Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 June 1970

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I request the people who are demonstrating, kindly to leave the gallery. (The disturbance continuing) -

Mr SPEAKER - -Order! I request the Serjeant-at-Arms and the police constable to remove the demonstrators. (The disturbance continuing) -

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I request the police to take the appropriate action. (The disturbance still continuing) -

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I suspend the sitting of the House. 1 direct that the galleries, including the Press gallery, be cleared. The sitting of the House will be resumed on the ringing of the bells.

Sitting suspended from 2.18 to 2.55 p.m.

Mr DAVIES - Mr Speaker, before the sitting was suspended I was asking the Minister for Primary Industry, who is at the table, whether he would support the Opposition by permitting his officers to give evidence before a Tasmanian parliamentary committee inquir ng into all aspects of war service land settlement. I was supporting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson for the appointment of a committee to lay down guidelines for any future large scale land development projects. I have repeated on many occasions that I am not interested in having a witch hunt, but I certainly would like to probe the cost structure of the war service land settlement scheme, the reasons for the long delay in completing the scheme, the reasons for the change in accounting procedure instituted some 10 years ago and whether there is any connection between this and the insistence by the Commonwealth on having a finger in the pie in determining the valuation at which the farms are offered to the settlers.

Valuations have been carried out, or. are in the process of being carried out. The Commonwealth calculates this figure as the return it can expect to receive from settlers. This is set against the total cost of the scheme in the 3 agent States of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. The difference, or the excess costs as they are termed, is to be found by the Commonwealth and the 3 agent States in the proportion of three-fifths to be found by the Commonwealth and two-fifths to be found by the States. We want to know why the Commonwealth took over the legal right of the States to determine valuations and whether this was done to dummy up the valuations and so reduce the gap between what the authorities receive from the settlers and the total cost of the scheme. We know that the Commonwealth does interfere because I have in my files a letter signed by Mr A. B. Wherrett, the Acting Director of War Service Land Settlement in Tasmania, addressed to a settler and advising him that: the Commonwealth Director of War Service Land Settlement has instructed that the option prices of these properties to you be increased.

Any inquiry such as we seek would deter.m,ne why it became necessary for the Commonwealth to move in on the State of Tasmania and to take away from it the legal right to fix the valuations for the farms in Tasmania. But one would think that a reasonable Minister would of his own accord set up a committee to inquire into the allegation that I made last year and that he would immediately set about trying to clear officers of his Department and officers of the Commonwealth Taxation Branch of any allegations of dummying the figures to suit the books. For the sake of the record 1 will read again from the letter from the King Island branch of the Returned Services League addressed to the State Secretary of the RSL in Hobart. The letter stated:

The King Island Sub-Branch has been supplied with information by a member of the Valuation Branch -

I remind the Minister that this was an officer of the Commonwealth Taxation Branch - which indicates that the valuations as supplied by the Valuation Branch have been corrupted by the War Service Land Settlement Authority. The officer concerned stated that, while he would not advise an individual to contest these valuations on legal grounds, because of the legal costs involved, he would like to see an organisation such as the Returned Servicemen's League take up the case.

I know that the Minister will deny and deplore the allegation that the figures have been corrupted, as he did recently when a member of the Tasmanian Parliament raised this same issue in that Parliament. But the plain fact is that the charge was made by an officer of the Valuation Branch of the Commonwealth Taxation Branch and only a properly constituted committee, whether it be an inter-departmental committee or whether it be a committee functioning out in the open, as we request, would be able to determine whether the allegations against the War Service Land Settlement Authority are correct or not. That is all we ask. Let us clean up this matter now once and for all. Surely any responsible Minister would want to know whether there was any foundation in these serious charges of playing around with or dummying the figures. If there is nothing to hide why not agree to this committee of inquiry and clear up the smell once and for all.

