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Thursday, 20 October 1910

Senator FRASER (Victoria) .- 1 will commence the observations I have to make with regard to this Bill by saying a word or two about the speech of the hon- orable senator who has just sat down. He has spoken about land grabbers. That is no doubt a good platform phrase. If I were a Labour representative, I should make frequent use of it.

Senator Rae - - The honorable senator is speaking more in sorrow than in anger.

Senator FRASER - I may often have been angry in the past; but I am rather "down" now; and after thirty-six years of political life, I hope I may be excused if I do not hold my own quite so readily as I could twenty years ago. I do, however, want my views on this question to be known. I have been nearly sixty years in Australia. When I first came- to Victoria the great cry was for separation from New South Wales. I came here in the early digging days, when hardly any land had been alienated. The Crown wanted money and had to have it. The Federal Government will also be wanting money by- and-by as the result of extravagance. In those days Australia was a new country, and every one saw that it was a rich one. I have been twice round the world and have kept my eyes open wherever I have travelled ; and 1 can say that there is no country on earth that is so suitable for stock raising and for the utilization of land without the expenditure of a very large capital to begin with as is Australia, especially on our permanent water frontages. I could produce letters written years ago to show that at one time the Crown almost insisted upon the leaseholders buying their land. As Senator Millen said yesterday, laws were passed practically compelling them to. purchase. Do not let it be t01.gotten that Australia had to be developed. It did not develop in one big jump. We have had serious sets back. We had one in 1IQ02, when through the drought we lost 60,000,000 out of 100,000,000 sheep. A drought is the most, serious disaster which Australia has to fear. The boom time was bad enough, but I am proud to say that I was never a boomer, consequently I did not suffer from the collapse of the boom. Any drought must necessarily be serious to Australia.. I well remember going into a barber's shop in Melbourne at the time of the drought of 1902, when the man who cut my hair said to me, " When are we going to get rain? This is a very serious business." I said to him, "What do you care about it, my friend?" He said, " The boss has sacked a number of us, and if we do not get rain there will be no custom and more of us will be sacked." The prosperity of Australia depends, in the first instance, upon its rainfall. Those honorable senators who do not realize that great fact do not know much about Australia, and the reasons for her prosperity. T remember well that when I first became member of Parliament for Rodney, about thirty-six years ago, I drove my buggy and pair through the Goulburn Valley and did not see a single farm in the whole district.

Senator Givens - That is the place where the people Have repudiated their obligations to the State, is it not?

Senator FRASER - I do not know that they have.

Senator Givens - I am sure of it.

Senator FRASER - It is true that many of the people in the Goulburn Valley do not care much about Mr. Elwood Mead's idea in favour of very small holdings. When a man has been used to cultivating 700 or 800 acres of land he does not like the idea of settling down on 10 acres and working like a slave. Many farmers in Australia have succeeded and made little fortunes. In the early days of settlement in the Goulburn Valley a man was allowed to select only 320 acres. But the law never said that he should not buy more. Many a man who prospered in the Goulburn Valley or in the Western District of Victoria crossed over into New South Wales or went to Queensland, where three or four times as much land could be obtained for very little money. As the Queenslanders know, a man can get 20,000 acres of land in some parts of that State without any ready cash worth speaking about if he is lucky enough in the land ballot.

Senator Givens - He may be in 500 ballots and never get a show.

Senator FRASER - I know that there are millions of acres ready for occupation in Queensland at the present time.

Senator Blakey - There were 449 applicants for six blocks at Wagga yesterday.

Senator FRASER - If I were to offer a bonus to persons in Melbourne - something which they would regard as a great gift - there would be an immense scurry to get it, as Senator Millen very aptly remarked yesterday.

Senator Blakey - This is not a gift, because the men have to meet their responsibilities.

Senator FRASER - I have known Australia almost since its earliest days. I am acquainted with the conditions of the various States. Persons who selected land invariably believed - and in 99 cases out of a 100 they were right in their belief - that they were getting something under its value, and the Crown of course is always giving people land under its value. I do not blame them, nor does anybody.

Senator Ready - And they buy it back at four times its value.

Senator FRASER - No; the selectors sell out to other persons, hence the aggregation in Goulburn Valley and other parts of Australia.

Senator McGregor - I have heard something about dummying in all the States.

Senator FRASER - Yes, if it is allowed by the law, can the honorable senator be surprised that men will dummy?

