who said that there were only 24,000 ex-servicemen wanting to go on the land and that half of them had been settled, it will still take another eleven years to settle the remainder of the eligible ex-servicemen. If they were discharged at the age of about 30, they will be about 50 by the time they obtain their blocks. If one wanted to find an effective way of minimizing the cost of soldier settlement, one could not have devised a better way. This record conforms with the Government's view of its obligations to house ex-servicemen who served outside Australia by providing them with homes under the war service homes scheme.

Soldier settlement - war service land settlement, to give it its technical statutory name - is one form of closer settlement for which the Commonwealth Parliament seems to have authority under its defence powers. At all events, neither after World War I., nor after World War II., was the Commonwealth's power to resume land for soldier settlement challenged. The only challenge ever made to the Commonwealth's power in the matter related to resumption on just terms. The decision in that case was given in 1948 or 1949. In the intervening years, the Commonwealth has had the assurance that, under its defence power, it was perfectly open to it to resume, for soldier settlement, any land in the States, in the Territories within Australia, or in our transocean Territories, as long as it paid just compensation for land so resumed within the boundaries of the States.

The contribution by the Minister for Social Services to the debate on this important subject, which has been the Commonwealth's responsibility following two world wars and the Korean war, amounted to an attempt to apportion blame between the States. He sought to assert that South

Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, the three agent States, and the States to which the Commonwealth makes grants after inquiry by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, have a good record in soldier settlement because in those States the Commonwealth discharges the function itself. He asserted on the other hand that New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, the principal States, have not only an inferior record, but a lamentable record, in settling ex-servicemen on the land. The figures given by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) in his second-reading speech - I almost said his thesis on this subject - do not bear out any such odious comparison. We have been told again and again that the proportion of people settled to those desiring to be settled in South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania compares with that in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland; that is, that the rate at which the Commonwealth has undertaken soldier settlement in the three smaller States where it has direct power is no more rapid than the rate at which settlement has been undertaken by the three larger States within their own boundaries. Looking at the figures cited by the Minister for Primary Industry, one finds that New South Wales, for which the Minister for Social Services has a perverse detestation which apparently is matched only by his reluctance to return to the land of his birth, has settled the largest number of soldier settlers. Since the end of World War II., 2,736 ex-servicemen have been settled in New South Wales, and 2,573 in Victoria. Only 718 have been settled in South Australia, the largest of the agent States. The degree of settlement is not disproportionate.

As I have already pointed out, the delay in settling returned soldiers, and the waiting list, is just as great in the three agent States where the Commonwealth does the job as it is in the three principal States where the State governments themselves do the job. The main difference is that the Commonwealth has gone about the job at infinitely greater expense. Whereas New South Wales has settled 2,736 soldier settlers for a total expenditure of £45,000,000, 718 have been settled in South Australia for a total expenditure of £17,000.000. One could make a similar comparison between the much greater expense per farm in the three agent States and the expense per farm in the three principal States.

In all States, principal and agent States alike, the soldier settlers have done a very good job. None of them has gone to the wall as they did under the pinch-penny marginal development which was sold to the returned soldiers after World War I. and which forced so many of them into the bankruptcy court at the first sign of drought or overseas recessions. Our settlements after World War II. have been universally successful in agent and principal States alike. There is nothing to suggest that in any of the principal States the basis of settlement has been other than a thoroughly economic one. If the Minister is of the opinion that there has been anything reprehensible in the way in which New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have carried out their functions for soldier settlement, then he or his predecessor could easily have decided that the Commonwealth should take over the job itself. 1 have pointed out that, for well over a generation, the Commonwealth has carried out, without challenge, under its defence power, the functions of settling returned soldiers in war service homes. Similarly, in a similar length of time, the Commonwealth has carried out in three States the function of settling returned soldiers on war service farms.

Mr Roberton - With the consent of the States.

Mr WHITLAM - It appears that I will have to go over it again.

Mr Ward - Do not waste your time.

Mr WHITLAM - In these cases one has to temper one's remarks to the slowest boy in the school.

Mr Bowden - The honorable member has lost his balance now.

Mr WHITLAM - Well, I did not disturb the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) on his perch. In all six States, the Commonwealth has resumed land for war service homes, without the consent of the States, and without reference to the States. Similarly, {the Commonwealth could, by using the same defence power, resume land for soldier settlers without the consent of the States and without referring to the States. If there is one really formidable power that the Commonwealth has, it is the defence power, and with that power, for well over a generation, without challenge, it has carried out war service homes development, albeit inadequately, and it has, in some States, carried out war service land settlement, albeit again inadequately.

