2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– In the absence of the Attorney-General, I ask the Prime Minister if the Government will lay upon the table the judgment of the High Court in the case of Baume versus the Commonwealth, which has such an important bearing upon the administration of the Customs Act and the Tariff?
– Assuming it to be available, I shall ask my honorable and learned colleague to lay the judgment upon the table, though it is usual in these cases to accept the law reports.
– As the Board of Inquiry, which has investigated the Customs irregularities at Adelaide finds that, although the revenue has been defrauded of some scores of thousands of pounds, no one is to blame, I wish to know from the Minister of Trade and Customs if he is taking steps to, protect the revenue in future ?
– I had nothing to do with the appointment of the Board, which was done either by the ComptrollerGeneral or by the Public Service Commissioner. Every step is being taken to protect the revenue, but, as the case is sub judice, it would be unwise for me to say anything further ‘ about it now. I hope that the honorable member will allow the matter to rest until further developments take place
– I do not ask for information in regard to any matter which may be sub judice, but as the Board of Inquiry has found that no one connected with the Department is to blame, I wish to know if the Minister intends to take steps which,, if anything of the kind occurs in the future, will cause some one to be held responsible. It should not be possible for the revenue to be defrauded of immense sums without) any officer, being held blamable.
– The honorable member’s question is a delicate one. I had to-day a long interview with the Crown Solicitor, from whom I obtained all the particulars in his possession. No stone is being left unturned in ascertaining the responsibility of all connected with the case ; but it would be unwise for me to say now what I know in regard to the matter.
– I do not wish the Minister to disclose any information which ought to be withheld at this stage. What I ask is that in future officers of the Department shall be held responsible for- irregularities.
– One matter is so mixed up with another that I cannot say, until further developments have taken place, what will be done. The Board has made a report in regard to certain officers, and if they are found to be at fault, action will be taken. Every step which it is possible to take for the protection of the revenue is now being taken.
– The officers ought to be shifted about from State to State periodically.
– I wish to know from the Treasurer if the statement appearing in this morning’s Age that the total indebtedness of Australia abroad amounts to £236,680,000 is correct?
– The total indebtedness of Australia is £236,680,739, of which £201,983,386 was borrowed in London, and £34,697,353 in Australia.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Trade and Customs whether it is a fact, as stated in this morning’s Age, that the imports into Australia are valued at £60,000,000, of which £23,000,000 worth come from Great Britain and £37,000,000 worth from other countries?
– This is a placard sort of question.
– No. The Minister has made a similar statement.
– What I said was that our imports from all sources, exclusive of bullion, are valued at about £37,000,000, of which British imports represent a value of about £23,000,000.
– Then the Age publishes wrong figures in both the instances to which I have referred.
– I wish to know from the Prime Minister if there are good reasons why additional appointments should not be made to the High Court at once. The statement of the Chief Justice showed the appointment of additional Justices to be urgent, and as the Act empowering their appointment has been passed, it is most desirable, for reasons which need not be mentioned here, that action should not be postponed.
– There are good reasons why the appointments should not be deferred; but honorable members will agree that they are among the most responsible which a Government could be called upon to make. The subject will be taken into consideration immediately, though I do not promise that the appointments will be made at once.
– I have seen it stated in the press that the Treasurer intends to leave Melbourne next week. Will the Prime Minister give the representatives of Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania an opportunity to get away at the same time ?
– Owing to the slow progress made last week, my right honorable colleague’s intention is unlikely to be fulfilled.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether there is any law preventing mounted troopers and other members of the Police Force from joining the Light Horse Regiment or other branches of the Defence Force?
– The answer to the honorable and learned member’s question is as follows: -
Not that the Minister is aware of, but the duties of a member of the Police Force are of such a nature that it would be impossible for him to devote sufficient time to military requirements. As members of both the Police and Defence Forces have to subscribe to prescribed oaths on enlistment under State and Commonwealth Acts respectively, disciplinary difficulties might very easily arise.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The Public Service Commissioner has furnished the following replies : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner has furnished the following information in connexion with questions 1,2, and 3 : -
The reply to the last question is -
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Provisional regulations under the Pacific Island Labourers Act relating to proceedings for obtaining orders for deportation. Statutory Rules 1906, No. 71.
Amended Distillation regulations, Nos. 48, 69, 70. Statutory Rules 1906, No. 54.
Amended Customs regulations : No. 151A as to vessels trading within the limits of a State, No.103 (d) as to re-importation of goods, No. 101 as to sale of coffee, No.17 (d) as to overtimerates. Statutory Rules 1906, Nos. 55, 56, 57, 68.
Report giving the history of the Defence Department from the date of its transfer to the Commonwealth to 30th June, 1906.
Provisional Defence regulations : Military Financial and Allowance regulations, paragraph 42 amended, barrack damages; paragraph 98, repairs to saddlery. Statutory Rules 1906, Nos. 73 and 75.
Military regulations, paragraph 281,line1, amended ; addition to paragraph 164, appointment of military staff clerks. Statutory Rules 1906,Nos. 74 and 76.
– On the 1 2 th September the honorable and learned member for West Sydney asked the following questions: -
The answers are as follow : -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from11thSeptember,videpage4365):
Clause 2 -
Section eighty-seven of the Constitution is altered -
by inserting after the word “ Excise “ the words “ (other than special duties of Customs and of Excise)” ;
by inserting after the word “balance” the words “of the revenue from those duties (other than special duties)” ;
by adding at the end of the section the following paragraph : - “ A special duty of Customs or of Excise is a Customs or Excise duty upon goods of a descriptionnot liable to Customs or Excise duty on the first day of January One thousand nine hundred and seven, and imposed expressly for specific purposes.”
Upon which Mr. Frazer had moved by way of amendment -
That the words “ ‘Excise,’ the words ‘(other than special duties of Customs and of Excise),’ “ paragraph a, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ ‘Expenditure,’ the words ‘other than expenditure for a national scheme of old-age pensions.’ “
– Honorable members will see that under our proposal it is intended to alter section 87 of the Constitution by placing special duties of Customs and Excise beyond the restriction to one-fourth to which all revenue derived from Customs and Excise duties is now subject. Under the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, however, the raising of special duties of Customs and Excise is put on one side, and the Commonwealth Government will be entitled to charge against the threefourths of the Customs and Excise revenue now returned to the States, the whole cost of a national system of old-age pensions. Under the Government proposal, any future Parliament could provide any portion of the money required for old-age pensions by imposing “special duties. The amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie would render the imposition of special’ duties unnecessary, because the Commonwealth’ would be able to deduct the money required from the amount now returnable to the States. As I have already stated, I hold that as, when the Constitution was framed an understanding was arrived at that for at least ten years three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue should be returned to the States, we ought not to adopt the course proposed by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie without the consent of every State. I explained at some length that the proposed change could be made if his amendment were accepted by a majority of the States, instead of by all the States.
– I take it that the object of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is to avoid giving the Government a roving commission, which would enable them to levy special duties for any purpose that they pleased. If old-age pensions are to be provided for out of Customs and Excise revenue, without committing myself to support the amendment in its present form, I think that the proposal of the honorable member is preferable. I have a very strong objection to the imposition of extra taxation through the Customs House. Honorable members may say that this is due to my free-trade proclivities, and, of course, that may be very largely the case.
– The honorable member is not a free-trader, but a revenue tariffist.
– No. I am not a revenue tariffist, but a straight-out freetrader. I am opposed to piling up burdens of taxation upon- the poorer sections of the community. It is well understood that no large amount of revenue can be derived from Customs duties without taxing, the necessaries of life, and it follows, as a natura] consequence, that the, poorer sections of the community have to bear the greater part of the burden. It has been suggested that special duties] should be levied upon tea and kerosene to provide the funds necessary for old-age pensions. Any such imposts would impose a specially heavy burden upon settlers in the back blocks, such as miners, farmers, shearers, and others, and upon the poorer dwellers in cities. Moreover, if such duties are imposed, we shall be practically calling upon, those who will most need the benefit of old-age pensions to’ make the necessary provision out of their own pockets. This would be a paltry and contemptible proceeding on our part. I trust that the Committee will resist any proposal that will have the effect of imposing greater burdens upon the poorer classes.
.- I shall support the amendment. The operation of the Braddon section would not be interfered with, except in regard to the provision that might have to be made for oldage pensions, and the amendment is therefore preferable to the original proposal. As I have recently pointed out, we are at present collecting £2 5s. per head of the population in Customs and Excise duties, and this is the highest amount contributed in that form in any civilized country in the world. If we were to impose special Customs duties for the purpose of raising another ,500,000 to enable us to provide for old-age pensions, we should add 7s. 6d. per head to the taxation through the Customs, and thus bring the total up to £2 12s. 6d. per head. I remember that when the Commonwealth Constitution Bill » was before the people, Mr. J. H. Gordon, of South, Australia - now Judge Gordon - who was a member of the Convention, addressed a large meeting in Adelaide, which was attended by both Conservatives and Democrats. Mr Gordon was arguing very strongly in favour of the Bill.- Turning first to the Democrats, he asked: “ What fault can be found with the Bill ? Is it not democratic enough, seeing that every man and woman will be entitled to a vote?” Then, turning to the Conservatives, he said: “ Is it not conservative enough, seeing that all the revenue required by the Commonwealth will be derived from Customs duties, and the working classes will therefore pay the whole of the taxation?” That was quite honest. I do not think that even the Prime Minister would deny that the revenue derived from the Customs House comes, principally from the workers of Australia. If we, as a Parliament, are not prepared to impose direct taxation, it will be a good thing for us to utilize a portion of the present Customs and Excise revenue, and thus reduce the amount returnable to the States. Then the States may find it necessary to fall back upon direct taxation. I f we deprived them of a certain part of the revenue which is raised bv indirect taxation. I suppose they would have to resort to direct taxation ito make good the amount.
– Leave that to them.
– The Prime Minister has argued that at the present time it would be unfair to propose an amendment of the Braddon section of the Constitution, because if the matter were referred to the electors, it is quite possible that two of the States might declare against the proposed amendment, whereas the remaining four States and a majority of the people might pronounce themselves in favour of it. If the States had federated upon the understanding that the Braddon section was to continue in operation for ten years, and if this Parliament had violated that understanding, I admit that there would be some force in his contention. But it is beyond the power of the Parliament to do that. Any amendment of the Constitution can be effected only with the consent of the electors themselves, and in order to safeguard the Constitution, not only is an affirmative vote of a majority of the people required, but an affirmative vote of a majority of the States. If a majority of the people of Australia and a majority of the States supported any proposed amendment of the Constitution, it is onlyreasonable to assume that a large number of the electors in the other two States would also declare themselves in favour of it. I have a vivid recollection of the time when the draft Constitution was about to be submitted to the electon of New South Wales for their approval. Upon that occasion Sir Edmund Barton, Mr. Wise, and other strong advocatesof its acceptance, pointed out that the Constitution itself prescribed the means by which its amendment could be secured, if the people deemed the adoption of that course desirable. I believe that a large number of electors in that State voted for the Constitution because they recognised that it was within the power of the people themselves to amend it if they so desired. When the right honorable member for East Sydney returned to Sydney from the Conference of Premiers at Melbourne, he pointed out some of its defects, and declared that its greatest blemish was the Braddon blot. He urged that, so long as that section was retained in the Constitution, there would be a great temptation to the Commonwealth Treasurer to raise money by means of direct taxation, because, by so doing, he would be. able to retain the whole of the funds thus derived for Common wealth purposes. In speaking of the Braddon section, he said -
It is a very serious matter which I am putting to you. I want to callyour attention to the amendment made by Sir Edward Braddon at the last moment almost in the history of the Convention. Throughout the Convention I have had to fight day after day to prevent anything being put in the Constitution which dictated the financial policy of the Commonwealth.
The right honorable member then proceeded to show that he had relieved the working classes in New South Wales of a great deal of taxation, and had placed it upon the shoulders of the landed proprietors. In those days we frequently used to hear him affirm that taxation through the Customs was a burden uponthe people. We do not hear much of that sort of talk from him now. He seems to be afraid to advocate anything in the nature of direct taxation.
– Does the honorable member think that he is more afraid than is the Prime Minister?
– I am notspeaking of the Prime Minister.
– The honorable member is not fair enough to include the Prime Minister in his statement.
– At the meeting to which I refer the right honorable member for East Sydney stated -
And I may tell you that if this Federation comes I shall fight in the Federation precisely the same fight as I have fought in this country (Loud and continued cheering and applause).
In other words, he stated that it was his intention to support the imposition of direct taxation.
– From what is the honorable member quoting?
-Fromthereportofa speech delivered by the right honorable member for East Sydney, which appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph. He went on to say -
As in this country I fought that we should not take all our taxes from the masses, but take a share - not an extravagant share - from the wealth and income of the country, so shall I fight in the Federation.
I have not seen him doing that since he entered this Parliament. The right honorable member continued -
I give these Treasurers notice, and those who speak with them, that if they come into this Federation with me, and those who side with me, so far as I am concerned, they must come into it on this footing : that they must look out for themselves. If they are in a mess they must get themselves out of their own mess. In the Federation there should be as fair and equitable a ‘division of the national taxesas, if I may be allowed to say it, we have here.
In view of those statements, I think we are quite justified in asking that all the taxation for our national requirements shall not necessarily be raised through the Customs. I may add that if the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie be defeated, I am almost persuaded to vote against the proposal of the Prime Minister. I feel that a Federal system of old-age pensions must be established without delay. In the next Parliament no Government ought to be allowed to live - I do not care what Government it is - which is not prepared to deal with that question. If the Government proposal and the amendment alike ‘be defeated we shall have no option but to fall back upon direct taxation.
– Does the honorable member mean to say that the Government cannot finance an old-age pensions scheme now ?
– I do not want to see either the Government proposal or the amendment carried. The funds with which to pay old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth ought to be raised by means of direct taxation.
– How can the honorable member say that, in view of the decision of his party concerning a progressive land tax ? We could not obtain sufficient revenue with which to pav old-age pensions under the Labour Party’s proposal to levy a progressive land tax.
– I would not hesitate to make the tax in question a little bit stiffer.
– But the honorable member could not do that in view of the decision which has already been arrived at.
– As the honorable member was once, a member of the caucus he knows exactly the position.
– I confess that I do not understand how the money could be raised under the proposal of the Labour Party to levy a progressive land tax. I do not wish to trick the honorable member. I have merely asked him a simple question.
– We are advocating the imposition of a land tax-
– With an exemption up to -£5,000. The honorable member’s party says that that tax will yield very little revenue.
– I am dealing with the question of direct taxation. The Commonwealth Parliament has power to raise revenue bv means of an income tax. Surely that is direct taxation.
– Do I understand the honorable member to suggest the imposition of a tax in addition to that which is advocated by his party for the purpose of bursting up large estates?
– I do not know that we need to discuss that matter at the present moment. I am prepared to support any Government which will provide the necessary funds to pay old-age pensions by means of direct taxation. To my mind, there is nothing unfair in the proposal that taxation derived from land values should be applied to that purpose. The people of the community have created those values. If it were not for their energies we should have no land values worth speaking of. I strongly object to raising more revenue through the Customs. I am in favour of direct taxation, and, as the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie will afford us the opportunity of providing the necessary money for the payment of oldage pensions without the imposition of extra Customs taxation, I shall support it.
.- To my mind, the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is preferable to the proposal of the Prime Minister. Within the past . few days the Treasurer of New South Wales has announced a surplus for the financial year which has just closed of ^846,000. In other words, the people have been taxed to that amount in excess of the sum required for the ordinary purposes of government. At the present time that State is annually paying ^600,000 by way of old-age pensions. If the proposal of the Prime Minister be carried, the Treasurer of New South Wales will be relieved of the necessity of paying old-age pensions, and consequently he will have the enormous surplus of .£1,500,000. In my opinion, we ought not to allow the people of New South Wales to be taxed to that extent in excess of the requirements of the State. The other day I suggested to the Prime Minister that there was no reason why, without any amendment of the Constitution, funds could not be provided with which to defray the cost of a national scheme of old-age pensions. The honorable and learned gentleman inquired how it could be done, and I replied that I thought that an arrangement could be made with New South Wales and Victoria to hand over to the Federation the amount they are now paying in respect of old-age pensions, with a view to its being devoted to a Commonwealth system.
– Does the honorable member imagine there is the faintest prospect of their agreeing to such a proposal ?
– If thev were shown that it would be to -the interests of their respective taxpayers, I think they would agree to it.
– There is not the slightest prospect of their even looking at such a proposal.
– Then it would seem that they are prepared to agree to the placing of unnecessary burdens upon the taxpayer.
I agree with the honorable member for Barrier, that it would not be reasonable for this purpose to impose duties on tea and kerosene. Such taxes would fall most heavily upon the poorer classes. I cannot tolerate the idea of ear-marking revenue derived from Customs duties for any specific purpose. As against the Prime Minister’s proposal, we have that put forward by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, that the amount necessary to finance this scheme be deducted from the threefourths of Customs and Excise revenue now returnable to the States. If that course were adopted the result would be very much the same as would be achieved under the scheme I suggest. The Treasurers of Victoria and New South Wales would be compelled to submit to such a deduction from the revenue returnable to them. When two of the States are already subscribing something like .£”800,000 per annum for the purpose of old-age pensions, it seems to be very much like “ whipping the devil round the stump “ to propose for the purposes of a Federal scheme to impose additional taxation to the extent of .£1,500,000 upon the people. I see no insurmountable difficulty in the way of the adoption of my proposal. I am certain that the smaller States would have no objection to it. Why should the two larger States, which already have old-age pension systems in operation, be further taxed because of a sentimental regard for the position of the smaller ones ? I am not in favour of the scheme submitted by the Government, nor am I enamoured ‘of that put forward by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie ; but I should select the latter as the lesser of two evils. I trust, however, that those accustomed to deal with financial questions will yet evolve a less objectionable scheme.
– We are in effect asked by the Government to submit to the electors of Australia the question - “ Shall we anticipate by three years the alteration in our financial system which was contemplated when the Constitution was framed,” and which I venture to say no one thought would be continued after the ten years period fixed by the Braddon section had elapsed. The only question which the electors will have to consider’ in this regard is whether the provisions of that section should cease next year, or three years later on. I am aware that the question of old-age pensions has been so mixed up with that relating to the Braddon section that we cannot very well consider the one apart from the other. The Government, in fact, tell us that their chief object in proposing this amendment of the Constitution is to enable them to submit to the next Parliament a scheme for the payment of old-age pensions.
– Hear, hear.
– I agree with the honorable member for Barrier that no Government which failed to bring down some such proposal in the next Parliament ought to live. Such a scheme has been promised the old men and women of Australia from the inception of Federation, and its postponement from year to year has caused’ bitter disappointment.
– The honorable member should not forget that two-thirds of the old men and old women of Australia are already able to obtain such pensions.
– I was about to say that, but that New South! Wales and Victoria have been able to finance independent schemes of the kind, the disappointment would be keener, and the protests against our delay certainly much stronger than they are. I am .afraid that the fact that those two States have been able “to finance their own schemes - and it was onlyFederation that made it possible for New South Wales to establish such a system - has led to the postponement of their application to the remaining States. The smaller States have had to wait longer than they otherwise would have done.
– Old-age pensions were established in New South Wales prior to Federation.
– But every one knows that the system was established there in anticipation of a big Federal revenue.
– 1 beg the honorable member’s pardon. I remember distinctly that, at the time the New South Wales Parliament agreed to an oldage pension scheme, the feeling was that as the result of uniform Customs taxation, that State would secure a much larger revenue than she was then collecting.
– I can assure the honorable member that he is quite wrong. The scheme was passed on its merits.
– Is it not a fact that New South Wales is now receiving
Customs and Excise revenue to the extent of about £2,000,000 per annum in excess of what she collected prior to Federation, and that while she is paying old-age pensions out of the additional revenue so received, she is still able to show a surplus? I repeat that I agree with the honorable member for Barrier that no Ministry which fails to bring in a Federal scheme ought to be allowed to remain in office. The next Government will be confronted with the difficulty which presents itself to the existing Administration, and which others have had to face - the difficulty of finding the necessary funds without raising three times as much as is really required for the purpose. Our financial readjustments have caused much friction, and some of the States Treasurers have availed themselves of every opportunity to criticise the Federal Treasurer and the Federal Parliament. It is time that we had a scheme by which we could make each Treasurer independent of the other. The question as to the amount to be returned to the several States of course involves another consideration. I lean very strongly to the proposal that we should agree to the payment of a fixed sum for a certain number of years, and so enable each State Treasurer’ to know exactly what his position is, while leaving ourselves free to raise whatever further sums we need for Federal purposes. I confess that, although I am as much averse as is any one to the imposition of additional Customs duties, I can see no other means of securing a Federal old-age pension scheme. In the abstract, I am with those who have advocated direct taxation. I suppose that most of us in the abstract prefer direct to indirect taxation, but when we have said that we have said all we can on that phase of the subject. The bulk of the people cannot be induced to recognise how much better it would be to bear direct taxation, and so to be called upon to pay less than they have to do under a scheme of indirect taxation. It is useless to point out to the average elector that /li paid at the present moment will satisfy the demands of the Government so far as he is concerned for, say, another twelve months, but that if he refuses to make that payment he may be taxed indirectly to the extent of 30s. in the course of the year. Whilst he will a.gree that direct taxation is the cheapest in the long run, he will at the same time finger his sovereign, , an c say, “ Let me keep it. and you may take what you want from me by mean,s of Customs duties.” The great mass of the people prefer indirect taxation; and I think it would require many years to educate them up to the point of paying by direct, as opposed to indirect, taxation; anything like the sum we shall require for this or any other purpose. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie .proposes something so radical that I am impelled to think that he hardly realizes what his proposition amounts to.
