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Thursday, 23 June 1904

Mr FOWLER (Perth) - I do not rise to discuss the principal issue debated this afternoon. It appears to me that there is prac- tically only one opinion in this House as to the introduction of contract labour into Australia, and that, as to the second aspect of the case, the difficulty of keeping those already in Australia in active occupation, there must be a general consensus of opinion that the trouble is undoubtedly associated with the objectionable land policy of the majority of the States. It is deplorable to read in the newspapers of the destitution and lack of work which exists in this thinly populated Commonwealth. I cannot understand why there need . be any hesitation on the part of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, and others, in vigorously agitating for the adoption of new conditions by the States, which, in the view of most thoughtful people, would go very fair to remove the unemployed difficulty. It is not long since I read in one of the newspapers a remarkable story of an able-bodied man who had left his ship, and was anxious to obtain employment on shore. A sailor is generally regarded as a very useful man, either on land or water; but this sailor who, according to the newspaper paragraph, had a considerable knowledge of general work, travelled some hundreds of miles through Victoria, and finally returned to Melbourne destitute and feeble - in a state of starvation and misery - and ' when ultimately, picked up by the police was in almost the last stages of existence. That incident is a fair indication that there is something radically wrong with our social conditions, and I repeat that the land question is at the root of the trouble. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat mentioned the well-known fact that numbers of persons are leaving Australia in order to take up land in other countries. Let me tell the House generally that it is unnecessary for any one to leave the Commonwealth in order to secure what he requires in that respect. The exodus from Australia consists, for the most part, of persons who are leaving Victoria; but in Western Australia we have some of the very best opportunities to settle people on the land. What is the policy of the people of Victoria, or. rather, of the leading .newspapers of this State that are apparently so anxious to prevent this exodus? On many occasions calumnies, as regards Western Australia, have appeared in the columns of the Melbourne newspapers, and in the majority of cases letters sent in reply have not been published. Any honest attempts which have been made to indi cate to the people of Victoria what we have in the western State for those who are landless here have been met with the active hostility of the Melbourne press. I rose particularly to refer to some of the observation? made by an honorable member, who latterly seems to have developed a monomania in the direction of hostility to the State I have the honour to come from. I refer to the honorable member for Moira, whom I have always regarded with the utmost respect, but who, I am obliged to confess, latterly has adopted an attitude towards Western Australia' for which I am at a loss 'to discover an adequate reason. In the speech he made this afternoon he held up to scorn the possibilities of Western Australia, as regards landed settlement, and went back to its early history in order to find a sufficient illustration of the unfitness of the country for settlement. I believe that some of the best country of Australia, recognised as such at the present time, was passed in the early days with scorn and contempt by those who professed themselves to be capable judges of what was good land. I have in niv possession a very interesting record of a trip made, in the early days, by a squatter on the look-out for land in New South Wales, and it is very amusing to read his condemnation of large areas which he traversed, and which have since come to be regarded as some of the best farming and pastoral districts of that State. That has been largely the experience of Western Australia until a few. years ago. It is also unfortunate that a large majority of our visitors have been attracted by the gold-fields rather than by a desire to settle on the land. When they get ashore at Fremantle, and travel up through Perth to the gold-fields, I admit candidly that they see very little that will lead them to imagine that there is very much hope for landed settlement in the State. But they are travelling then through some of the most forbidding portions of the State. There are tremendous areas of agricultural country waiting for those who have the muscle and the intelligence to apply themselves to its development. I have only a few statistics to quote before I conclude, and I think that what I have to say in this respect will be sufficient indication, even to the honorable member for Moira, that he is altogether wrong in assuming that Western Australia has very little to offer to those who wish to settle on the land. In 1900 the total acreage under crop was 201,000 acres, which is not so bad considering the very few years that Western Australia has been offering land. In 1901 the total acreage under crop was 2x7,000 acres, while in 1902 it was 230,000 acres, showing a steady and very considerable increase.

Mr Willis - That was under responsible government.

Mr FOWLER - I admit that the development of Western Australia has practically taken place since the introduction of responsible government.' Take a characteristic crop, such .as wheat, as evidence of the general fertility of the country. I find that the acreage under wheat in 1902 was 92,000 acres, producing 970,000 bushels, or an average of 10.60 bushels per acre. I think that very few of the States in Australia can show an average like that.

Mr Mcwilliams - In Tasmania we get about 21 bushels per acre.

Mr FOWLER - No doubt Tasmania enjoys exceptional conditions in that respect; but I am speaking of the States on the mainland. The acreage under wheat in 1903 was 137,000 acres, yielding 1,900,000 bushels, or an average of 14 bushels per acre. During last year there were some 5,000 applications made for land at the Lands Department, and I think I am safe in saying that most of these persons got some land to suit them. According to the latest figures which are available, on the 1st January, 1903, there were some 9,856,000 acres either alienated or in process of alienation. That is, I think, a sufficient reply to any sneer as regards the capabilities of Western Australia.

Mr Willis - How much money is still owing to the Crown? How much land did it give away?

Mr FOWLER - That I cannot say. I am merely quoting figures to show the extent of landed settlement and the quality of the land which has been taken up.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Alienation does not always mean settlement.

Mr FOWLER - No one is likely to go 1o (he trouble of taking up land and settling there unless he thinks that he can do something with it.

Mr Willis - At Northam ten years ago the price of land was £1 an acre.

Mr FOWLER - Ten years ago land was very cheap in Western Australia, and I may say that, even now, the State offers, practically for nothing to the wouldbe settler, land that would be assessed at a very high value indeed in the eastern States. In this connexion I may say to honorable members, particularly to the honorable member for Moira, that to-day I had the pleasure of welcoming to Victoria a gentleman whose office it will be during the next few months possibly to indicate to the people of that State, especially in the country districts, the facilities offered by Western Australia for settling on the land, and also the quality of that land. He will be able to produce such evidence, visual and otherwise, as I think will convert even the honorable member for Moira, who, I dare say, will have the opportunity of listening io him in his own district before very long. I do not wish to detain the House much longer, but I would urge on those who still have any doubts on this subject to take a trip to Western Australia. I am sure that if they have any particular desire for some excellent land, with absolutely the best climate for agricultural purposes on the mainland, they will not come back here ; they will stop there. We have no droughts there ; the climate is entirely reliable, and the average yield that I quoted as regards grain production has been kept' up during all the years that wheat has been grown there. I hope that the effect of my remarks will be to interest honorable members in a State which to a large extent has been over- looked on this side qf the continent, and which is offering advantages as regards settlement on the land that cannot be found anywhere else in Australia.

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