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Thursday, 18 September 1958

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- I should like to reply to one or two extravagant statements made by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie). To-day I am in the happy position of following the honorable member in this debate, whereas in another debate last night he followed me. I do not know whether he has read the bill before the House, but I wish to correct one or two of his statements. He said that the Labour party was incapable of administering a scheme such as the one provided for in the bill. That is utter rot. It was a Labour government that instituted this scheme, just as Labour governments have initiated many big schemes. This Government has carried on where Labour left off. Sometimes it has gone backwards, and sometimes it has gone forwards. It has learnt from its errors. The honorable member for Moore made an irresponsible charge that Labour was incapable of handling such a great scheme. The fact that the scheme was started by a Labour government, and was well under way when this Government took over in 1949, is proof that Labour handled the scheme very well indeed.

I wish to say a few words about the Commonwealth Bank Bill, which was rejected in the Senate last year, and which will never be passed by the Parliament as long as the Labour party has its way. The honorable member for Moore, as a salve for his conscience, said that the Australian Country party supported the Commonwealth Bank Bill because the bill provided a special development section. His leader, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who has now left the Parliament, fought against the bill right up to the last stages, and he was put on the mat by the Government.

Mr Daly - By the banks.

Mr DUTHIE - And by the banks. The Treasurer finally gave way. He only salved his conscience by putting a section in the bill which would enable special development to take place in Australia. The very things that that section of the bill was designed to permit can be done now under existing legislation. The Labour party will never agree to any phase of that infamous Commonwealth Bank Bill.

This remarkable war service land settlement scheme is drawing to a close. It will end in the next two or three years, according to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). It has been in existence for thirteen or fourteen years. The bill before the House makes available £7,000,000 of loan money for acquisition of land, development of land, and for the provision of funds to ex-servicemen for working expenses and purchase of stock, plant and equipment. Added to that sum will be £4,330,000, which will come from repayment of advances to ex-servicemen, plus State and Commonwealth contributions over and above valuations, and for sale of surplus lands, &c. That will make a total of £11,330,000 to be spent in the next twelve months. The Opposition is grateful that this amount is being provided. A definite move is being made to push the scheme to a conclusion, and adequate finance must be available to do so.

I want to assess the scheme, first on the credit side and then on the debit side. On the credit side, the scheme will have provided 9,200 farms for ex-servicemen by the end of this year. That is a very remarkable performance, and it has been achieved since 1946 or 1947. The scheme has opened up thousands of acres of land for rural production. But for the scheme, it is most unlikely that that land would ever have been opened up. Some of that land is first-class land, some of it is second-class, and a little of it is third-class land; but the overall average is somewhere between firstclass and second-class.

In Tasmania, most of the vast areas of soldier settlement are in my electorate of Wilmot, which covers half the island. I have seen the scheme develop since its inception in Tasmania, and particularly in my electorate, where there has not been one failure in choice of land or choice of settler. All the settlers have done well, and the scheme has been eminently successful from every point of view.

Very remarkable progress has been made in cutting up large areas of land. The scheme has increased production to a very great extent throughout Australia at a time when the country needs more rural production to meet the needs of the world's increased population, including Australia's increased population. Under the scheme, big estates have been cut up, and this is in line with Labour's policy. There has been a lot of ridiculous talk recently in this Parliament about television shows and nationalization of land. Much of that talk has been irrational. A lot of it was loaded with propaganda. A lot of it was deliberately designed to misinterpret the words of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) on a television programme.