We are all aware that there is a huge deficit that must be mct by the Commonwealth and the States. The latest figures available to me indicate that 1,017 farms were developed in Western Australia at an average cost of $52,000 each. The excess costs in Western Australia total $21m of which the State of Western Australia will have to find $8. 5m and the Commonwealth $l2.5m. In South Australia 1,028 farms were developed at an average cost of S39,000 each. The excess costs in South Australia total S9m of which the State of South Australia will have to find S3. 5m and the Commonwealth $5. 5m. The total cost of the scheme in Tasmania is approximately S49m to date. The excess costs - that is, over and above the cost of development - total $32m. of which the State of Tasmania has to find $12. 8m and the Commonwealth almost $20m. The average cost per occupied farm in my electorate varies from ยง156,000 for a dairy farm of about 125 acres at Togari to $121,500 on King Island, $73,000 for a farm at Meunna and $55,000 per occupied farm at Mawbanna.

Under the terms of the War Service Land Settlement Agreement, the farms must be offered to the settlers at the cost of development or at market value, whichever is the lesser value. From the cost of development figures that I have just given, it is quite clear that the farmers are to get their properties at market valuation. Now we come to the illegal practice to which I have referred. J would like the Minister again to tell me why the Commonwealth will not allow the State to fix the valuations when the legislation clearly allows for the State to carry out this function. Please do not give me the weak excuse which has always been advanced in the past by some of the Minister's departmental advisers, that the Commonwealth interferes with the rights of the States simply because of the amount of finance that is involved. This clearly implies that the Commonwealth cannot trust the States. Like many others, I would like to know what has happened in the Minister's past dealings with the States to bring about this state of affairs. Is this linked with the change of accountancy procedure which the Minister introduced some 10 years ago? I think this Parliament has a right and a duty to set up a committee of inquiry to look into these matters, amongst others that I have raised.

There is no doubt that the Minister's Department has been interfering with the valuations. In answer to a question at last year's State RSL Congress, the Acting Director of the War Service Land Settlement in Tasmania admitted that he did not see the valuations because they had to go straight to Canberra. I have referred in this House before to the wide disparity between the value which the Minister's Department puis on properties and the market value that we consider should be acceptable to the authorities. The former Treasurer for Tasmania. Mr Reece, advised us in answer to queries that the capital value placed on a property by the State Valuation Branch could be considered as a reasonable market value for the property. Here then is the valuation as provided for in the War Service Land Settlement Agreement. All that we nsk the Minister to do is to accept this market valuation which is on the basis of walk in, walk out, and subtract from it the value of the stock, plant and structures. As we all know these are covered by separate accounts under the war service lands settlement scheme. Then you would subtract also an acceptable figure for the value of the improvements carried out by the settler from the time of occupation up to the date of valuation. The State valuations are available. We know the nature of the stock, plant and structures accounts because these are kept within the Department. All that remains is to obtain a figure for the value of the settler's improvements. With this information we could bring the scheme to an end, with justice being done to the settlers.

I intend to give only one example of the tremendous disparity between the Commonwealth valuation for option to purchase and the State Treasury valuation of the same farm - both valuations being taken in the same year. 1 remember quoting a text book on valuation procedure which has now been accepted for study in universities. It clearly states that for these purposes there cannot be 2 valuations of a property in the one year. I quote this one case. The Commonwealth set the value for the dirt on this farm - the soil only - at $23,604. The State valuation for the dirt and all the structures, the plant and equipment, was only $14,500. So the Commonwealth department is saying, in effect, that it values the soil on this farm at $9,000 more than the State value of not only the soil but the stock, plant, house, dairy, hay barns, sheds and all the fences as well. These valuations were made in the same year. How stupid is this situation. This is only 1 case: I could quote dozens. Surely we are entitled to query the method of valuation and to try to find out the reason for the Commonwealth valuation being so high not only in this 1 case but in dozens of cases. When, on top of this, a valuation officer says that the figures are being corrupted, surely we are entitled to a parliamentary inquiry to determine this question among all the other matters that are of concern to the wellbeing of the settlements.

