Drought Relief 1914



The COMMISSIONER of CROWN LANDS (Hon. F. W. Young) — There is no Bill which I could introduce to this House with greater regret than the measure I am now submitting. It must occur to all of us who have a genuine desire for the country to progress that the present moment in South Australia is one requiring the most careful consideration of Parliament with a view to mitigating the difficulties which are encompassing that section of the community upon which we most depend — the people on the land. It is almost a worn-out expression that the farmer is the backbone of the country, but it is true, and never in any previous moment has the community been so well seized with the truth of that well-worn saying, because every section of it is feeling the direct results of the unfortunate position.

Mr. Chesson — The farmers are not the only factor.

The COMMISSIONER of CROWN LANDS — They are the first factor, but that statement is not made to depreciate the value of other factors. I do not think we can make too much of the value of the farming community to the State. The difficulties of the settlers have been very great this season. Unfortunately in considerable areas of the State their misfortunes have not been limited to this season. But their misfortunes have reached a crisis this year, after two or three bad seasons, in which they have not earned a living wage. the portions of the State I refer to particularly are the Northern Areas and certain parts of Eyre's Peninsula. The settlers in those localities have been struggling against adverse conditions for two or three years, and we have to admit that their life is heroic from every point of view. The Murray flats, also, is a portion of the State which is invariably in trouble when the other districts I have mentioned are suffering from drought. The settlers in all those areas have not during the last two or three years earned a minimum wage which would have given then an opportunity of accumulating means to enable them to contend against the specially adverse circumstances of the present moment. In many parts the settlers have, during recent years, been working for results sometimes not equal to the actual outlay, and in other respects for a wage which would be absolutely despised by many sections of the community. At this moment those people are in the position that their homes and practically all their ambitions are lost for the moment, unless some effort can be made to save them. Circumstances, of course, may be such that it is impossible for any Parliament and any Government to save all of those people, even those who are most deserving, owing to the very depth of the misfortunes which surround them. They are not people who have had easy times. They have met difficulties not for the first occasion in their lives. Some of the people in those localities have met drought experience before — not necessarily as bad as the conditions at the moment — and have undergone all the misfortune of that experience, have remained at the post, and have been prepared with the turn of the seasons to make once more every effort to add to the production of our State. The fact that they have repeatedly undergone those experiences is a tribute to their perseverance, their industry, and their independence. The assistance which we can give them is dictated to some extent by humanitarian principles but in any assistance we give them we are guided to a large extent by the matter as a business proposition from the community’s point of view.

The fact of our submitting a Bill for giving relief has been the occasion for some cheap cynicism, and the statement that the Government are at last reduced to uphold Socialism. Such a remark conveys the idea that the intelligence of the people is not very high, or, at least, the people who make that cynical remark do not know what Socialism is. It has never been considered outside the scope of Parliament or of the Government to help those who are in distress, particularly a Parliament in this State. That was done before the word Socialism was known in the world of practical politics. On many previous occasions this State has not hesitated to help people in distress. The very fact that we have such an institution as the Destitute Asylum is an indication that help to people in great difficulties is looked upon as an ordinary function of government. But in this case it is not only a question of helping people in distress for the sake of those people alone; it comes to a clean, business-like proposition on the part of the community, who depend on this section of the people, to do their utmost to keep them going. And in taking this step to relieve distressed farmers, I have no desire to weaken or destroy their independence to any extent. We look upon their independence and their self-reliance as great virtues to be upheld, as the very virtues which have maintained the settlement of this country through previous years. I am bound to say that the people to whom we are seeking to give legislative assistance just now have fought the drought with an independent spirit equal to anything we have been able to observe in the past. They have held on to their farms to the last moment, without rushing to the Government for assistance. I am speaking, of course, of the farming community generally. There are exceptions. But speaking of them as a body, I am quite justified in making that statement. it would be a very great pity if anything were done to weaken the spirit that lies behind the independence of the people. One of the factors which has kept the settlers in those parts I have mentioned going has been the great spirit of hope which is in the breast of all humanity. Those people until quite recently have been buoyed up with the hope that better times would come, and that rain would fall. That induced them to adopt the course which they probably now regret they did adopt. It has been suggested that it is a great pity that all the stock, horses, and cattle, were not removed in the early part of the year. But the farmers were buoyed up in the hope that a change in the season would come, and they were anxious to have their stock at hand to take up at once their occupation as farmers — getting on with their seeding in the early part of the year, and fallowing in the middle part of the year. So they held on to their stock, believing that the season would change, and they would be able to prosecute their work. So early as March of this year, realising that last year had been droughty, and that in some parts there was a great absence of feed and it was becoming costly to 

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