Senator Givens - That is what Shylock said when he wanted his pound of flesh.

Senator FRASER - In a manner of speaking, the law does not prohibit dummying.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Do not forget that you were one of the law-makers who made those laws.

Senator FRASER - I was certainly in the Victorian Parliament for a great many years.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - What were you doing there?

Senator FRASER - I am not ashamed of any vote which I gave, and I do not desire such miserable interjections.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - You were doing a work of which you are ashamed to-day.

Senator FRASER - I am willing to allow my history to be contrasted with the honorable senator's.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I am only speaking politically.

Senator FRASER - I need not have that remark flung in my face. During the last sixty years in Australia no man has worked harder than I have. I would not be idle one day when I could earn a living at breaking in a horse or anything else that came in my way. In my native country, Canada, I never learnt a trade, and how comes it that I rose in Australia to be one of. its largest railway contractors ? It was by means of my industry and, I hope, brains.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Hear, hear.

Senator FRASER - Then what is the use of that miserable interjection of the youngster who knows very little about Australia?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If you put the matter on that ground, I withdraw the remark.

Senator FRASER - I accept the withdrawal. I may be hasty, but there is no bitterness with me.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I was only speaking politically. I have no bitterness.

Senator FRASER - When Senator Givens interjected I was referring to the lands which are open for selection in Australia. In Queensland alone there are 2,000 square miles available.

Senator Givens - How much of it is prickly-pear land?

Senator FRASER - The following areas are available for selection -

Landsborough Downs, 29½ square miles (Mitchell district); Albilbah, 112½ (Mitchell); Cardowan, 18½ (Leichhardt) ; Cawildi, 44 (Maranoa) ; Kensington Downs, 82½ (Mitchell) ; Boongoondo,102¼ (Mitchell); Clare, 445/8 (Mitchell); Durong, 116 (Burnett); Darr River Downs, 139½ (Mitchell); Barcoorah, 495/8 (Mitchell); Yarrawonga, 61¾ (Warrego); Green Hills, 42¾ (Mitchell) ; Murra Murra, 50 (Maranoa) ; Brucedale, 21 (Maranoa); Afton Downs, 44 (Burke); Woolerina, 200 7-16 (Maranoa) ; Evesham North, 68½ (Mitchell); Delta North, 39 15-16 (Mitchell); Delta South, 40 3-16 Mitchell); Gordon Downs, 43¾ (Leichhardt) ; Tamworth, 16¾ (Burke); Quambatook, 55¾ (Burke); Barenya, 59 (Mitchell); Tower Hill; 46! (Mitchell); Rodney Downs, 19 11-16 (Mitchell); Myall Grove, 11 9-16 (Darling Downs); Peak Downs, 9¾ (Leichhardt); Eurella,91/8 (Maranoa); Willarie, 35½ (Maranoa) ; Langlo Downs, 921/8 (Warrego) ; Bindango, 15 (Maranoa); Newinga, 36 (Maranoa); Culloden, 381/8 (Mitchell); Tarong, 49 (Burnett); Taabinga,71¼ (Burnett); Kooroongooloo, 124 (Gregory South); Tenham, 59 11-16 (Gregory South).

The return shows that millions of acres are now open for selection in Queensland. It is only a few years since real, good butter country, with 40 inches of rain per annum, could be bought at Rockhampton at£1 per acre. My Queensland friends here can indorse my statement. What is the rent of that land now, with a railway running west for 600 or 700 miles, and a shipping port at the very door? What is the use of my honorable friends talking of people who want land" not being able to get it? The men who come here to-day must not expect to settle down in the towns, but must do as the pioneers did ; they must go further afield and get land. As regards the position in Western Australia, Senator de Largie quoted certain lands near Perth and other places. But what do I find in this publication -

Survey before Selection.

From 20,000 to 40,000Acres of Rich Agricul tural Land, Surveyed into Suitable-sized Blocks, thrown open for Selection each week.

Every acre well served by existing railways, railways under construction, or proposed.

The railway policy of the State is, as far as possible, to place every farmer within at most 15 miles of a line.

Droughts Unknown.

Seasons as Certain as the Sunrise.

Land available for selection suitable for all branches of agriculture, according to districts, in rainfall belts, ranging from 50 to 10 inches per annum. Three-quarters of the annual rain falls from April to October.

Conditions of Selection.

Maximum area of conditional purchase select able by any one person, 2,000 acres.

