4th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to know if the Department of Meteorology has yet taken steps to procure the publication of rainfall reports at the post offices in leading country centres, and, if not, whether the Minister of Home Affairs intends to provide for that being done?
– Prior to the Commonwealth taking over the Meteorological services, a system prevailed in New South Wales of exhibiting a limited amount of weather information at certain country post offices, and this has been continued. An extension of the system to other places in the Commonwealth has been considered and is kept in view, but it is not at present possible, as the Postal Department represent that the telegraph lines would be unable to carry the additional messages without interfering with the ordinary business for which they receive revenue.
– Is the Minister aware that only a limited number of offices in New South Wales have been supplied with weather information, and that a large number of offices require it? Will he, by increasing the efficiency of the telegraph service, or in some other way, see that this information is supplied to all places requiring it?
– The honorable member should put that question to the Postmaster-General. I am willing to provide for the supplying of the information if my honorable colleague will arrange for its transmission.
– I draw the attention of the Postmaster-General to the fact that this is the first day of September, and ask him whether, in view of the numerous petitions which have been presented to Parliament, he is determined to pursue his relentless policy regarding the application of the toll system to all telephone subscribers ?
– Regulation 7a is in force to-day.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice - 1.Was the Ordinance fixing the scale of rations, the rate of wages, hours of labour, &c., affecting the natives of Papua, enacted by the Lieutenant-Governor by and with the consent of the Legislative Council of Papua?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are - 1, 2, 3. The Native Labour Ordinance of 1906 was enacted by the Administrator, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council of Papua.
It was approved by the Governor-General in Council on the 5th March, 1907. A copy was laid before Parliament and printed, see Parliamentary Papers, 1907-8, volume 2, page 1645. That measure provides the conditions of recruiting, see sections 12-27.
It does not provide a rate of wages to be paid, but attention is invited to sections 47-51, which deals with wages.
The Ordinance gives power to make regulations. These have been made by the Executive Council, and were approved by the Minister on the 14th September, 1909. They provide for rations and hours of labour. I have caused a copy of the regulations to be sent to the honorable member.
asked the Min ister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the great delay which would be caused in the transportation of troops, and their equipment, to different parts of the Commonwealth, owing to the . want of uniform gauge in railway lines, will the Minister for Defence consider the advisability of offering a substantial prize for such invention as will overcome the break of gauge?
– The Minister of Defence has supplied the following answer -
The question of break of gauge appears to be one for the State Governments to deal with, but with a view of making some workable scheme by which efficient arrangements can be made for all the details of military transport in time of war, it is proposed to invite the Premiers of the several States to approve of a conference Between their Railways Commissioners and representatives of the Defence Department.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the additional facts, supported by evidence, which have come to light in connexion with Sparling’s case, also the serious allegations made against officers of his Department in connexion with this case, and the injury which it is alleged has been and is still being done to Sparling, will the Minister cause a full investigation to be made into the whole matter?
– The matter was inquired into fully by a properly constituted Board, appointed under the Public Service Act, when Mr. Sparling had the opportunity of stating his case and producing all the evidence he desired. In view of the evidence of Mr. Sparling’s record as disclosed in the papers, I do not feel justified in re-opening the case. Indeed, I am doubtful if I have the legal power to do so.
Debate resumed from 18th August (vide page 1756) on motion by Mr. Atkinson -
That, in the opinion of this House, the Commonwealth should forthwith take over the inspection and effective control of produce passing from State to State.
.- I sympathize with the honorable member for Wilmot in his desire to remove unnecessary restrictions from Inter-State trade, because I am sure that he would, at the same time, do all that can be done to protect each State from the introduction of fruit and vegetable diseases and pests. A great argument in favour of Federation was that it would open to the producers and manufacturers of the States the markets of the whole continent; but I am afraid that the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution, has often been violated, though we are apt to consider that State inspecting authorities are actuated by parochial motives when they are not. I do not impute such motives to those who are charged with the inspection of produce passing from State to State, but I think that whole States have been quarantined by other States when it would have been sufficient to quarantine merely infected areas. The Inter-State trade of Australia has now assumed very large proportions, and will continue to grow. Our climate has such a wide range - from the temperate to the tropical - that a large interchange of produce is inevitable. The present system of inspection is expensive, and increases the prices paid by the consumers without benefiting the producers. Although fruit can be grown in Australia all the year round, and is almost a necessary food, it costs so much in Melbourne and in the other large cities that it is practically beyond the reach of persons in ordinary circumstances. When a case of apples is brought here from Tasmania, 6d. is charged for inspecting the fruit - 3d. at each end.
