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Wednesday, 19 June 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- Although the consideration of this important subject has remained in abeyance for almost nine months, I believe that while the present Government remains in office, and continues its policy of neglect and procrastination, the debate could be postponed indefinitely without having much effect upon the prospects of our ex-service- men being satisfactorily placed on the land. Never before have we had flung before us proposals which reeked more of shame and hypocrisy than do those proposed in the Minister's statement. Honorable members on this side of the House might be prepared to absolve the Government for its long delay in this matter if they believed that it had at heart the real interests of the men who desire to settle on the land, that there was some sincerity in the Government's promise to expedite the rehabilitation of those who fought for their country in the war just ended, or if, in spite of the delays, it was the real intention of the Government to recognize the claims of ex-servicemen and to enable them to own and work farm properties. But I regret to say that after having perused the trash published by the Department of Post-war Reconstruction I cannot give the Government that credit. I call it. trash advisedly. I refer to Reestablishment Pamphlets Nos. 4, 10 and 11. No. 4 is entitled " Farms for Fighting Men " ; No. 10, "Loans for Re-establishmentin Agriculture " ; and No. 11, " Rural Training". There might be a dozen more such pamphlets written by men; who possibly know very little about farming, but know a great deal about means of preventing ex-servicemen from ever becoming owners of farms. I intend to quote from these pamphlets. I come from a district which probably has more small farmers than has any other area in Australia.

Mr McEwen - Except Indi.

Mr ANTHONY - That may be so; but in the electorate of Richmond the great majority who get their living from the land are small farmers with areas of from 100 to 200 acres. There are thousands of them throughout my electorate. Thousands of their sons enlisted and went away to the war, but, under the scheme propounded by the Government, not one of them has the opportunity to get a farm of his own. As far as I am aware, not one ex-soldier has been settled on the land in the entire electorate of Richmond.

Mr White - Or anywhere else.

Mr ANTHONY - When one studies the conditions imposed on those who would seek to become soldier settlers the reason is quite apparent. The Government says through its Minister for Postwar Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), through its "brain trust", and through its pamphlets, that a great opportunity is afforded to the ex-soldier to rehabilitate himself if he desires to become a farmer. That is announced in pamphlet No. 4, written, I dare say, by Dr. Coombs,or one of his bright young men. The pamphlet says -

In the years to come, farming of one kind or another will offer satisfying careers to numbers of men and women who, during the war, have served their country in the armed services, provided they possess the necessary qualifications.

Provided they possess the necessary qualifications ! If we read through the pamphlet, we find so many hedges and barriers around the qualificationsthat only a very limited number of men could qualify. In fact, no young man who went away to war at the age of 18, 19 or 20 has any prospect of qualifying to take advantage of this specious "offer, which is no offer at all. Pamphlet No. 10, which is entitled " Loans for Reestablishment in Agriculture", says -

To meet the needs, of ex-service men and women in these circumstances, the Commonwealth Government made provision in the Re-establishment and Employment Act 1945, for the grant upon favorable terms of agricultural re-establishment loans to those who satisfy certain reasonable conditions and are in need of such assistance to enable them to re-establish themselves successfully in an agricultural occupation.

Then it goes on with a great deal more "blah". On page 4, itsays -

The maximum amount which may be granted as an agricultural re-establishment loan is One Thousand Pounds (£1,000).

One thousand pounds is the maximum amount, according to the Minister's own pamphlet, and this is what that figures £1,000 is supposed to do -

Purposes for which Loansmay be made.

Loans may be made for a variety of purposes. These include -

(i)   The purchase or lease of any land, the erection of buildings and effecting of other improvements on land.

(ii)   The purchase, hire or acquisition of tools of trade, stock, livestock, plant or equipment.

(iii)   The reduction or discharge of any mortgage, charge, bill of sale, or other encumbrance on property owned by the applicant and used in bis agricultural occupation.