Price, from 3s. 9d. per acre.

Payable in 40 half-yearly instalments, without interest.

A Free Homestead Farm, of 160 acres of first-class land given under certain residence and improvement conditions, to any male over 16 years, not already the holder of 100 acres or more of rural land in the Stale, for the nominal fee of £1, and half-cost of survey, £3. Absolutely no further payment for the land.

State Agricultural Bank.

Most Liberal in the World.

Loans up to£400 advanced to new selectors to full value of proposed improvements; maximum advance,£750, including for slock and machinery. Interest only payable 5 per cent. per annum for first five years after loan is granted ; principal and interest repayable in equal annual instalments over 25years thereafter.

What is the use of honorable senators on the other side talking - I was about to use a term which sometimes little boys at school use, and that is "bally rot." ] have often checked boys for using the term, but it aptly expresses my meaning. I hope that the Senate will excuse me for using it.

Senator de Largie - That is a very good way to get it in.

Senator Guthrie - That is a term which is used in Little Bourke-street.

Senator FRASER - I am surprised at honorable senators laughing, because the information 1 have given clearly disproves statements which they have made on the platform, and elsewhere. In Victoria, there are not at present very many large landholders. Thirty years ago, when you left Geelong and drove to Warrnambool, you would find only three or four big holdings. But what do you find to-day? Almost the whole countryside is studded with well-built, comfortable houses, occupied by successful farmers, working on the share system, or otherwise. The other day I presented a petition from forty-five farmers in Gippsland praying that certain provision should be made in this Bill. Are they to be dispossessed? Unless the Bill is amended, it will work a gross injustice in their case. In the Western District of Victoria, there are only a few big estates, and the holders of land can sell out at great advantage. When the holder of a large estate is surrounded with farmers, he has only to hold up his little finger when they will buy him out at good prices. Australia comprises an enormous area.

Senator Stewart - Three million square miles.

Senator FRASER - Australia is a little larger, if I recollect aright, than the United States, and about as large as Europe, leaving out Russia. Is it to be supposed that the State Governments can deal in the course of a few years with the vast areas under their respective jurisdiction? That is impossible. The Government of Queensland have untold millions of acres of beautiful country, which I travelled over many years ago, and which is fit for almost anything if communication were provided.

Senator Givens - I know some selections foi which the Government wanted £7 per acre.

Senator FRASER - Quite so. The Government of Queensland have not parted with much of their land, and is it to be said that, because a few persons were forced by the Government to buy land, they are to be robbed, or compelled to sell it? Under this legislation, a man who is out of debt can pretty well hold his own. But what will be the position of English banks which have dealt most liberally with the people of Australia, and with one of which I have been dealing for thirty years ? They have treated their debtors handsomely, and helped to develop Australia enormously. The wool institutions, for instance, have helped Australia to develop :her resources much more quickly than otherwise could have been done. The British Government did not treat the early settlers as the Governments of other countries would have done settlers in their distant possessions. They made us a free gift of millions of acres, and told us to go and develop the resources of this continent, promising us capital and other help.

Senator Ready - For profit.

Senator FRASER - There is no trade without a mutual advantage even between brothers. My honorable friends opposite want to put a handicap on the good English brother who has lent his money in confidence to the people of Australia. They hold the debentures of Australian Governments to the value of many millions sterling ; yet the Government propose that we should treat them as if they were worse than criminals. We are going to dispossess 1hem of their holdings. Is that fair treatment? T am sure, Mr. President, that if you were allowed to speak you would say "it is not. The people who own land in Australia were, in many cases, forced to buy it.

Senator Needham - Who forced them ?

Senator FRASER - The Crown; because Governments required money to extend railways and carry out -public works.

Senator Ready - How did the Crown force them?

Senator FRASER - I can tell the honorable senator that T hold land now which I bought from the Government a long time ago. It is not mortgaged ; and I am quite willing to give it back to the Crown for half what I paid for it, if the money I spent on improvements on it in the shape of buildings is refunded to me. There are millions of acres north of Victoria for which the owners would be glad to-day to get less than they paid for them, giving the improvements in. I have papers here which I have shown in confidence to the Vice-President of the Executive Council and other members of the Senate, and a member of the House of Representatives.

Senator Givens - If they are confidential, the honorable senator should not quote from them, or I may ask that they be laid on the table.