The cutting up of large estates under this scheme has given a tremendous fillip to the expansion of rural production. There are some vast areas of land in Tasmania under one ownership. One property contains 85,000 acres; another 74,000 acres. There are several properties of 20,000 acres and quite a few of from 10,000 to 15,000 acres. Some of those properties have now been cut up. One 70,000-acre property in the southern part of my electorate, called " Lawrenny ", was cut up. It was one of the first to be dealt with, and it has now given way to 70 farms. This cutting up of land has done a lot towards implementing Labour's policy in regard to large estates. If honorable members want to call that socialism they can do so, because I guess it is pretty near to being socialism for the Government to take land from private individuals and cut it up for use by many people. That is a form of socialism in any language. This Government has put its stamp of approval on that policy. Despite the hypocritical stand taken by the Government on this land question, it has carried on this form of socialization up to the present. It has cut up big estates and made them available to many small farmers.

These large estates would never have been utilized fully had they not been cut up. In my electorate there are thousands of acres of land that have never been worked. The native grasses that grew there 150 years ago are still growing there. Those acres have never been sown. When this scheme was being pushed into effect in Tasmania and large estates were being cut up, one would see strip development along the highways. The large land-holders would get into their tractors and plough 50 or 100 acres along the highway. When the land settlement man came along he would say, " This farmer is developing his property. We will not touch his estate." That was probably the first time that the land had been touched by a plough for 50 years. The taking over and cutting up of large estates has benefited Australia as a nation and the ex-servicemen as individuals.

The policy of the Labour party is opposed to the existence of big estates that are not being used. If they are not being fully used for production, they should be cut up, by some means or other, so that full production may be achieved. Tn Great Britain to-day there is a scheme in operation which is socialism par excellence. It is administered by the British Agricultural Committee, which actually has the power to put men off the land if they will not work it. Since 1947, when the scheme was inaugurated, about 3,000 farmers have been put off their land because they would not carry out the policy of the agricultural committee. That scheme was introduced by a Labour government, but it has been carried on by the Conservative Government.

In Australia we have no such thing as socialism by comparison with this scheme that is at present in operation in Great Britain. I studied it at first hand in 1952, and when I told people in Tasmania that the Conservative Government in England was putting men off the land because they would not work it I was told that I was a liar, or that I did not know what I was talking about. I then gave chapter and verse, and it had to be admitted that what I said was true. Under that scheme, if a man is not doing his job properly, he is put on probation for a year, and at the end of that time his case is reviewed. If he has not done what he was instructed to do, he loses his land, and it is given to somebody else. A government of the same political complexion as the Australian Government is sponsoring that vicious form of socialism in Great Britain to-day.

Mr Griffiths - A terrible thing for a Liberal government to do!

Mr DUTHIE - That is why I say that Government supporters are being hypocritical when they speak of socialism in this country. The honorable member for East Sydney has been chided for allegedly saying that the Labour party's policy includes the nationalization of farms. This is completely untrue. I have been on the federal executive of the Labour party for years. I have attended the federal conferences since 1948. At no stage have we contemplated taking over the farms of Australia in any way. Any such statement by a Government supporter, either in this Parliament or in the election campaign, is an absolute lie. As the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) reminds me, if honorable members opposite have to resort to this kind of propaganda, it shows how desperate they are, and how short they are of arguments and of policy.

Mr Griffiths - The Government owns all the land in the Australian Capital Territory.

Mr DUTHIE - As the honorable member for Shortland has reminded me, the land in the Territory is held in perpetuity by the Government, and no person is allowed to buy the land, although it can be leased for a period of 99 years. This, of course, is socialism. The Government owns the land, and it will allow people to rent it. Yet we are accused of an intention to nationalize the farms. We are certainly going to do all we can to cut up big estates, but the small farmers will be left as they are. We encourage the small farmers of Australia. We encourage farming as farming.

Mr Turnbull - What does the honorable member call a small farmer?