(iv)   The fulfilling of the applicant's obligations under a hire purchase agreement - and so forth.. This £1,000 is not a gift from the Government. I do not want any misapprehension on that point. If people think returned soldiers have earned such a debt of gratitude from this Government that they are going to be given £1,000 they err. I do not propose that it should be given, but it is the height of absurdity to suggest that a returned soldier can be settled on the land for £1,000 when you cannot even erect a house for that amount.No, it is a loan, not a gift, and this is what is said about the security for the loan -

Repayment of loans by periodical instalments of principal and interest will be required and any one or more of the following may be taken as security for any such loan: -

(i)   Amortagage over land (not necessarily a first mortgage).

(ii)   A charge over plant and equipment.

(iii)   A charge over stock.

(iv)   A crop and/or wool lien.

(v)   An assignment of income.

(vi)   A charge over any other assets.

So to begin with there is not very much charity about this £1,000 loan.

Mr McEwen - Is it interestfree?

Mr ANTHONY - No. The first £50 is interest-free, but the interest on the remainder is on a sliding scale. Now, who are eligible for loans? This is one of the points that I take exception to in this land settlement scheme. Men went away from various occupations at different ages, but the great majority of those who were called up from farms in the early stages of the war, that being one of the reasons for the shortage of farm labour until the call up of such people was discontinued in 1942, were grabbed off the farms at eighteen years of age. As soon as the farmer's son turned eighteen he was put into the military forces. That means that farmers' sons who were taken at that time of their lives are practically disqualified.

Mr Pollard - They are not.

Mr ANTHONY - I shall show that they are by reading the relevant parts of. these pamphlets. This is what pamphlet number 10 says -

Who areEligible for Loans.

All members of the forces who have been honorable discharged after not less than six months' war service and those honorably discharged after less than six months' service, who, in the opinion of the lending authority, have been materially prejudiced by war service, are eligible to apply for any agricultural loan. For the purpose of determining the eligibility of an applicant "war service" means -

(i)   Service as a member . . .

And so forth. At page8, pamphlet number 10 says -

An applicant, prior to his engagement on war service, must have had experience in an agricultural occupation in one of the following capacities.

Let me see whether an eighteenyearold boy at the time of his enlistment could measure up to those qualifications. It goes on to say -

The experience must have been obtained prior to engagement on war service even though the applicant may have established himself in an agricultural occupation since' his discharge.

That means that if he did not have experience and qualifications before war service, it does not matter for how many years afterwards he may have proved ability on the land, he is not eligible to come under this re-establishment loan proposal. It robs every boy who, at eighteen or nineteen years of age went off the land into war service, of the possibility of getting a farm.

Mr McEwen - It is intended to.

Mr ANTHONY - There is not the slightest doubt about that. Dealing with those who are considered eligible or ineligible, as the case may be, for the loan, page 9 says that ho must have been -

(i)   Immediately prior to his engagement on war service . . . engaged in an agricultural occupation either on hig own account, as an active member of a partnership, as a share filmier or as a contract worker.

Where does that get the farmers' sons?

Mr Scully - Do not the sons participate in the proceeds of the farm?

Mr ANTHONY - I intend to show that the conditions that are laid dow'n are being applied by those who are disbursing these loans of £1,000. It goes on in paragraph 2 to say -

(ii)   Although not actually engaged at the time of his engagement on war service in the agricultural occupation that he desires- to pursue,' had approximately the same number of years of experience as operator on his own account, as a.n active member of a partnership, a-i a share fanner or as n contract worker in that occupation, as elapsed between the date on which he ceased to be engaged in that occupation and the date of his engagement on war service.

Iii other words, he must have had three years in a managerial or executive capacity before his enlistment before being entitled to participate in a loan of up to £1,000. He has to pass all those hurdles and barriers and tuen, by the grace of God and the general manager of the Rural Bank of New South Wales, which' is the dispensing authority for the loan, he might be permitted to enjoy the bounty of the Commonwealth Government's re-establishment loan: The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Riordan) comes from a great agricultural and pastoral district of north Queensland. I note the presence of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), who represents a great wheat-growing district. I note, too, the presence on the Government side of the House of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser), the representative of another farming constituency. I ask every one of them how far £1,000 will go to-day in enabling a returned soldier to acquire a farm of his own, and stock it as well.. It is absolutely the height of absurdity to term this scheme soldier settlement. As far as I am aware, it has not provided for one man, certainly not one in my electorate.