Senator FRASER - I have no objection to Senator Givens seeing these papers ; but I do not wish the confidential information they contain to appear in the press. 1 have here particulars of an estate of 78,000 acres. It was advertised to be sold by auction at Scott's Hotel. There was a mortgage of .£75,000 on the estate, anr! an overdraft in addition to the mortgage. I know a gentleman who is well known to many honorable senators who, in the course of a few years, advanced up to £25,000 on this property. Now, let me tell honorable senators that there was no offer for this land.

Senator McGregor - And there was no Federal land tax in operation at the time.

Senator FRASER - That is quite true ; and the position would be very much worse to-day. The gentleman who advanced £25,000 to keep this property going forfeited the whole of the money rather than encumber his own property, and the estate is in the hands of the mortgagee to-day. Now Senator Givens may have these papers :f he desires to verify my statement. I tan give another instance. I refer honorable senators to the Kerry Kerry estate, which was sold the other day. It comprised 46,000 acres of freehold, and 30,000 acres leasehold, held on -a long lease, because the Government of New South Wales, with the consent of the Labour party in the State Parliament, gave long leases for country in thai part of the State. There were 12,000 good sheep on the estate; they were being shorn at the time of the sale, the wool was given in, together with cattle, plant, and enormous improvements, including tanks, wire-netting all round the property ; and the price was £35,000 cash, walk in, walk out. In that case, the owner received 10s. 6d. per acre for land for which the Crown had received £1 per acre.

Senator McGregor - Was the estate of 78,000 acres to which the honorable senator referred all freehold?

Senator FRASER - Yes, it was all freehold. It is described in the advertisement. There were 77,112 acres or thereabouts of freehold, and 1,400 acres or thereabouts of conditional purchase land which might be converted into freehold on the payment of a few shillings per acre. The Kerry Kerry estate, as I have said, was sold, walk in walk out, at 10s. 6d. per acre. There is an adjoining property in which some ladies are interested. They are in India, and, of course, are absentees. Their husbands are fighting for the British Government in that part of the world. Good God ! Atp we going to be traitors to King and country and put an absentee tax on people who are treating us in this way ? The husbands of these women are fighting for the Empire.

Senator McGregor - Let the honorable senator stick to the poor orphan and widow., and never mind the King.

Senator FRASER - I would stick to anything, and would even talk Gaelic to the honorable senator, if by doing so I could induce him to make this a reasonable Bill. Nobody objects to a land tax, but let it notbe confiscatory. I have here particulars of a number of cases which any member of the Senate is at liberty to verify for himself. It would give me pleasure to drive half-a-dozen honorable senators to visit these places in my motor car, and it is probable that they would get a glass of whisky if they agreed to inspect them. I know all these properties well. They are all freehold. The first is an. estate due north of Melbourne. It comprises 64,145 acres, the shire valuation is 17s. 6d. per acre, and the total value £56,127. The tax would be £576. The capital value of the. tax at 5 per cent, represents £11,520. The average "net income for ten years is £1,336, and the proportion of the tax to the average net income is 8s. 7d. in the £1. The tax in this instance would take away one-half of the income now derived from the property by an aged widow and three young women. The next case is an estate of 26,923 acres ; the shire valuation is 14s. 6d. per acre, the total unimproved value £19,443. The tax would be £557. The capital value of the tax at 5 per cent, would represent £11,340. The tax in this case will leave a debit of £83 in view of the net income from the property. The next estate is one of 73,491 acres ; the shire valuation is 25s. per acre, the total un improved value is £91,864. The tax would be £1,390. The capital value of the tax would represent £27,800. The average net income for ten years of this property is £4,865, and the proportion of the tax to that income would be 5s." 8d. in the £.1. The next is an estate of 65,821 acres; the shire valuation is 18s. 9d. per acre, the total unimproved value £61,801. The tax would be £684, representing a capital value of £13,680. The average net income for ten years is £862, and Lue proportion of the tax to the net income would in this case amount to 15s. 10d. in the £1. The next is an estate of 71,761 acres; the shire valuation is 14s. per acre, the total unimproved value £50,101. The tax would be £470, representing a capital value of £9,400, and in this case, in view of the income from the property, the owner would be left with a debit of £56. The next case is that ot an estate comprising 111,277 acres, upon which the shire valuation was 17s. 6d. per acre, the total unimproved value being £98,153. The tax will amount to £1,547, the capital value of the tax, at 5 per cent., is £30,940, the average net income for ten years has been £3,402, and the proportion of the tax to the average net income is 9s. id.

