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Thursday, 14 June 1928


Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) . - The item for war and repatriation services affords a convenient opportunity to answer the inquiries that have been made regarding soldier land settlement. The honorable member for Wann on has asked what will be the attitude of the Government in the event of the Commonwealth agreeing to grant further assistance to the States in a final endeavour to solve this very difficult problem. He has suggested that the Commonwealth should insist that the soldiers shall get the benefit of any further money made available by the Commonwealth, and that it shall not be used to bolster up the finances of any individual State.


Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I spoke particularly of Victoria, because of the, undertaking that the State authorities gave to the soldiers who were turned off their holdings.


Mr BRUCE - With the approval of all sections of the community, it was decided to give those of our returning soldiers who were qualified an opportunity to settle on the land. The only lands suitable for the purpose were controlled by the States, and at a conference between Commonwealth and State representatives the Commonwealth undertook to advance the money necessary for this form of repatriation, and to make certain interest concessions in respect thereof. As it was to provide the money, the Commonwealth thought it only fit and proper that it should have some control over the schemes to be undertaken by the States, but they emphatically declared against the Commonwealth's interference in a matter which they regarded as within their sole jurisdiction. Accordingly, soldier land settlement was undertaken by the States, the Commonwealth agreeing to advance the necessary capital, and to make an interest concession for a period of years. That concessionwas given because of the difficulties of the problem which even at that time were recognized to be very great. The settlement of the soldiers proceeded, and after a period the difficulties were found to be much greater than had been anticipated at the inception of the scheme. The Commonwealth, therefore, decided to grant a further measure of assistance to the States. This was done by writing off £5,000,000 from the obligations of the States to the Commonwealth in respect of borrowed moneys. But even that assistance did not solve the problem. Other difficulties arose in all the States, and the matter was again considered at conferences which took place last year in Melbourne and Sydney. The whole subject was then fully discussed, and it was unanimously agreed that the time had arrived for a definite settlement of the matter. It was felt that this was desirable in the interests of both the community and the soldier settlers. It is not necessary for me now to go over the ground covered by the discussions at those conferences', it is sufficient to say that the subject wasthoroughly examined. The ultimate decision was that the Commonwealth would render further and final assistance to the States on the understanding that definite principles would be laid down which would apply in all the States alike. The Commonwealth made it quite clear that it was not prepared to grant further assistance unless there was to be a definite settlement of the difficulties between the State Governments and individual soldier settlers. This involved an investigation by the States into such cases as those of soldiers who had been placed upon areas not big enough to yield them a fair living, or upon land unsuitable for the purpose for which it was granted to them, or land for which too high a price had been paid. The Commonwealth also made it clear that any settlement of the problem was dependent upon the States requiring their soldier settlers to stand up to their obligations. I believe that every man of the type that we like to believe the Australian ex-soldier is favours the settlers being required to meet their obligations when it is possible for them to do so.

At the same time there was discussed the losses incurred by States because of incompetence, unwise schemes, or maladministration. The Commonwealth insisted that, it would not meet losses- incurred from those causes. I do not think that the States expected us to do so.

All this involved an immediate investigation of the facts by all the States, and the preparation of returns showing the area of unsuitable land purchased, the area for which too high a price was paid, and so on. The Commonwealth, on its part, undertook to appoint a competent person to consider these returns and formulate general principles upon which a final adjustment could be made. Mr. Justice Pike agreed to undertake this responsibility, and I think that the Commonwealth, the States and the soldiers, were alike singularly fortunate in securing his services, for he has done a great deal of work of this character, and is probably better qualified than any other person in Australia to make the investigation. "When the States have all made the necessary data available, Mr. Justice Pike will draw his deductions from it and make his report. I understand that" the investigations of two States have already been completed, and that those of two other States are rapidly nearing completion. I hope that the whole matter will be definitely cleared up within a few months.

A point I wish specially to stress is that, at the inception of our soldier land settlement policy, the Commonwealth asked for a voice in the determination of the various schemes, which the States definitely refused to allow. It would have been open for the Commonwealth at that stage to say, " As we have, no voice in the determination of these matters we decline to accept any responsibility for them." It did not assume that attitude; it recognized that, irrespective of the arrangements which were made by the States, it had a contingent responsibility to see that the soldiers were properly re patriated. But the Commonwealth cannot possibly assume any responsibility vis a vis the individual land settler in any State. That must be borne by the State authorities.

It is necessary, perhaps, that I should refer particularly to a situation which has arisen in one State. It has been suggested that at one of the conferences T stated that, if any soldier were not successfully settled by the State the Com.monwealth would accept the responsibility for repatriating him. I have never made such a statement, and I wish to make it quite clear that the Commonwealth cannot possibly undertake the duty of repatriating a man a second time, as it were. In the case of a man's health breaking down and he becoming entitled to a pension, the Commonwealth, of course, accepts responsibility, for it agreed to meet the whole cost of the payment of pensions to soldiers and their dependants; but we cannot repatriate men a second time.

I sincerely trust that the investigation now proceeding will result in a definite and final settlement upon an equitable basis of all the outstanding problems of soldier-land settlement. To say that the soldiers are not to be compelled to stand up to their responsibilities is to endanger the failure of the whole scheme. Those who have been in intimate contact with the Australian soldier, know very well that if he has reason to feel that any of his companions have been treated more favorably than himself he leaves no stone unturned to improve his own position. That cannot be objected to. Officers in charge of the Australians during the war learned very early that so long as they treated their men with absolute impartiality they had no trouble, but immediately they favored one man above his fellows they lost control of their company. I have no doubt whatever that if any State Government attempts to differentiate between one soldier and another it will have serious trouble. The desire of the Government is that there shall be at an early date a final and just settlement of this problem. If that can be effected, the atmosphere will be cleared and a healthier state of affairs brought about.







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