– The honorable member is very generous.
– I fear that the honorable member allowed himself to be influenced by the fact that just now two or three of the States are showing a large surplus.
– Western Australia is paying about £4 per head by way of Customs taxation, and I think that is quite enough.
– I agree to that extent with the honorable member, and I am glad that the amount of Customs taxation per head in Western Australia is gradually being reduced. I am afraid, however, that the honorable member has been induced to make his proposal by the fact that the two largest States which have independent old-age pension schemes have what is1 to them an enormous surplus. He thinks rightly enough, from his point of view that States which have so much public money to spare ought not to be asked to raise, by means of indirect taxation, a further sum for a Federal old-age pensions scheme. I wish to ask him to look for a moment at the position of the State of which he is a representative, and to consider what would be the effect of his proposal upon it. As the result of the operation of the sliding scale, the revenue collected from Customs ,and Excise duties in that State has been reduced during the last four or five years by something like £60,000 per annum, and the Treasurer of Western’ Australia is to-day struggling with an enormous deficit. The Government are just now fighting hard to impose direct taxation j but I shall be very much surprised if the Upper House allows them to do so. The proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie would mean that Western Australia would have to pay, I think. ,£40,000 a year out of the amount received from Customs and Excise duties.
– According to the Government Statist of Tasmania, the contribution of Western Australia would be ,£85,000 a year.
– Then the case is worse than I thought. It would mean disaster to the old-age pensions movement if the people of Western Australia were asked to give up so much revenue, and those who supported the present proposal would have the State Government, the State press, and the majority of the people of the State against them. It is because I believe in old-age pensions, and wish to see them established, that I object to this proposal, which would put back their establishment for at least three years. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has not shown that consideration for the State Treasurer which should be shown. At the present time there are hundreds of men out of work in the Kalgoorlie district alone, and the Treasurer of Western Austalia says that the reason why public works are almost at a standstill is that, because of the operation of the sliding scale upon the Customs revenue, there is not enough money to do more than he is doing. Although I can see many objections to the proposal of the Government to raise additional taxation, I think that the only way to provide for a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme, which the people have declared for at two or three elections, is to raise money by means of additional duties. I prefer to fake that course rather than say to the electors, of Western Australia, “ To provide for old-age pensions you must give up ,£85,000 of your share of the Commonwealth revenue.” I hone, therefore, that the Committee will not accept the amendment, but will adopt the proposal of the Government.
.- I thoroughly approve of the proposal for the establishment of a national system of old-age pensions, and shall assist the Government in every way to take all the steps necessary to facilitate its preparation and adoption. In my opinion, the means suggested by them are the best under the circumstances, and my views coincide with those of the honorable member for Fremantle as to the unwisdom of adopting the amendment. Section 87 of the Constitution was once known as the “ Braddon Blot.” I believe that it received that name in Sydney during the anti-Bill campaign. Afterwards it became known as the Braddon sec tion, a more respectable name; and it now deserves the title of the Braddon guarantee, as it .is generally regarded as one of the guarantees of the Constitution against Federal extravagance, and for securing the return to the States of a well denned and ascertained proportion of the net revenue from Customs and Excise. I think that it was a wise thing to insert this provision in the Constitution, and that it should be allowed to remain in unimpaired operation for the ten-year period assigned to it.
– We desire to ask the people whether they are prepared to alter that period.
– No doubt provision is made in the Constitution for the amendment of this as well as of other sections ; but how would representatives of New South Wales view a proposal to amend section 125, which says that the Federal Capital shall be in that State? Section 87 is as much a part of the Federal compact as is section 125, and, whilst the majority of the people voting in the majority of the States may have the legal and constitutional right to amend these and similar provisions, I should be sorry if Parliament were disposed to sanction any act of Federal repudiation.
– If the honorable and learned member supports the proposal of the Government, he is supporting action such as he condemns. It is only a question of degree.
– The Premiers of the large as well as of the small States have, I understand, agreed to a scheme such as is proposed by the Government for the setting aside of the revenue from special duties - whether upon tea or kerosene is not material now - for the purpose of providing a fund for the payment of national oldage pensions. The adoption of this scheme leaves the Braddon section unimpaired,, and, consequently, does not allow any violation of the sacred conditions of the Federal compact. Those who favour the establishment of an old-age pension system would be wise to pause before pressing the amendment to a division, because its adoption is likely to defeat the end thev have in: view. If the amendment were agreed to, the proposal which would have to be placed before the people would meet with the strenuous opposition of the Governments of the States, and probably the most influential members of the States Legislatures.
– It would prejudice the adoption of an old-age pension scheme.
– I believe that it would prejudice that good cause, which would not have a fair trial by reason of its association with an attempt to violate a Federal compact.
– Why not tell the people that the money required for Federal oldage pensions will be obtained by direct taxation ?
– No doubt the people would say, “ You may devise what scheme you please to provide revenue for a Commonwealth old-age pension fund so long as you do not break the Federal compact.” Any attempt to violate the conditions under which the States federated will recoil upon those who make it. I shall support every legal and constitutional effort to secure a uniform system of old-age pensions ; but I cannot allow this important cause to be linked with a proposal which would create enmity and opposition in every quarter of Australia, even amongst those who are in favour of old-age pensions, whose bounden duty it is, nevertheless, to protect the revenues of the States.
– That is the position of both Mr. Kidston and Mr. Price.
– I think that a majority of the States will be opposed to the amendment, and I am surprised that it has been moved by the representative of a Western Australian division, ‘that State being concerned to an even greater degree than either Victoria or New South Wales. The Victorian Government are in f avour of nationalizing old-age pensions, provided that provision is made for them by imposing special duties upon tea and kerosene. I have the word of the Premier of Victoria that no opposition will come from that State, and no doubt the same may be said of the majority of the States.
– Why not impose an extra duty of1s. per gallon upon champagne?
– The amendment does not bind the Government to impose duties upon tea or kerosene. Champagne is already taxed very heavily, and, probably, if the duty were increased, it would prohibit importation, and deprive us of the revenue we now receive. The proposal to further tax champagne might be very popular, but we could not, by adopting it, secure the revenue necessary to provide for old-age pensions. I welcome the proposal of the Government, and I shall give it my hearty support.
.- I was very much astonished to hear the honorable and learned member for Bendigo advance the arguments he did in favour of the Government proposal. Apparently, he is one of those who suppose that the instrument under which we are federated should not be altered under any circumstances. Yet, apparently, he is in favour of amending it in a certain way. According to him, we must not lay our iconoclastic hands upon the Constitution in one direction, but we may do as we please in another. We may pile upon the shoulders of the hapless people as many additional burdens as we like, but the moment we endeavour to curtail the privileges of the States as such, we are told that we shall run counter to the wishes of the members of the States Parliaments. These gentlemen must not be affected; but the unfortunate people, who may be bulldozed by articles in the press or hypnotized by speeches delivered by persons gifted with the power of oratory, may be imposed upon to an unlimited extent. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo supports the Government proposal, which is to amendsection 87, and yet claims that that section of the Constitution should be allowed to remain in operation for the full period of ten years. Probably at the end of that time hewill come down with a proposal that it should be extended for another ten years. We have not had from members of the Opposition any clear indication of whatthey propose to do. It is proposed to alter the Constitution to enable the Government to obtain an increased amount of revenue by imposing additional duties, without raising four times as much revenue as they require. But the Constitution already vests in the Commonwealth sufficient power to obtain all the revenue required.
How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds
Makes ill deeds done !
The Treasurer, whose whole career has been one bubble of extravagance, and who is about as easy under financial restraint as a bull would be in a Collinsstreet afternoon tea room, asks us to give him more money. I would as soon place in the hands of a lunatic a Winchester repeating rifle as give to the right honorable gentleman any more money than I could possibly help. He is asking for more money on the specious pretence that he is going to provide for old-age pensions. There is no guarantee, as far as this Bill is concerned th at the money will be devoted to that end. Our position may be similar to that of the man on a race-course who is approached by another, and is induced to pay him over £1 upon the promise that if something happens he will be paid back his money and something in addition. But upon his afterwards searching for the man who has his money, he is unable to find him, and his money is gone for ever. How can we tell what will happen ? War might break out, or there might be rumours of war, and no sane person believes that the Treasurer would hesitate for one moment as to the purpose to which he should devote any money at his disposal if old-age pensions weighed with him on the one hand and the bubble reputation which war would bring influenced him on the other. The right honorable gentleman has swum on to glory on the top of the Coolgardie waterworks scheme. This was lifted by the gods- out of the pit of Hades - by a chance, the right honorable gentleman was lifted with it. Now he has induced the Government to embark In a hare-brained scheme, and to pull down the Constitution to which we and so many others attached our names in the belief that it would prove sufficient for all our purposes. I should have thought that honorable members of the Opposition would ha,ve been anxious to descend, like the cohorts of old, upon this proposal. Hut we find them sitting still, or, at any rate, not saying very much.
– The honorable and learned member was not here when we discussed the proposal upon a former- occasion.
– That is very likely. I am doing my best now. I shall not vote in favour of any scheme for the imposition of fresh taxation unless I can see that some definite good will result from it. If I, as a free-trader, were told that £50,000 was wanted by way of bounty for the encouragement of a languishing industry, I should be prepared to consider the matter as a business proposition. Even if it were proposed to afford assistance to the industry bv imposing Customs duties. I might be disposed to lend a favoring ear. This, however, is no such scheme, because if an industry were to be supported we should have to look forward to receiving less, rather than more, revenue. This is nothing more nor less than a device to make the poor unfortunate public pay more for what they eat and drink and wear. I believe that in such matters as this direct taxation is the best check upon extravagance. We have heard a great deal about the extravagance of the Commonwealth Government, but what is to be said with regard to the financial management of some of the States Governments. I remember that one of the chief complaints made against the See Government, in New. South Wales, was that it lavishly spent enormous sums of money which were placed in its hands as the result of the increased revenue returned to New South Wales under the Commonwealth Tariff. When a Government has a large surplus it must get rid of it somehow. Deputations come from here, there, and everywhere, and submit all sorts of schemes, arid Ministers must be adamant to resist their appeals. In view of the fact that we know exactly how much will be required for the payment of old-age pensions, I propose that the money should be obtained by means of direct taxation. It does not follow that a direct tax must be a tax upon land. Under the German pension system, the funds are provided in the majority of cases by a tax upon receipts - a stamp tax. I am . astonished that it should have been reserved for the honorable member for Fremantle to point out the disadvantages of direct taxation. I do not claim! that direct taxation is more attractive than indirect taxation. In many respects it is not. As a matter of fact, one of the main claims of indirect taxation to preferment is that it is evasive, and, to some extent, dishonest. It is a specious pick-your-pocket kind of taxation. When a man is told that at the end of the year he will have to pay for his water at the rate of 8d. or is. per gallon he is careful as to the quantity he uses. When you know what you have to pay you know exactly how far you can go, and direct taxation is one of the best possible checks upon extravagance either by the Federal or States Governments, or by municipal bodies. Direct taxation cannot go on and on indefinitely in the same way that indirect taxation may be imposed. The present situation affords an effective illustration of this point. Every day in this House the Government brings forth a fresh proposal for taxation. A little while ago we decided to grant bounties, last week we riad before us proposals to increase the duties under the reciprocal trade arrangements with New
Zealand and Great Britain, and now another proposal for additional taxation is before us. Presumably only the narrow margin between the present time and the date of the general elections prevents a further crop of taxation proposals from being brought before us. I shall be prepared to support the imposition of further indirect taxation only when it can be clearly shown that a good object cannot be achieved by any other means. That position has not been established in the present case. We ought, in my opinion, to resort to direct taxation, ‘ to which members of the Opposition are largely pledged, but which they do not seem very much disposed to support. It is in the last degree important that some limit should be fixed to Customs taxation. If we impose direct taxation, we shall be extremely careful, as to what we are about. There are plenty of means by which we can with safety to the community, and without injustice to the States, and without laying our fingers upon the Constitution, provide the funds necessary for the. payment of old-age pensions. Although I am willing to give the Government every credit for desiring to make provision for old-age pensions, I am afraid t[hat I shall have to vote against their proposal. I am looking to the Opposition to bring forward some tangible
Alternative to the Government scheme. I shall look to my friends to put forward an alternative scheme, or to explain how the funds with which to pay old-age pensions are to be provided.
– Had not the honorable and learned member better interrogate his friends upon the other side of the House?
– I am looking towards the dawn. I am given to understand that after the next election that radiant sun which occasionally dips beneath the lowering bank of clouds and disappears- - which occasionally illuminates the dullness of this House - will rise again in the full effulgence of his glory. In what way his beams will lighten the Cimmerian darkness, of this proposal -he does not say. I should like to hear from his lieutenant - upon whose shoulders all the heavy work falls - if only in a second-hand sort of way. what he conceives his chief would do. if he were only here to tell us all about it. But his chief knows better than to be here. He prefers to beat the tea-tray or the tom-tom upon the public platform, and to say nothing. As a common-sense representative of the people, I ask the honorable member for Parramatta what he and his chief propose to do in the matter of providing old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth? At the last election the right honorable member for East Sydney declared that it was all nonsense to talk about that subject, because our present method of raising revenue would not permit of such a scheme being initiated.
– What does the honorable and learned member’s leader propose to do?
– I do not know, and I do not particularly care. I am talking of what I propose to do, and I shall always vote for direct in preference to indirect taxation. The honorable member for Bland, is well able to say for himself what he will do. When the Labour Party is again placed upon the Treasury benches, no doubt it will come forward with a scheme of its own, and I do not hesitate to say that it can never be reproached with such negligence and shilly-shallying as mark the policy of the ‘Opposition in reference to this matter. I favour direct in preference to indirect taxation upon every occasion. At the same time, I do not shut my eyes to the fact that I have to choose one of three courses. I have either to stand ‘behind the Government, or behind the Opposition, or behind the Labour Party, if it has- a separate scheme of its own. When I hear a scheme propounded by members of the Opposition, I shall be in a better position to discuss its merits or demerits.
– We are waiting to hear the scheme of the Labour Party.
– Unless the party to which I belong chooses to proceed upon lines with which I am not familiar at present. I shall support a scheme of direct taxation, without committing myself now to anything more specific. I am given to understand that the honorable member for Lang still’ belongs to a party which, if it had its way, would remit all other taxation, and derive the whole of the revenue for the purposes of government from a tax upon’ the unimproved value of land. Since I am led to believe that after the next election the anti-socialistic party will occupy the Government benches/ I should be very glad to” know what they propose to do in this connexion. I have no hesitation in saying that if the right honorable member for East Sydney were in power to-day - and the honorable mem.be1 for Parramatta knows it - he would have some scheme for dealing with the matter. What that scheme would be the Lord only knows, or, perhaps, the Lord and the honorable member for Parramatta know. If the deputy leader of the Opposition does know, I should be very glad if he would explain it to the Committee.
.- I thoroughly approve of the assumption- by the Commonwealth of the duty of providing old-age pensions. My reasons for entertaining that view need not -be repeated, because they have been frequently mentioned in this Chamber. At the same time, I regret that the Government have found it necessary to introduce this Bill. I do’ so upon grounds quite different from those which have hitherto been urged. I regret the introduction of the measure, because it seems to me that it will tend to enable us to postpone dealing with the very important question of the transfer of the States debts, and with the adjustment upon a permanent basis of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States.
– Does the honorable member think that that is more important than is the question of old-age pension?
– I did not say that it was more important. I have said that a Federal system of old-age pensions ought to be initiated ; but, according to my view, if the Government could have seen their way to deal with the financial relations of the Commonwealth to the States upon broad lines, such as have been previously suggested, there would have been no necessity to bring forward this measure. We could have provided the funds with which to pay old-age pensions, and. at the same time have had our financial relations with the States placed upon a business-like basis. I regret the position, but at the same time I recognise the difficulty of the Govern- ‘ ment. The Constitution has imposed upon us the obligation to provide old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth.
– Where is that stated ?
– It is embodied in the Constitution.
– I think not.
– The Constitution empowers this Parliament to deal with the matter, and the power confers the obligation.
– The language used in. the Constitution in reference to the transfer of the debts is exactly similar to that employed in respect of the question of oldage pensions. The Constitution states that we “may” deal with those matters. Although it is put in that form, I have always understood that the Commonwealth is to discharge all those duties as soon as it can conveniently do so. The Government feel that they are entitled to raise this question at the present juncture, because they realize that unless some settlement is arrived at with the States respecting our financial relations with them, we shall not have an opportunity to amend the Constitution in the direction that they propose for another three years. That is a difficulty that I scarcely see my way to overcome. If we had had an opportunity of conferring with the representatives of the States in respect of our financial relations with them at an earlier sta.ge, I think it might have been possible to arrive at an arrangement which would have rendered the introduction of this Bill unnecessary. To that extent there is justification for theaction of the Government in bringing it forward at this stage of the session. I regret, however, that any temporary expedient to meet an urgent claim should lessen the momentum behind the movement to put our finances in order. In my view, the position would be met - assuming that it is absolutely necessary to pass this Bill - if the Government inserted in it a clause which would prevent it being brought into operation until the end of next year, thus allowing an opportunity during the interval to put our finances straight. To my mind, the measure opens the door to a most mischievous system of public finance. A system of ear-marking certain duties for certain purposes is one which must result in great inconvenience, and will be mischievous in many ways. In speaking upon the Budget, f alluded to some of these. For instance, honorable members talk of imposing a duty upon tea and kerosene for the purpose of raising funds with which to pay old-age pensions. But, if this Bill be passed, and the proposed amendment of the Constitution be sanctioned bv the electors, a furious speculation will immediate.lv set in in respect of the articles which are likely to be taxed. The result will be that, for twelve or eighteen months, or perhaps for two years, very little revenue will be derived from the taxation of those articles.
– Does the honorable member think that we can raise an additional £I,;500,000 annually through the Customs ?
– I think that it would be very difficult to do so. I do not know that £1,500,000 is required for the purpose of paying old-age pensions. Of course, a great deal depends upon the system that we adopt. If we follow the plan that is adopted in Germany, it is quite possible that a comparatively small amount of taxation might be required.
– I am accepting the estimate of the Old-age Pensions Commission.
– Possibly, when we come to deal with the question, we may discover some better means of raising the necessary funds with which to pay these pensions. But, assuming that £1,500,000 annually is required for that purpose, I hold that it will be difficult to raise the amount through the Customs. What will happen? If there be a deficiency, new methods of taxation will have to be devised. If, on the other hand, a larger amount is raised than we require, the tendency will be to increase the amount of the pensions, in order to absorb it. Consequently, when a period of reaction is experienced, we shall once more find ourselves short of funds. To my mind, the plan of ear-marking duties for specific purposes is a mischievous one. If we could arrange to take out of the consolidated revenue the sum required for the payment of old-age pensions, we should not be obliged to resort to the taxation of particular articles to meet those claims. It would be part of the revenue which the Treasurer would have to provide out of the resources at his command. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie must recognise what will be the result of adopting his amendment. It will mean immediate hostility on the part of the States.
– On the part of the States Treasurers.
– There might not be much objection to the honorable member’s amendment on the part of Victoria and New South Wales, which already devote large sums to the payment of old-age pensions. But the honorable member and representatives of other States where such a system is not in force are exceedingly sanguine if they think they will agree to a proposal which means that they will have to contribute more than they believe they are fairly entitled to do. Those who are opposed to old-age pensions - and they are fairly numerous - would find in such proposal a pretext for opposing their payment.
– In what State are the opponents of old-age pensions fairly numerous ?
– Probably in the State of which the honorable member is a representative.
– I do not think they are. If there are any opponents of the scheme in that State, they are silent.