Senator McGregor - Is not the honorable senator calculating the tax on the total value including improvements?

Senator FRASER - No. I have mentioned the unimproved value m every case. I was sorry to hear the Vice-President of the Executive Council say the other day that properties such as these had been under-valued. I have had an intimate connexion with Queensland for many years, and I know of no instance in which a shire valuer has under-valued any property.

Senator Givens - Upon the Seaforth estate the shire valuation was 15s. per acre, and the owner secured a reduction to 12s. 6d. per acre. But he sold it immediately afterwards to the Government for £3 per acre.

Senator FRASER - I am referring to the statement of the Vice-President of the Executive Council.

Senator Blakey - The Closer Settlement Board gave 91 per cent, more than the shire valuation for the Morello estate, near Hamilton.

Senator FRASER - To my own knowledge, during the past thirty years, the shire and municipal valuators have made honest valuations. If a land-owner under- valued his holding, would" not his neighbour be prompt to pull him up? In Riverina, where 1 have a property, the shire valuations are upon its unimproved value, and they are fair and honest valuations. I know that in certain cases in Victoria, which are at present engaging the attention of a Commission, land values rose considerably within a few weeks. Hut that was the result of speculation. We cannot avoid discrepancies of that character. 1 repeat that the shire valuations upon my property in Riverina are fair and true in every particular.

Senator McGregor - Is the honorable senator prepared to sell that property tor the shire valuation?

Senator FRASER - The shire valuation is upon the unimproved value.

Senator McGregor - Will the honorable senator sell it for that valuation with the value of the improvements added?

Senator FRASER - I may be disposed to do so. To the north of, and almost immediately adjoining, my property in New South Wales, there are millions of acres which can be purchased for less than was paid for them to the Crown, notwithstanding that the owner has spent tens of thousands of pounds during the past thirty years in his efforts to get rid of the rabbits there.

Senator Givens - Does that expenditure improve the land?

Senator FRASER - If the rabbits are allowed to take possession of the country it will naturally become less valuable. For fifteen years the Squatting Investment Company, with which I am associated, has had twenty poison carts going all the year round in an endeavour to successfully cope with the rabbit pest.

Senator Givens - And the company has killed alt the dicky birds?

Senator FRASER - Yes, and a lot of sheep. That, however, could not be avoided. We imported and erected hundreds of miles of wire-netting, and were obliged to enclose a tract of 300 miles in order to prevent the rabbits from getting at the artesian waters, and to compel them to drink at poisoned waters. Upon that very property, I am happy to say, we sank the first artesian well in Australia, in the year 1886. Twenty years ago selectors in that district selected land in 20,000-acre blocks. With what result ? The drought came, and they were ruined. It is impossible to work these lands except in large holdings. The same thing happened on the Warrego. The men who selected there, with the exception of. one determined fellow who fought a tremendous battle, and succeeded, left the locality ruined. The others brought capita! with them, but left without it. That land has now been leased to the Squatting Investment Company by the State Government for a period of thirty years on the understanding that we are to destroy the rabbits. Honorable senators opposite art elected to see that justice is done to the States. The Senate is supposed to be a. State Rights House. But they know nothing whatever about the disabilities and trials to which the pioneers in this part of the world were subjected, otherwise they would not speak so flippantly as they do. When I first went to Mr Hutton, on the Dawson River, forty years ago, the ironbark hut in which we dwelt had to be pierced with holes every 3 feet, so that we could aim a rifle through them. We had to protect ourselves. Sometimes there would be as many as 2,000 blacks camped within a quarter of a mile of our property. Upon an adjacent holding. Hornetbank. the Fraser family were killed by the aborigines. Only a lad of about twelve years of age was spared. He crept under a bedstead while the murders were in progress, and the blacks, believing that he was dead, left him there. After they had departed, he crept out of his place of concealment and thus regained his freedom. When he grew up to manhood the StateGovernment gave him permission to shoot the blacks, and he did shoot a few of them. What is the use of putting Bills like this before honorable senators who know nothing whatever about the trials of the early pioneers ?

Senator Givens - Then why does the honorable senator wish to do it?

Senator FRASER - I hope that my honorable friend will call a caucus meeting, and use his brain power to secure some amelioration of the hardships which will be inflicted under this measure. 1 have spoken much longer than I had intended and I thank honorable senators for the patience with which they have listened to me.

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