In his second reading speech the Minister recalled that one of the basic principles of the scheme was the concept that lack of capital was not to debar an otherwise eligible ex-serviceman from participating in war service land settlement. The settlers and the Labor Party maintain that the Government has failed to provide for a settler with no capital to meet his commitments and to live. We hold that in most cases the settler became over-committed with advances to carry out works on the farm that should have been carried out before he took possession. In commencing my remarks I referred to this matter and drew attention to comments made by the honourable member for Dawson who led for the Opposition in this debate. He spoke on this aspect. I pointed out quite honestly that it was due to pressures from the Returned Services League and other organisations that the Government pushed these settlers onto the properties.

Once the settlers got their properties the land settlement authorities came around and said: 'We think you need a big dam here and more fences there. You can have as much money as you like. Just apply for an advance'. However, what do we find today? I need instance only 1 case out of dozens. On 1st May 1970 the State valuation on the property concerned was $22,000 on a walk-m walk-out basis. The value of the plant is $1,500 and of the stock $8,000. If anyone wanted to buy this property at the present market valuation - the State valuation - he would have to pay $31,500. But what does the Commonwealth Government want from the settler? The Minister has referred to more money being made available for advances under this Bill. In the case that I am citing there is an amount of S21.138 for advances, an option price of $10,760 and other charges of $4,176 making a total amount owing to the war service land settlement authority of $36,074. If he sells the property at the current valuation of $31,500, God knows where he will get the $4,500 that he will still owe to the authorities to clear his debt. How can he clear his indebtedness? Is it any wonder that some of these settlers are neurotic?

I have no desire to discuss the humanitarian grounds on which I advance this case because I could easily get carried away, but some of these chaps are in a serious condition mentally. Many settlers are affected by the mental strain and concern they suffer when they get accounts like this. This is not an isolated case; there are dozens of similar cases where settlers are saddled with the advances that were handed out to them with no strings attached. When they first settled on their properties money flowed like water and they could secure advances for this, that and the other and naturally they accepted those advances.

As honourable members know, a person did not need qualifications to take up a property after the war. Provided a man was an eligible ex-serviceman who had signified a desire within 5 years of his discharge to go onto a property, he could take up a property. Today, because of the action of the authorities in giving settlers unlimited advances, there is a day of reckoning. The advances are billed against them and these chaps have no hope at all of meeting their accounts. The honourable member for Dawson spoke about equity in a property. We can understand the mental concern of these chaps who after giving the best years of their lives to a property - 25 years - find they have no equity whatever in it. As a matter of fact if they got out and got reasonable prices for their properties they would still owe money to the war service authorities in respect of their farms.

These people live in rather isolated communities. It is quite true that when a man becomes a new senator, a new State member or, sometimes, a member of this House he tends to be a crusader. He is keen and will do everything for these people, but because not many political votes are involved and because war service land settlement is a hot political potato, he finds he can do little. He is told that the settlers have been given everything on a plate and should be able to make a go of it. A new member finds this attitude. He is told: 'Oh, you cannot touch them. They are all right'. I know that I have lost quite a few friends in fighting for these people, but 1 will continue to fight for them every year. I am convinced of their sincerity. I am convinced of the genuineness of their cause. 1 want to see a committee of inquiry, or at least some change made in the valuations. I want the Commonwealth to accept the State valuation figures which are based on a walk-in walk-out basis. Once this is done I want the Commonwealth to subtract the value of the plant and stock and also to give a reasonable assessment for the improvements curried out by these settlers who have been there for the best years of their life.

I commend to the Government the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson for the selling up of such a committee, which would provide in future that we could at least lay down guidelines so that we would not make the mistakes that we have made over the years since land settlement was instituted after the Second World War. I commend to the Minister the reading of a book by Mr Hooper, a retired World War I veteran, which is to be published at the end of this year. It will contain many chapters on the inadequacy of the treatment given to war service land settlers up to the present time.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Suggest corrections