– And they will vote silently. In these circumstances, therefore, I think that it would be a mistake to agree to the amendment, although it cannot be’ denied that the principle on which it is based is perfectly sound. As a matter of fact, Victoria and New South Wales, which, as I have said, are already providing old-age pensions out of the revenue now returned to them under the Braddon section, would, as the result of the adoption of the amendment, be placed in their rightful position. They would not have to suffer, and the States now expending in various other directions what thev derive from the Commonwealth, would have to provide out of their ordinary revenue a large sum for this purpose. In that way the position would be equalized. At the same time, I think that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie must recognise that his scheme is impracticable. It would serve only to embitter the strife in connexion with this matter, and would probably lead to the proposed amendment of the Constitution being negatived. While I feel that the Government have a justification for their proposal, I should like to have from them an assurance that every effort will be made within the next few months to secure the settlement of the larger financial questions in relation to the Braddon section.
– Hear, hear.
– I should like the Prime Minister to give us some sort of guarantee that if the Constitution be amended as proposed, advantage will not be taken of it for a reasonable time, but that an opportunity will be first afforded for the settlement of the larger financial question relating to the operation of the Braddon section.
– Does the honorable member really think that the adoption of our proposal would impede the settlement of that question? I do not think that it would.
– If the larger question were settled, the necessity for this amendment of the Constitution would be obviated.
– I agree with the honorable member for Parramatta. We know that there is an irresistible tendency on the part of politicians to follow the line of least resistance. If provision be made in this way for the payment of old-age pensions, the desire to secure a settlement of the larger financial question will not be as strong as it is to-day.
– I do not think that the desire for a settlement of the larger question would be reduced. There are many other motives for desiring its settlement.
– I agree with the honorable and learned gentleman that there are other motives.
– But if the payment of old-age pensions were contingent upon the settlement of the main question, it would be a great incentive to the solving of the financial problem.
– Certainly. If we could provide that advantage should not be taken of the proposed amendment of the Constitution if, within a period to be named - say, twelve months or eighteen months hence - a settlement were arrived at in regard to the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States, I think that it would be well to do so. I do not know whether we could embody such a condition in the Bill.
– We could not make any such promise. It is a matter which would rest with the next Parliament.
– We might tie the hands of the next Parliament. If the people decided that the proposed amendment of the Constitution should not be availed of until the expiration of twelve or eighteen months, so as to enable provision to be made in another way for the payment of old-age pensions, the hands of the next Parliament would be bound.
– The Prime Minister has already said that if the proposed amendment of the Constitution be agreed to, he will regard it as a mandate from the people that old-age pensions should be provided for oni these lines.
– If the people adopt our proposal.
– The only difference between the Prime Minister and myself is that whilst he desires this amendment of the Constitution as a meares of overcoming a difficulty I, on the other hand, whilst admitting the difficulty of his position, object to the difficulty being overcome in that way. I do not know whether the suggestion I have made could be embodied in the Bill. If we could still further impress upon the States in this way the necessity for a settlement of the financial problem, I should have no objection to the Bill. If my proposal were adopted it would mean that the amendment of the Constitution would remain a dead letter for twelve or eighteen months, and that if by the end of that time the financial problem were not settled, advantage could be taken of it I know that the Prime Minister cannot bind the next Parliament by anything he may say, but if he could give us an assurance that effect would not immediately be given to the amendment of the Constitution - that it would be kept back in some way - we might be able to secure the object that I have in view.
– I do not think that it could be kept hack. As has been pointed out, the prospect of disposing of this, and a number of other questions of much importance, such as is afforded by the complete settlement of the financial issue is, to my mind, one of the greatest subjects that will be operating in. politics in the next Parliament. The Braddon section expires at the end of 1910, so that we are bound to face the situation then.
– The honorable and learned gentleman knows my view on the general question.
– And am in sympathy with it.
– I think that on the lines I have suggested we could overcome all these difficulties, and place our finances once and for all in such a position that the Braddon section would either be superseded or become inoperative. If that were done, special legislation of this kind would be unnecessary. I rose merely because I desired to explainmy position. I regret that the Bill is necessary, but admit at the same time that the Government have justification for its introduction.
.- The honorable member for Mernda has urged that the passing of this Bill will probably delay a re-adjustment of the financial relations of the States and the Common wealth.
– I do not think that it will.
– From the point of view put by the honorable member that, if we removed one of the difficulties-
– Only temporarily.
– If we removed only temporarily one of the difficulties in relation to the financial question with which the States are confronted, we should at the same time remove one of the incentives to pressing forward the complete adjustment of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States. At the same time, I think that the honorable member will admit that if we had to wait until the necessary change in those relations had been effected, we should indefinitely postpone the establishment of a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions.
– I should like to provide that there shall not be a delay of more than a year.
– I question very much whether we could, in the space of a year, settle all the questions now in dispute in relation to the financial problem.
– If they were not settled within twelve months the Bill would become operative.
– I confess that I do not like the honorable member’s suggestion. The honorable and learned member for West Sydney spoke very strongly in favour of the imposition of direct taxation to provide for old-age pensions. There is much to be said in favour of such a proposal, and I am not at all sure that if I thought there was a possibility of carrying it out I should not vote for it in preference to any other method that could be proposed for raising the necessary funds. But no such proposal is before us. Neither the Bill, as introduced by the Government, nor as proposed to be amended by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, would involve direct taxation on. the part of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Fremantle showed what would be the effect on Western Australia of the amendment.
– He expressed his view of what its effect would be.
– I do not think that any one will deny that South Australia is placed in an even more difficult position. It would have to provide about £150,000 per annum for old-age pensions.
– I think that the Tasmanian calculation is £136,000 per annum.
– The Commonwealth would return to the Treasurer of South Australia £150,000 per annum less than it is now doing. That would be a serious reduction.
– It would be from the point of view of a few of the landlords of South Australia.
– The honorable member knows very well that South Australia imposes more direct taxation than does any other State.
– No. Tasmania beats South Australia by about 6d. per head of the population.
– South Australia has far more direct taxation than has New South Wales. She imposes a heavy income tax, stamp duties, a receipt tax, an absentee tax, a progressive land tax, and also an all-round land tax - the only one of its kind in the Commonwealth.
– Who pay the Customs duties ?
– We know very well that Customs taxation falls more heavily upon those having large families.
– And under this Bill the position of such people would be worse than it is.
– The amendment moved by the honorable member proposes that we shall provide for old-age pensions out of the proportion of Customs and Excise revenue that we now return to the States. It certainly does not mean that the Commonwealth itself shall finance the system. If we are going to pay old-age pensions, it is our duty to provide the necessary funds. If we think it right that direct taxation should be imposed for that purpose, it is our duty to impose it, and not, as proposed by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, to throw upon the States the task of providing the requisite funds. Another point is that, if the Bill be amended as proposed, and is rejected by the people old-age pensions will be delayed for a considerable time. The people have to deal with this question. We have to ask thepeople of South Australia for instance, whether they are prepared as proposed by the honorable member for
Kalgoorlie, to forego something like £150,000 per annum - later on the cost to them wilt be ,£200,000 per annum - of the revenue they now derive from the Commonwealth, whilst, on the other hand, we continue to spend as much as we please upon our defence system and upon postal reforms.
– Does the honorable member seriously advance such a contention?
– I certainly do. My objection to the amendment is that it will obviate the necessity on the part of the Commonwealth tb ^provide the necessary funds. We may spend nearly £1,000,000 per annum on defence-
– We should be able, under the amendment, to expend the whole of our one-fourth of Customs and Excise revenue, and, at the same time, to provide for old-age pensions out of the three-fourths now returned to the States.
– We could not go beyond our one-fourth of Customs and Excise revenue. The honorable member said we could spend as much as we pleased.
– We could continue to spend what we pleased. The Treasurer could come down next year with another proposal to increase our expenditure by £500,000 per annum. We can take over more Departments, and provide, as we do in regard to Departments already taken over, no better, though a more costly, service than that provided by the States. To attach to the Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie will mean its rejection in South Australia.
– I do not think so badly of the democracy of South Australia.
– When one wishes the people to adopt a proposal, he does not load it with unpopular conditions ; but that is what is being done in this case. I should not be afraid to advocate the imposition of direct taxation to provide an old-age pensions fund if I thought that course desirable.
– ls the honorable member in favour of the Government proposal ?
– It is certainly letter than that of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. If we defeat it, we shall have to impose, direct taxation to provide (he money necessary for an ol’d-age pensions fund.
– Not necessarily.
– That seems to me the alternative, though, of course, some savings might be made. I should like to know if the honorable member can suggest another scheme.
– I think that some other course could be taken.
– Why not provide the necessary money -by nationalizing the tobacco industry ?
– The proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is bound to be defeated, because the politicians of the States and the newspapers will be against it. In South Australia the majority of the members of both Houses, although in favour of old-age pensions, would oppose the reduction of the amount returnable to the State by the Commonwealth. I know that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie desires to establish a Commonwealth- old-age pensions fund.
– Yes; but I do not desire that those who have the biggest families shall pay the most.
– The honorable member’s proposal will not achieve what he has in view. If we have to wait for a Commonwealth old-age pensions system until his proposal is carried into effect, we shall have to wait for a very long time.
.- If any honorable member desires to defeat the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions system, the best thing he can do is to support the amendment. I concur in the view that the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie will be resisted bv the members of the States Legislatures, who will be sure to object to the diminution of their receipts under the Braddon section. In my opinion, we might very properly wait until there can be a proper adjustment and settlement of the whole financial position before dealing with this matter. There is no extreme urgency - in the first place, because old-age pensions are already provided by the States of New South Wales and Victoria, whose population numbers three-fourths of the population of the Commonwealth; and, in the second place, because the Parliaments of the other States could provide old-age pensions for those whom they represent if the public wished them to do so. But I am anxious that, at the proper time, and in the proper way, a broad and well-defined scheme shall be adopted for the payment of old-age pensions by the Commonwealth. The question is not .to be lightly dealt with, its consideration being complicated by the fact that the conditions of the States differ widely. While we are all in favour of the principle of a Commonwealth old-age pensions system, we must give a great deal of attention to the details of any scheme propounded for its establishment. I agree with the honorable member for Mernda that we may be forced to accept the proposal .of the Government as the best put forward; but T think that some provision should be made as to the date on which the Bill shall take effect. It is manifest that the Governments of the States are awakening to the need for dealing unitedly with the financial position of the States and of the Commonwealth. It is clear, from letters which I received last week from two pf the State Premiers to whom I had submitted my views on the subject, that they are determined that it shall be dealt with. But the great questions involved in the consideration of the financial position cannot properly be dealt with in any piecemeal fashion. I think that the Governments of the States will resent the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to reduce their share of the Customs and Excise revenue. They may take it as a_threat on the part of the Commonwealth to the effect that, if they do not provide old-age pensions for their people, we shall take the matter into our hands, and provide for therm out of the revenue returnable to them. I do not hold the view that all the powers conferred upon the Commonwealth by the thirty-nine articles of section 51 of the Constitution are to be put into operation at once, and to be construed so as to make them as farreaching as possible, and in favour of the Commonwealth as against the States. We shall do best if we co-operate with the States in regard to all matters such as this. We hear about the extravagance of the States, but there may also be extravagance in Commonwealth administration. In any case, the people of Australia have to bear the burden of unwise expenditure. While I ma.y be compelled to vote for the Bill as it stands. I think that sufficient advantage has not been taken of the power of conferring with the States in this matter. I shall certainly vote against’ the .amendment; because we have no right to coerce the States ; and I regret, for the reasons I have stated, that, without any request from the States, or any expression of desire on the part of the people, we are now unnecessarily moving in this matter. I agree that, if the present opportunity is not taken, it may not be convenient to refer the question to the electors for another three years, but I think that nothing would be lost by even so long ai delay as that, and that the consideration of the subject might well be deferred until the financial position of the States and the Commonwealth can be effectively considered and dealt with. I hold myself free to vote against the Bill.
– It seems to me that the honorable member for Boothby has furnished the strongest argument against the adoption of the amendment. It needs only a cursory examination to show that it would result in an evasion o.<: responsibility by the Commonwealth. We should place upon the States the necessity of finding the money required for the payment of old-age pensions. The amendment provides not only that the necessary money shall be deducted from the present Customs revenue, but that it shall be the first charge upon such revenue.
– -The honorable member is under a misapprehension. The amendment is proposed to be inserted after the word expenditure,” and not after the word “Excise.”
– The amended amendment placed in my hands by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie certainly puts an altered complexion on the matter. Now it appears that it is proposed that the whole amount necessary to provide for oldage pensions shall be taken out of the three-fourths of Customs and Excise revenue that is now returnable to the States. If that course were adopted, the Commonwealth would not be called upon to pay its share of the expense. If the Constitution were altered in the direction proposed by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, it would be a verv serious matter for the States, and more particularly for the smaller States. According to the figures furnished by the Prime Minister, Tasmania, would have to contribute an additional £60.000 ; Western Australia, £85,000; South Australia, £136,000; and Queensland, £186,000. I do not think that the Treasurers of those States could view such a contingency with equanimity. I am glad to indorse the remarks of the honorable member for Kooyong with regard to the improved feeling which now exists between the States and the Commonwealth Governments. A great change for the better has taken place, and we are all very glad that the friction which existed for a considerable time, and for which there was no necessity, is, under the exercise of mutual consideration, gradually disappearing. Such a proposal as that now before us would not, however, be calculated to make the position any better, because the States Treasurers would be at their wits’ end to make good the deficiency brought about in their revenue. A measure of this kind should not be used as a weapon with which to strike a blow at the States. One honorable member has stated plainly that he hoped the effect of carrying the amendment would be to force the States to resort to direct taxation. It is not our dutv to interfere in any way with the management of States affairs. That is one of the reasons why I have always opposed the imposition of direct taxation by the Commonwealth. I am averse to our resorting to direct taxation, except under the stress of some great national emergency.
– Even to provide for an old-age pensions scheme?
– A very good system of old-age pensions was provided for when I was a member of the Victorian Legislature.
– The Victorian pension at the present time is merely a pauper dole.
– I am not prepared to defend the reduction that has been made in the amount of the pension since the time of which I speak. But I wish it to be clearly understood that I am not opposed to old-age pensions, nor to direct taxation under certain conditions. In Victoria, oldage pensions were, in the first instance, provided for by direct taxation. I think that under present circumstances, the only way in which we can provide for a national scheme of old-age pensions is by adopting the Government proposal.
– Is the whole £1.500,000 to be raised by imposing additional duties?
– All the funds required would be raised from Customs and Excise. The States which now provide for old-age pensions would not be entirely relieved of their responsibility, and would, therefore, be called upon to give us something.
– But how could we raise £1,500,000 by imposing special duties?
– I presume that the Government will at the proper time bring down adequate proposals. We are now dealing merely with the question of amending the Constitution in order to empower the Government to make the necessary proposals. The method of raising the necessary funds will have to be decided by those who are responsible.
– That is after consulting the electors.
– Exactly. I trust that the Committee will not agree to the amendment, because I believe that it will have the effect of indefinitely postponing the adoption of a national scheme of old-age pensions. I think that we all desire to see some equitable and uniform system established, and I believe that that result could best be brought about by passing the Bill in its present form.
.- The B511 before us is a short and simple measure, but I wish that it had been presented in & different form. I should like to be in a position to support the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, but, in view of the fact that three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue is practically ear-marked for the use of the States, and is really their property, I dc not see how we could very well make an inroad on it in the manner suggested. The States have legitimate uses to which to devote their three-fourths of Customs and Excise revenue, and we should not be justified in withholding it from them except we apply it towards the payment of interest on the States’ debts that may be taken over by us. I am very sorry that the measure dealing with the transfer of the States debts to the Commonwealth was not considered before this Bill, because it seems to me that if that matter had been first dealt with the amendment now proposed by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie would not have been submitted. It would not be fair to the States to call upon them to make good the whole of the deficiency that would be created if old-age pensions were provided for out of the present Customs and Excise revenue. I see no reason why the necessary funds should not be raised by means of direct taxation. I shall vote for the Bill, because I regard if as an earnest of the desire of the Government to provide for old-age pensions, but I cannot refrain from expressing the hope that the next Parliament will have the courage to provide the necessary funds, if it has to be done by levying direct taxation..
– The Government proposal seems to me to be defective in several respects.
– Can the honorable member suggest a better?
– It is not my place to do so. I am always quite willing to give the Government the benefit of any suggestions that occur to me, but, unfortunately, they do not often accept them. In connexion with a previous debate I pointedout that the Government were neglecting the opportunity presented to them to deal with this matter much more effectively than by treating it in an isolated manner. I suggested that provision for the payment of old-age pensions should be made in connexion with the settlement of the grave financial questions which must, within a very short time, engage our attention.
– How long would that take ?
– If the proposals were reasonable, it should not take long.
– There are seven parties to any such agreement.
– It must be remembered that to some extent those parties will have to give their assent to the Government proposal.
– Within, the next three years.
– If the Governments of the larger States oppose the Ministerial proposal, I fear that the majority of the electors necessary to secure an alteration of the Constitution will not be forthcoming. Another objection which I entertain to this Bill is that it indicates the intention of the Ministry toraise by means of additional Customs duties at least £1,200,000 annually. They are already committed to a policy of increased protection which must result in a reduction in the amount derived from the Customs. Consequently, I am compelled to conclude that they will not be able to raise the funds with which to pay old-age pensions from that source, and they will be compelled to resort to direct taxation. So dissatisfied am I with that position that I would rather support the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie than the Government proposal. The Government policy of increasing the protective character of the Tariff will compel them to resort to direct taxa tion for the purpose of raising the £1,500,000 required to pay old-age pensions, whereas the amendment will at the most, compel the States Governments to adopt that form of taxation. Personally I would rather leave direct taxation to the States, especially in view of the fact that we already raise a great deal more revenue than we require for our own purposes. Bur I do not think that either the Government proposal or the amendment really touches the root of the question. I would further point out that if the States Ministries are not satisfied with the proposal of the Government they can go a long way towards defeating the proposed amendment of the Constitution at the polls. If in two of the States in which old-age pensions are at present being paid, the Governments oppose the proposal of the Commonwealth Government, they can do a very great deal to prevent a majority of the electors throughout the Commonwealth voting in favour of it.
– Does not that argument apply with greater force to the amendment? Would not the States Governments oppose that even more strenuously ?
– They would oppose it quite as strenuously. I am not in favour either of the Government proposal or of the amendment, but from my stand-point the amendment is preferable, inasmuch as it leaves to the States Governments the resort to direct taxation, where that is necessary, for the purpose of raising the funds with which to pay old-age pensions. I should like to direct the attention of the Prime Minister to a few figures which seem to indicate” that if the bookkeeping provisions of the Constitution had been tackled seriously, it would have greatly facilitated the settlement of the question of old-age pensions. If - and I put the figures as an example only - instead of proposing to return to the States £6,949,000 during the current financial year, it had been proposed to return to them only their actual three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue, the Commonwealth would have had an additional sum of , £311,000 available for its own purposes to go towards the initiation of a national system of old-age pensions? The effect would be, as compared with the Treasurer’s proposed distribution for 1906-7, that New South Wales would lose £403,000. and Victoria , £94,000, whereas Queensland would gain £76,000.
– If the bookkeeping system were abolished?
– I am speaking of what would happen under a per capita distribution of expenditure in lieu of the existing bookkeeping system. Under a per capita distribution, instead of £6,949,000 being returned to the States, the amount returnable to them for 1906-7 would be £6,638,000, which is their exact three-fourths of the estimated revenue. The effect of that would be that New South Wales would lose , £403,000, and Victoria £94,000, whereas Queensland would gain £76,000, South Australia £80,000, and Tasmania £53,000, whilst Western Australia, with a special allowance of £338,000, would lose £23,000.
– Western Australia would then occupy the position of the poor relation.
– No more than she has under the operation of her special Tariff. We should be merely saying to her “ We will not continue the troublesome bookkeeping system and your special Tariff, but we will make you an allowance for your higher revenue per head in a lump sum.” If, in connexion with that arrangement, an oldage pension system were adopted, it would mean that whilst the Treasurer of New SouthWales would lose £403,000 in one direction, he would be relieved of the obligation to pay £508,000, which is now absorbed by old-age pensions. As a matter of bookkeeping, therefore, he would gain about £114,000. Similarly, whilst the Victorian Treasurer would lose £94,000, he would be relieved of the payment of £208,000. Thus, there is an opportunity presented to secure what is very desirable, namely, the adoption of the per capita system, with advantage to those States whose finances are at present strained and with no injury to the finances of the Treasurers of New South Wales and Victoria. This is the best opportunity that we shall ever have to secure the adoption of that system of distributing, expenditure, the abandonment of the bookkeeping system, and the initiation of a Federal system of old-age pensions.
– Is there any reason to suppose that the States Governments would accept that proposal?
– The great fear of the States is that if the Braddon section be not continued, the whole of their revenue may disappear.
