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Tuesday, 27 October 1964
Page: 1286

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) .- I refer to Division No. 380 - Administrative - and to the item therein relating to financial assistance to the States in connection with the War Service Land Settlement Scheme. In 1963-64 the appropriation for this item was £967,000 and the expenditure was £710,972. The appropriation for 1964-65 is £771,000. Financial assistance to the States is a burning question in Tasmania where quite a number of settlers, after periods of from 12 to 15 years on their properties, are still uncertain whether they have any definite equity in them. At every level of administration of the War Service Land Settlement Scheme - from the State Premiers who discuss this matter at their annual meetings with the Prime Minister, to the departmental officers - there is an atmosphere of uncertainty and insecurity. I believe that more positive efforts should be made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) to bring together all the people associated with the scheme so that final conclusions may be reached on the method to be adopted to grapple with the problem.

In Tasmania the writing down of the ultimate value of the properties is intended to be in the ratio of three fifths to be paid by the Commonwealth, and two fifths to be paid by the agent States. As a result the Tasmanian Government will have to find about £4 million. It wants to see the settlers obtain the title deeds and have the responsibility for their properties handed over to them, but Tasmania's finances would be very seriously upset by the necessity to provide £4 million towards the settlement of the war service land settlement accounts. In Commonwealth finances £4 million is not a great amount, but if the Tasmanian Government has to find this amount, it could considerably affect expenditure in other fields. I refer particularly to other developmental projects that are very badly needed in. Tasmania. In the thirty-first report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission it is stated thai this matter was again discussed at tha

Canberra hearings this year. The report stales -

The Commonwealth Treasury stated that no satisfactory arrangement had yet been made between the Commonwealth and the claimant States for the proper treatment of losses in the claimant States. It stated that the amounts involved would not become of great significance until 1965-66 and, consequently, it would not be necessary to settle the issue this year. In these circumstances, the Commonwealth Treasury preferred to reserve its recommndations on this matter but contemplated including some more definite proposal in the submission to be made next year.

Accordingly, the situation remains as it was. The Commission has, for the purpose of calculating the special grants, allowed these capital losses to be charged to Consolidated Revenue Fund in the claimant States during 1962-63. The amounts involved in 1962-63 were- Western Australia £50,000 and Tasmania £100,000.

The uncertainty that exists at the level of the Commonwealth Grants Commission is reflected in consultations between the State Premiers and the Prime Minister at Premiers' Conferences. It is related to the final objectives of the War Service Land Settlement Scheme which should fulfil the obligations of the Commonwealth to assist exservice men who, because of their war service and for other considerations, ought to be able to obtain land from which they and their families may gain a reasonable income and a reasonably secure standard of living.

Wherever I go amongst war service settlers in Tasmania I find a strong feeling pf frustration. They feel that despite their assiduous efforts - and they are now getting on in years - they are insecure. At their ages they have no alternative to a life of farming. They are suffering from the overall effects of hard work and the pressure of the terms and conditions of their obligations to the war service land settlement authorities. In addition, there is still an aura of uncertainty surrounding the ownership of their properties. In different areas of Tasmania I have met settlers who have reached the stage where they would quite willingly walk off their places in order to be rid of this uncertainty. It is not good enough that there should be so much passing the buck between the various levels of authority - from the Commonwealth Government and State Governments, and the Departmental administration in the States, all the way down to the settlers.

Recently a committee was set up in Tasmania to examine matters pertaining to the whole of the War Service Land Settlement Scheme. The committee was directed to have a look at direct farm operating costs on an annual basis, consider total farm incomes, make a conprehensive survey of finance for personal expenditure, obtain information on the rate of depreciation of capital items, and make suggestions on the basis of charges that a settler could be expected to meet in the period covered by the inquiry. Although the committee has made its investigation and submitted its report, there have been absolutely no signs from any direction that the document has even reached the Minister for Primary Industry, whether he intends to act on it, or whether he will table it in the Parliament in order to let honorable members and honorable senators consider it. All the way along the line this uncertainty persists.

Senator Cormack - That is the tabling of the report in the Parliament of Tasmania?

Senator O'BYRNE - The committee was set up to consider all the matters which I have mentioned. The committee was appointed by the Tasmanian Government for the purposes of preparing a report for submission to the Minister for Primary Industry so that he could get down to tin tacks and find out how the Commonwealth Government could assist the States to solve this problem.

Senator Wright - When did the committee submit its report to the Tasmanian Minister for Agriculture?

Senator O'BYRNE - I understand that the report was submitted to the Tasmanian Minister a number of months ago. He in turn submitted it to the Minister for Primary Industry some months ago.

Senator Wright - I thought it was submilted many months ago, too.

Senator O'BYRNE - I had a telegram a few days ago from a man who takes a close interest in this matter. He asked me whether I could obtain a copy of the report or use my offices here in the Senate to ascertain when the findings of the committee would be made known. When the Commonwealth Grants Commission speaks of deferring a matter for another year, it can do so objectively, because it is not involved in day to day, week to week or year to year responsibilities as are farmers. The Commission, unlike farmers, does not have the problem of meeting dates, does not work out of doors in all weathers, and does not have to contend with the never ending problem of regrowth of rushes, and the like. Farmers have high costs to meet for the various items that are used on their properties, such as superphosphate, and have to provide for repayment for stock, plant and equipment. The circumstances demand that more urgency be shown by those who are in the position to make a final decision on these matters. The personal welfare of the farmers themselves should always be in the forefront of the minds of those who are associated with the war service land settlement scheme.

Various modifications have been made over the years with regard to concessions. The idea of providing concessions is an excellent one, and extends to the agistment of stock while land is being redeveloped - the logical thing - credits for superphosphate, and the provision of areas for fodder conservation. Matters of that kind are of great importance to farmers. However, it has been found that, in many of the evaluations which are made, the man who really works the hardest on his property and increases his income by sheer hard work is told that he does not need any concessions. The odd man who does not bother about lifting the income of his farm, who probably spends more time in the local hotel than he should, and whose margin of debt is greater, receives larger concessions than docs the industrious man. Many settlers regard this as an unfair method of evaluation. They have put up 'a proposition to me, which 1 thoroughly support, that the Minister for Primary Industry should set up an independent tribunal consisting of an accountant and a practical farmer to investigate each case as it is presented so that the personal element can be considered. After all, the scheme has reached the stage now where those concerned in it have become operating farmers. No two farmers are alike. Farmers are the most unalike people it is possible to find. Methods of farming vary tremendously. A farmer's attitude to his work, his ideas on certain procedures in farming, his personality, and the multiplicity of things that he does, do not follow a pattern. The responsibility of one farmer towards his family is different from the attitude of another farmer towards his family. Some farmers have large families while others have small families. But they are all involved in this problem and will be involved in the future.

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