– I think the charge at the Victorian end is id. per case.
– And the charge at the Tasmanian end is lod. a ton.
– At any rate, inspection fees are charged at both ends. Let me read the press report of a meeting recently held at Doncaster, Victoria, complaining of the cost of inspection -
A protest has been made by Mr. E. Lawford, on behalf of the Doncaster Fruit-growers’ Society, against the practice of the various States in compelling the growers to pay fees sufficient to defray the cost of the inspection of their fruit at the place of importation. The society contends that this system of inspection is detrimental to the fruit trade generally, and harassing to the grower individually, and claims that it should be discontinued. It points out that it costs a grower ^3 ros. per acre of full-bearing trees to combat the various fruit pests to which Victorian orchards are liable, but that the present inspection fees amount to about £1 5s. per acre.
Those who have any knowledge of fruitgrowing are aware that that is an enormous charge. The honorable member for Wilmot deserves the thanks of the people of Australia for bringing this matter forward, because good must come from its ventilation in Parliament. But the problem is a difficult one, and the Commonwealth is not, at present, in a position to deal with it. Before the Commonwealth can take over the inspection of produce passing from State to State, it must create a huge inspecting department.
– Could it not employ the quarantine officials?
– No doubt we might enlarge the Quarantine Department, and thus provide for the inspection of fruit and vegetables passing from State to State without imposing any additional burden on the taxpayer. As a matter of fact, it is the producers, and not the general public, who now pay the whole cost of inspection.
– Which is equivalent to the imposition of duties on their produce.
– Yes; and, in some cases, to the imposition of very high duties, and as I said before, the spirit of the Constitution is violated by one State prohibiting the introduction of the produce of another State.
– Can a system of inspection be carried out expeditiously by a State, instead of having the power to quarantine a portion of it?
– When the matter is left to the States there is always a suspicion that they are acting from a parochial point of view, that is, that one State is trying to protect itself against the fair and just competition of other States. I do not know if I followed the honorable member’s question correctly, but I think that when Federation took place one of the rights which the States gave up was the right to tax the produce from other States. We find that taxation is being levied in many ways, not only by regulation under the health authorities, but also in the form of harbor dues. I think that an inquiry might well be instituted, with a view to action being taken in the very near future. The need for such action is growing more urgent every day. We have heard of the Irish blight in potatoes and of a number of pests in fruit and other crops. There is also that terrible scourge which is going to make itself felt throughout Australia. I refer to the tick pest which, I understand, started some years ago in the Northern Territory. It has gradually worked its way southward. The New South Wales “Government are trying to stop its progress at their northern border, but they might as well try to stop a tide with a pitchfork as attempt to prevent the spread of that pest. It is now making itself felt in parts of Queensland, and later it will spread throughout Australia. The Commonwealth Government could do very much to check its progress. In my opinion they would be warranted in making a thorough investigation into the spread of the tick, because it carries with it a dis- ‘ ease which must in time decimate many of our herds.
– In my motion there is nothing which would help that pest to spread. I am not proposing to remove any safeguards.
– I am not antagonistic to the motion. The argument which I am now using is that a Commonwealth Department could deal with all these questions more effectively than the States can do. In Queensland the tick pest has gradually worked its way southward. We have proclaimed buffer areas and clean areas, and gradually the latter have had to be converted into the former. New South Wales has, I understand, proclaimed a buffer area on its northern border, and it will only be a matter of a few years when that area will become infected. Northern stock may be prevented from crossing the border, but it is impossible to stop wallabies, kan- garoos, snakes, and birds from carrying the pest southward. The producers are suffering under border restrictions. It is an utter impossibility to get our stock across the border of New South Wales. During a drought in parts of Queensland we have stock which are quite fit to kill for beef. Even now our cattle are selling in Queensland at from 16s. to 20s. a hundredweight to the freezing establishments, and, as honorable members know, the cost of meat to the consumer is 4d. or sd., or perhaps 6d., a pound. The restriction upon the movements of our cattle has something to do with that position. I do not for a moment advocate the indiscriminate admittance of cattle into New South Wales and Victoria if they would spread disease amongst the cattle of those States. Those who understand the tick question know that the tick itself is not a pest, but a conveyor of disease to cattle. Until there is an outbreak of Texas fever in any particular area, the tickis no more harmful than the ordinary bush tick would be. But when Texas fever makes its appearance in a locality, if it is only in one beast, the disease is spread very rapidly by the ticks. These are questions which might be investigated by a department which I trust will be created before long by the Commonwealth. Under the Commerce Act, the Commonwealth Government have taken some control with regard to exports. They made a start before they were ready ; they have had to ask the States to administer the Act for the Trade and Customs Department, and the result is that we now have six methods of inspection. In some States fees are charged. In Queensland we pay for the inspection of our produce.
