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 GRASSBY (Riverina) - I strongly and sincerely support the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition. The amendment does not negate the provisions of the Bill but calls for the setting up of a select committee of the House to inquire into all aspects of war service land settlement in Australia to formulate gu:delines for any future land settlement scheme. lt is important that this bc done. I make an appeal, in no sense carping criticism of what has gone on in the past but simply as a constructive measure to delineate some of the problems which have emerged after a half century of soldier settlement in Austral'a. for the amendment to be supported. Soldier settlement is not a new proposal. It can be found in the annals of

Rome where the legions, when they returned and dispersed, were settled both at home and abroad.

I live in an area which was developed largely after World War L on the basis of soldier settlement. It is an area of development based on irrigation, it provides many lessons as to what can be done to make soldier settlement more effective and more efficient. Some of the concepts thai were adopted after the First World War in the Mumimbidgee area arc concepts that still are worth exploring today. There was the concept of specialised training which was so necessary for the men who were to go onto farms. There was the selection of an elite corps of men who were sent to Californian irrigation areas to learn some of the advanced techniques which we d'd not have in Australia at that lime. They came buck as community leaders and farm leaders. There could be many good lessons to be learned, but there were also many difficulties that arose due to economic conditions and also because it was a great experiment in arid zone development - perhaps the greatest experiment in arid zone development that we have had. Since World War II there has been further settlement of ex-serv cemen in that area and in the south. Perhaps the outstanding example of land settlement in the past 2 decades has been the Coleambally area. I want to make some reference to that development as I feel it offers lessons from which we can all learn. Also it lends support to the idea that we should be having a comprehensive look at what has been done in the past half century. The major problems that have arisen have not been entirely wrapped up in the financial provisions and in the decisions that were made, even as to farm sizes. A lot of the difficulties have arisen just because we did not have the technical know-how and technical services were not available. When wc think back and realise that it is only perhaps in the past 20 years that we have gained knowledge and understand ng of the soil pH we can see how serious errors in assessment of soil suitability could easily have been made. I should like to give an example of this.

Recently a group of agronomists, field officers and experienced growers of the crops desired looked at 6,000 acres of land that might have been put under intensive culture and irrigation. They gathered and examined the soil type and agreed that this was ideal soil for the purpose in mind. This group said that the soil was suitable and of outstanding quality for this particular intensive culture. Not 20 years ago, in fact not even 10 years ago, the assessments of the technical people concerned on that day, together with the views of the people in the industry, would have been sufficient. Those combined assessments would have sufficed to indicate that this soil should be set aside for the purpose desired. People would have been allocated farms, or they would have drawn farms, in that 6,000 acre parcel of land. In fact, what happened was that the soil was further examined and subjected to chemical analysis particularly. It was found that under intensive culture with irrigation its structure would break down. So had we proceeded with the plans for the development of that land we would have been putting people onto blocks of land that would have failed them. The failure would in this instance not have been due to anything other than lack of technical knowledge of the soil and its reaction to intensive culture. I do not bring this forward to blame anyone but to show that the state of knowledge had advanced to a degree where we were able to see a mistake which we did not make.

As all of us in this House listened to the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) we must have had some feeling for him inasmuch as he was describing what had happened in human terms as a result of mistakes, some administrative and some technical. I want to draw attention particularly to this sort of error, and I do not do so in any narrow spirit of criticism but to emphasise the need for some overall assessment and an inquiry along the lines we have suggested. Earlier 1 mentioned that probably the most outstanding closer settlement scheme in the whole of the Commonwealth is at Coleambally. Coleambally is rather a big word if one has not beard it before and perhaps it is easier to remember it if one knows that it means 'two swallows on the wing9. This was a scheme devised under the auspices of the New South Wales Government of the time and the Minister for

Conservation of the time, the honourable A. G. Enitcknap. The scheme was designed to utilise 500,000 acre feet of the 1,200,000 acre feet additional water supplies that would come from the Snowy scheme. The planning of this scheme was carried out by the Blowering committee. This committee was a body that brought together people from various Commonwealth and State departments, the Treasurer, the Reserve Bank and a wide range of technical expertise. This was the planning body for what is today the largest single land settlement scheme in the nation. In terms of farm numbers it is five times the size of the Ord River scheme. Originally the planning envisaged 1,000 new farms - large area farms for rice, wheat and sheep propositions and horticultural farms. The concept was attacked and described as a white elephant, and one public figure referred to it as a new Gallipoli. Despite all the prophets of gloom it has developed in an outstanding way and today the area boasts 250 farms and a new town. In fact, the newest town in the nation has been born at the hands of the Murrumbidgee shire which took over the project initially planned by State authorities.