Mr DUTHIE - Well, he is not a big farmer. The small farmers include those engaged in dairying, in potato, maize and sugar growing, in wheat-growing, in poultry farming, and graziers on small properties up to, say, 10,000 acres. Those are the persons to whom we refer. The only big farmers in this country are graziers and squatters with large holdings. There are not many of them, in toto, throughout Australia. I suppose that 80 per cent, of Australian farms would be run and worked by what we call small farmers. It is only the other 10 per cent, or 20 per cent, that we are concerned about. To say that we stand for nationalization of farms, as distinct from the cutting up of big estates, is to misinterpret completely and deliberately the policy of the Australian Labour party. All that the honorable member for East Sydney was trying to do in the television programme was to explain to the questioner that we believed in the cutting up of large estates, not that we were going to nationalize small farms.

Another point I wish to make, on the credit side of this scheme, is that it has increased the number of rural family units. It has developed new country towns, built new roads and circulated currency in completely new areas. It has resulted in the building of schools, hospitals and private buildings. It has added a new and proud chapter to the rural story of the Commonwealth.

A further point I make is that farms have been brought to the stage of production before occupation by settlers. This is a completely different procedure from that which was in operation under the scheme that followed the first World War. Admittedly, it has slowed down the scheme. When the settler goes on to his farm to-day, the fences are up, the farm is subdivided, the dams are provided, creeks have been diverted or dammed for the purpose of irrigation, the house has been built, the out-buildings are in existence and the stock is on the property. The occupier takes over a working unit, a producing unit. This has been an outstanding feature of the scheme.

I now come to the debit side. First, in some cases the amounts paid for land acquired have been less than reasonable. I am not going to dwell on this matter.

Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes - The honorable member had better not dwell on it as regards New South Wales.

Mr DUTHIE - Secondly, in some cases certain huge estates which should have been acquired for soldier settlement have been bypassed. For some reason or other the owners have been able to avoid having their land cut up.

The third comment, on the debit side, is that the bureaucracy, in handling the affairs of the soldier settlers, has sometimes discouraged them by undue delays and vacillations regarding important decisions affecting their welfare. I suppose that with a bureaucracy, as we call it - in other words, a public service - this is inevitable. In each State the department concerned is handling such a tremendous job that there must be some delays and vacillations. I must, however, make the criticism that in some cases red tape has adversely affected a man's future and has delayed his plans and his development. In some cases I believe that injustice has been done to soldier settlers in this regard. On the whole, however, the men in charge of the scheme, from the Director' down, have, in my opinion, genuinely and sincerely tried to bring this great scheme to fruition. If there have been mistakes, they have been human ones that- must necessarily occur when a bureaucracy handles a job of this magnitude.

Fourthly, I wish to criticize the system of fining men who, after working their properties for several years, are accused of not keeping their farms clean. An official may come and inspect a property, and he may consider that it is not being kept sufficiently clean. There may be re-growth on some sections of it. I have had such matters brought to my notice in connexion with properties on King Island. This district is not in my electorate, being in the electorate of the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Luck), but I lived there for two years, and I know it very well, particularly as my wife comes from King Island. I can tell honorable members of one man who worked hard on a property there for five years and who did well. Then the assessors swept in, and later he received a bill, worked out on the basis of £1 an acre, for what they called alleged neglect of property. That fine appeared to be completely arbitrary. There is nothing in the act to stipulate that a fine shall be at the rate of £1 an acre, or that a man shall be punished in a specified manner. I believe that this system of punishment has operated very cruelly in the case of certain soldier settlers in that area. I mention it here on the debit side.

Fifthly, I want to criticize the tough, unyielding policy of the Commonwealth valuer in many cases in Tasmania. This man believes in the law of the Medes and the Persians - the unchangeable law. To my knowledge, he would not compromise with a farmer on any occasion in relation to the price at which he might be prepared to sell his land to provide single unit farms for soldier settlers. Many good farms in Tasmania have been lost to this scheme because of what I call the unchangeable, the incorrigible attitude of the federal valuer. I have had personal experience of that, and I know what I am talking about.