Mr Dedman - The honorable member knows nothing about it. . He says that not one man has obtained a loan. That is utterly ridiculous.

Mr ANTHONY - I say that not one man has acquired a farm as the result of the generosity of this Government. There may be some men throughout the country who have obtained loans on their stock, plant and other assets, but not one man in my district has obtained a farm as the result of Commonwealth assistance. I challenge the Minister successfully to contradict that statement. In very closely settled districts, such as is a vast portion of New South Wales and Victoria, no large estates are available for subdivision into properties for the settlement of ex-servicemen. The day when such areas existed has long passed. Most of the land available for that purpose was acquired after World War 1. The only places that have been made available, and I shall withdraw s!ightly-

Mr Dedman - Ah !

Mr ANTHONY - I qualify my earlier statement to this extent, that a few properties have been made available in New South Wales, not as the result of Commonwealth assistance, but because leases in the Western Lands Division of that State expired and the Government of New South Wales took over and subdivided those properties for the land settlement of ex-servicemen.

Mr Dedman - Those properties also come into this scheme.

Mr ANTHONY - Those are the- only properties, and I emphasize that only a very limited number of such properties is likely to be available. The reason is that New South Wales - indeed, the whole Commonwealth - has advanced its land settlement over a period of years, and a big percentage of the fertile land in New South Wales and Victoria has already been subdivided and settled.

Mr Scully - A big percentage of the most suitable land is held in large estates.

Mr ANTHONY - I say positively that in the dairying districts on the north coa.=t and south coast of New South Wales, fewer than half a dozen properties are suitable for subdivision. Therefore, if the Government is genuine in its professed desire to settle ex-servicemen on the land, only one way remains of providing that opportunity, and that is by the acquisition of individual farms. In other words, the Government must purchase properties on terms and conditions which will enable the settler to make a success of his venture in the district with which he is familiar. Unfortunately, under the Government's scheme, not one ex-serviceman has the remotest possibility of acquiring his own farm in the dairying districts of New South Wales. First, be is not able to surmount the barrier of qualification. If he is the son of a farmer and is aged eighteen or nineteen years, he lacks the necessary managerial experience. If he were not an executive, farmer or share-farmer, he is disqualified completely under the regulations. I invite the Minister to attempt to prove that my statement is not accurate. Dozens of ex-servicemen in my electorate will listen with great interest for such a contradiction. Throughout the length and breadth of New South Wales, and particularly on the north coast, people have agitated for a scheme which will enable ex-servicemen, with financial assistance from the Commonwealth, to acquire their own farms. I put this proposal to the Minister on behalf of numerous organizations along the north coast of New South Wales, and this week I received his reply. Dated the 15th June, 1946, it is his last word on the subject -

I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 8th May, 1946, enclosing a letter which you have received from Mr. W. G. Pullen, Honorary Secretary, Tenterfield Repatriation Local Committee, Post Office Box 22, Tenterfield, .in which further representations are made regarding the question of the acquisition of single farms for ex-servicemen.

The. further representations by the committee have been carefully considered, but the Government is not prepared to alter its policy in the matter.

The Government policy is influenced by experience quoted in the Rural Reconstruction Commission's Second Report, which deals with the settlement and employment of returned men on. the land. In dealing specifically with this matter the report states- -

And these are the reasons which influenced the Government in rejecting all these suggestions for the purchase of individual farms- " Purchase of Privately Held Farms. - Experience under the Last soldiers' land-settle ment scheme stresses the need for extreme caution with this type of purchase ..."

We all agree that there is need for caution, but I shall suggest in a few minutes means of overcoming such difficulties - ". . . and also for preparedness to combat a great deal of the pressure likely to be exerted by those desiring favorable decision to such a purchase. Highly responsible officers have given it as their experience that a great proportion of failures occurred among settlers who obtained their farms in this way."

