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Thursday, 18 September 1958

Mr PETERS (Scullin) . - The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) rightly said that the success of the war service land settlement scheme could be gauged from an answer to the question: " Has it settled on farms those who are eligible and eager to so settle? " I refer to the returned soldier population. On 26th August, in an endeavour to secure information that would enable me to make an up-to-date analysis of the success or otherwise of the scheme, I placed the following questions on the notice-paper: -

1.   How many ex-servicemen from the last war applied to be registered as applicants for land in each of the States?

2.   How many were (a) declared eligible for settlement and (b) were settled on the land in each State?

3.   What has been the total expenditure on soldier land settlement in Australia and in each State?

4.   What was the highest price per acre paid in each State for land for soldier settlement prior to 1948 and subsequently?

Those questions have not been answered. They should have been answered, because the Minister for Primary Industry has had ample time to answer them. Through the years, in order to assess the progress being made with the land settlement of exservicemen, I have asked numerous questions about the subject.

During World War II., the Rural Industries Committee of this Parliament was appointed with the object of ensuring that those who desired to settle on the land, and were suitable, should be able to obtain farms after the war. I believe that the committee estimated that 80,000 rural workers had left the primary industries in order to serve their country in one or other of the fighting forces, and that at least 50,000 of them would want to return to the land after the war. When the war ended, soldier settlement schemes were initiated in all States, with the assistance of the Commonwealth. Applications for settlement on the land were invited. Figures supplied to me indicate that nearly 39,000 ex-servicemen were accepted as suitable and eligible for settlement on the land. The number of applicants, of course, was very much greater. It was probably more than 50,000. Many of the eligible applicants, because of their youth, were sent to work for experienced farmers, the State governments paying part of their wages, while they gained experience. We have recently been told that the soldier settlement scheme is to be wound up almost immediately. The Minister for Primary Industry has told us, in his second-reading speech, that it is expected that 9,200 farms will have been provided by the time the scheme comes to an end. Although approximately 39,000 applicants were accepted, after a rigorous screening, as likely to make successful farmers, only 9,200 will have been placed on the land by the time soldier settlement comes to an end!

I have some figures relative to the agent States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania that were given to me in 1955 by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who was then Minister for the Interior. Since that time, not many more ex-servicemen have been settled on the land. These figures indicate that up to 1955 the number of ex-servicemen settled on the land was 658 in South Australia, 711 in Western Australia, and 217 in Tasmania. I was informed that, although it was difficult to arrive at the cost for each settler, it was estimated that it was £14,500 in South Australia, £15,300 in Western Australia, and £16,000 in Tasmania. Those estimates were in fact much below the actual cost, because many ex-servicemen were settled on the land in those States before 1948. There was a ceiling on land prices up to 1948, and up to that year settlement was made at relatively reasonable costs. Before 1948, the average price of land acquired for soldier settlement in Victoria was about £1 1 an acre. After 1948, that figure nearly doubled, and the price has continued to increase ever since.

In reality, of course, there are in Australia considerable areas of land suited to the settlement not merely of ex-servicemen, but also of civilians who desire to go on the land. Land settlement has been almost static since about 1939, despite the settlement of 9,200 ex-servicemen since World War II., because there are no more farmers in Australia to-day than there were in 1939, although the population has increased by approximately 2,000,000 since the war. Is it not an indictment of this Government that we are unable to populate the open spaces of this continent of 3,000,000 square miles? Not only are we unable to settle civilians in our great open spaces, which to-day are practically unoccupied, but also we are unable to pay the debt that we owe to those who fought for us, because we cannot settle all the ex-servicemen who wish to go on the land. As I have said, 9,200 will be settled, and approximately 30,000 have been disappointed, and are now disgruntled and no longer wish to settle on the land. They have been kept waiting too long. Although ample land was available, it was not acquired for soldier settlement.