So one would think that if the Minister is dissatisfied with the way in which New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have carried out the job, he could do what the Government has always done in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania where it has taken over the job itself. One becomes almost impatient with this constant complaint by the Government that anything on which it has fallen down is the responsibility of its predecessors in this Parliament or its contemporaries in the State parliaments. I would have thought that the Commonwealth's own undoubted responsibility to carry out soldier settlement in the Northern Territory. where it has never done so, or in the Australian Capital Territory, where it has also failed to do so, would be compared with its co-operative responsibility in the three agent States and with its delegated responsibility in the three principal States. One finds, in every case, that the Commonwealth has fallen down on the job. ft has fallen down more conspicuously in the territories, but it has fallen down similarly, pari passu, in both agent and principal States. So let us have an end to this passing the buck in a matter which is not only important to the country, but which has become tedious by its repetition in seven successive budgets of this Government.

One would think that, after the questions which have been put by members on this side of the House and which are undoubtedly thought by the ominously silent members who have now come in to sit behind the Minister, everybody in the chamber would want to know, as we are all convinced that the Australian public wants to know, how soon the qualified and anxious ex-servicemen will actually get their lots. If the Commonwealth believes that they should be settled while they are still able to till the soil or look after their herds, then the Commonwealth has the power to settle them. Or is this just another occasion on which the Commonwealth believes that one should not disturb one's supporters, the large graziers and large landowners - that one cannot afford to spend public money for fear of setting off another cycle of inflation? Is this another case in which there is that combination of looking after one's friends and, at the same time, retarding the development of the country?

The Government is singularly fortunate that its interests and its theories seem to coincide so frequently, even in these matters which concern all of us so much. Because this does concern us! It concerns us, first of all, from the moral standpoint, because the Commonwealth may, it can be said, have no responsibility. In fact, the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to carry out closer settlement in general. It would seem to have the power in regard to immigrants or in regard to ex-servicemen under the immigration power and the defence power respectively. But in regard to soldier settlement, the Commonwealth has not only the constitutional power but also the moral obligation to carry it out because people who enlisted in World War I., World War II., and the relatively minor Korean war were told that they would be given the opportunity to settle on the land if they showed any aptitude for the job. Those who showed an aptitude for the job were given qualifying certificates, and one-third of the people who got those certificates have been settled on the land in the eleven post-war years.

One would think that even this obtuse government would be stricken by conscience sufficiently to see that the solemn obligations which were made by its predecessor of socialist complexion and that government's predecessor of conservative complexion would be fulfilled. They are not being fulfilled.

Mr Bowden - They are.

Mr WHITLAM - In how long? In 22 years or 33 years? Even the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) will be a faint memory by the time the last man is settled on the land. We have not only a moral obligation but also an economic obligation to settle ex-servicemen on the land, because Australia is on trial before the world in connexion with the way in which we use our vast territories. Australia is an eminently suitable country for growing many primary products, and the best way in which to ensure that it is used to the best advantage is to see that the land is properly developed and superintended by persons who can exercise their skill in proper management areas. One way in which the Government can do that is by soldier settlement. The States could do it by closer settlement in general if they had the funds. The Commonwealth, which has the funds, and the obligation, and the constitutional power, can, in fact, carry out war service land settlement, thereby developing our land and seeing that qualified persons who have done their job for the country are given the opportunity to manage economy-size blocks of land. This Government should honour its obligations to those who helped to preserve this country - and helped to preserve it, bc it said, when land was available at 1942 values, thus assisting in the proper development of the country and providing its people with more of the wherewithal to buy the things that they need to keep them in employment and their industries flourishing. I would think that, from the national point of view, whatever our ideologies, there is every moral, every constitutional, and every economic reason for getting on with war service land settlement. The bill before us, the thesis of the Minister for Primary Industry and the reminiscences of the Minister for Social Services bring us no further towards the goal of seeing that the needs of those who are qualified because of their service to the nation, and because of their aptitude for rural pursuits, are satisfied. We have taken eleven years to do what has been done so far. At the present rate of progress those who are still waiting, and still interested in settling on the land, will have to wait another eleven years to attain their objective. They will have to wait alike in the States where the Commonwealth carries out the job itself, and in the States where the Commonwealth leaves the States to carry it out. If war service land settlement depended upon the Commonwealth alone and were confined to the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory would-be settlers would have to wait until next century to be settled.

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