– Not to the Commonwealth.
– It may be news to the Minister to hear that we pay for our inspection.
– Yes, but you do not pay any fee to the Commonwealth. The State may charge a fee.
– In Victoria, I understand, no charge is made for an inspection under the Commerce Act. Three or four years ago, ^150 per annum was paid in inspection fees under my management. In New South Wales and Victoria inspection is free. In most industries where a large number of hands are employed, and large interests are at stake, those who are engaged therein are consulted, so that some idea of their. requirements may be gathered.
But we find that primary producers are not consulted. When the honorable member for Hume was Minister of Trade and Customs, he convened a Conference of producers, to discuss the proposed regulations under the Commerce Act which were then about to be put in force. I am afraid that they treated the honorable gentleman with rather scant courtesy. I plead guilty to being a member of the Conference, but the Minister himself treated its members with much less courtesy than was extended to him, as he simply told us what to do, and retired, leaving us to grapple with the question on which we were supposed to be conferring with him. The Conference came to the conclusion that they were assembled to decide whether they should be fried or griddled. Practically nothing came of the Conference, so far as the producers were concerned. Regulations were drawn up under the direction of various State officials, who remained behind to confer.
It is time that the producers were consulted. The importance of the industry may be gathered from the fact that in Australia we have 10,000,000 acres of land under cultivation ; pastoral country carrying 10,000,000 head of cattle, and dairying country carrying 2,000,000 head of cattle. We produce annually 448,000,000 gallons of milk, 146,000,000 pounds of butter, 15,000,000 pounds of cheese, and 4,000,000 pounds of condensed milk. Combined pastoral and agricultural production represents ^85,000,000 per annum. It will be seen that it is not a small industry, but one which deserves great consideration at our hands.
The Inter-State and export proportion of the trade is a large one, which also deserves very serious consideration. So far, the producers have not been consulted as to the best method of dealing with the question of inspection. I may be asked ‘ ‘ Why should it not be investigated by the Trade and Customs Department ? ‘ ‘ I wish to refer particularly to what that Department has done. One feels a certain amount of delicacy in criticising the work of an official, and the fact that a critic does not deal with his work seriatim, and point out the portions which he agrees with, should not lead any listener to infer that the whole of his work is condemned. Mr. Lockyer was asked by Sir Robert Best when he was Minister of Trade and Customs, to report on the butter export trade.
– He was instructed to inquire into the working of the Commerce Act, and not necessarily in regard to any particular item. He dealt with butter and meat, and is getting a report ready on fruit.
– At that time a deputation of producers made certain representations to the Minister with regard to the butter industry, and he very kindly promised to defer action until the matter was investigated. I do not know the nature of Mr. Lockyer’s instructions, but I know that he furnished a report on the butter export trade, and also a report on the meat export trade. The former report reached me first, although the two reports were ordered on the same date to be printed. I glanced through the report on the meat export trade, and it appeared to me that Mr. Lockyer went to work in the right way in compiling it. He went to those who were directly interested in the industry, and got his information at first hand, and consequently his report is an excellent one. There are many things in his report on the butter export trade which commend themselves to me. But I wish to refer to a few matters which indicate that he was asked to do something which he was hardly capable of doing. One naturally expects the Minister or the official head of a Department to be guided by the reports of his officers. It would be a pity if, in a general sense, it were” otherwise, but while that is so, I think it is the duty of every Minister to see that he surrounds himself with officers who are capable of advising him. That statement, I trust, will not be construed into a reflection upon Mr. Lockyer’s capabilities. I have no desire to make any reflection upon him, but I do think that, either he should’ not have been asked to furnish this report, or that since he was, he should have gone a little further and have obtained his information from a first-hand source.
– He is a very conscientious officer.
– I admit that, and say at once that some portions of his report are excellent. I wish, however, to refer to one or two of its misleading features in relation to the question of grading. At page 5 of his report Mr. Lockyer says -
Compulsory grading is in favour of all that is best in the industry. It protects the bona fide butter maker, who will not endanger his reputation by short weight or inferior quality. It is considered the indispensable feature of success in those countries which have attained a high level in the markets of the world in regard to excellence of quality and in the prices realized, and it is only opposed by those whose interests are purely personal and foreign to the true interests of the industry at large.