This is a terrible indictment of the Government. It should have acquired the necessary land within a reasonable period after the termination of hostilities so that all the ex-servicemen who were qualified by experience to be rural producers could have been placed on the land to make their contribution to Australia's economy by producing commodities that we could sell in overseas markets. We are continually told by the Minister for Primary Industry, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and other Ministers that we must sell more commodities overseas, because it is necessary to increase our exports in order that we may import more of the things we need in the present state of our economy and cannot produce here - oil, rubber, raw cotton and other goods essential to progress, development and the employment, of the people in a country such as this. But, no, nothing is done. Why? Of course, we have vast areas in outlying parts of Australia, such as northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia, which are largely Crown lands and could be given to settlers for development. But in places like Victoria and New South Wales the most fertile land and that most suitable for settlement, was taken up many years ago by members of the military caste and those who had served some governor in this or that capacity. They received large areas of the most fertile land at a peppercorn rental. That happened in Victoria from Geelong to the South Australian border. It happened all round Sydney and through the Riverina. Of course, the families of those early settlers who were placed in such an advantageous position, have hung on to that land to the detriment of the nation. They have not used it to its full productive capacity.

Mr Thompson - They are still following the same course.

Mr PETERS - I am reminded by the honorable member for Port Adelaide that they are still doing it. I believe the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) also interjected to the effect that the big stations had been cut up.

Mr Turnbull - I did not say that. I said that most of them had been cut up.

Mr PETERS - The honorable member now has said " most of them ". He is only a little less inaccurate than I thought he was. When the Cain Government was in control in Victoria, there was an investigation of land in the western district of Victoria suitable for settlement but which was not being used to its full productive capacity. Actually, the land was practically unused. It was discovered that there were 600,000 acres of the most fertile land in Victoria that could have been made available, and should have been made available, for soldier settlement, not only in the interests of soldiers but also in order that the progress and development of Victoria should not be impeded. But, of course, that is only a small portion of the continent of Australia. When the western district of Victoria is multiplied by the vast fertile areas available in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, as well as some areas in little Tasmania, we find that a private squattocracy in Australia still holds vast areas of land that should be cut up, mainly by processes of taxation, so that others might occupy it and add to the progress and development of Australia.

As every additional man comes to Australia from overseas, the danger that arises when land-hungry people are in the vicinity of land that is not being used to its full capacity becomes greater. Anybody who has read the recent story of Europe, and the story pf the Russian revolution in 1917, knows that the Communists used the existence of vast areas of land held by the few to rouse land-hungry people who had cast envious eyes on that land. The Communists used that fact to promote their revolutionary ideas. In every country that is a satellite of Russia to-day, agrarian policy was used initially to get the people to follow communism. In China, agrarian policy was used to rouse the ambitions and desires of the people of China, and the culmination was the revolution. If we do not see that this God-given land in Australia is used as fully as possible, we run the danger of experiencing here events similar to those which have occurred in those countries.

Mr Ian Allan - The honorable member means' the nationalization of land?

Mr PETERS - The honorable member for Gwydir has said, " You mean the nationalization of land ". I am opposed to collective farming whether the collective farms are run by a Russian government, an Australian government or a small squattocracy within Australia so that the men who do the work are merely chattels of those who own the land.

Mr Turnbull - The honorable member is a socialist.

Mr PETERS - The Standing Orders forbid me telling the honorable member for Mallee what he is, so I shall proceed. The statements I have made are undeniable. A Labour government in Australia, in 1910, brought down land tax legislation; and its land tax put under the plough within a short period of years 19,000,000 acres of land.

Mr Turnbull - This is the worst speech I have heard the honorable member make.