Coleambally is moving forward and in that area today one can learn lessons of a technical and administrative nature, lessons that are needed to be learnt about closer settlement. Even today in Canberra there are lessons to be learnt at an exhibition at the Monaro Mall where one can see the story of soldier settlement. A very fine exhibition of soldier settlement products and its epic is on display from the Murrumbidgee. Coleambally has received some soldier settlers. Young men who have returned from Vietnam have settled there. In this regard there are queries which must be posed. The young man who goes to Vietnam and returns is given an indication of his repatriation rights. It is intimated to him that $6,000 closer settlement loans are available. These young men have served and have done the job required of them. They are given certain rights and promised certain privileges. We must see that the promises are kept and the privileges duly accorded. However, when a young man applies as an ex-serviceman from Vietnam to enter the ballot for a Coleambally farm he has to go through a very close examination. He makes a written application and he must have a basic amount of money, as well as managerial and farm experience. His application is considered by the New South Wales Irrigation Commission and if the applicant measures up to the criteria applied then he may enter the ballot. If he succeeds in the ballot he can be allocated a farm. However, it is only a provisional allocation, and he must appear before a tribunal to substantiate the claims he makes in his application. If he cannot prove his financial position and his possession of plant and equipment and his managerial experience to the satisfaction of the tribunal he loses the farm he hrs drawn in the ballot. I can cite one case which illustrates the difficulty to which I wish to draw attention. This is the case of a young man who had all the necessary qualifications - youth, cash and managerial experience - and who is approved by the State authorities and therefore allocated a farm. He is cross-examined by the State tribunal, which conducts its hearings in a firm and stern way, and his application is confirmed. This man is then able to go to private bodies and obtain plant and equipment. He is able to go to the private banking systems and get some support. He thinks to himself: 'The State Government of New South Wales has approved me, the private instrumentalities have approved me and my application has been confirmed.' He has some equity to offer, although not much, so he thinks surely the Commonwealth Government will play its part. As security is required he offers a mortgage over his plant and equipment and a bill of sale over his farm. He is anxious that the Commonwealth should have its safeguard for the money put forward. However, the conditions of the safeguard are proving too stringent and too hard. The query 1 pose is that if we are going to have resettlement loans administered by the Department of Primary Industry and if we are going to recognise the debt due to the men who have returned, then we have to at least match the State and the private sector with the resettlement loan which the man has been led to expect.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to examine the cases to see whether the Commonwealth can match the confidence in the young men concerned that has already been shown by the State and also by the private sector. This is just one aspect of the settlement concerned.

Earlier, 1 mentioned the real problem that arises in relation to technical knowhow. I want to pose another problem as another reason for supporting the amendment proposed by the Opposition and which provides for an inquiry. Not very long ago a parcel of settlement in the Riverina was opened up that was based on sandhills and on the utilisation of well-drained deep sands for citrus production. All the technical know-how pointed to the location of this land being ideal for the recommended purpose, and so people took up these farms and have been established on them now for some time. However, despite the technical know-how that was given to them and despite the best knowledge available, although the trees were planted, grew and looked most luxurious, there was no fruit. So, we have this inexplicable development in the face of all the know-how that we believed we had - know-how which was the basis of recommendations in most cases and which of course influenced the settlement itself. Therefore, we now find that there is a need to look at these people in relation to reconstruction.

One might ask: Is this not a most wasteful procedure? It is not wasteful at all. After all, the State, which is the public authority in this instance, went ahead in good faith and the farmers entered on the blocks in good faith. Although both parties have done their best, because we have had inadequate know-how there is a need for reconstruction, and I do not think there is any need to apologise for that opinion. The only thing that needs to be done, as the member for Braddon so eloquently :-ai..l, is that we must recognise this fact. I do not see why there should be any difficulty about (hat because, if there is a need to reconstruct, it should be recognised that the reconstruction should be carried out as quickly and efficaciously as possible.

Dealing with Coleambally again, I point out that the land in this area has been brought into production perhaps mere quickly than land has been brought into production in any other part of Australia. Not too long ago I had the privilege of. arranging an inspection by air and land by Sir John Crawford, who knows the Mumimbidgee particularly well and who, perhaps has had reason to query some of the claims for development that have been made in the Coleambally area. In fact, what ho found was an extraordinary base of development. He found that new land was being brought into cultivation and production more quickly in this area than in any other area of which he knew, and certainly far more quickly than it was in the older Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Therefore, lessons can be learnt from this development, and those lessons can be learnt from the problems as well as from the successes.