My personal experience is that a very big proportion of such failures occurred in group settlement schemes.

Mr Dedman - The honorable member disputes the report of the Rural Reconstruction Commission on the matter.

Mr ANTHONY - I do not accept the commission's report as gospel. Having been a soldier-settler, I have some personal knowledge of this particular matter. I proceed to read the Minister's reasons for refusal - " In the words of one such authority - Generally the father was to blame; he kidded us to buy for his son, thinking he could make a living off it, but most of these areas were the non-living areas, nearly every one of them '."

The farms were too small in nearly every case - " And again, ' I am totally opposed to purchasing, as was done after the last war, individual farm units at the instigation of the owner (usually a successful farmer) for a prospective settler (probably a relative). In addition to replacing experienced men with mostly unsuccessful ones, the State suffered heavy financial loss in almost all those transactions.' "

Mr Dedman - Is the honorable member aware that the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia is opposed to the policy which he advocates?

Mr ANTHONY - No; I contradict it, so far as the New South Wales branch of the league is concerned.

Mr Dedman - I refer to the attitude of the federal executive of the league.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not speaking of Mr. Millhouse. I showed earlier that the . statement of Mr. Millhouse, which the Minister read to-day with such pride and gusto, even if made with sincerity, was not made with a knowledge of '.hi- subject in respect of New South Wales. The Minister in his letter to me proceeded -

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

I remind the Minister that in the sister Dominion of New Zealand, where there are no large subdivisions to be made, the Government is making available money for the purchase of single farms. I am not sure of the exact amount of the loan, but the Minister can obtain the information. Speaking from memory, I believe that the amount of the loan is between £3,000 and £5,000. The Minister's letter continues -

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. 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, but should be required to arrange his own finance.

So far in my speech, I have pointed out, first, the qualification barriers which hedge these proposals, ruling out the majority of applicants, including farmers' sons, and, secondly, the inadequacy of the loan of £1,000. Now the Minister puts forward this impudent proposal -

Mr Dedman - Will the honorable member read the last two paragraphs of my letter?

Mr ANTHONY - Yes. They are-

I desire to stress the point that the War Service Land Settlement agreements between the Commonwealth and the States, do not prevent the acquisition of single farm properties, provided that the Commonwealth and the State concerned agree that they suitable for settlements and that the costs of acquisition are reasonable.

However, the position under the War Service Land Settlement Agreement Scheme is that the initiation of all settlement proposals lies with the States and the Commonwealth can only consider those proposals brought forward by the States. Whether a State is prepared to submit " single farm " propositions to the Commonwealth depends upon the policy of the State concerned.

Obviously, the Minister engaged in the old game of. " passing the buck " to the State governments, but in order that no honorable member shall mistake what I am saying, I repeat the Minister's exact words in his letter to me -

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 thescheme. 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 but should be required to arrange his own finance.

What is the effect of these words? A soldier, who resides in the north coast district of New South Wales, may begin to search for a suitable property there with a view to purchasing it. It is not easy to find a 'satisfactory farm. He may be sufficiently fortunate to locate an owner who desires to sell his farm, and he may consider that the property will provide an adequate livelihood.- Accordingly, he approaches the laud settlement authority. If he is a plausible and persuasive fellow, the land settlement authority will purchase the farm, and then invite 8,000 or 10,000 applicants to ballot for it. That is the Minister's proposal. Is that the way in which to settle ex-servicemen on the land? Who will submit to such terms and conditions? Who will go to the trouble of finding a suitable property when he knows that 10,000 or 8,000 persons may ballot for it? Approximately S,000 ex-servicemen hold qualification certificates in New South Wales alone. Yet the Minister declared that the Government is settling exservicemen on the land '. That is the kind of propaganda which is conveyed by the pamphlets which were distributed to the troops in New Guinea and which influenced many of them, in the belief that the Government sincere, to vote for the Labour party at the last election. One ex-serviceman wrote to me in these terms -

During the last year of my service in New Guinea, I had from time to time attended lectures on the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen and from them gathered that we would be given any needed assistance to help us rehabilitate ourselves back to civilian life, but so far I have found it very difficult to obtain.'