Mr PETERS - That is one of the greatest compliments that the honorable member could pay me. The legislation of the Labour Government in 1910 put a vast area of land under the plough. Within a short period, there were 30,000 more proprietary farmers throughout Australia than there were before the legislation was introduced. What happened? As soon as the Bruce-Page Government came into power, it showed that it did not have the courage to abolish the land tax but whittled it away at the rate of 10 per cent, in one year and 10 per cent, the next. Then when this Government, came into power, it also lacked the courage to abolish the land tax immediately, so it brought down legislation to increase the exemption. It led the people generally and the Labour Opposition to believe that that was all it intended to do about it. When introducing the legislation to increase the exemption, it did not suggest that there should be abolition of the tax altogether. No, it secured that reduction first, and then finally abolished the tax. The processes of the Government are the processes of white ants. The Government nibbles a bit away here, destroys the foundation of Australia's prosperity, development, and progress there, and ultimately, when it has the courage to do so, it takes a bigger bite than is taken by the ordinary termite. So the structure of our prosperity becomes more and more insecure.

I have pointed out that taxation is a method whereby land can be made available. There are other methods. It can be made available by processes of resumption. Most people know the conditions that operated for many years in France, where there were vast estates and a land-hungry population. The French Government introduced legislation that prohibited landowners from willing their total land assets to one male member of the family, and compelled the division of land, upon the owner's death, among the male members of his family. That was a method whereby land aggregation in France was stopped. Even in America, the home of rugged tree enterprise, the land legislation is much more advanced than it is in this country. The Tennessee Valley scheme, the Grand Coulee Dam, and other big American irrigation projects, were provided by the expenditure of vast amounts of the people's money. In order to improve the productivity of the land and to enable more people to be settled upon it, the Americans introduced anti-land speculation legislation, under which a person could have and work under intensive culture 40 acres of irrigated land or, if he had a family, he could hold 80 acres. If he had bigger areas and wanted to dispose of them by either renting or selling them he had - and he has to-day - to do so at an appraised value, which is the value of the land as it was when it did not have upon it the water brought by the resources of the community.

Tn Australia, what has been done under a succession of Liberal governments? In Victoria, there are vast irrigation schemes. As a result of intensive culture, the productivity of the land has been increased tenfold. Big land holders have sold or rented land to farmers at the increased value brought about by the irrigation schemes constructed with government finance. The result is that whereas formerly a person would have gone upon the dry land and been a subsistence farmer because of the exactions of the land-owner, to-day he works the land as a wet or irrigation proposition, but still he is merely a subsistence farmer. When the prices of products shrink, and when there are bad seasons in Victoria, of course he cannot pay his instalments upon the land, which are tenfold what they should be, and he cannot pay for his water. The member of Parliament who represents the district points out these things to the government, and the government then has to reduce the water rate to the settler. In Victoria, the rate has been so greatly reduced down through the years that over £30,000,000 expended upon water supply schemes has had to be written off. In other words, irrigation - one of the most productive and profitable of schemes inaugurated in this country - becomes a loss to the ordinary man in the community because the land-owner gets the rake-off. When he sells the land, he sells not only the dry land he originally had, but in addition a proportion of the scheme put into operation by the government of his State and paid for by the whole community.

Those are not methods by which a nation like ours can progress. They are not methods whereby development of this country can proceed. Every water supply scheme initiated in this country has increased productivity immensely. Because it has resulted in increased productivity, it should be possible to more than pay for it from the resultant increased productivity. As these schemes are paid for, in other parts of the country similar gigantic schemes could be undertaken with the money derived from the schemes already in operation. But no! Ideas of that description cannot be conceived by the type of politicians that unfortunately we have to-day sitting, sometimes, on the treasury-bench. They are not often here. That, pf course, is very unfortunate.

Mr Daly - They are seldom in the country.

Mr PETERS - As my friend says, they are seldom in the country. I see looking up from the table a gentleman who is sometimes in the country. I refer to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). He knows that if he travels from Orbost in Victoria to the South Australian border, in the whole of that long trek across Victoria he will see on every side vast areas of vacant land, and he will find very, very few farms. He will say to himself, " Surely many of the people crowded into the suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney could go to populate this land ". How many people are there in rural occupations in Australia, out of the 10,000,000 people that we have?

