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Wednesday, 19 June 1946

Mr BREEN (Calare) .- It is a pity that the subject of soldier land settlement, which is one phase of repatriation, has been made a political football. Perhaps as a consequence of this criticism, the scheme will be put into operation and' the difficulties ironed out more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. The difficulties associated with soldier settlement have been aggravated by the number of controls in operation. The State governments in the "principal " States are determined to retain their own methods of closer settlement, and they have merely changed their closer settlement schemes to soldier settlement schemes. In the " agent " States, I understand, the settlement schemes are working much more smoothly. In New South Wales difficulties have arisen because so many inspections are, and so many conferences held before an estate can be taken over for sub-division. I am aware that there is strong opposition in both State and Federal circles, to single-block settlements, and the argument of the economist who opposes the system is logical. However, there are certain aspects of settlement in New South Wales which deserve to be taken into consideration. I understand that the act in Victoria has recently been amended to make provision for single-block settlements.

Mr McEwen - There is no Victorian act dealing with the matter at all.

Mr BREEN - The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) has specially cited a recent amendment of the act, and I prefer to accept him as an authority on that point. I am aware that under the system of single-block settlement no more people will be put on the land than are there now. In New South Wales there has always- existed a provision by which the Government will finance the purchase of freehold land for soldiers or other persons who can put up a deposit of 20 per cent, of the purchase price, and the system has proved very successful in the case of soldier settlers. I do not believe that purely economic considerations should be permitted to determine policy in the matter of singleblock settlement. It should be remembered that in New South Wales neitherthe Crown nor private persons hold great areas of land suitable for sub-division. Moreover, the development of' mechanized farming has introduced a new factor. Tractors and other farm machinery have . taken the place of the cheap farm labour formerly employed. Many of the young men who used to work as farm labourers . for low wages are not prepared to return to those conditions. They have been in the cities or overseas. They have seen other men working as trade unionists under conditions superior to those with which they were familiar. Some of them have married, and they are justified inrefusing to go back and become slaves on the land. They naturally wish to give their wives and families something better than they themselves previously knew. There are very few opportunities in country towns for the employment of such men in industry, so that the tendency will be for them to drift to the city, and to add to the congestion already existing there. ! suggest that land settlement schemes would work more smoothly if theCommonwealth were to hand over full control to the governments of the "principal '"' States for a period if, say, five years. More soldiers would be settled on the land, and the drift of former farm labourers to the city would be stopped. Very few of these men will have enough capital to put up 20 per cent, of the purchase price of a farm. Let the Commonwealth Government hand over to the States the .amount which it is estimated will be expended by the Commonwealth on land settlement during the next five years, and let the States administer the scheme entirely. This principle has been followed by the Commonwealth in its hospitals scheme. The Commonwealth does not require the States to submit estimates of the cost of maintaining hospital beds, noi- to supply particulars of the diseases from which, patients are suffering and the treatment they are to he given. In my opinion, there is no need for the *' principal " States to have to submit to the federal authorities estimates of what the land will cost, or of the prospects of financial returns over a period of five or ten years. The States have land departments and departments of agriculture staffed by officers fully experienced in matters relating to land settlement. Indeed, they have had much more experience than have the federal authorities that have been set up to supervise them. If the system which I have suggested were adopted, soldier -land settlement would proceed much more satisfactorily than under the present system of dual control.

Criticism has been directed against the Government's proposal to -make loans up to £1,000 to certain classes of soldier settlers. It must be remembered that if a person already holds a block of land he cannot participate in a ballot under any subdivision scheme in order to acquire another block. The £1,000 loan provision was evolved to afford financial assistance to soldiers who already possess land. That the scheme has been of .real assistance is proved by the number of applications which have been received from soldier settlers for. loans. The money is being advanced at rates of interest not generally available to other classes of soldier settlers. It is evident, therefore, that those who have criticized this scheme have done so without full knowledge of the facts.

Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m..

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