– There is no danger of that.
– There is no danger that the whole of it will disappear, but there is a risk that a considerable portion of it may do so. If an arrangement were made in respect of the Braddon section of the Constitution, and if the States were guaranteed the payment of interest upon their debts to the full amount of £6,638,000 annually, I believe that they would agree to the plan which I have outlined.
– That was not the mood of the States Premiers at the last Conference.
– Then they will oppose the Government proposal, and if the New South Wales and Victorian Governments do that, great difficulty will be experienced in carrying it.
– The claim made by them was that, ifa fixed sum were agreed upon, a sufficient amount would not be returned to them in respect of any future increases of revenue. They desired that we should return for all time three-fourths of the revenue of Customs and Excise.
– There would probably be an increase of revenue ; but, as against that, we would incur increased expenditure in respect of new Departments taken over by the Commonwealth, whilst the increasing population would make increased demands upon our expenditure. Then, again, there would be the gradual conversion of the debts over and above those on which interest would be at once guaranteed and the transfer to the Commonwealth of the liability in respect of the interest on it, and on the debt to be gradually assumed for the transferred properties. In this way, I think that perfect security would be given to the States in respect of any increased revenue that the Commonwealth might derive. The Commonwealth itself might in bad years find it very difficult to make its revenue meet its expenditure. I fail to see why the States should reject a complete scheme, in view of the fact that the Braddon section will soon expire. I cannot conceive that they would not be prepared to give a complete scheme fair consideration, more especially as it might enable them to overcome their difficulties in regard to the demand in their own States for old-age pensions. I am inclined to think that they would adopt it.
– I wish I could agree with the honorable member.
– They have not been tested. As regards the transferred properties, I previously proposed that the debt in respect of those properties should be converted as it fell due at the rate of , £1,000,000 per annum. That would involve an additional payment for interest to the extent of , £35,006 perann um.
– That specific proposal was not made to the Premiers at the Sydney Conference, but they appeared to close the door against all such propositions.
– Several important proposals were not considered during the negotiations at the Sydney Conference. Then we have to remember the pressure now being brought to bear on the Governments of the States in which oldage pensions are not paid for the institution of the system. The Governments say they favour old-age pensions, but) they cannot see how it would be possible for them to provide for them. Turning to the financial aspect of their provision by the Commonwealth, if, instead of the Treasurer’s proposal, three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue were returned this year to the States on a per capita distribution, an additional sum of £311,000 would remain at the disposal of the Commonwealth. Then, again, by means of reductions in the Estimates, and also as the result of unexpended votes, a further sum of £300,000 could be secured. By the rejection of the proposal to adopt penny postage we should save another £209,000, making a total of £820,000 for a year. That would mean that only £680,000 would have to be provided by new duties - and I do not suggest that they should be ear-marked - to provide for a Federal system of old-age pensions.
– And we might very properly ask the States to join with us in considering the best means of raising that amount.
– They would keep on considering.
– The honorable member must not forget that the operation of the Braddon section will soon expire.
– Four years hence.
– Quite so. There are other questions which the States would be glad to have settled.
– The majority of the States’ Premiers are in favour of the extension of the Braddon section inper_ petuity.
– I am aware of that, but I think that what they really desire is to obtain security in respect of their finances.
– Some of them demand that the Braddon section shall be continued in perpetuity.
– But this, is one of those questions on which our views have to be modified when we proceed to talk business. The States Premiers could not reasonably expect the Braddon section to be continued in perpetuity. Every State Treasurer knows very well that from the stand-point of the Commonwealth, that would be quite impossible, and they must therefore be ready to arrive at some other means of settling the difficulty. Their anxiety is perfectly natural. If any honorable member of this House were Treasurer of a State, and dependent upon another Government for a large proportion of his revenue, he would be very anxious to be secure in respect of that revenue. We can make no complaint regarding such anxiety ; but if the States’ Treasurers refuse all reasonable offers - especially an offer covering the determination of many of the questions which must be settled - I shall be very much surprised. I feel sure that they would not be so unreasonable as to refuse to fairly consider an offer involving the settlement of many matters which must be dealt with, and which would also dispose of their difficulties in regard to old-age pensions, and secure to them a sufficient return for the payment of interest on their debt. The position of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth would be very different from what it is if he had to raise for oldage pensions only £680,000 instead of £1,500,000 by means of Customs duties. It is quite impossible for us to ear-mark a number of duties sufficient to raise £1,500,000 per annum, and at the same time to maintain the free-list necessary to meet the requirements of our industries and our people. If, in addition to that difficulty, we are to have the increased protection foreshadowed by the Ministry, a dangerous financial position will be looming up. For these reasons, I am extremely sorry that a broader view of these financial considerations has not been taken. The settlement of some of them would assist the settlement of others. A -per capita distribution in lieu of the bookkeeping system would assist largely to remove the difficulty in regard to old-age pensions. The figures I have quoted as to the position of the hardpressed States show that old-age pensions and a per capita distribution are’ complementary to each other.
– The honorable member is allowing for a special arrangement in the case of Western! Australia?
– I am.’ Undoubtedly, the population of Western Australia will, as years go by, approach nearer and nearer to the . level of that of the other States, and I propose that for fen or fifteen years we should make her a special and gradually decreasing allowance.
– Did the honorable member, in making his calculation as to the total of £820,000, allow for that special grant?
– I took the larger payment.
– Any reduction would be in our favour.-
– It would.
– But did the honorable member take into account that special allowance in respect of succeeding years, in which there will be fresh Federal services to provide for?
– The total of £820,000 is the amount that would be available in the one year. Under a per capita system such as I propose, Western Australia would hare in that year £338j°°° returned to her as a special allowance in substitution of the local Tariff.
– Why did the honorable member fix on that amount?
– Because it would practically raise her revenue up to that which she now receives.
– There would be no hope of the larger States agreeing to the honorable member’s proposal.
– Would they object to that which would be better from the stand-point of their Treasurers?
– The true Federal spirit would then arise.
– Usually the accusation against those States is that thev demand teo much ; but the honorable member for Wide Bay is now suggesting that they would refuse to accept something that would improve their position.
– If the honorable member showed the taxpayers a means of saving 2d. by an expenditure of 4d.. they would be on his side.
– At any rate, my proposal would relieve the Treasurers of New South Wales and Victoria of very large payments in respect of old-age pensions. Why should they object to such an arrangement ?
– The honorable member will admit that, provided the States agreed to his scheme, a considerable sum would still have to be raised by the Commonwealth.
– I have already pointed out that if the 1,000 over and above the three-fourths now returnable to them were retained, and certain savings were effected, the Commonwealth would have to raise only £680.000.
– Does the honorable member think that the two larger States would agree to his proposal ?
– In what way would they be worse off?
– They would still have to pay their share of the £600,000.
– In addition to continuing to pay the amount which they are now paying.
– The honorable member’s remarks show how wrong are the ideas in regard to this matter, if it is thought we can increase expenditure without increasing the charges on the people. How can the Commonwealth incur an extra expenditure of £750,000 - which will have to be incurred, allowing for the expenditure in New South Wales and Victoria - without raising £750,000 more revenue? It cannot do it. That amount of extra revenue must be raised, and to raise it the people must pay more taxation. But why should the Treasurer of a State which is now paying £508.000 in old-age pensions object to a proposal on the part of the Commonwealth to take ,£408,000 from the Customs and Excise now returnable, and meet all liabilities in connexion with old-age pensions. If old-age pensions be provided throughout the Commonwealth, the citizens of the States will have to pay their proportion of any increase of taxation thereby rendered necessary.
– Why do the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria object to handing over to the Commonwealth the money which they now pay in old-age pensions, allowing the Commonwealth to take all responsibility in the matter?
– If they handed over that money to the Commonwealth, they would still have to pay their share of the cost of providing old-age pensions for the people of the other States.
– Not necessarily.
– Unless the other States handed over equivalent amounts. I am sorry that neither of the proposals before the Committee finds favour with me. We might have gone further and have done better. I still hope that, if the Government obtain authority from Parliament to ear-mark revenue, they will endeavour to make a wiser settlement than has yet been put forward. My examination of the figures leadsme to think that this is one of the most favorable opportunities which they are likely to have for effecting that purpose.
Mr.FISHER (Wide Bay) [5.35].- The honorable member for North Sydney has propounded a very elaborate scheme dealing with the improvements which could be effected in Federal finance by a rearrangement of the bookkeeping system.
– By a combination of arrangements.
– The honorable member, as is usual with him, dealt with the matter in very plain and definite language, and I have no fault to find with his scheme; but the provision of a Commonwealth old-age pension system is urgent, and must be effected without delay.
– Is it more urgent now than it has been at any time during the last five or six years?
– The removal of an injustice is always urgent, and injustice is now being suffered by the old people in the various States which do not provide old-age pensions.
– Who is responsible for that injustice?
– The honorable member, myself, and other members of the Parliament, who, although we have obtained the votes of the people on the plea that we are in favour of a Commonwealth old-age pension system, have done nothing to establish it.
– Only one-third of the people of the Commonwealth are without an old-age pensions system.
– That is the whole trouble. If New South Wales and Victoria, had not provided old-age pensions for their people prior to Federation, the Commonwealth would have established a national scheme before this.
– The financial system under the Braddon section would have been the same.
– The Treasurers of the States declare that never was the community more prosperous, nor the value of production for individuals so high. But when Parliament is asked to provide oldage pensions we are met with the objection that there is a constitutional difficulty in the way, and that we cannot afford to spend the money.
– No one has said that.
– Some honorable members put every barrier in the way of the adoption of an old-age pensions scheme, which amounts to the same thing.
– The honorable member practically contends that whoever is not ready to vote for any scheme proposed must necessarily be opposed to the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions system.
– No. The reflection which I have cast falls upon all members alike. The position is that the intelligence of this Parliament has not yet been able to evolve a scheme which will allow justice to be done. If, after receiving a mandate from the people, we cannot do this, we should not retain our positions. One of our first duties after providing for the administration of justice is to establish a pension fund for the aged people who have helped to build up this great country. The States federated, knowing that twothirds of the people of the Commonwealth possessed old-age pension schemes, while the other third did not.
– The Federal Parliament did not create the anomaly, and therefore should not be held responsible for it.
– The Maitland manifesto stated that a matter of political urgency was the establishment of a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions, and every similar manifesto since issued has repeated that declaration.. No candidate will be returned at the next election who is opposed to the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions system.
– I am not opposed to it.
– We have reached the stage when we must ,get beyond what I was going to characterize as the mere hypocritical expression of our adhesion to the principle; we must provide a practical means of giving Commonwealth old-age pensions. The Government in power must put forward a scheme for the payment of old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth, and take full responsibility for it. It is only in this way that the matter will be satisfactorily dealt with. If a. number of big financial corporations were in the predicament of the old people in some of the States, the reform necessary to remedy their .grievance would have been passed long since. Parliament should not continue session after session to do nothing in this matter. But while the injustice being suffered by big corporations would be voiced in every newpaper, and spoken of from every platform, the old people of the Commonwealth can only whisper in their homes, or remain silent while nothing is being done. The Government have now come forward with a scheme which, although it is not such as I quite approve of, should not be subjected to a microscopical examination. There must be a difference of opinion as to what is the best thing to do. Whether the Government scheme is the better with or without the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is a question upon which the people mav well be asked to give their opinion. What is proposed is a direct appeal to the people. The electors will be asked whether thev are in favour of the establishment of a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions, and, if they are, they will vote for the proposed alteration of the Constitution.
– No scheme has been submitted.
– If the proposed alteration of the Constitution were sanctioned, the Government would propose the raising of special duties to obtain the revenue necessary to provide Federal old-age pensions.
– If they can.
– No Government which is incapable of doing so should remain in office.
– My position is that the amount necessary cannot be raised through the Customs.
– That is a matter of opinion, not a matter of policy. If the necessary money is not obtained by special duties, more money will have to be obtained by other means. But justice must be done to the aged poor of Australia. There is something in the statement of the Prime Minister that, -when the Constitution Bill was before the people of Australia, it was understood that the Braddon section would continue in operation for about ten years, and that it was upon this understanding that the States Parliaments agreed to the Constitution ; but the objection that it will not be necessary to obtain the consent of all the States in order to effect an amendment of the Constitution is, after all, largely of a sentimental character. If it were proposed to make some change in the Constitution without consulting the people, the position would be entirely different. Although we passed the Constitution only a few years ago, it is very much like the grasp of a dead hand. New people have grown up and new ideas - more enlightened ones, I hope - now prevail. The object of the amendment is merely to remove an injustice, and to assist those who cannot help themselves. It is not proposed to give one State an advantage over another. The amendment seems to me to present the only way in which we can do justice to those who are least able to help themselves, and I dare say that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie would be prepared to put his amendment to the test of the approval of all the States, instead of only a majority of them. If that course were adopted, we should ascertain the true feeling of the people with regard to the payment of oldage pensions. The proposal need be defeated in only one of the larger States in order to bring about its rejection, because it would be a very difficult matter to secure the support of the majority of the people in the smaller States if one of the larger States were opposed to the scheme.
– That would depend upon the largeness of the majority.
– It is not likely that the majority of the people in the more populous States would vote in favour of increasing direct taxation whilst the Treasurers had large surpluses in hand.
– Although it might seem that the amendment would operate against the interests of Queensland, I intend to vote for it, because I think that, if the proposal is viewed in its’ proper light, it will meet with the acceptance of the people. I know that the States’ Treasurers have had great difficulties to contend with in the past, but we must not forget that we are entering upon a period of prosperity. The States’ revenues are increasing, and, I trust, will continue to do so. The payment of old-age pensions by the Commonwealth would relieve every State to a certain extent of direct financial responsibilities, and would inevitably have the effect of increasing industry, and thereby adding to the prosperity of the community. It is a singular thing that those States which have provided for old-age pensions are the most prosperous.
– I do not think that the honorable member could establish the connexion between the two circumstances.
– I do not say that the prosperity has been directly due to the provision made for old-age pensions, but I could show plainly how general prosperityis contributed to when the State makes provision for the proper treatment of the aged and infirm poor. The responsibility of providing for those who cannot help themselves falls in a large degree upon our very best citizens. It is not borne equally by all those who might reasonably be called upon to bear a share of the cost, but the whole burden falls upon the shoulders of those whose energies and enterprise should, in the interests of the whole community, be free from any restraining influence. Under such conditions the community, as well as individuals, suffers. That is the reason why it should be one of our principal objects to see that the most deserving and valuable members of the community are not unduly burdened. A. scheme of old-age pensions would adjust matters equitably, and would throw some share of the burden of maintaining the aged poor and infirm upon those who, at present, do not discharge their legal and moral responsibilities. The States which, according to the Treasurer’s statement, claim to be the most prosperous, have, so far, failed to provide for old-age pensions. The Treasurers who claim that their States contribute more revenue per head of the- population than do others protest that they cannot afford to provide for old-age pensions. There must be something radically wrong in such a condition of affairs. It is .most regrettable to think that we cannot look with any prospect of success to any further negotiation between the States and the
Commonwealth with a view to arriving at a settlement of this much vexed question. We are told that every effort has been made by the Prime Minister and the Treasurers of the States, and that no satisfactory result Kas been arrived at. I understood the Prime Minister to say that the Premier and Treasurer of Queensland had no objection to the imposition of special duties with a view to provide for old-age pensions, but I have heard it rumoured recently that he is not prepared to consent to even that course being adopted.
– I understand that Mr. Kidston objects to the proposed amendment of the Constitution, because it is not proposed to limit the powers of the Commonwealth to providing for old-age pensions only. He argues that the authority to levy special duties might be used for other purposes. He also thinks that any amendment of this kind would involve some risk of further interference with the threefourths of the Customs and Excise revenue returnable to the States.
– Certain risks have to be taken in getting in or out of bed, but we cannot very well avoid incurring them. It is singular that’ trouble always arises in regard to any proposal for an old-age pension scheme. Although it may be said that the whole of the States in which no provision is now made for the payment of oldage pensions are agreeable to the Government proposal, no steps have been faker to induce such States to agree to contribute out of their present revenue the amount necessary to meet the expenditure in connexion with the proposed scheme.
– Have not the States Premiers, as well as the Federal Parliament, some responsibility to the people?
– I am not complaining of what the States Premiers have done, but I am setting forth the facts so that the people may know exactly where they are. The same people who elect representatives to the States Parliaments also send representatives to this Parliament, and I wish them to understand that what we are aiming at, and what the States Governments also are aiming at, will involve the same amount of taxation whatever the way in which the question may be settled. It should be the object of the Government of every State in which no old-age pensions are provided for to bring about the adoption of a Federal scheme as soon as possible. Queensland would suffer no injustice if she were called upon to provide out of her revenue for the payment of pensions to her deserving citizens. She cannot boast that she is a prosperous’ State if she denies her ability to provide for old-age pensions. Far too much, confusion has existed with regard to the conflict of interests between the States and the Commonwealth. There is no conflict. The interests of the States and the Commonwealth are the same, and the sooner this is recognised the better. One would imagine from the way that some honorable members speak, that one State was living upon another. If we were to believe half that’ which we hear, we could come to no other conclusion than that every State was labouring under some disadvantage. But that cannot possibly be the case. I hope that we shall endeavour to dismiss all petty considerations from our discussion of matters of this kind. Much as I should like to support the Government proposal, I feel compelled to vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, which I regard as more likely to prove acceptable. I admit that from the stand-point of some of the smaller States the amendment of the Constitution in the direction proposed by the honorable member would involve an encroachment upon the States revenues, but the proposed scheme cannot be carried out unless the people of Australia approve of it. If the electors decide against the amendment of the Constiution in the way proposed. I shall certainly do my best to induce the Government to adopt an olda?e pension .scheme, and call upon the Treasurer to find the means of carrying it into effect.
– As a sincere friend of old-age pensions. I feel that I must support the Government proposal, and oppose the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. If that amendment were carried the effect would be to make the old-age pensions scheme extremely unpopular in South Australia, and place the State Treasurer in a most embarrassing position. The case of South Australia has been very well presented bv the honorable member for Boothby, and I need not enlarge upon his remarks. We have now a fairly drastic income tax, a local land tax. a State land tax. as well as a progressive land tax; and I do not see how the State Treasurer could raise the money to make good the deficiency that would be created if the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie were carried into effect. As a member of the Old-age Pensions Commission, I tried to induce that body to recommend that the necessary funds should be provided by the Commonwealth. I was unsuccessful, and I am glad to have this opportunity to vote for the Government proposal, and thus it may be to give effect to mv original suggestion.
– I am sorry that I cannot support the proposal of the Government, which, I admit, is a practicable one so far as it relates to the raising of revenue with which to pay old-age pensions. My position is that I do not desire to see the people who are poor as the result of having been obliged to contribute so largely through the Customs compelled to find the money with which to pay these pensions. I admit that many of the recipients of old-age pensions are probably poor through improvidence, but the more improvident thev have been, the more they have contributed through the Customs. Although I am a protectionist, I do not propose to add to their burdens.
– The argument of the other side is that, if all the people of Australia became teetotallers, the States Treasurers would be ruined.
– Exactly. I am sorry that I cannot support the amendment, inasmuch as it would throw upon the States the responsibility of providing the necessary funds with which to pay old-age pensions, and consequently thev would say, “ Seeing that we are to provide the money, we will undertake the payment of the pen.sions ourselves.” The intention of the present Government is that special duties shall be levied only for the purpose of paving old-age pensions. But Governments come and go.
– This Government remains.
– During the short period that I have occupied a seat in this House, Governments have come and gone. What has happened before may happen again. Honorable members must recognise that the whole trouble experienced in connexion with the initiation cf a national scheme of old-age pensions springs from the fear of additional land taxation. I admit that in South Australia, as compared with other States, land taxation is fairly heavy
– In South Australia the direct taxation proposed amounts to 23s. od. per head.
– Nevertheless, I believe that that State can bear increased land taxation. I would point out that there are other States in which no land tax is operative. Personally, I think it would be a good thing if we had a uniform land tax throughout the Commonwealth. Then if we initiated a progressive income tax, without making the gradations particularly high, we should be in a position to remit some of the indirect taxation which is to-day levied upon the poorer classes of the community. Honorable members know that so soon as a labourer who is in receipt of perhaps 35s. per week has an extra mouth to feed he almost invariably has extra taxation thrust upon him. If we are to impose additional taxation, it is time that we compelled the wealthy classes to contribute a little more to the revenue. I understand from the speech of the Prime Minister that, if honorable members do not support this proposal, it means shelving the question, of old-age pensions for a time.
– I think so. The honorable member will have to devise some other means of providing the necessary funds.
– That is’ not a difficult task.
– It is not difficult to suggest plans, but enormous difficulties would be experienced in giving effect to them.
