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Thursday, 7 July 1904

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - I regret that I overlooked the fact that this motion was set down upon the business paper for to-day, because otherwise I should have been able to supply some information upon the subject, which might have proved useful to honorable members, seeing that it is one to which I have given a good deal of attention for many years. However, I am glad to say that the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has dealt with the various branches of the department which he proposes to- create, in such a practical and complete manner, that it will not be necessary for me to do more than offer a few general remarks. I believe that there is more scope in this direction for the Commonwealth Parliament to improve the conditions of the people of Australia than there is in any other. I know that there are many honorable members who regard any legal interference with questions affecting production and distribution as grandmotherly legislation. They consider that such matters might very well be left to private enterprise. As the result of the attention I have given to the operations in this direction of other countries, I venture to assert that the Central .Government could do much that it would be impossible for- private individuals to accomplish for themselves. The results achieved by countries in which private enterprise in relation to these matters has been allowed to work out its own salvation, in no way compare with those secured by countries in which Government attention has been given to them. Let us take, for example, the position of Great Britain and the United States. I am aware, of course, that this is not, in all respects, a parallel case, because the United States has an enormous territory to work upon. I would ' point out, however, that the area under cultivation in Great Britain, where production and distribution has been practically left entirely to private enterprise, dwindled away from 22,000,000 acres to 20,000,000 acres during a period extending over forty years. The value of land decreased in astill greater proportion. Notwithstanding that Great Britain had over 40,000,000 of people to feed, land went out of cultivation, and was turned into deer parks, whilst the people were importing their food from other portions of the globe. During the same period in the United States, where the magnificent Department of Agriculture, to which reference has been made by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, was in existence - a Department that has done splendid work in collecting and disseminating useful knowledge in regard to every branch of production and distribution - the area under cultivation increased, from 50,000,000 acres to 200,000,000 acres.

Mr Mcwilliams - The area under cultivation in Russia is increasing quite as fast.

Mr McLEAN - Not in anything like the same proportion. My honorable friend will find on looking at the statistics that my statement is correct. I have inquired somewhat carefully into the history of production in every country, and my investigations have led me to the conclusion I have stated. We have a vast continent but partially developed, an enormous territory teeming with undeveloped resources, and I would remind honorable members that land is the great storeroom of nature where every element of primary wealth is deposited. In extracting that wealth it is possible to gradually exhaust the soil by imperfect methods of cultivation ; but, on the other hand, by resorting to scientific methods of agriculture, it is possible to extract almost unlimited wealth from the soil without in any degree impoverishing it or reducing its great store of wealth.

Mr Isaacs - We do not wish to send our soil out of the country.

Mr McLEAN - No. Minerals are, of course, permanently removed; but almost every element of wealth taken from the soil need not, under scientific methods of cultivation, exhaust or impoverish it. We are familiar with the great resources that are at the command of a Government, as compared with those available to private individuals, wishing to ascertain the latest and most improved methods of cultivation, packing, preserving, and distribution. It is' impossible that any private individual, however enterprising he may be, should do for himself that which a Central Government might do in this direction. In the collection and distribution of useful information a Government has the resources of the whole world to draw upon, and information obtained by it is, unlike that secured by private individuals, distributed amongst' the people. We are familiar with the difficulties with which a. private person is confronted when endeavouring to obtain information from other countries, as compared with the facilities which a Government enjoy. The work which a great Government Department could do in -this direction would be of the greatest value in promoting this most useful industry. - It is unnecessary for me to take up much time in discussing this question, but I might remind honorable members of the vast importance of the agricultural industry. I examined the statistics of the whole world a few years ago, and found there was no other industry comparing in magnitude and importance with that of agriculture. I was unable to obtain the statistics relating to China, India, Japan, and other eastern nations, but, leaving them out of consideration, I ascertained that the number of peasants actively engaged in agriculture in other countries, whose statistics' were available, was 80,000,000, and that the product of their labour represented ,£4,000,000,000 per annum. The statistics covering a number of years showed that the number of persons engaged in, and the amount of wealth produced from, agricultural pursuits, was largely increasing from year to year. When we add to these enormous figures the almost countless millions engaged in agriculture in India, China, Japan, and other eastern countries, where families live on little plots no larger than an Australian cabbage garden, we gain some conception of the enormous extent of this great industry. There is no way in which we could do more to increase the wealth of Australia, and to provide profitable employment for its people, than by assisting, by means of a Department of the character proposed, to promote agriculture, and open up foreign markets for the sale of our surplus products. I would join with the honorable and learned member for Bendigo in pressing upon the Government the necessity of giving attention to this matter. I admit that industrial legislation can. do a great deal in regulating the distribution of wealth ; but it can do little or nothing in the direction of increasing the volume of wealth - increasing the output of produce. A little attention to this subject, and a very moderate expenditure, would enable us to largely increase, the volume of production and the material wealth of the Commonwealth. 'It is by this means that we may find funds to provide profitable employment for the people. We have in. Australia a variety of soils and climates suited to almost every conceivable product. If the primary industries that are suited to our soil and climate received reasonable encouragement - if the people were advised of the kinds of production in which they might most profitably engage, room would be found for tens of millions where now something less than 4,000,000 reside. There is room for a vast amount of labour in this direction. I sincerely hope that the House will assist the honorable and learned member who has introduced this question, and who deserves our best thanks. I am very glad to know, judging by interjections from the Treasury benches, that the Government are in full and entire sympathy with this movement, arid trust that they will show their sympathy in a practical way. If they do so they will find that the good sense of .the community is behind them, and that there is more room for good work in this direction than in almost any other to which we could give our attention. I have very much pleasure in seconding the motion.

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