In valuing a farm, he might not even walk over it. He might look at the farm from the front gate, or from near the outbuildings and decide that the place was worth £20,000. Then he would ask the farmer how much he wanted for the property. If the farmer said that he wanted £22,000, that would be the end of the matter. There would be no compromise. The valuer would not explain how he arrived at his valuation of £20,000. This is the type of thing that has slowed the scheme down - the unyielding, tough policy of the federal valuer. I believe that compromise is often valuable and, in these cases, compromise could have got much good land for the scheme. But the valuer has said, " This is what we offer you. Take it or leave it."

My sixth critical point is that, in some cases, excessive rentals have been charged. My seventh point is that, in other cases, the farm units have been too small to be an economic proposition for the soldier settler. Settlement on King Island provides another illustration of this. When the settlers went there about six years ago prices were booming, particularly the prices of dairy products^ - and most of the men are dairyfarmers. They were doing well. But now that the prices of dairy products have fallen, in some cases disastrously, those men find that they cannot use their property for anything bin dairy farming.

It should have been taken into consideration that, at some time or other in the future, it would not be possible to carry on dairying on these properties because of falling world prices. Consideration should have been given to how those farmers could have undertaken diversified farming. Perhaps, in another five or six years it will be impossible to use this land for dairyfarming. Consideration should have been given to whether the farm would be big enough to be used for raising fat lambs, fat cattle or sheep. Because that was not taken into consideration, some of those farmers are going to be caught because the farms are not big enough to undertake the raising of sheep or fat cattle on an economic basis. That is one of the criticisms I make of some phases of the scheme. The unit has not been quite big enough to allow of diversified farming, should the original plan fall flat through a fall in world prices.

My final criticism is that not all the applicants will obtain farms before the scheme ends. This is not a very severe criticism because far more men have applied for soldier settlement farms than it has been possible to put on the farms. Some will be unlucky to miss out. Unfortunately, some of them have been applicants for several years. They have been waiting and waiting; they are now seven or eight years older. It is pretty hard that those chaps have not got what they wanted and that they will have to continue working for other persons on other properties. But perhaps that is inevitable under a scheme of this magnitude. Before we talk about civilian settlement on the same lines as this, we should make sure that soldier settlers who are still eligible by age and experience for settlement should not be left out in the final phase of the scheme.

Finally, I want to say that the balancesheet as far as the soldier settlement scheme is concerned falls down heavily on the credit side. There is a credit balance, when we compare the credits with the debits. Definitely, it is a scheme that has worked. The scheme is heavily weighted on the credit side, in spite of all the difficulties, criticisms and mistakes that have been made.

Mr Bowden - You might be expelled from your party for comments like that.

Mr DUTHIE - I do not think so. Have you some inner knowledge of our policy that I have not?

Mr Bowden - You should be on television.

Mr DUTHIE - I am not able to go on television. I am only a little shot. I am not a big shot. I do not think that you will be on television either.

When we compare this scheme with the First World War scheme we find that it is vastly superior. I remember that while the chaps were away fighting in the First World War, certain men in the Gippsland area of Victoria selected land in order to sell it for soldier settlement. The land was filled with bracken fern and bramble. When the servicemen returned from the war, they were sold this land. At Fish Creek, 55 farms were made available for soldier settlement after the First World War, and by 1932 only five settlers were still there. That sort of thing went on all over the place. In Tasmania, at a place called Maitland, west of Cressy, five farms were made available for settlement, and to-day not one of them is owned by a soldier settler.

I do not think that that will happen as a result of this scheme. It is stable and it is on an economic basis. The men go on to an economic unit. They are not shoved out to isolated areas without proper assistance, without fences, without a decent home, without outbuildings and without half a dozen other amenities that were lacking after the First World War. It is no wonder that when the depression hit the land, between 1930 and 1934, thousands of ex-service settlers joined the 20,000 farmers who walked off their farms. Among them were thousands of exservicemen, who would not have left their farms if the scheme had been as sound as this one has been in spite of the mistakes that have been made.

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