– Those who are not anxious to find the money are not eager to provide old-age pensions.
– Most people are willing that somebody else should find the money.
– In Western Australia there is neither a land tax nor an income tax in operation.
– There is a Land Tax Bill before its Parliament now.
– Yes. But the Prime Minister must recollect that there is a Legislative Council in that State. Everybody in South Australia knows what that means. In that State I venture to say the Government will find it difficult to give effect to their wish to increase the progressive land tax. In Victoria, where land values are higher than in any other part of the Commonwealth, there is no land tax. A similar position obtains in Queensland.
– Do not make a mistake.
– There is a land tax for municipal purposes operative there.
– And the Queensland Government are proposing another.
– But they have little hope of carrying it. I would point out to the honorable member for Moreton that in South Australia we have a progressive land tax, in addition to a land tax for municipal purposes. If we are in earnest in this matter of providing old-age pensions we should see that those who have kept the people poor should contribute more largely towards the scheme. Personally, I should be glad if a .fourth referendum were proposed, and if the opinion of the electors were taken upon a proposal to nationalize the tobacco industry. A Royal Commission has already reported that its nationalization would result in a very large revenue to the Commonwealth. It has been proved that the industry is controlled by a monopoly.
– And the sugar refinery too.
– Yes. There are plenty of sources from which money may be raised if the Government desire to pay old-age pensions. In South Australia we have increased the taxation upon the absentee land-holder, and if we resort to direct taxation I am quite sure that that State will be immediately enabled to remit some of the taxation which is imposed at the present time, because additional revenue will be derived from the other States.
– Then this is a proposal to ask the other States, By means of direct taxation, to foot the bill for old-age pensions in South Australia?
– The Government propose to prevent direct taxation by the Commonwealth as long as possible. ‘ I am sure that the honorable member admits that we have no right to take additional money from the pockets of the poor through the Customs. I am beginning to think that there is very little sincerity in this House “in respect of providing old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth. Already about three-fourths of those entitled to pensions are in receipt of them. Consequently we have only to find the money with which to meet the claims of the remaining one- fourth.
– More than that, surely. I thought it was about a third.
– I recollect looking into the matter some time ago, and if my memory be accurate we have to provide pensions for about one-fourth of those who are entitled to them throughout the Commonwealth. It is our duty to raise the necessary revenue without giving effect to the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, which is bad in principle, and which ignores our responsibility to provide funds with which to pay for any scheme that we may inaugurate. I disagree with the Government proposal, because I do not think that we should insist upon taking more money out of the pockets of the poorer sections of the community.
.- Like the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, I find myself in a difficulty, since I like neither the proposal of the Government nor the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. It appears to me that it will be found that there are only two items - tea and kerosene - which would realize anyconsiderable revenue. If a duty be imposed upon kerosene, the rich man will practically escape it. It will fall chiefly upon the shoulders of the poor. Kerosene is the light of the cottager in the cities, and of the poor in the homesteads of the country- The wealthy people in the cities are able to use gas or electric light, and so would escape this tax, whilst, unless an ad valorem duty were imposed, the position would be the same in respect of a tax on tea. A fixed duty would fall far more heavily upon the poorer than upon the wealthier sections of the ‘.community, since the poorer classes are compelled to use tea of an inferior quality. According to some -statisticians, if an ad valorem duty were imposed, it would be necessary to tax tea to the extent of about 150 pel- cent, in order to raise anything like an adequate sum for this purpose.
– We could not obtain sufficient revenue’ from such duties.
– What other items COL Id be taxed? When the sugar duties expire by effluxion of time, we might impose certain Excise duties ; but, in my opinion, the honorable member for Hindmarsh has indicated a better means of raising the necessary revenue. I agree with him that if we nationalized some of the great monopolies, the profits from them now going into private pockets would be diverted, . and very properly diverted, to this purpose. During the debate statements have been made which suggest that only those States which have provided oldage pensions incur any expenditure in respect of the indigent poor. That is not the position. Although pensions are not paid in the other States, outdoor relief is given to a considerable extent.
– It is also given in addition to old-age pensions in Victoria and New South Wales.
– But not in the same degree.
– We were promised that the expenditure on outdoor relief would disappear with the establishment of old-age pensions, but it has not been reduced to any appreciable extent.
– Has not the charge in respect of other forms of relief been reduced?
– No; the expenditure has practically been doubled.-
– One would have naturally expected a reduction. A sum of £43,000 per annum is now being paid for the upkeep of the benevolent asylum at Dunwich, Quensland, and I know, as I dare say most honorable members do, that a large number of people go to such institutions only in extremity. If they could receive outdoor relief, or a pension of only 5s. per week, they would prefer to remain outside of them.
– That has not been the experience of New South Wales. There we have both charitable institutions and oldage pensions.
– There must be some abuse of the system there, otherwise with the granting of old-age pensions a reduction would have taken place in the number of persons entering such institutions. I can well imagine that the expenditure on the institution at Dunwich would be materially reduced if a Federal system of old-age pensions were adopted. Queensland has to provide for the upkeep of benevolent institutions, and, in some cases, outdoor relief to the extent of 5s. per week, or a little more, is allowed to those who, although without means, have some sort of shelter. I have not been able to separate those items from others in the Queensland Estimates, but under the heading of “ Labour bureau and poor relief” I find the sum of £1.5,742 set out in one of the tables circulated by the Treasurer of that State.
– The honorable member would find that, with the establishment of old-age pensions, that expenditure would not be largely reduced. That is the experience of New South Wales.
– Experience teaches, but one would naturally expect a reduction of such expenses to follow the establishment of a Federal system of old-age pensions. There must be some reason for the maintenance of the same expenditure as before on outdoor relief in New South Wales.
– I say that practically the expenditure has not been reduced.
– I think that, in estimating the cost of poor relief in the various States, the upkeep of benevolent institutions, as well as the expenditure on old-age pensions, should be taken into consideration. The burden which the establishment of this system would place upon the people would not be so great as a cursory examination of the scheme leads one to suppose. Under a Federal system a considerable amount of the expenditure now incurred on poor relief in the States would merely be transferred to another heading, and its allocation would be more readily ascertained. The people would then know exactly what was being done with their money. I fail to see how we should be able, under the Government proposal, to obtain the sum necessary to finance this system. In the end, we should have either to resort to direct taxation, or, as the honorable member for North Sydney said, force the States to do so. I hold that we should take upon our own shoulders the responsibility for our own expenditure. If we are going to institute a system of oldage pensions, and take credit for it, we should also take upon ourselves whatever odium may attach to the imposition of the increased taxation rendered necessary by it. We ought not to ask the States to do that which we do not care to undertake for ourselves. I do not attach much importance to the outcry raised in opposition to a tax on land values. Many people do not recognise the distinction between such a tax and a tax on land. We have in view the taxation of land values which have been largely created by the people whom we are now proposing to assist. Many of them, in times gone by, have borne the heat and burden of the day and much of the increased values of land to-day are the result of the strenuous lives they have led in developing the resources of Australia. That being so, I do not think we ask too much when we call upon the owners of that land to contribute something towards the maintenance of these old people. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie would involve our trenching too largely upon the revenue which the States have a right to expect. In these circumstances, it seems to me,that I have to choose the lesser of two evils.
– Why accept either?
– I have no other alternative, unless I vote for the rejection of the whole proposal, and that I am not prepared to do. I would remind the honorable and learned member that, even if the amendment of the Constitution be agreed to by the people, the scheme by which the Government propose to raise the necessary funds for old-age pensions will have to be submitted to the next Parliament, and. that honorable members will then have an opportunity to criticise it.
– If honorable members do not approve of it, they may then reject the scheme.
– That is so. I have to choose between the lesser of two evils, and I, therefore, propose to vote for the Government proposal.
Sitting suspended from 6.26 to 7-3° P-m-
– - There is not a quorum present. [Quorum formed.]. I take objection te* both the schemes before the Committee. The adoption of the amendment would inevitably drive the States to impose direct taxation.
– How long, has the honorable member been opposed to direct taxation ?
– To what form of direct taxation does the honorable member refer?
– To the taxation of unim- proved land values.
– When a candidate for this Parliament I pledged myself to my constituents to leave that to the States.
– Does the honorable member think that the States should not be compelled to impose such taxation?
– We have no right to coerce the States in a matter of this kind. While the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie would inevitably compel the States to impose direct taxation, the proposal of the Government would inevitably compel the Commonwealth to do so. We cannot blink the position. The two alternatives are the direct taxation of the States and the direct taxation of the
Commonwealth. I believe that a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions can be obtained without following either course. I am tired of hearing honorable members suggest that those who oppose the Government proposal are antagonistic to a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme. That reflection cannot apply to me. I have always seen the necessity for making the payment of old-age pensions a Commonwealthmatter, in justice to those who are now without that privilege; but I have to learn that there is not a better way of effecting our object than that proposed by the Prime Minister. I do notbelieve that any honorable member is against the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme. I certainly am not, and the actions of my political life prove the truth of my statement. I supported the adoption of an old-age pensions system in New South Wales, not in anticipation of the revenue required for it being derived from a Federal impost, but on its merits. There was no idea in the minds of those who voted for the New South Wales scheme that it would be financed by the Federation. It passed on its merits, without reference to any Federal scheme.
– I do not think that that was so.
– The honorable member cannot contradict my statement by citing any of the speeches delivered in the debates in the New South Wales Parliament.
– No provision was made for the revenue necessary for carrying out a State scheme.
– That was the great point urged by honorable members who criticised the proposal adversely.
– The operation of the law was postponed for six months in order that revenue might be obtained from the Commonwealth to meet the cost.
– I doubt it.
– No provision was made for financing the scheme.
– That may be so; but the scheme was passed on its merits, without reference to Federal taxation. The operation of the Act may have been deferred until revenue was received from the Commonwealth; but the fact that such revenue would be received was not used as an argument in favour of the adoption of the scheme. The honorable member for Wide Bay has declared that no harm could be done to the States by throwing upon them the responsibility of providing funds for a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme, because the country is in a most flourishing condition. I agree with him that the country is flourishing; but I do not regard that as a reason for throwing this responsibility on the States. I look upon it rather as providing an occasion for the re-arrangement of the financial position such as will never occur again. If this period of rolling prosperity is allowed to pass before the financial problems which are now vexing us and taxing our ingenuity and resources are dealt with, they will become more acute and less easy of solution. This is the time to re-arrange the financial relations of the States and the Common-wealth, and the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme should be a factor of that re-arrangement.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– What is the rearrangement?
– In what direction should the re-arrangement proceed ?
– The honorable and learned member for West Sydney had better bait his own party in regard to this subject. He should ask if it has a scheme.
– Yes; plenty of schemes.
– Three different proposals have emanated from the Labour corner this afternoon.
– Yet the honorable member says that we have not a scheme.
– None behind which is the authority of the caucus. Although honorable members of the Labour Party have made suggestions, none of them has elaborated a scheme. Therefore, the honorable and learned member for West Sydney should address his questions to his own party before asking us what we propose to do.
– I am following the honorable member. What I shall do will depend upon what he does. Where is the honorable member’s leader?
– I am afraid that the honorable and learned member will not support us; but that he will have to get behind the Government in regard to this matter, as he has done throughout the session, and endeavour to find excuses for the adoption of its scheme. I see no likelihood of converting him, no matter how much time I may give to the task. Although sug- gestions have come from members of the Labour Party, nothing definite has been proposed with a view to carrying them into effect. When I asked the honorable member for Barrier whether the direct taxation which he suggested was to be a land tax in addition to the land tax for the bursting up of big estates which the Labour Party has already put forward, all he could say was that the method does not matter so long as direct taxation is adopted. But it matters to the taxpayers whether a special tax is to be imposed in addition to that advocated by the caucus. The Labour Party, instead of questioning the Opposition as to what they propose, should state definitely the ways and means which they would provide.
– There will be plenty of time for that when we get on the Treasury benches.
-Is that the attitude the honorable member takes up? If so, I think that it is an eminently safe one. I should like to remind him, however, that a definite scheme is to go before the country, which does not depend upon the chance of the honorable member obtaining a position upon the Treasury benches. We should know precisely what the honorable member’s plan is.
– The honorable member was until the other day one of the chief exponents of land taxation. Now he has deserted that, as well as many others of his political principles.
– The honorable member is, as usual, becoming abusive.
– I am merely stating facts.
– The honorable member is making statements which are miles away from the facts, and he ought to know it. Atmy first election, six years ago, I promised that I would not vote for direct taxation by the Commonwealth. . I repeated that promise at the last election. Therefore, the honorable member neither helps himself nor me by eructating these statements in the way that he is now doing. After all, it does not matter to this question what I advocated the other day. I am asking the honorable member to elaborate a scheme of his own.
– I am not asked to do so by any one else.
– Am I to understand that the honorable member is not in favour of imposing direct taxation for the purpose of providing for old-age pensions? If I remember rightly, he advocated the Government proposal, and he is showing clearly by his interjections that he does not believe in what his followers have been saying. He does not know what they have been stating this afternoon, or he would not interject in the way that he is now doing. The honorable member for Barrier and others advocated direct taxation with a view to providing for old-age pensions, and I should like to ask them whether provision is to be made by means of a land tax, in addition, to that which has already been decided on. The honorable and learned member for West Sydney was perfectly frank. He stated that he was in favour of direct taxation all the time. Since, according to the leader of the Labour Party, we cannot finance this scheme by means of the taxation already decided upon, the honorable and learned member for West Sydney is presumably in favour of further taxation.
– Yes. I stated that I would not vote for any other scheme if I could bring about direct taxation. I want to know what the honorable member’s schemeis.
– The honorable and learned member’s statement does not help us very much. The members of the Labour Party who make the provision for old-age pensions one of their trump cards, apparently have nothing in their minds in the way of a definite scheme by which the system is to be financed.
– Surely a proposal to take the funds out of the consolidated revenue is definite enough.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- But that is not the proposal of the honorable member’s leader. The party as a whole has no definite scheme.
– What is the honorable member’s definite scheme?
– I have not begun to tell honorable members what my scheme is. I am merely emphasizing the fact that certain honorable members of the LabourParty believe that old-age pensions should be provided for solely by means of direct taxation. In other words, they contend that£1, 500, 000 should be raised by direct taxation, apart from the land tax upon which they have already decided for bursting up purposes.
– I did not say that oldage pensions were to be provided for by means of a land tax. I indicated that there were other means of levying direct taxation.
– The honorable member for Barrier indicated that he would favour the imposition of an income tax.
– I said that that was one means by which the money could be raised.
– And the honorable member said that there was plenty of money in Australia which could be levied upon to raise the necessary revenue.
– We should be very poor indeed if we could not raise enough money to pay old-ase pensions.
-I suppose that the honorable member had in his mind a Federal income tax as well as a land tax* It is very easy to talk about Federal direct taxation, but the matter is not so simple when we take into consideration the present condition of affairs in the States. As the honorable member for Boothby pointed out, direct taxation is already imposed in South Australia to the amount of 23s.9d. per head of the population, whilst in Tasmania 23s. 4d. per head is raised in the same way. If the people of New South Wales were taxed to the same extent as are those of Tasmania the Treasury would be enriched to the extent of nearly £2, 000,000 per annum, and Victoria upon a similar basis would have her revenue increased by £1,750,000.
– Does the honorable member think that New South Wales and Victoria could not stand the same strain as the smaller States?
– Does not the honorable member see that whatever strain he puts upon the large. States will also have to be borne in addition by the smaller States ?
– Has direct taxation no virtues?
– I. am not discussing that point. I am indicating the large extent to which direct taxation is already imposed.
– And yet at one time the honorable member advocated direct taxation in spite of the extent to which it was already imposed.
– I would remind the honorable member that a good deal of the direct taxation now levied has been imposed since Federation was brought about.
– In which States?
– In Tasmania, and, I believe, also in South Australia.
– I think that there was merely an alteration in the form of taxation in Tasmania. An ability tax was grafted on to the income tax.
– That had the effect of doubling the income tax.
– In Tasmania the people are not paying so much through the Customs as they formerly did, and therefore they have the money in their pockets.
– The people have not the money in their pockets.
– The honorable member for Bass is quite right. It does not follow that the money formerly contributed towards the Customs duties is now in the pockets of the people.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is beginning to see some virtues in protection.
– If I am, it is through following the honorable and learned member on the bounties question the other night. He was all out for protection upon that occasion.
– The honorable member slipped to the depths of an abyss in regard to oranges and milk.
– Not at all. My complaint was that they were not included in the reciprocity treaty with New Zealand. I think that my aspirations were in a direction contrary to that indicated by the honorable and learned member. However, I am merely pointing out that when we talk glibly about direct taxation, we ought to remember that substantial levies in that direction are already being made in most of the States. It has been stated, that there is no direct taxation in Queensland, but, as a matter of fact, the direct levies upon the people there represent 17s. 3d. per head.
– The honorable member is in some difficulty owing to his want of knowledge as to his leader’s scheme, and I admit that I am in the same position.
– I am glad to know that the honorable and learned member is so sensitive about the opinions of my leader. He has been travelling through the country denouncing my leader and also myself. Now, he is becoming sensitive as to the opinions of the right honorable mem - ber for East Sydney and wants to follow him.
– I have been following him for some time, and have found it rather difficult work.
– If the honorable and learned member has been following the leader of the Opposition for some time he has been doing so afar off. Apparently he now wants to keep a little closer to him. I heard with surprise this afternoon the reference of the honorable member for Wide Bay to the trivialitythat was involved in amending the Constitution. He declared that our Constitution, which is only six years old, represented’ the grip of a dead hand.
– I understood him to say that of all Constitutions.
– He said that of our Constitution. The Age to-day describes it as nothing but a clumsy compromise
– That is what the honorable member himself called it.
– I venture to say that our Constitution ought not to be amended until we cannot achieve the ordinary legislative objects which we have to pursue under it by any other means. Now the question arises, “ Is it necessary to alter the Constitution in order to give effect to that article in it which empowers us to legislate in respect of old-age pensions?” I do not think that it is. The only reason urged by the Prime Minister against the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was that it would violate the 87 th section of the Constitution, which he declared was part of the original bond. Doeshe suggest that his own proposal will not modify that section?
– Not in fact.
– It is quite true that the Prime Minister does not propose technically to trench upon the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue which is at present returned to the States, but he does propose to undermine the source from which that revenue is derived. It has been impressed upon us time and again by our statisticians that our Customs duties average themselves over any material period with almost unerring accuracy. To attempt to raise another £1,500,000 through the Customs for the purpose of paying oldage pensions must necessarily - according to all statistical and economic law - deteriorate the sources from which that revenue is derived. Whilst the Prime Minister is proposing only such an alteration as will permit of a different allocation of the revenue raised through the Customs, he is in reality undermining the sources of that revenue, and therefore vitally interfering with the 87th section of the Constitution. If he desires to do that, he might as well call the States Premiers together and frankly inform them of his intentions. I claim that there’ is no necessity either to ear-mark Customs duties or to impose further Customs taxation to any great extent. Under the amendment submitted, the Government may sail merrily along and expend the whole of their onefourth of the Customs and Excise revenue. During the present year the Treasurer proposes to expend £500,000 more than was expended last year. Then they will be at liberty to take an additional £1,500,000 out of the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue which would otherwise be returnable to the States. The inevitable result of the adoption of the amendment must be to drive the States to direct taxation, and to such an extent that it would be a very serious impost upon them. Let honorable members clearly understand that it would mean compelling the States to impose an additional land tax of 2d. in the £1 without any exemption whatever.
– Then it is a better proposal than I thought it was.
– It would not compel them to do anything like that.
– It would.
– It would mean nothing in New South Wales, to begin with. There the State Government is already paving over £500,000 annually in old-age pensions. They receive that money from us under the present arrangement, but under the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, we should defray the cost of old-age pensions in that State.
– The honorable member is right to that extent. But all the necessitous States would require to make the provision which I have indicated.
– They would not require to levy a tax of 2d. in the £1.
– Yes. They would need to impose a land tax of 2d. in the£1, without exemption, to find the necessary funds with which to finance this scheme. On the other hand, if the proposal of the Government be agreed to, it cannot be financed by the Commonwealth without resort to direct taxation. The imposition of a duty upon tea and kerosene will yield only about ,£600,000 annually. We shall thus require to raise an .additional £900,000 per annum. Therefore, it seems to me that both the Government proposal and the amendment will involve us in land taxation, the former through the medium of the Commonwealth, and the latter through the medium of the States. Otherwise we should be compelled to raise £10,500,000 annually through the Customs. We cannot do that. We are pretty well up to the limit of our possibilities in that direction.
– What does the honorable member suggest to overcome the difficulty ?
– Did the honorable member hear the statement which was made by the honorable member for North Sydney this afternoon?