Bearing in mind the spirit that dominates us - I hope it still does - in relation to closer settlement, I believe we have no reason to apologise for the fact that we have accepted a dictum which I have found rather quaintly expressed by my good friend Mr Charles King, who is chief of agricultural marketing economics in New South Wales and who wrote an outline of closer settlement in that State. According to him, Governor Macquarie - and we go back now to one of the great developers of the then infant nation - judged 'that it was better for the people to be settled on small farms of their own rather than to work for hire on large estates'. Of course, the reign of Macquarie was from 1809 to 1821, and it took much training and agitation to give people in the countryside their independence. They have achieved it, but one may ask whether we have moved forward at all from the point reached all those years ago. We have: The concept of the farm size has had to be re-examined. Of course, it must be reexamined, as has been recognised. I should say that one principle that should be applied and generally accepted is the optimum technology. If this is applied, I believe we can get a sound reconstruction, which is needed in some instances, based only on size. But size is not the only answer.

I have endeavoured to point out that, in relation to land use, a man can be given 10 times the area he has at present and, if the land use recommended has been wrong, this will only multiple his troubles 10 times. It is not only just a question of size. Sometimes capital also is involved; sometimes a man is affected by matters beyond his control, such as the imposition of wheat quotas; and at other times problems arise associated with the man himself. All of these things mean that, within the concept of closer settlement, a great many variables exist. A great many matters must be given close and specific attention. If this is to be done systematically and properly, I believe we will need the sort of select committee that has been recommended today. After all, we have to find answers to some of the questions.

I agree entirely that this should not be a witch hunt. I may say also that such a select committee may dispose of some of the economic myths, one of the greatest of which is that the bigger is the best. The position is just not so, and 1 should like to see a select committee appointed so that this particular matter can be brought forward and dealt with on a technical level, far too often in parliamentary debates there is neither the time nor the opportunity to go deeply into some of these questions. If we accept this myth, which I may say has been propagated with great enthusiasm in certain quarters, we will run into the kind of trouble that was run into in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 20 years ago - in fact, it could be 40 years ago-when that country followed exactly the principle that the bigger is the best. Of course, the Russians found that the law of diminishing returns took over at a point which they were not able to establish and which they had not previously established. I am not quite clear, from the technical journals, whether they have reached a final solution now in relation to farm size in the various crops and industries.

Certainly there is no need for us to approach the appointment of any select committee of inquiry on the basis that we will not need in future closer settlement or occupation of the countryside, nor do we need to abandon the need for further settlement. The only thing I would say is that, in looking to the future, we will have to see the marrying of the concepts of urban decentralisation and rural settlement and development. I believe this will have to come, because at present we often plan in isolation. I make no apology for repeating the term 'economic apartheid' which I have used regularly. I use that term to mean simply that planning for farms is being done in an isolated way. There is a batch of settlements in an area. Perhaps there is the ad hoc development of Sydney or Melbourne in terms of suburbs, but there is no real coherent plan of decentralisation that would involve not only primary but also secondary and tertiary industries.

I think that planning for the future will have to proceed on this basis so that discussion becomes not a discussion for rural people alone and not a discussion for urban people alone but a discussion for the 2 together, marrying the concepts that we of the Opposition, at any rate, are espousing in terms of planned development for the future.

An inquiry such as has been suggested would give us the raw material for the decisions that we have to make in this regard. It would enable us to look in depth at the current problems which are facing so many of the soldier settlers due to circumstances, in most cases, far beyond their control, such as governmental and technical decisions.Here we could have a medium whereby we could learn the lessons that have to bc learned and give the assistance necessary for reconstruction which in many cases is urgent. Secondly, the committee of inquiry could examine the whole ramifications of soldier settlement with a view to determining guidelines for future development. If we set up the committee of inquiry as suggested and proceeded on this 2 pronged attack for information and guidance, we could do a great deal to demolish some of the economic myths that are perpetrated at the present time. It could do a great deal to give us the basic raw material for the political and administrative decisions that we will have to make in the future. I hope the Government will give close and sympathetic consideration to this proposal which has been put forward in a most constructive way with only a desire to have the future planned better and to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Debate (on motion by Mr Giles) adjourned.

Suggest corrections