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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - I have been rather interested in the remarks of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to-night. He has been telling us about the money that could be allotted for war service land settlement without the States being able to spend it on that activity. The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) told us that the Government hoped to have all applicants settled by June, 1958. I do not know how the Government can expect to settle outstanding applicants by that time, because in my own State of South Australia, which the honorable member held up as a good example of an agent State doing good work under the scheme, I find that it is almost impossible to get land on which to settle anybody.

A lot of prominence has been given lately to the J and settlement scheme being operated by the Australian Mutual Provident Society Limited in the south-east of South Australia I was in that area recently, where we did a pretty good job in showing that the people are not satisfied with this Government. In conversation with some of the settlers there 1 asked what the overhead cost was oi putting a man on land that had been taken up by the Australian Mutual Provident Society Limited. A man on an adjoining property, who knows the whole place very well, said that to put a man on one of those properties, including the cost of providing house, stock and implements, cost £30,000 One man, £30,000! I asked him how the settlers or the company could possibly earn the overhead charges on such an expenditure, and he told me that the company was not concerned with whether the settlers were or were not able to make repayments so long as they stayed on the land. He said that they had been told not to worry about their commitments. That seems to me to be a remarkable attitude.

I ask the House: How we are to settle exservicemen on the land if it costs £30,000 to place one man on a 1,000-acre property? In addition, where is the land on which to settle them to be obtained? Two or three years ago I was in the Mount Gambier area of South Australia, in the coastal area known as the Nine-Mile district. The scrub had been cleared from the land, which was wonderfully rich country, situated almost al sea level, that had been thrown open for settlement. On that occasion also 1 was engaged in an election campaign, and I visited people in the area to see how things were going in respect of war service land settlement. I found that in many cases the settlers despaired of being able to make a success of their properties, for the simple reason that the land was so low-lying that the water and the growth of weeds that they had to contend with put the farmers in an almost impossible position. Men had taken up land there as dairying propositions. When I was a member of the South Australian Parliament I thought that men who had been allotted land classified as dairying land could take up their blocks with every confidence of success. But the experience of the men who took up that land showed that there were great difficulties that had not been foreseen.

The honorable member for Canning said that after a group of settlers has gone on to an area of land a certain time is taken to clear it and plough it, and that the settlers cannot expect to get a return from their land in less than five or six years. In many places it takes so long to get a return from the land that many settlers are forced to give up their properties before the land is producing. An honorable member interjects that some of them are too old to hang on until the land produces. That leads to the point that there are many would-be settlers among ex-servicemen, who applied for land when they came back from the war, and now feel that they are too' old to be able to tackle the task of working a farm. Ex-servicemen have come to me in recent years to see whether I could help them to get a block of land. They have told me that there is no land available for them. Yet the Minister for Social Services is trying . to blame the lag in war service land settlement on particular governments. For instance, he criticized the New South Wales Government's record in war service land settlement. He said that that government tried to take land for war service land settlement from its owners at 1942 values, plus 10 per cent. At this point I should like to say that we all know very well that, had it not been for the efforts of the ex-servicemen, when they were in the forces during the war, the land that the New South Wales Government wanted for settlement would not now be worth anything like the 1942 values to its owners.

When the war service land settlement scheme was instituted the Labour Government responsible for it felt that men should have a good chance to succeed on the land. The Minister challenged the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) in respect of agreements on values. When I was speaking a week or two ago in this chamber I asked whether any decision had been arrived at concerning the values of land that had been allotted for war service land settlement. 1 remember also that when we were discussing war service land settlement just after the end of the war, when South Australia had to pass complementary legislation to become an agent State, the question we were concerned with - and with which I, personally, was very much concerned - was the ultimate price the settler would have to pay for his land. We were told that the price was gauged on the productive value of the land, and the productive value was assessed on what the land could produce. But in order to assess the productive value of land it is necessary to know the prices that will be received for the commodities grown on that land, and not merely the volume of those commodities that the land is capable of producing. I am informed that even now settlers do not know where they stand in respect of prices. That is the information that I have received recently, and it supports the statement made by the honorable member for Darebin about the writing-off of values without any agreement having been reached on the actual price of the land accepted by the Commonwealth Government.

So I say that we can make all the promises we like in this place, but so long as we have in power a government such as we have to-day, which intends to stick to the old principle of big farms and bigger farms, we will not be able to get enough land on which to settle ex-servicemen. This Government must devise a system under which the lands of this country will be used to the best advantage. One can see to-day, as once could years ago, huge areas in almost any State from which the best possible return is not being taken. We must adopt a system of closer settlement and, in some cases, production methods different from those adopted in the past.

I admit that it is a revelation to see the improved productivity of some land. In South Australia last week I saw what was once known as the 90-mile desert. It appeared very different from the desert of 30 years ago, which would grow hardly anything at all. As the result of improved farming methods, the countryside can only be described as flourishing.

But it is not enough to learn how to carry more stock to the acre. If our exservicemen are to be settled on the land the huge areas that are at present held by the few must be made available to the many. The interest of the present Government has not been, I think one may say honestly, to make land available to as many people as possible. It has rather been to allow people to hold large tracts of land, and make immense profits out of them.

I admit that the imposition of a federal land tax did not break up land as was hoped, but something along those lines must be done in conjunction with the States if more land is to be released. Some may say that the Government is not making sufficient money available, but my fear is that governments; whether of agent States or principal States will be unable to get sufficient land at a price that will give the settler a fair chance to make a good living. We have to do more than just make the money available.

There is much to be said for compulsory acquisition of land. Before many years pass we may have to say, " Either you will voluntary cut your land into smaller areas, or we shall have to acquire it compulsorily ". I remember that in about 1932 the Labour Minister for Lands in the South Australian Parliament brought down legislation for a land valuation and taxation scheme which would make more land available.

I remember seeing land at Naracoorte and Padtheway in 1930 and advocating that it be made available for settlement. We felt that it ought nor to be left in huge blocks. But only in the last two or three years has closer settlement been effected in those areas. One now finds that a new road has been built there and that the huge parklike areas which, in former years carried only a few sheep, have been replaced by smaller holdings, with houses scattered everywhere. I emphasize that when I speak of the Padtheway lands I do not refer to the section that is being developed by the Australian Mutual Provident Society.

I could go on to discuss many areas of South Australia where soldiers were settled after World War I. They grew wheat but after a few years their capital was gone and the former owners got the land back for very much less than they had been paid for it. I do not want to retrace the history of this matter. I know a great deal of the history of both soldier and civilian land settlement. I have had the personal experience of going onto new land. I know how it can break a man's heart. I have known many settlers who would have walked off their blocks if they had had any prospect of making a living elsewhere. In a few years time, when prices settle down to a solid basis that will enable us to compete on world markets, present-day settlers will be in a similar position, unless we ensure that they shall not have to pay off £30,000, or some like amount.

It is not merely a matter of passing a bill authorizing the spending of so many million pounds on soldier settlement. We must have a policy that will enable men to go on the land and make a success of it. One cannot go on land and sit down on the job. I know, as the Minister has said, that one must be efficient and prepared to work; but it is still necessary to be given an opportunity to go on the land. I am glad that this money is being made available, and I hope that whatever government is in office in the future, our land will be put to the best possible use, and made available to the ex-service settler.

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