– Well, my scheme is his scheme. I believe that we already have the funds with which to finance a good portion of this scheme. We have £311,000 - which the Treasurer proposes to return to the States - in excess of their three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue. The right honorable gentleman himself believes that the Commonwealth finances will come out much better than he has anticipated, and that - with the prospect of a good season - he will have considerably more than £311,000 of a surplus available for return to the States. My own impression is that when the financial year ends, he will have a surplus of at least £500,000.
– That means that penny postage is not to be inaugurated, I believe?
– It does. I do not see what advantage will accrue to the people if we adopt penny postage and immediately levy additional Customs duties to the extent of £1,500,000 annually. That does not represent sane financing. Then the Treasurer proposes to spend £525,000 this year more than was expended last year. Will anybody tell me that we cannot get along with a less expenditure than that? I venture to say that if the right honorable member for Balaclava occupied the position of Treasurer we should not find an increase of £525,000 sterling over the expenditure of last’ year. If we had a man who was desirous of cutting down our expenditure, he would be able to get through the year with an increase of not much more than £200,000 upon the expenditure of last year.
– Out of the £5’-5j000. which the Treasurer proposes to expend this year in excess of the amount spent last year, we might at least save £300,000. That would give us more than £600,000. Then we might further save the £209,000 which the Government propose to sacrifice as the result of the adoption of penny postage. That would give us no less a sum than £800,000.
– If the honorable member keeps on, he will make up the full amount
– We cannot get away from these facts. I maintain that if we husband our resources and utilize to the full our one-fourth of the Customs and Excise revenue, we can finance a Federal system of old-age pensions without trenching to any great extent upon the revenues returnable to the States. I admit, however, that we require about £500,000 more to put that scheme into operation. As against that, as I have already pointed out, the revenue for the current year has been under-estimated. The season is particularly good, and the revenue, therefore, will also be expansive. I think any one may argue, from the promising wool clip alone, that the revenue this year will be very much better than the Treasurer has forecasted. And, therefore, I say that we might fairly ask the Premiers of the States to consult with the Commonwealth authorities as to the best method of raising the remaining £400,000 or £500,000 that we require. That would be more reasonable than is the proposal of the Government to raise an additional sum of £1,500,000, and to gorge the big States with an increased surplus of £500.000. It would be better to adopt our proposal than to accept the amendment which would drive the States to direct taxation. If we consulted the Premiers of the States, they might well say to us. “ Take the kerosene or tea duties if you wish it. Let them be moderate, and we will agree to your retaining, until the expiration of the Braddon section, the whole of the revenue so derived.” If that arrangement were properly put before them, I think that the States Premiers would incur a very severe responsibility if thev declined to consider it. Thev say now, as they said at the Sydnev Conference, that if we impose special duties thev will agree to our retaining the whole of the revenue derived from them. That is a very easy way of avoiding responsibility, so far as they are concerned. But, in the matter of old-age pensions, the Premiers of the States have an equal responsibility with us. They have relations with the same taxpayers as we have. They have just as much power, and, therefore, just as much responsibility, as we have in regard to the imposition of direct taxation. Their powers in that respect are concurrent with our own, and, therefore, they may not escape their responsibility any more than we may do. That is a fact that ought to be brought home to them when any sane scheme of moderate dimensions obviating the need for the further imposition of extreme taxation is put’ before them. That is my proposal, and I say that it is a better one than is the Government proposal co impose further taxation. The latter involves no statesmanship. Any fool could raise money and spend it if no obstacles were thrown in his way.
– Any fool could spend it, but I do not know that any fool could raise it.
-The wholefinancial arrangements of the Commonwealth could be so adjusted as to involve comparatively no sacrifice on the part of the States. We have already constitutional authority, in some respects, to make that re-adjustment. The bookkeeping period has expired, and need not be renewed. We have now an opportunity, if ever we had, to terminate that system with the least possible disadvantage and inconvenience to all concerned. If we are going on as we are, with an increase of manufacturing importance on the part of the two larger States, at the end of another five years it will be infinitely more difficult than it is todav to terminate the bookkeeping system.
– Not at all.
– It is useless for my right honorable friend to make that assertion. If he looks at the statistics for the past few years, he will find that the amount to be surrendered bv the larger States is increasing, and will increase as their manufacturing importance extends. There never was a time when these financial changes could be made so well as they could to-day, when our seasons are good and our revenues buoyant. But honorable members are seeking: in this, as in many other matters, to follow the line of least resistance. “ Old-age pensions “ is a cry which will help them upon the public platforms of the country, and thev are reiving upon that cry to carry their proposal for the imposition of this taxation. The scheme submitted by the Government is, perhaps, one that could be more readily adopted than that which I suggest. It would be easier alike for the Government of the Commonwealth, and for the States Premiers. It would not interfere with the States in the slightest degree. For some of them it would mean additional money to spend. I wish to say emphatically, as- 1 have said before, that I think that surpluses are as bad as deficits for the States. If anything, they are worse than deficits. We can readily remedy a deficit; but we cannot always bring down our expenditure when it has been inflated by extravagant methods. A revenue strictly conditioned by our wants and proportioned to them is as much as any- Government should at any time be intrusted with. But what does the Ministerial proposal mean ? It means, for instance, increasing the surplus of New South Wales, which this year amounts from £1,500,000 to £2,000,000. That could be obviated by the plan I have just suggested. The absurdity of it all is that concurrently with this proposal the Government and their supporters are taking every step possible to destroy revenue. That is the irony of the whole situation. Only lately duties were increased for the purpose of destroying revenue. The spirit duties, for example, will destroy revenue to the extent of about £100,000 per annum. The harvester duties will also destroy revenue.
– The honorable member voted for the spirit duties.
– I did not bring them forward.
– But as the honorable member voted for them, he is equally responsible with the rest of the House for their imposition.
– The honorable member should bear his share of the cross.
– I have no share to bear. I repeat that no Government having responsibility for the financing of these proposals ought to surrender one penny until their just obligations in that respect have been met. .But, concurrently with this proposition for raising further duties, the Government is busily engaged in destroying revenue, and, as it were, is giving away money right and left. They are going to remit .£200,000 per annum in respect of penny postage and high protective duties for the purpose of keeping out imports, and, therefore, for destroying revenue, are proposed. They are restricting the possibility of raising revenue at the same time that they are pleading that more revenue is needed to carry out the functions of the Commonwealth. That is an anomaly of which we ought to make short work. The Government proposal is an easy way of providing for a scheme which will secure to them the greatest popularity on the one hand, while enabling them on the other to carry out their protective policy, and at the same time to compel the people of Australia to bear additional Customs taxation. The Prime Minister has asked half-a-dozen times during the course of this debate how long it would take . the States to deal with the full financial problems of the Constitution. I do not think that it would take very long. I fail to see why the matter could not have been disposed of at the Premiers’ Conference during the recess. At that Conference the Prime Minister made some indefinite speeches and proposals, and practically left the Premiers to shape their own course. Thev eventually did so by passing on the responsibility to the Federal Government. Ar the Hobart Conference, when the then Prime Minister, the right honorable member for East Sydney, the Minister of Trade and Customs, the honorable member for Gippsland, the Treasurer, the right honorable member for Balaclava, and the Minister of Home Affairs, the honorable member for North Sydney, came face to face with the Premiers of the States what was the result ? As the outcome of their standup fight, three of the States agreed to allow old-age pensions to be financed by the Commonwealth Government. It was only when they were confronted by the present Prime Minister with his rolling periods, his flowing fancies, and his beautiful word picture painting - when he spoke to them in “ liquid lines mellifluously bland “ - that they took their own course, and unanimously decided that the Commonwealth must take the full responsibility for oldage pensions. They then decided that we must not interfere with them. There was a complete change of front on their part. And why should “there not have been ? Instead of proceeding to London as soon as last session closed, the Treasurer ought to have gone to the various States and discussed these financial proposals with the States Treasurers. He should have given them information beforehand as to what he proposed. The scheme now propounded by the Treasurer was not before the Sydney Conference. This is a part of the financial proposals which has been framed irrespective of the Premiers of the States, and of which they knew nothing. The least Ministers could have done when framing these fresh proposals was to have consulted the Premiers so that they might have been brought face to face with their responsibilities in regard to a definite scheme. The whole matter might then have been amicably and fairly arranged. As it is, the States’ Premiers are going to meet on their own initiative, and I think, as the Argus put it this morning, that they have fair ground for complaint against the Federal Ministry in that they have not been consulted in respect to the first definite scheme submitted. I presume, however, that it is useless to further discuss this matter, I am afraid it is now too late in the day to change many votes ; but so far as I am concerned, I cannot give my consent to such a proposal as this, which aims at financing the whole scheme of old-age pensions by means of additional Customs imposts. The necessity for such imposts could be avoided by a little planning and contriving; bv keeping our expenditure within economical limits; by maintaining our existing sources of Customs revenue instead of surrendering them as we are constantly doing. It could be obviated by maintaining at their present rate the charges for services rendered. If there is to be an ear-marking of special duties for the purposes of old-age pensions, I doubt if. the proposal of the Government is the best one. If we are to have a special tax for a special purpose, why can we not finance the larger part of this proposal in some such way as we financed the accident claims in New South Wales? No one will be so materially affected as the working people of Australia will be by the imposition of duties on tea and kerosene. Such taxation would fall upon them in a greater degree relatively than upon any other portion of the community. Duties on tea and kerosene will affect the workers of the country directly, and very seriously. What difference is there between the imposition of special duties on tea and kerosene, or other articles, and making a deduction.’ from their weekly wages? They would pay less itf taxed directly in this way than by indirect taxa- tion. In New South Wales a miners’ accident fund is contributed to by both miners and mine-owners, and similarly a Commonwealth fund for the payment of old-age pensions might well be established by contributions from labour and capital. Some arrangement of the kind exists in Germany. If old-age pensions are to be paid from revenue derived from a special source, I think that it is better to adopt direct instead of indirect taxation; but, as I said the other day, the provision of old-age pensions is a-social obligation which should be regarded as on the same plane as other social obligations, to be discharged by the expenditure of our general revenue, without any special ear-marking. I shall be compelled to take a- negative attitude in regard to both the proposal of the Government and the amendment. .
.- I do not intend to detain the Committee verylong.
– The honorable member need not apologize. This is one of the most important proposals that this Parliament has been asked to discuss.
– I do not know that there is anything upon which I ought to speak at length, because I have alreadyaddressed myself to the question to some extent. My object in rising is to reply to one or two of the remarks made by the honorable member for Parramatta. His attitude in regard to the proposed amendment of the Constitution is extraordinary. Of late he seems to have been inoculated with the idea promulgated by the ‘Argus and other similar journals that the Constitution is so sacred that hands must not be laid on it lightly. But a few years ago he and I, in common with, others, were denouncing it as a most ineffective instrument. He now sneers at the statement which he says has appeared in the Age, that the Constitution may be described as a “ clumsy instrument,” although it is not long since fie applied much stronger terms in its condemnation. A short time ago he held that the Constitution was bad, and that one of its worst features was the provision which the honorable member for Kalgoorlie desires to amend. The existence pf that provision was the head and front of the objection which the right honorable member for East Sydnev. the honorable member for Parramatta, and others of us took to the draft Constitution, when its acceptance or rejection was before the people of New South Wales.
– My present attitude is not antagonistic to my former attitude ; but both are irrelevant to the question before the Committee.
– The honorable member may in time get back to his former attitude, but there is a great difference between it and his present attitude. He formerly regarded the Constitution as an instrument which should not be accepted by the people of New South Wales, as likely to work injury to them. Now he considers it so sacred that we must not even suggest its alteration by the use of the machinery provided for that purpose.
– The honorable member is beating a bogey. I did not say that. What I said was that I do not believe in altering the Constitution unless we can achieve our objects in no other way.
– I admit that the honorable member has not said in so many words what I have attributed to him.
– I have not implied it.
– If any other inference is to be drawn from his speech this evening, and that of a few days ago, I cannot perceive it.
– The honorable member is unable to make fair inferences where I am concerned.
– I may be prejudiced; but I ask those who desire to judge my words to read the utterances of the honorable member now and a short time ago. Then, again, although he now finds no phrase too strong to hurl <at those who advocate direct taxation, he a little while ago objected to any other but direct taxation. I do not blame him for objecting to the imposition of direct taxation by the Commonwealth Parliament, if he pledged himself to his constituents to oppose it; but when difficulty arises he, like other honorable members, is free to seek for fresh authority from those who sent him here. As to his statement that the Labour Party have no concrete scheme to put forward for the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme, my answer is that in this respect our position is the same as that of the Opposition : we are not in a position of responsibility, and are therefore not compelled to put forward a detailed scheme for raising revenue. Does the honorable member contend that those on his side are agreed as to the method bv which Common wealth old-age pensions should be provided for?
Can he saythat they are even agreed as to the desirability of Commonwealth old-age pensions? I think that quite a number of those associated with him are against the taking of any steps by the Commonwealth for the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions fund.
– My remarks were made in reply to an honorable member who was taunting the Opposition.
-The honorable member pointed out that there is a difference of opinion amongst members of the Labour Party as to how a Commonwealth scheme of old-age pensions can be financed, and it is sufficient to retort that there is no agreement amongst the Opposition, either as to the desirability of establishing a Commonwealth old-age pensions fund or as to the means of doing so.
– Will the honorable member give us his scheme?
– He has not one.
– I have a numberof ideas in my mind, but, under present conditions, I am not compelled to disclose what I should do. If the people of Australia wish me to promulgate a scheme,. I shall do so ; but at present I am under no compulsion. The Labour Party are prepared, given the opportunity, to provide Common wealth old-age pensions, and to find the means of doing so without breaking any pledges.
– Their programme includes more than this.
– If we have the opportunity, effect will be given to our programme ; but I do not wish to stray from the question before the Chair. I do not think that the honorable member’s, proposition will bear examination. He suggests that we might economize, and speaks of the addition of £525,000 to our Estimates of Expenditure. I think that the Treasurer has been unjust to himself. His estimate of the expenditure of this year exceeds that of last year by only £417,000. Last year, as in previous years, it was found to be impossible to spend the actual amount appropriated. There will always be a considerable saving, and we need not expect that our expenditure will reach the full amount of the appropriation. When we go through the Estimates, we begin to realize that it is difficult to cut out any large sum except it be, perhaps, in connexion with the military expenditure. There,
– I am sure that the honorable member could justify every item just as a millionaire would justify his expenditure as moderate.
– I do not for a moment say that I could justify all the expenditure. The honorable member is endeavouring to beg the question. He has stated that the Estimates could be cut down by hundreds of thousands of pounds, and he ought to be able to point to the items upon which large savings could be made.
– Does not the honorable member see that his challenge is an absolutely absurd one?
– The honorable member had no right to assert that immense savings could be made upon the Estimates without having some data to submit to honorable members. Since the Budget statement was made, I have looked through the Estimates with a view to ascertaining whether it would be possible to make any savings: In the absence of the official information which the Treasurer has at his disposal, and looking at the matter as an outsider, it is very difficult to put one’s finger upon any vote and say that it should be cut down. It is proposed to spend £55,000 upon the general elections - that cannot be interfered with. The increased vote for works and buildings in the Home Affairs Department is fully accounted for, as is also the proposed increased expenditure of £32,000 in the Department of External Affairs. Then, in the Department of the Postmaster- General, provision is made for increased expenditure to the amount of £68,000, which includes appropriations for items that will bring in revenue, and which cannot be cut down with any regard for efficiency. The £105,000 proposed to be appropriated for works and buildings includes the vote for the construction of the telephone line between Sydney and Melbourne. None of the items to which I have referred could very well be interfered with, and it certainly would be difficult to cut them down materially. The amount appropriated for the sugar bonus is naturally’ a largely increased one, owing to the legislation passed for increasing the Excise and raising the amount of the bounties to a corresponding degree. The increase this year will amount to about £1 50,000. These items show how difficult it is to cut down expenditure to anything like the degree indicated by the honorable member for Parramatta. It seems to me that he left out of his calculations all new expenditure. Surely he must admit that the Commonwealth will, at an early date, have to take over a number of functions which it has not yet been able to assume. If we are to have an effective Australian administration in regard to a number of Departments, we shall have a number of new items figuring upon the debit side of our account before very long. For example, we cannot allow the Northern Territory to remain stagnant, destitute of population, and a burden upon one of the smallest States in the Union.
– In fact, when the honorable members comes to think of it, he could spend easily , £10,000,000.
– That is a flippant sneer that is not worthy of the honorable member’s position in this Chamber.
– The honorable member’s light and airy way of talking deserves nothing better. He merely skips over a thing, and says that it is settled.
– I do not say that these matters are settled, but I am submitting certain considerations to honorable members, so that they may remember that we shall have to incur certain expenditure, whether we like it or not. I do not think that even the honorable member for Parramatta will deny that at present the Northern Territory constitutes not only a reproach, but a menace, to Australia, and that when we take it over and attempt to do something with it, we shall have to incur additional expenditure, for which we cannot expect to obtain any appreciable return’ for a considerable time. In fact, I do not think that we should look for an immediate return. There are a number of matters to which - even though the honorable member for Parramatta may pay them no attention - this Parliament will require to give its consideration, and regarding which the people will demand that something shall be done in the very near future. I have indicated that we cannot expect to effect economies upon such a scale as to enable us to make any provision for old-age pensions. The honorable member for Parramatta suggests that we should call another Premiers’ Conference.
– But in the first place, the honorable member’s great objection was that after special duties had been levied, we should require to find £800,000 or £900,000. He immediately afterwards went into a careful calculation to show that we had that amount available without looking far for it.
– That is another exaggeration. I said that there would be a little over , £500,000.
– I took down the figures as they were spoken by the honorable member - £300,000, £300,000, and. £200,000 ; in all, £800,000.
-That would not leave , £800,000 to be found.
– So far as I can see, the honorable member could not expect to effect any material saving by practising economy. Although I quite agree with him as to the unwisdom of introducing the penny postage system, I contend that his suggestion that we should endeavour to induce the States Premiers to consent to some scheme of old-age pensions - some method by which we’ could find the balance of the money required - is, in view of the experience which we have already passed through, absolutely fatuous.
– What about the honorable member’s proposal ?
– I have already indicated my position. The honorable member should have had sufficient experience to convince him that we couldexpect no assistance from the States Premiers. He seemed to be quite jubilant at the fact that the Reid-McLean’ Government, after sending a contingent of Ministers representing halftheir strength to Hobart, had succeeded in convincing three
States Premiers that the Commonwealth should take up this matter of old-age pensions, and impose special duties.
– No such thing.
– The right -honorable member for East Sydney put before the Premiers two .alternatives.
– He asked them whether thev were disposed to consider the imposition of special Customs duties upon special articles in order to provide for old-age pensions.
– That has nothing whatever to do with the other point.
– I say that it’ has. The honorable member is like a porcupine - all points ; but you cannot fix him’ upon one of them.
– The honorable member is misrepresenting me.
– My recollection of the proceedings at Hobart is that the right honorable member for East Sydney placed before the Premiers two alternatives, one of which was that the Federal Government should be permitted to impose special taxation, in respect of which the States would agree not to claim ‘a three-fourths share.
– That has nothing to do with the. point I was making.
– The point r’ the honorable member’s statement waa mat, for this particular proposal, which was just what the Government were putting forward, the right honorable member for East Sydney, having spent all his energies, and having taken half of his Ministers with him, secured the approval of three of the States Premiers.
– The honorable member is quite wrong ; that is not the point.
– Perhaps the honorable member will take an opportunity later on to explain just what’ his point was. He occupied some time in expressing his regret that the Prime Minister had not taken all his forces with him to the Conference in Sydney, and the .inference to be drawn was that, had he done so, he might have been as successful as was the right honorable member for East Sydnev. ‘Hind have secured the consent of three of the States Premiers.
– Again the honorable member has not’ got hold of the point.
– So far as my reading goes of the proceedings of the various Premiers’ Conferences, there is nothing to hope from them in this connexion. I do not say that some of the States Premiers are not anxious that the Federation should provide old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth. But there is nothing to indicate that there is any possibility of securing anything approaching unanimity on the part pf the gentlemen occupying these distinguished positions. Consequently, we are not justified in wasting any further time in that direction. The honorable member for Parramatta approved the idea expressed in an article which was published in today’s Argus, that the Premiers of the States have a right to complain because they have not been further consulted in reference to this proposal. To my mind that complaint represents the height of impudence. Why should they be consulted further, after having been consulted at conference after conference without the Commonwealth making one step forward?
– They have never had a scheme submitted to them.
– At Hobart a scheme was put forward by the right honorable member for East Sydney.
– The right honorable member for East Sydney himself suggested that the Commonwealth should be allowed to impose Customs and Excise duties, in regard to which the States should forego their rights.
– I am talking of a complete financial scheme.
