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Thursday, 18 September 1958
Page: 1412

Mr FORBES (Barker) .- I do not wish to speak for very long on this bill, but I have one or two things to say about the operation of the land settlement scheme in South Australia. It is a matter for congratulation, particularly to this Government, which has had most to do, since the war, with the administration of the war service land settlement scheme from the Commonwealth angle, and to its predecessor in office, which inaugurated the scheme in the way in which it has since been carried on. I do not think honorable members always realize just how remarkable this scheme is, or how very successful it has been. The success of the scheme is made more apparent if we regard it as another closer settlement scheme. The remarkable thing is that this scheme has been, without doubt, one of the very few really successful closer settlement schemes that have been undertaken in this country, whether by the Commonwealth or by the States. I am left in no doubt as to why other closer settlement schemes failed and why the present scheme, in the guise of a war service land settlement scheme, has succeeded. The reason, I believe, is that, for the first time, economic considerations rather than political considerations have been pre-eminent in the running of a closer settlement scheme. In the past, governments - and I think particularly Labour governments - have tended to base land settlement schemes on what might be described as arbitrary farm areas. The cry that 200, 300, or 400 acres is enough for any man has, in the past, been the primary consideration in closer settle ment schemes in Australia. Farms were allotted on that basis irrespective of the type of land, its stage of development, or the use to be made of the land. Land was allotted irrespective of the amount of capital a man had, what kind of equipment was available to him, or the number of farm buildings and structures on the land. As a result, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although a very large number of people were settled on the land in the past, a very small proportion of them remained on the land. The number of people who are put on the land is not as important as the number who stay there.

It has been said, quite wrongly I think, that we have not been as successful in settling ex-servicemen on the land since the last war as we were in settling them on the land after the first world war. People point to the very much larger number of people who were settled on the land after the first world war, compared withthe number that have been settled on the land since the last war. But if we look at the proportion of people who stayed on the land as a result of being settled there after the first world war, compared with the number of people who stayed on the land after the last war, it will be seen that a very small proportion of those who were settled on the land after the last war have left their properties. But after the first world war well over half the number of people who were settled on the land left their properties.

A major step was taken by the Labour government when it decided to base this scheme on economic considerations rather than on political considerations. The Labour government laid down as a basic principle that the number of farms made available under the scheme would depend on the number of properties, which were considered to be economic propositions, that could be obtained, rather than on the number of prospective settlers available. As far as I know, that principle has been rigidly adhered to ever since - certainly it has been in South Australia, where, as far as it has gone, the war service land settlement scheme has been outstandingly successful.

What it means to base farm size on economic considerations can be illustrated by reference to a wool and fat lamb proposition, which is something about which I have some knowledge in South Australia. In South Australia, it is estimated that a settler needs to be able to run 1,200 breeding ewes or their equivalent on his property in order to maintain himself and his family in the manner laid down in the act. That is the guiding criterion - not the size of the farm, but the number of breeding ewes or their equivalent that a settler can run. The size of the farm allotted, therefore, depends on the number of acres that are necessary in the particular kind of country concerned to carry the required number of sheep. In parts of my own electorate the required farm size is as large as 2,000 acres, while in other parts it is as small as 400 acres. Much depends on the kind of' country, the rainfall and other considerations. Similar principles, of course, apply to other kinds of land use, such as fruit-growing and dairying.

The determination to uphold the principle that economic considerations are paramount has, naturally enough, caused a good deal of heartburning. The. person who is very eager to get onto the land and start farming tends to ignore such considerations. He thinks that he is able to make an economic proposition of his venture, and to some extent his eagerness runs away with his judgment. I believe that the rigid adherence by the authorities, and particularly by the Commonwealth, to this principle has paid. off. It is much better for a person not to go on the land at all than to go on to it, to work, hard for some of the best years of his life and then to fail.

The unique quality of this principle in our Australian experience is demonstrated by the fact that when the decision was taken to adopt it there were no clearly defined methods of applying it. The necessary skills and techniques for assessing the capacity of a particular piece of land did not exist, or if they did, they were not particularly refined. The various bodies responsible for war service land settlement had to develop these techniques and methods of making assessments for themselves. Most of what had been done in the past had been by rule of thumb. Some experienced farmers were able to look at a particular piece of land and assess its capacity. Something more was required.

It is not surprising, Mr. Lawrence, that in those circumstances mistakes were made - some quite serious ones. Certainly some serious mistakes were made in my own district. It is worth mentioning that one mistake that 1 believe was made, at least in South Australia, was the result of a reluctance on the part of some of the officers concerned to take into account the experience of established farmers in the areas in which land was obtained for war service land settlement. Some of the officers considered that the approach of these farmers was not scientific enough and that, although they were successful, they did not really know what they were doing, and that, therefore, their experience was valueless for the purposes of the officers concerned. I think it can be clearly established that if the experience of these farmers had been sought and heeded, many of the mistakes that were made, would have been avoided. Fortunately, these mistakes have not had disastrous effects, because the authorities erred on the side of giving people too much land rather than too little. If they had been prepared to pay more attention to experienced farmers in the areas concerned, 1 believe more people would have been settled, on the land.

The point I want to make, Mr. Lawrence, is this: An enormous amount of experience has been gained during the administration of the war service land settlement scheme. It has been hard-won experience. That it is valuable experience is proved by the fact that the scheme has been successful. I would like to suggest to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) that we should not lose the value of that experience now that the scheme is coming to an end. I hope that it will never be necessary for us to undertake another war service land settlement scheme, but there will and must be other, closer settlement schemes to which the experience gained by the Commonwealth and the States can be applied. I would like the Minister, as the scheme is running to a close, to make an effort to gather together the experience that has been acquired. I suggest that some officer in the department, or a historian, should put on paper in permanent form all this painfully acquired experience, so that in future closer settlement schemes, whether they be undertaken by the Commonwealth or the

States, we will not make the mistakes that have been made in the past.

Recently, Mr. Lawrence-

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we ought to put this young member on the right track. It is not usual, I think, to address you, when you are occupying the chair, as Mr. Lawrence. I have not previously heard such a method of address used by honorable members. If it is wrong, I think this young man should be corrected. He has used the expression at least three times.

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