Mr Whitlam - Fewer than there were before the war.

Mr Ward - The number is shrinking.

Mr PETERS - Of course, they are getting fewer than before the war. There are approximately 444,000 people engaged in rural activities. That does not mean that there are 444,000 farmers.

Mr Mackinnon - They work harder. They get more done. They carry the rest of the country.

Mr PETERS - My friend says that they work harder.

Mr Whitlam - He knows. He is an absentee landlord.

Mr PETERS - How would the honorable gentleman be if there were not people to consume the commodities he produces? How would he be if they were unwilling to pay the exorbitant prices that he charges for his commodities? Who carries him? Do the people who pay the prices that he charges for his commodities carry him. or does he carry the people? Of course, it is the people who carry the honorable member, and for too long in this country they have carried him and other members that belong to the same class as he does. I admit that he is a more genial type of the land pirateer, the squattocracy of this community, than most of them are, but nevertheless the sooner he does a useful job for the community and gets rid of a vast proportion of the areas that he has to-day, the better it will be for this country.

One of the gentlemen who preceded me in the seat which I represent in this Parliament, the Honorable Frank Anstey, wrote a book entitled, " Land Monopoly "; I was reading it only the other day. In that book he gives the story of land development in the western district of Victoria. He shows how vast areas were given to small families and how they have been kept intact. I remember seeing the name of one right honorable gentleman on a plan of a particularly big and fertile property in that area; but his property was not the largest.

There were many larger ones. Those properties have remained at practically the same size from that period until now; indeed, many of them have been enlarged.

Why has it become impossible or impracticable to carry out any settlement of either ex-servicemen or others in those areas? It is because their owners are land-hungry. They want more and more land. In years when they make large profits because overseas prices are high, they buy a little bit of land adjoining their property and pay for it much more than its productive value. When the price of wool soared, and a benevolent government administered by the Right Honorable Robert Gordon Menzies in 1953 reduced taxation for land-holders, what did they do with the money they were thus saved in taxation? They sought to secure more and more land. So, they added to their areas.

When a government representative approaches them to buy land for soldier settlement or an ordinary civilian seeks to obtain an area so that he can make a living from it, these people will not sell at a price that would make it profitable for the intending purchaser to become a farmer there. There are small farmers whose sons want to go upon the land, but they are not able to do so for this reason. Many people who have lived in country towns and saved a few thousand pounds would like to become farmers. They have all the qualifications to become rural producers, but they cannot obtain farms because there is very little land of any use that is not locked up or which they can buy at a price that would enable them to make a profit and enjoy a reasonably comfortable existence as a farmer. This is due, as I have said, to the aggregation of land in the hands of the very, very few.

Mr. Deputy Speaker,I regret the fact that soldier settlement is being terminated, but I admit that under existing circumstances and owing to the methods that are not only permitted but also encouraged by this Government, it is difficult for any State government to secure adequate areas for soldier settlement at prices that would make it a profitable venture for those who want to settle on the land. I ask any honorable member here to produce figures which would show that soldier settlement has been really successful, when out of 40,000 eligible and desirable applicants for land, only 9,000 have been accommodated. Has soldier settlement been satisfactorily carried out when fewer than 1,000 exservicemen have been settled in South Australia and Western Australia and fewer than 500 in Tasmania?

If soldier settlement, which is number one priority in land settlement, cannot be undertaken successfully, how can we inaugurate or embark upon the settlement of civilians so that Australians born in this country, or new Australians, can be scattered throughout the length and breadth of our country, to add to our security in time of danger, and to our prosperity in time of peace, and dot the landscape in every State with happy, comfortable, rural homes? Those ideals which men of vision had in the past and without the application of which this country surely cannot develop and prosper, but must ultimately decline, can only be put into operation, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would agree with me, as a result of the advent of a Labour government.

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