– A similar proposal was put before the Premiers’ Conference at Hobart, and before the Sydney Conference.
– I know that.
– And the financial scheme was put before them in Melbourne.
– Upon two occasions when acting as Treasurer the right honorable member for Balaclava put before the Premiers a complete financial scheme^ and outlined in the clearest possible way the difficulties to be guarded against. In view of these circumstances, it would be idle for us to waste further time in calling another Conference, which could only result in a further indefinite postponement of this proposal. I shall vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, but, should it be defeated, I shall support the Government proposal. It seems to me that whatever means we may adopt to raise the revenue with which to pay old-age pensions, we shall require to have our resources upon the Customs side supplemented, either by retaining some portion of the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue at present returnable to the States, or by increased taxation. Personally, I prefer that it should be taken out of the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise, revenue, but rather than permit Australia to remain without oldage pensions, I am prepared to allow the proposal of the Government to bs submitted to the people should the amendment be rejected.
– By way of personal explanation, I should like to say that, throughout his speech, the honorable member for Bland has endeavoured to lay hold of points which I did not make at all. I am loth to believe that his action in this connexion was other than unintentional. Let me mention two points by way of illustration. I did not say that at the Hobart Conference three of the States had agreed to the scheme which the right honorable .member for East Sydney submitted to them. What I said was that Victoria. New South Wales., and Western Australia agreed to permit the Commonwealth to deduct the amount necessary for the payment qf old-age pensions from the sum that was returnable to them.
– I do not think that the Premiers agreed to do that.
– What I did say in respect of the Treasurer was that, instead of going to London to consult the Imperial authorities in regard to taking over the States debts, he should have visited the Treasurers of the States, and discussed with them the whole of his financial proposals - not this particular proposal. The two things are entirely distinct.
.- When the honorable member for Bland rose to continue the discussion he almost apologized for his action. Personally I think that this Bill, involving as it does, an amendment of the Constitution, ought to be subjected to a very full discussion. There are many difficulties in the way of the Commonwealth initiating an old-age pensions scheme. It seems to me that the administration of a system of old-age pensions by the States would be more economical than would be. its administration by the Commonwealth. We must recollect, too, that at the present time two-thirds of those persons in Australia who are entitled to old-age pensions are in receipt of them.
– But are there not many who have lived in both New South Wales and Victoria for forty and fifty years, and who cannot secure a pension ?
– That is so. They have not been resident in either State sufficiently long to entitle them to the pension. The Commonwealth might well have provided the .small amount necessary to pay the claims of such persons from the general surplus that we have at the present time without asking us to adopt the extraordinary course of amending the Constitution. How is it proposed to raise the money with which to pay old-age pensions? We are told that certain duties will be ear-marked. That is all very well if we are to place the funds thus raised in the hands of trustees, and if Parliament is no longer to exercise supervision over them. But the moment we view it in any other light the proposal to ear-mark certain sums becomes ridiculous. All our revenue ought to be ear-marked in that it ought to be raised only for useful purposes. But to prescribe that one pound shall be collected for a certain purpose, and another pound for a different purpose is, to my mind, the acme of folly. I would further point out that if we ear-mark duties in the way that is suggested, they must continue to be ear-marked until the Constitution is again amended. The “Government must have been in a very childish mood when thev put forward this proposal. If any special duties be ear-marked, and the revenue from them be not absorbed, it cannot be used for any. other purpose. Then I ask, “ How is it proposed to raise the necessary funds with which to pay old-age pensions?” Bv further taxation of the mass of the people. Admittedly the only two articles which would produce any considerable revenue are tea and kerosene. These would yield approximately £650,000 annually. By adopting the Government proposal, we shall increase the taxation of Victoria and New South Wales, which have already made provision for the payment of old-age pensions. In other words, we shall be absolutely taxing the larger States of Australia for the purpose of inflicting a fine upon the smaller States. We shall be punishing those who have done what we conceive to be their duty. There seems to be no general opposition to the proposal to establish a national scheme of old-age pensions.
– Seventy members of the House are in favour of it. There are about five Conservatives in the House, all representatives of Victoria, opposed to oldage pensions.
– -Victoria has the best oldage pension scheme in Australia.
– I am “not going to discuss the advisableness of establishing an old-age pensions scheme, but if honorable members wish to study the question I would recommend them to read the report of the Poor Law Commission which sat in England in the thirties. If they go fully into that report they will learn how such a measure as the Elizabethan poor law, which was intended absolutely for the relief of the poof and destitute, was so diverted in the course of years from its original purpose that the best friends of the workers recommended its absolute abolition. That report shows how evil is often inextricably mixed with what appear to be good schemes for the benefit of the people. I am discussing this question from the point of view that we all desire a Federal system of old-age pensions. From that point of view alone I urge that it would be fatuous, as the Government propose, to penalize the two larger States, because they Iia ve already adopted independent systems. Such a scheme could only be conceived at the fag-end of a session when honorable members are so fatigued as to be incapable of reasoning soundly.
– The honorable and learned member should speak for himself.
– I know that at the fag-end’ of a session I am not so capable as I am at other times of thoroughly studying every Bill brought forward. I am able to prophesy the effect of measures that have not been thoroughly considered. One has only to look at any of the measures we have passed during the last two or three years to discover the conflicting principles running through them. I regretted to hear the honorable member for Bland speak so lightly of the alteration of the Constitution. I can conceive of nothing more calculated to bring the Constitution into contempt than to ask honorable members to assent to amendments, the effects of which have not been thoroughly considered. I trust that no such proposal will be accepted by the people unless it is clearly shown that it has been well considered. When it is found that the Con stitution can be readily altered, the whole fabric which has been built up with so* much care may be shattered. If we teach the people to disregard the Constitution.
Ave teach them to disregard the very law that binds the States together. The day has not yet arrived when it can be said that the Federal control is no longer considered irksome, and if we tell the people that the Constitution can be easily altered they will desire to go further. It is useless, however, at this stage of the session to address the Committee on constitutional questions. Honorable members are not prepared to consider what mav be the effect to-morrow of legislation passed to-day, let alone to consider what may be its effect years hence. Upon the ground that the Bill involves an alteration of the Constitution. I should be prepared to vote against it. Do honorable members mean to suggest that the Parliament is unable to provide by other means any sum that may be necessary for this purpose? Is not the power of the Government sufficient?
– It is not.
– The honorable member knows that it is. We have two schemes before us, and we have to consider what course should be followed.
– What are we to do?
– We ought not to be prepared at present to propose an alteration of the Constitution as a means of overcoming a difficulty which may be surmounted in a hundred and one other ways.
– Will the honorable and learned member make a suggestion or move an amendment?
– The Government would not at present accept an amendment from the Opposition. I dare say that if I were in their place I should not be prepared toaccept amendments moved by honorable members occupying irresponsible positions.
– How would the honorable and learned member raise the necessary revenue?
– It could be raised either by Customs or direct taxation, or, if necessary, by a combination of the two.
– What is the best method ? ,
– Not one of them can be said to be a good method. I do not believe in increasing taxation. More than half the amount required is already being raised in the two larger States, where old- age pensions are being paid. We are now told that we ought to adopt a scheme to raise £1,500,000 for a Federal system, two-thirds of which taxation would be borne bv the people of Victoria and New South Wales.
– Is the honorable member prepared to increase the Customs taxation ?
– Then he is in favour of direct taxation.
– I am in favour of no additional taxation unless it is necessary.
– Then the honorable and learned member is not in favour of oldage pensions?
– Unless we could make an arrangement with the States by which it would be necessary to raise only a minor amount, I would not force upon the smaller States a policy which they have not seen fit to adopt. The Labour Party has been in power in Queensland for some time.
– There are only two labour men in the present coalition Government, and, as a matter of fact, they are mere “shandygaffers. “
– But the bulk of the supporters of the coalition Ministry are members of the Labour Party. They are in favour of old-age pensions, but plead that there is great difficulty in the way of establishing such a system. That being so, it is only fair that we should let them alone until thev have devised some way of overcoming that difficulty.
– -They expect us to do that.
– I am sure that they do not. I am satisfied that this scheme will be. unwieldy and cumbersome. Under it two-thirds of the people of Australia, who already provide for old-age pensions, are to be further taxed in order that the remaining third of the population, who have made no provision for them, shall enjoy the benefit of the system.
– Why is not provision made in the remaining one-third ?
– Because their Legislatures, although in some cases dominated by members of the Labour Party, do not feel that thev can bring into operation a practical scheme.
– They are leaving it for us to do, and we shall do it in spite of the Opposition.
– Can the honorable member for Werriwa evolve, a practical scheme ?
– I shall not be called upon to do so until I sit on the Treasury benches, with the support of honorable members. It is proposed to penalize twothirds of the population of Australia because they have made provision for the payment of old-age pensions. It would have been better for them, under such circumstances, had no such provision been made.
– What proposal would the honorable and learned member support in preference to that of the Government?
– The proposal of the Government is so bad that it cannot be remedied. It is proposed that the revenue from certain duties should be ear-marked, save the word. If that arrangement were adopted, and the revenue exceeded the payments in pensions, we could not use the balance for any other purpose. The Legislatures of South Australia, Queensland Western Australia, and Tasmania, are mon capable of managing the internal affairs of those States than we are. What right have we to thrust upon them our opinions ? Honorable members seem to have lost sight of the Federal idea. The States federated to secure one Administration in regard to matters of common interest. It was not thought that the Commonwealth Parliament would endeavour to make the States Parliaments do what they did not wish to do, or would try to force legislation upon the States against the will of their people.
– The honorable and learned member is in favour of direct taxation, but is afraid to say so, and other members of the Opposition are in the same position.
– I have always contended that in Australia the difference between direct and indirect taxation is greater than it Should be. In England 49 per cent. of the revenue is obtained bv direct taxation and 51 per cent, bv indirect taxation, and while in a voung country like this it would not be wise or politic to adopt the same ratio, I think that the difference is at present too great. The indirect taxation which is now levied is unjust, falling too largely upon the poor.
– The Attorney-General says that the honorable and learned member is wrong.
– The Attorney-General is a clever advocate who is accustomed to; bamboozle others. He does not mind how much is taken from the pockets of the people, so long as he can make them believe that they are not suffering. If the honorable and learned member for West Sydney and other honorable members were sincere, they would endeavour - to alter the ratio of direct and indirect taxation. I think that we should raise 35 per cent. of our revenue from direct taxation, and 65 per cent. from indirect ; but at present we raise barely 20 per cent, from direct, and 80 per cent. from indirect taxation. In New South Wales prior to Federation the ratio of direct to indirect taxation was as 29 to 71. My remarks on the subject of taxation, however, must always be taken as qualified by the statement that the less taxation imposed uponthe people the better for them. Members like the honorable member for Melbourne Ports would have us believe that it does. not matter how much taxation is imposed, so long as it is called protection. It is a ridiculous thing that members should support or oppose a proposal because of the name given to it. or because of the Minister by whom it is brought forward. But when I asked an honorable member whether he thought that if the Treasurer introduced a measure whereby £500,000 could be obtained it would be passed, he said “ No,” Later on, when, after having diverted his mind by other conversation, I said, “ If the Minister of Trade and Customs introduces a measure which will yield £500,000 by the imposition of protective duties will he carry it,” the reply was “Yes.” I need hardly say that the brain which is so fearfully and wonderfully fashioned that it gives different answers to the one question belongs to a member of the protectionist party.
– Do protective duties give revenue ?
– Not if by protection is meant prohibition ; but, just as freetrade does not mean the abolition of Customs houses, so protection does not mean absolute prohibition. Can any one contend that necessity has arisen for the alteration of the Constitution in the manner proposed? Seeing that , £700,000 is already expended in the payment of oldage pensions, and that only another £700,000 need be provided, can it be shown that special taxation must be imposed to provide the money? If special taxation were needed, it should be im posed on those who can best afford to bear it.
– Upon whom would the honorable member impose it?
– Not on the poorest in the land. The wealthy should contribute more thanthe poor.
– What form of direct taxation would the honorable and learned member propose?
– I would combine direct with indirect taxation. Direct taxation covers chiefly the taxation of land and incomes, and the imposition of stamp duties.
– What form of land taxation would the honorable member suggest?
– An equitable tax, so that no one should escape paying his share.
– What would the honorable and learned member call an equitable tax ?
– The honorable member knows what my opinion is - that taxation is a bad thing, and the less we have of it the better. When it is necessary, direct and indirect taxation should be combined; but I refer him to any elementary primer for information on the subject at large. It is an outrage upon the sound principles of constitutional government to ask us at the fag end of the last session of a. Parliament, when we are sitting from ten in the morning till twelve at night, to consider a proposed alteration of the Constitution. That in itself is a sufficient reason for opposing the proposal of the. Government. No justification has been urged for the course proposed. The ear-marking of certain funds is one of the worst schemes that could be devised. One good result that would follow the adoption of the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is that it would prevent the raising of money until a scheme had been formulated. The Government would not resort to such taxation if they knew that the money raised would not be available for purposes other than that specified. Very little consideration has been given to the probable effect of the proposal upon the smaller States, and I am astounded that the Government should have had the audacity to propose this alteration of the Constitution. The Constitution should be amended only when matters of vital importance are affected, ;ind only after the fullest possible attention has been drawn to them. Does any one suppose for a moment that, if the present proposal be agreed to, the public will have an opportunity to make themselves acquainted with the question regarding which they will be called upon to vote? Every one knows that the public mind is alreadyagitated by a dozen other questions, and that the present proposal is being slipped through, as it were, in the dark. If we agree to the measure now before us, we shall be acting in a. manner unworthy of men who aspire to be called politicians. If honorable members had any claim to the title of statesmen, they would know that progress and prosperity are not brought about by continual changes. A fixed Government, though not a good one, may be ‘better than one that is always being changed. Settlement and continuity in the policy of the country are necessary to progress and prosperity, and changes in the Constitution should not be made until full time has been given for consideration, or unless the interests of the people as a whole are at stake. If the Constitution is amended in the manner proposed, the alteration will be used as a precedent for other changes, which we may expect to have placed before us in rapid succession. There might have been some reason for proposing to submit to the electors the question of electing quinquennial instead of triennial Parliaments. The Government might have claimed that it was better, and more in consonance with the principles of government, that honorable members should be able to study for a longer period the questions demanding their attention in the wider political field opened up to them in the Federal Parliament. In this Parliament the first year is spent by an honorable member in obtaining knowledge as to the manner in which parliamentary work should be carried out. The second year is really the only period during which he is in a pro3er frame of mind to devote himself to the consideration of the questions which come before him. During the third year he is so much occupied in making speeches to his constituents, with a view to securing his return at the forthcoming elections, that it is impossible for him to give full and fair consideration to the’ measures submitted to the House. In view, further, of the risk now incurred of repeated reversals of policy, the Government might very well have asked the elec tors to consider the desirability of electing the House for five years, instead of three. If, however, they had brought forward such a proposal, I should still have urged that a change of the Constitution should not be lightly contemplated. ‘ In fact, we should not seek to amend the Constitution unless we find it impossible to arrive at any other solution of the difficulty which confronts us. If, by repeated alterations of the Constitution, we weaken the belief of the great masses of the people in its stability, we shall prepare the way for more dangerous innovations, which may ultimately lead to the breaking-up of the Federation.
– I have listened very patiently to the debate, and it appears to me that no insuperable objections have been raised to my amendment. Up to the present time this Parliament has utterly failed to carry out the promises made to the electors at the last elections. In Western Autralia, at all events, no candidate urged that it would be impossible for the Commonwealth to institute a scheme of old-age pensions. Difficulties were raised only after honorable members had secured their return. I had the honour of being a member of the Old-age Pensions Commission, which entered upon its work upon the Understanding that the establishment of a Federal old-age pensions scheme was approved of by nine-tenths of the member* of this Chamber. It was not regarded by members as the duty of the Commission to consider whether it was desirable to establish such a scheme, but the attention of the members was devoted solely to devising the best means by which provision should be made for giving effect to the wishes of the people as expressed by honorable members. The time has arrived when the Government should face the responsibility of providing for old-age pensions. Ministers have urged that in order to give effect to the will of the people, it is necessary to amend the Constitution. I have always held the view, however, that we have had the means at our disposal without resorting to any such step. By a judicious manipulation of our funds, and by retaining the surplus of the Commonwealth share of revenue which has been paid back to the States, we might have been able to lav the foundation of an old-age pension scheme. This Parliament, however, seems to desire to take over from the States almost every other responsibility except that of providing for old-age pensions. We have incurred a liability in connexion with the payment of bounties to the extent of £500,000, and to the extent to which certain duties recently imposed become protective, they will involve a loss of further revenue. Then there is the proposal to lose between £200,000 and £300,000 by establishing penny postage. In these and other directions, we have thrown away revenue which would have provided us with at least a portion of the funds required to establish an old-age pensions system. The balance required could have been raised by imposing direct taxation. The point raised by the Prime Minister as to our constitutional obligations to the States has been effectively disposed o#. As I stated on a former occasion, no one part of the Federal compact is more sacred than another, and no provision should be amended without the fullest consideration. I believe that if we decide by an absolute majority to remit to the people the question whether old-age pensions shall be provided for out of the Customs and Excise revenue, an’ affirmative answer will be given. Under the Government proposal, special duties are to be placed upon articles now admitted free into the Commonwealth,, and it will be impossible to raise the funds required without imposing duties upon tea and kerosene. If taxes were levied upon these articles, they would impose a heavy burden upon the poorer classes of the community who live in cities and who cannot afford to pay for electric light or gas, and also upon farmers and other residents in the country districts whom the Government profess to be very anxious to assist. Apart from the question as to the sections of the community upon whom the greater part of the burden would fall, I do not think it is desirable to levy special duties in order to provide for old-age pensions. The Commission unanimously condemned resort to any such means.
– The present Government has flouted all the reports presented by Commissions which it has appointed.
– I do not know that that is very material to the point at issue. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the Old-Age Pensions Commission unanimously reported against the imposition of specific taxation for the purpose of raising funds with which to defray the cost of a national scheme. Under the Government proposal such items in the Tariff as narcotics, silks, &c, upon which it might be deemed de’sirable to levy extra taxation, would be specifically excluded from additional taxation. I do not think that it is any part of our duty to provide large surpluses for the States Treasurers. I ask honorable members whether the surpluses at present available in the different States are being distributed in the best possible manner ? Personally, I regard large surpluses as a great evil. We all recognise that they are allocated by the States Treasurers in a most objectionable fashion, and that if constituencies are not actually bought with them, particular care is exercised to see that the interests of the electorates which return Government supporters are not neglected.
– They get as close to buying the constituencies as possible.
– If the States were to utilize the surpluses which they derive as the result of bountiful seasons to relieving the deficits which are accumulated during lean years, a great many of my objections to the Government proposals would be removed. But the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Carruthers, who anticipates having a surplus of £1,400,000 next year, is already making provision for a considerable decrease in the apology for a land tax which is operative in that State, despite the fact that a large section of its people are being crushed by land monopolists. Under these circumstances, I can see no possible justification for adding to the surpluses of the States Treasurers. At the present time, the inhabitants of Western Australia have to pay £4 per head in indirect taxation, chiefly upon articles of general consumption.
– The amount is £3 14s. per head.
– I may tell the Treasurer that it has reached about £6 per head. Consequently, a man with a family of four is at present required to contribute £20 annually. So far, no land tax has been imposed in Western Australia. The whole idea of its Government has been to collect Customs duties upon the foodstuffs required by the people. But having been compelled by the force of public opinion to take some action, its members are now adopting just that fragment of a, land tax which will enable them to save their political skins.. The Prime Minister stated that under the Government proposal
Western Australia would be called upon to contribute £85,000 annually towards oldage pensions.
– That is the calculation of 1’he Tasmanian Statist.