Any one who has encountered the hedging with which the Government has surrounded its ex-servicemen land-settlement policy will understand the difficulties in which .the would-be settlers find themselves. The men are not permitted to apply for land unless they have had experience, they cannot obtain an advance of more than £1,000, and they are not permitted to select singleunit farms, unless they are also willing to permit the farms to be balloted for by other exservicemen. It is not necessary for me to do more, at this stage, than to refer honorable gentlemen opposite to the pamphlets that have been issued by the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, for they expose the ineptitude of the Government. The departmental publications state that the mistakes that were made in land settlement after the last war will not be repeated. The department does not intend to make any mistakes, because it does not intend to put any soldiers on the land. In such circumstances there can be no risk of mistakes. I recommend honorable gentlemen opposite to study the departmental pamphlets very carefully. They will then learn for themselves whether the returned men in their own electorates will be able to acquire singleunit farms of any description. An advance of . £1,000 for this purpose will go absolutely nowhere today, yet the department requires in return for even such an advance the security of the land, stock and other assets. If there is any sincerity behind its landsettlement policy the Government will accept the amendment which I now move -

That all the words after "That" be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - "a Select Committee be appointed forthwith for the purpose of reporting upon -

(a)   The adequacy of the cash loan at present enacted to establish exservicemen on the land;

(b)   The necessity for immediately making provision for a scheme for acquisition of singleunit farms chosen by ex-servicemen after appropriate approval; and

(c)   The qualifications at present stipulated in respect to ex-servicemen who desire to become soldier settlers.".

What I propose, in short, is that a committee representative of all parties in both this House and the Senate shall thoroughly investigate the whole subject, and suggest ways and means by which ex-servicemen shall be able to acquire farms under reasonable conditions. I make it clear that I do not suggest that every ex-soldier applicant shall be given the farm of his own choosing and that the Government shall pay for it. During the last six years committees of public minded citizens have acted in all sorts of capacities in order to help the Government in the war effort. We had war agricultural committees, tyre and rubber control committees, war loan committees and many others, all of which assisted the Government in administrative work. I believe that the persons who served on these committees and on repatriation committees in country districts would be able to give good advice in regard to the purchase of land suitable for settlement by exservicemen. Such committees could make recommendations on the suitability of properties which ex-servicemen desire to acquire. It must be remembered that applicants must pass certain qualification tests. The committees could also report on types of farms and on values. Useful work could be done in these respects. [Extension of time granted.]

I hope the Minister will accept this amendment, because it will ensure that adequate consideration will be given by qualified men to the problems associated with the land settlement of ex-servicemen. The commission of which Mr. Wise was chairman endeavoured to do a good job, and I do not desire to be over critical of it or Mr. Wise. But Australia is a large continent in which all varieties of conditions in relation to land settlement are to be found. Every district has its own peculiar local circumstances and local problems. Mr. Wise's commission could do nothing other than report in a broad and general way. It could not deal with specific and individual needs in different areas of Australia.

Mr Scully - The commission travelled all over Australia.

Mr ANTHONY - That is true, but by its very nature it could not make recommendations in regard to local areas. I believe that if justice is to be done to the men who desire to go on the land the problems they will encounter will have to be. considered in respect of particular localities and particular individuals. If the Commonwealth Government were to advance up to £4,000 or £5,000 to individual ex-servicemen who desire to acquire farms, and if it had as the basis for such advances the favorable recommendations of repatriation committees or other local committees, it would go some distance to making its land-settlement policy successful. Mistakes would undoubtedly occur under such a -scheme, but I believe that they would be relatively few and that the general results would be wholly satisfactory. In the long run, such a policy would be effective, for the Government would have the land, stock and plant as security and there would only be a modicum of risk. A select committee such as T have proposed could make recommendations in regard to the provision of singleunit farms chosen by ex-servicemen, and it could also suggest reasonable conditions under which the authorities could give assistance.

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