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Wednesday, 13 June 1928

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Makin (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member's time has expired, but as no other honorable member desires to speak, he may take his second period now.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The lot of these tenants is equivalent to that of the peasantry of other countries. Because of the high price of land, the butter industry is suffering, and the Minister for Markets has found it necessary to impose an additional charge of 3d. per lb. on all butter consumed in Australia. Without this special aid from the community, the industry could not pay its way, owing to the fact that so much of the land upon which it is carried on has a false market value. Similar conditions exist in all the eastern States and New Zealand, and will sooner or later develop in Western Australia, where to-day land is cheap.

As for the contention that wages have been partly responsible for the drift from the country to the cities, I remind the committee that there is no industrial union of farm workers; thus the wages paid to the farm labourers have very little influence upon the cost of wheat production. In Western Australia a farmer neighbour of mine raised £3,700 worth of wheat from 500 acres with the labour of two men receiving £4 and £4 10s. a week respectively. His total wages bill for the year amounted to less than £450. The two men did most of the laborious work, the boss supervising, but with the aid 'of a tractor and modern Australian machinery, the best in the world, they were able to drill and seed 40 acres a day. Therefore wages represent a very small proportion of the cost of wheat production, and some other cause must be found for the comparative failure of this industry to maintain the rural population.

The condition of affairs that we deplore in Australia exists in the United States of America also, only in a worse degree. Early during the war period the farmers in the middle west there did remarkably well ; they sold their wheat to the allies for as much as 2£ dollars a bushel. The consequence was an immense inflation in the prices of land. When, however, the price of wheat fell to the normal level, a large number of the banks which had advanced money on farming land bearing inflated values of from £50 to £100 an acre were forced to foreclose. The banks crashed and the farmers were driven off the land. In support of these statements I quote some facts from a contribution by Senator A. Kapper, of Kansas, to Current History of May, 1926, a reputable journal published in New York. According to that gentleman, farming in the United States of America does not pay. In the preceding five years one million people had left the farms for the cities, although during that period the population of the United States had increased by 7,000,000. That shows that Australia is not alone in facing the problem of the drift of rural population to the cities. I am reminded of the reference of the American poet, Walt. Whitman, to the defeat of the British by the farmers at Concord -

Beside the bridge the embattled farmers stood,

And fired a shot that roused the world.

One million of the descendants of those rural warriors have been forced off the land in five years, notwithstanding a general increase in the population of the United States. Farming in that country represents a capital of $59,000,000,000 upon which the return last year was equal to 3 per cent. In 1921 the capital value was $79,000,000,000. For every dollar of national income received by other workers the farmers got less than 50 cents per capita, according to the National Industrial Conference Board which recently concluded a year's study of the agricultural situation. That body stated that in 1924 the average annual net income of the farmer was $730 as against $1,250 for the common labourer, $1,678 for the preacher, $1,298 for the teacher, $1,650 for Government employees, and an average of $1,450 for all walks of life outside agriculture. The average earnings of the people engaged in farming was 11½d. per hour as compared with factory workers, 2s. 4d. per hour, rail-roaders 2s. 3d., anthracite miners 3s. 6d., and building tradesmen 4s. 2d. Is it any wonder that 1,000,000 farmers left the land in five years? The legislation of the United States decrees that the railroads shall have a return of 5.75 per cent, on their investment. The tariff on wheat is ls. 9d. per bushel; 650,000,000 bushels is required for home consumption, and the exportable surplus varies from 100,000,000 to 200,000,000 bushels. It is clear that inflated land values are the bete noire of the farmer in the United States as in Australia. The disaster they have caused there will assuredly be repeated here in the near future unless we- devise some means of limiting the price at which land may be sold. I confess at once that I have no feasible scheme in mind, but the problem is of sufficient supreme importance to warrant the attention of the legislature.

I propose to deal briefly with the erection of post office buildings. When we ask for new post offices in country districts we are told that it is better for the postal department to expend money on the extension of telephone services. With that I entirely agree. If money were not available for post offices for the cities I should not complain because it could not be had for the country, but the schedule of works to which reference was made earlier in this debate shows that £448,000 is to be spent this year on five or six buildings in Sydney and its suburbs, and only £4,400 in the whole of Western

Australia. Some years ago the PostmasterGeneral of the day promised that when the post-office business at settlements along the Wongan Hills railway line and the Midland Railway in Western Australia showed a turnover of £400 annually, consideration would be given' to providing them with official post offices. Perhaps it was not anticipated that those new areas would develop at such a rapid rate. The revenue at some of those places exceeds £S00 or £900 per annum now, but the people have been told that so long as the unofficial post offices give satisfactory service - and the department is the judge of that - no official post offices will be built. I submit that the country districts of Western Australia, in common with those of other States, should -be given every consideration when money is being allocated for post office buildings. Some fine post office buildings are to be seen in the country towns of New South Wales and Victoria, but they were built prior to the advent of federation, and the areas in Western Australia demand attention.

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