– I have in my possession some figures which throw a very peculiar light upon the way in which duties upon tea and kerosene would operate from the stand-point of Western Australia’. I find that in 1903 the Commonwealth imported 24,716,000 lbs. of tea and 15,000,000 gallons of kerosene. Probably honorable members will be surprised to learn that a duty of 5d. per lb. upon tea and of a like sum per gallon upon kerosene would realize only half the amount that would be required for the payment of old-age pensions. That duty would represent an ad valorem rate of 77 per cent, and 74 per cent, respectively. I think that is a pretty stiff tax. It would require a duty of about lod. per gallon upon kerosene, and of 9d. per lb. upon tea to provide for a national system of old-age pensions, providing the imports remain the same. That appears to me to constitute such an enormous tax that no Government would be prepared to father it. Unfortunately, the taxation of these commodities will fall only upon the poorer section of the community. In 1904 West-, em Australia imported 2,150,000 lbs. of tea and 1,470,000 gallons of kerosene. Upon the assumption that a duty of 5d. per lb. were levied upon tea, and an equal amount per gallon upon kerosene, she would be called upon to contribute £75,000 annually. But, inasmuch as the rate I have mentioned would only be sufficient to meet half the amount necessary to pay old-age pensions, Western Australia would have to pay on that basis £150,000 annually. According to the Government Statist/ there .are only 4)3°° persons in Western Australia who are eligible by years for old-age pensions. Applying to that State the proportion that obtains in the other States of those necessitous persons, only about 1,677 persons there would be the recipients of pensions. A great number of these have only been resident in Western Australia during the past few years. To pay them upon the New South Wales basis would cost Western Australia £40,000. Under the proposal of the Prime Minister, therefore, we should be taking from Western Australia £150,000 ‘annually in specific duties for the purpose of meeting a liability of £40,000. Such a proposal is too outrageous for this Parliament to consider. Western Australia has shown her patriotism by accepting the sugar bounty, the sugar duties, and the duties on boots, as well as by extending consideration’ to various manufactures chiefly carried on in other States, but she is not prepared to contribute £100,000 per annum to pay the old-age pensions in other States. I therefore say that the honorable member for Fremantle, when making his criticism, had not gone beneath the surface of the Government proposal. The scheme suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney is, to my mind, one that would not secure the support of a majority in any_ deliberative assembly.
– It is not at present practical politics.
– That is so. It is said that if my amendment be adopted it will meet with hostility from some of the States’ Treasurers.
– From all not from some.
– If the honorable and learned gentleman says that it will meet with hostility from all the States’ Treasurers, he weakens the argument advanced . by him. I hold that it is a more feasible scheme than that proposed by the Government. About two-thirds of the people of Australia reside in Victoria and New South Wales, where old-age pensions schemes are in operation, and where the people, by means of indirect taxation, have been required to raise more than is necessary to carry on the government of the country. Does the Prime Minister think that the people of New South Wales, where, notwithstanding that provision is made for an old-age pensions scheme, a surplus of nearly £1,500,000 is this financial year anticipated, would consent to additional Customs taxation, adding enormously to their present surplus?
– It rests with them to relieve themselves of that taxation.
– It is in the highest degree improbable that the people of either of the States which have made provision for old-age pensions, and have a large’ surplus, will vote for a proposal which means the imposition of additional Customs taxation upon commodities used chiefly by the poorer sections of the community. It is said that the remaining States will not be prepared to accept any reduction of their Customs revenue. Western Australia must under any proposal suffer some loss of revenue, and I am satisfied that the vast majority of the electors of Kalgoorlie will vote to lighten the burden of taxation on foodstuffs. They are prepared to direct taxation into other channels which are designed to carry all that is necessary for the government of the country. In these circumstances, I appeal confidently to the Committee to accept my amendment. We are not responsible for the views of any State Treasurer. We have to place on the shoulders which can carry it most equitably the taxation necessary for the government of Australia. To impose a tax on foodstuffs, as suggested bv the Government, would be most undesirable.
– Would not the honorable member’s .amendment make Tasmania’s position a very difficult one?
– It would probably impose upon the Parliament of that State the obligation to so direct its taxation as to break up the large estates there. If that were done, the people would not be huddled together in the chief cities whilst one-half of the island is held by about three landlords. I cannot appreciate the argument that my proposal would press heavily “upon the people of the States
– Does the honorable member think that Tasmania would have entered the Federation if the return of three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to the States had not been promised?
– There is no justifica-don for the statements we frequently hear that Federation would not have been accomplished but for the insertion of this or that provision in the Constitution. Sentiment had much to do with the accomplishment of Federation.
– Was that the position in Western Australia?
– It was; but I regret that in the Federal Parliament the true Federal sentiment has not always been expressed, where Western Australian interests were concerned. I do not think that one part of the Constitution is more sacred than another, nor do I think that any of the States would be seriously injured if the amendment were adopted. I admit, of course, that it would mean that the States would be forced to allow the Commonwealth to retain money which they could distribute in various ways,’ but the underlying value of my amendment is that it would compel the taxation necessary for this desirable object to be diverted into channels along which it should run if we are to have a truly just system.
– I should not have spoken to this question but for the remarks made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie in regard to the position of Tasmania and Western Australia. I am in favour of old-age pensions, and have never hesitated to express my belief that a federal system should be established. Whilst I do not consider that we should lightly agree to any alteration of the Constitution, I think that we ought to be prepared to accept an amendment of it when it is necessary to enable a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions to be established. I certainly think that it is our dutv to take this question into serious consideration, and to bring the scheme into operation as speedily as possible. We have been told that the introduction of these proposals at the fag-end of the session prevents our giving proper consideration to them. As a matter of fact, the question has been discussed at almost every political gathering since the inauguration of Federation, and since the Hobart Conference we have had ample opportunity to consider it in all its details. I know that there are many difficulties in the way, and I would point out that Tasmania, owing to losses sustained as the result of Federation, has been compelled to resort to various means of raising the revenue necessary for the administration of her Government. It has been stated during the debate that the money not so raised remains really in the pockets of the people- That is not the case. Since the establishment of Inter-State free-trade Tasmania has largely imported from New South Wales and Victoria instead of from foreign countries, with the result that she has suffered a considerable loss of revenue. With the exception of a few articles she has not been able to obtain what she required cheaper from the mainland than she could previously obtain ;them from other countries. Taken as a whole, the position of the Treasurer of Tasmania has been one of great difficulty, since he has lost half of the revenue that was collected under the State Tariff. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has clearly pointed out what would be the position of Western Australia if special duties were imposed for this purpose on tea and kerosene. As a matter of fact, the Government have not indicated what items they propose to submit to special taxation, and until they do I shall not assume that their intention is to impose duties on tea or kerosene. It remains for them to bring forward their proposals in the next Parliament, and I am sure that when they do honorable members will be prepared to give fair consideration to the complaint that a proposed duty would operate unfairly on the people of any State. At the present time the only question before ‘ us is whether the Constitution shall be so amended as to enable the Government to impose special duties for a special purpose. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie told us that if the ‘Government proposal were adopted Western Australia would be taxed nearly four times as much as would be necessary to enable her to establish a State system of old-age pensions. I would remind him that when the Works Estimates were before us a few days ago he did not object to a proposal to expend ‘£180,000 in that State, when as a matter of fact it was entitled to an expenditure of only £70,000. It is only fair that both sides of the question should be put before the Committee. I do not propose to further occupy the attention of honorable members, because I know that it is the general desire that we should now. proceed to a division. As the only representative of Tasmania present, however, I felt it was my duty to show that the Treasurer of that State could not agree to any reduction from the revenue now received by him under the Braddon section. Two years after Federation four different schemes of taxation, designed to make ends meet, were submitted to the State Parliament.
– Why did they not revalue the Van Diemen Company’s lands?
– That question is not now under consideration. I shall support the Government if they bring forward proposals for obtaining additional taxation to pay old-age pensions, so long as no injustice is done to any State individually. It has been said that the poor and the people in the country will suffer most if additional taxation is imposed; but the question before us at the present time is not the imposition of taxation, and we must consider every proposal on its merits when it comes before us.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause - put. The Committee divided.
Question! so resolved in the affirmative.
– Do I understand that the Prime Minister contemplates proposing in the next Parliament, if the collection of special duties be sanctioned by the people, the imposition of duties on tea and kerosene only? If that is so, the public should be informed, so that the electors may have an opportunity to say whether they indorse that proposition. The honorable member for Bass says that it will be sufficient to have that question answered when the people have given their assent to the proposed alteration of the Constitution. I do not agree with him.
– Why not? Cannot the honorable member trust the Government ?
– I have my own responsibilities. The honorable member, although he made a speech whose p’oints he asked’ the honorable member for Bland to distinguish - and they were as numerous as the spines of a porcupine - was not very clear as to what his attitude on this matter would be. We have just found him voting for the Government proposal.
– No. I intend to vote against it.
– If the people sanction the proposed alteration of the Constitution, Parliament will be empowered to .authorize the collection of special duties of Customs. Duties on tea and kerosene were among those specially mentioned at the Conferences of Premiers.
– Have other duties been mentioned ?
– Yes; duties on minor articles not now dutiable. The Government will submit its own proposals to the electors.
.- It seems to me that before asking the electors to approve of a change in the Constitution, we have a right to know what steps will be taken under the increased powers given to the Government to obtain revenue. The Prime Minister has spoken as if the necessary revenue could be raised by imposing duties upon a great number of articles. But we know very well that1 that is not the case. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie asked a very direct question-
– And he obtained as direct an answer as could’ be given.
– I think that we have a right to know what are the intentions of the Government.
– The House has no right to know the policy which the Government will announce to the electors.
.- Personally, I regret that the amendment was not carried. Under present conditions, I feel disposed to vote for the Government proposal, because I do not care to place any obstacle in the way of referring the whole question to the people, and leaving them to decide it for themselves. My vote as a- citizen will be given against the Government proposal, and I shall use all. the influence I .have to defeat the proposed amendment of the Constitution.
– As I believe that the resources we already have within the limits of the constitutional powers and functions assigned ‘to us are sufficient, I shall not assist in remitting to the people the question of the amendment of the Constitu tion. There is no necessity for any such step, and I shall vote against the Bill.
.- I could not give my assent to any alteration of the Constitution unless I believed that there was urgent necessity for the change. Above all things, I could not approve of any proposal that, if carried into effect, would involve the imposition of further taxation upon the masses of the people by means of duties upon tea and kerosene. If any further taxation is to be imposed, we should preserve the proper proportion between that directly and indirectly levied upon the people.
– I cannot vote for the Government proposal, because I am not satisfied that the revenue required could not be raised in another way. I think that it is time that . we adopted a new method of ‘ raising revenue in order to provide for schemes such as that now in contemplation. I confess that it is a difficult matter to raise sufficient money, but all means should be exhausted before we place further burdens upon the people we wish to relieve.
.- I would point out to honorable members that this is not a proposal to impose taxation. It is intended to confer upon the Government power to raise the funds necessary to provide for the payment of old-age pensions.
– It is the first step towards increased taxation.
– I have already .expressed my views very strongly with regard to direct taxation, and I need not dilate upon that point. First of all, we are called upon to provide the funds necessary for the payment of old-age pensions. As was previously pointed out, the persons whom we are seeking to benefit cannot raise a cry before the doors of Parliament. All that they can do is to rely upon the promises of politicians, and these have been broken time and again. We all say that we are in favour of old-age pensions.
– And no one pretends that it is constantly impossible to provide for them.
– No. We are paying high salaries to our officials, and are providing hundreds of thousands of pounds with which to assist strangled industries. We do not hear difficulties suggested when proposals are made to increase salaries by some hundreds of pounds.
But when a big question of this kind is under consideration, every constitutional point is taken, largely because those who were eligible for pensions in the two largest States of the Union have already been provided for. I say that this proposal is the most important one that has yet claimed the attention of Parliament, and that we should seek ample powers to enable us to legislate in respect of it during the first session of the next Parliament.
– I wish to put the honorable member for Hindmarsh right in regard to this matter. We are accustomed to hear him boast of his labour proclivities, and of his desire to uphold the platform upon which he was elected. I wish to draw his attention to one particular plank in that platform which he has evidently forgotten, namely, the referendum. This Bill provides for a direct appeal to the people upon the question of old-age pensions. If the honorable member votes against it he will be voting against the referendum, which is one of the main planks in the Labour platform.
– I shall vote against it.
– Then the honorable mem.ber will have to answer to his organization for having violated his pledges, and I will see that it calls him to account. We have used the question of old-age pensions as a placard quite long enough. In a previous session dust was thrown into the eyes of the electors by the appointment of an Old-Age Pensions Commission. It was a perfect farce to appoint such a body, seeing that seventy out of seventy-five members of this House are in favour of the payment of old-age pensions. The only five members who are opposed to the Commonwealth initiating a national scheme are Conservatives representing. Victoria. One of my planks at the last elections was oldage pensions. I desired to secure the payment of pensions to those who had borne the heat and burden of the day in western Queensland.
– Why have not the Queensland Government provided them ?
– I have not the slightest idea. The referendum is one of the main planks of the Labour platform, and I intend to vote for the Bill upon that ground alone.
– I would point out to the honorable member for Maranoa that a referendum is always taken upon matters of general policy, and not upon matters of detail. The Bill under consideration relates to a subject in respect of which two-thirds of the people of Australia have already pronounced their opinions. If the honorable member chooses to declare himself in favour of it, he is at liberty to do so. ‘But he must not imagine that the Bill provides for the taking of a referendum upon the subject of oldage pensions. It merely provides for submitting to the people a proposed amendment of the Constitution, which involves the question of whether this Parliament shall be empowered to levy special duties and to appropriate the revenue therefrom for the purpose of paying old-age pensions to those persons who are eligible to receive them’, but who have not vet been provided for.
– We have had placards enough; let us have something practical.
– There are a dozen ways in which the necessary funds can be raised. If we arrived at an arrangement with New South Wales and Victoria, we should not require to raise more than an additional £500,000 or £600,000 to enable us to pay old-age pensions throughout the remainder of the States.
– Only about onefourth of the persons who are entitled to old-age pensions are not already in receipt of them.
– Then this Bill is a piece of wild electioneering, and does not represent a policy which has been framed with” a view to serious consideration. For these reasons, I have no hesitation in opposing the Government proposal. I hope that honorable members will recognise that according to the statement made by the Prime Minister he is to-day looking chiefly to two duties to provide the necessary revenue.
– He did not say that he was.
– I accept the honorable member’s assurance, but he would find himself in an awkward position if he as:serted later on that the Prime Minister had made no such statement, and the honorable and learned gentleman were able to show that he had. I take it that the honorable and learned gentleman has foreshadowed the additional items which he thinks must be subjected to taxation for this purpose. I do not feel called upon to support any proposal which would require me later on to vote for duties on tea and kerosene to make provision for one-third - or if the statement of the honorable member for Hindmarsh be correct - one-fourth of the citizens of Australia for whom old-age pensions have not yet been provided. Such a tax would be borne chiefly by those who have already provided for old-age pensions. We ought to be able to devise a scheme which will not fall on the people of those States.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that we ought to exhaust all other possibilities of raising the revenue required for this purpose before we resort to special taxation. Every one will agree to that proposition, but it is admitted that in addition to any savings we might effect, we should still have to raise £700,000 or £800,000 to make up the sum required for this purpose.
– That is on the recommendation of the Old-age Pensions Commission.
– Quite so. It seems to me that unless we accept the only possible means open to us - and this seems to be the only means - of raising that additional sum. we shall render it impossible to establish old-age pensions for at least another three years’. In these circumstances, I think it is our bounden duty, if we are earnest in the desire to secure the passing of an old-age pension scheme, to vote’ for the Government proposal.
– The Government scheme will involve the raising of an additional £1,200,000 or £1,500,000.
– The honorable member knows that if we had to raise thatadditional sum we could not do so by means of additional Customs taxation. We should be “ cribbed, cabined, and confined,” and those who were anxious to see the adoption of an old-age pensions scheme,’ would go on as heretofore - putting off the evil day, when such taxation should be imposed. I believe that we ought to carry out our promise to the electors to secure the establishment as early as possible of a system of old-age pensions, and that the proposal of the Government affords the only reasonable means of doing so.
– The honorable member for Boothby asserts that the method proposed by “the Government is the only one bv which an old-age pensions system could’ be estab lished. If I thought that it was, I should vote with the Ministry on this occasion. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that we should take a step that will involve raising by additional taxation the whole of the money required to finance an old-age pensions scheme. We have it on official authority that only one-fourth of the people are not receiving pensions. Three-fourths of the people are being paid old-age pensions by the several States, and surely the finding of the remaining fourth-, without any addition to our Constitutional powers, does not involve any supreme problem of statesmanship.
– - I do not propose to check ‘the honorable member’s calculations, although I believe they are mistaken. I will also assume that the honorable member is correct in his assertion that there is within our reach a practical means of providing old-age pensions without resorting to that suggested by the Government. What I wish to emphasize is that by adopting the Government proposal we shall not part with any other. Whatever means there are of providing for old-age pensions by financial re-arrangements, which to my mind are extremely improbable, all: of them would remain open to us as well. If such a rearrangement could be accomplished - and my’ present opinion is that it could not - I would infinitely prefer it to the proposal now before us. Nothing bars the way except the want of unanimity among the States. Our proposition is put forward -as an alternative, as the one certain means to enable this question to be settled by the next Parliament if we are fortunate enough to obtain the assent of the electors to it. I hope that the honorable member for Barrier, in the light of these facts, will reconsider the opinion he has uttered to-night. If the people assent to the Bill they will give us a power to exercise if all other means fail. We shall still possess any other means now open to us to make a re-adjustment of our financial responsibilities to enable old-age pensions to be provided. If such a readjustment can be made, we shall at the same time settle several other great problems and do a splendid work that we all desire to accomplish. But we desire to have this power in reserve in order that if other ambitions are foiled we shall- not have to postpone for another four years the granting of old-age pensions.
– Two or three other means open to us to raise the necessary funds ought to be exhausted before we touch the Customs duties.
– That will be forthe representatives of the people to decide.
– We still have a portion of the one-fourth of Customs and Excise revenuein hand, although 1 admit that it is diminishing. I was from the first a member of the Labour Party in South Australia, and although that party was a protectionist one, it had as one of the planks of its platform a provision that no duty should be imposed on tea, coffee, cocoa, kerosene, or other articles which could not be grown or manufactured in the State. That plank remained in their platform until 1901, but if the Prime Minister’s proposal be carried, we shall, raise the bulk of the sum necessary for old-age pensions by means of duties on two of the articles mentioned. I quite agree that if the Parliament is given power to say thatthe necessary funds shall be raised in that way, we shall keep back the imposition of direct taxation. I know of no section of the House outside the Labour Party which is prepared to impose a national land tax. I therefore think that the Government should first make an effort to obtain the necessary funds for that purpose from other sources, and that no difficulty would be experienced in making good, by means of Customs duties, any slight deficiency. . I shall vote against the Government proposal.
Question - That the clause be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative
Clause agreed to.
– I wish to be recorded as having voted with the Noes in the last division. I do this as a protest against the extravagant language used by the honorable member for Maranoa. It Is too bad for an honorable member to attack another who gives a vote according tohis conscience, as the honorable member did.
– I cannot take notice of the honorable member’s request, as his vote has been properly recorded.
– I was crossing the floorduring the division when you stopped me, sir.
– The tellers had then been appointed, and it was out of order for the honorable member to cross from one side of the chamber to the other.
Bill reported without amendment.
– I wish to lay on the table the following paper: -
Statistics relating to States Debts, and move -
That the document be printed.
– I should like to ask why it is that the present Government can never furnish information to the House upon any subject except when the matter to which it relates is about to be discussed? It is not fair to the House. They are constantly doing this kind of thing.
– It will not take such a terrible amount of time to digest the information in the paper.
– Why should it not have been laid before the House a weekago?
-If I had not produced it now, the honorable member would not have asked for it.
– Does that alter the fact ? The Treasurer is supposed to be giving information which is to be of use to honorable members concerning a proposal before the House.
– We cannot do right.
– Of what use would the information have been had the Bill been disposed of to-night, as the Government desired? This is the way we have been treated throughout the session.
– Too much talk !
– I will not take any dictation from the right honorable gentleman, so that he might as well cease his remarks. It does not help matters for him to be sitting there jerking himself about in impatience. Throughout the session no information has been supplied to us upon matters under discussion until it was too late for it to be of service. If the information which is printed is to be of use, it should be available for honorable members as early as possible, so that they can make the best use of it in connexion with the consideration of the measures brought before us. If only on the ground of courtesy, the earlier circulation of information might be expected.
.- I think that information should be put before us earlier. If, as the Treasurer suggests, the document which it is now proposed to print will not take long to read, it could not have taken long to compile, and, therefore, should have been put before us sooner. Honorable members should have more time given to them for the consideration of the measures brought before the House.
– We are not going on tomorrow with the measure to which this document relates.
– The Treasurer may work on the plan of the man who said, “ I don’t do no readin’ myself. I listen to other blokes talkin’ “ ; but that is not my method. We have had cause of complaint all through the session about the withholding of information to which we should have had early access. One of the results is that members being ill-informed on subjects of legislation, amending Bills have constantly to be brought forward.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented, and (om motion by Mr. Groom) read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I should like to know what the length of the luncheon adjournment is to be to-morrow and on future days? Last week we took an hour and a half on one day and one hour on the next, but this variable arrangement is likely to cause confusion and loss of time.
– To meet the convenience of members who are engaged in business, the Government are willing to allow an adjournment of an hour and a quarter for luncheon, and an hour and a quarter for dinner, since one hour is found rather too little for the convenience of some honorable members during lengthy sittings.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.27 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 September 1906, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060918_reps_2_34/>.