It will be admitted that Denmark is the most successful dairying country in the world, yet Danish butter has never been graded for export.
– Do the Danish Government allow any butter to be exported without bearing a Government stamp?
– Yes, they have, however, an excellent system of inspection which has always commended itself to me. The object of the Danish authorities has been to educate their people in the best methods of manufacture. The butter is occasionally inspected by experts, and if any fault is discovered the ordinary flow of trade is not interfered with by the inspection, but a man from the Government Department is placed in charge of the factory concerned, and is expected to discover the fault.
– That is worse still. It means taking the management of the factory out of the owner’s hands.
– It is Government interference.
-It is not Government interference but Government education.
– It means the protection of the consumer.
– That is so. I am sure that a butter-maker would be only too pleased to discover the cause of any fault in his product. Butter-making is one of the industries in which excellence brings its own reward in the shape of increased values. The opponents of this grading system are described in the report as -
Those whose interests are purely personal and foreign to the true interests of the industry at large.
The literal meaning of those words is that the whole or a very large percentage of those engaged in the production of butter on co-operative lines have interests foreign to the true interests of this great industry. I wish now to refer to a paragraph in this report in which Mr. Lockyer comments on a Conference which was held in Sydney -
Although fifty-six factories were represented at this Conference, only seventeen representatives were present when the resolution was carried.
The reference is to a resolution carried at the conference, condemning compulsory grade marking. At no time during the sittings of that conference were there more than twenty-six representatives present, so that only nine were absent when the resolution was carried. It is quite possible that the seventeen delegates present at the time represented a very large proportion of the fifty-six butter factories concerned. The unfortunate phase of this comment lies in the fact that it comes from an anonymous writer. His identity is well known to some of us, but it is a pity that Mr. Lockyer should have accepted the statement of an anonymous writer, and have embodied it in his report.
– But are his statements correct?
– They may be correct, but they are misleading. They are half truths. Mr. Lockyer goes on to say -
It may be added that Weddell and Co. are probably the greatest authorities on the colonial produce trade.
As one who has been in the trade, I disagree with that statement, and do not hesitate to say that Messrs. Weddell and Company were never recognised by the Australian butter producers as authorities on butter. They are well up in the beef trade. I should take their word in respect to the beef trade, perhaps, in preference to that of any other firm, but not in regard to the butter industry. In another paragraph, referring to the statement that classification marks are unnecessary, we have the statement -
That is true, to a certain extent; but, on the other hand, advances are made and c.i.f. sales effected at this end on the faith of the Government grading, and it appears probable, with the increasing perfection of our grading, the greater quantity of butter will be marketed in Australia.
As the report points out, that is a development greatly to be desired. If there is one thing for which we, as producers and cooperators, have fought during the last twenty-five years, it has been to do away with the speculative buying of our produce. We have always desired to be able ourselves to reach the markets that are open to those who would buy, up our produce. Very often the effect of their buying has been to bull and bear the London market to suit their own pockets.
– Gambling !
– I do not know that that term is strong enough to describe the practice. The desire of this Parliament at all times has been to break up monopolies, no matter how short their duration may have been. But speculators, for the last twenty-five years, have been trying to monopolize the Australian butter trade. They have been making such efforts, ever since we have been able to send butter to London in refrigerating chambers, and we have been able to fight them successfully, simply by a combination of dairy farmers to protect their own interest, and to place their own butter upon its merits on the London market. As I have already remarked, the Minister has a right to be guided by official reports, and he has been good enough to send me a copy of a report received from the officer administering the Commerce Act in Queensland upon some remarks which I made as a member of a recent deputation that waited upon him. That reply has reference to the cypher system. I certainly prefer the cypher system to grade marking, but, after all, it appears to be a “ smothering up “ practice, and one that does not express exactly what it should. It is pointed out by Mr. Lockyer, and Mr. Scrivener, in writing to the Minister, confirms this statement, that under the cypher system the proportion of first-grade butter in Queensland decreased from 47 per cent, in 1909, to 26 per cent, for the year ending 30th June, 1910. The percentage of first-grade butter for the year ended 30th June last, according to the reports, was 26 per cent., whereas the returns from the London market show that the butter sold there on its merits as first grade amounted to 75 per cent. Thus the man who puts his money into this business in London is prepared to take 75 per cent, of our produce as first grade. It is not true that we work nff our inferior grades of butter upon the local consumers. I find that that is impossible, except in regard to sales of inferior butter for pastry purposes. The Australian consumer knows what good butter is, and, consequently, the best butter is consumed in the Commonwealth. Buyers at the other end, however, grade 75 per cent, of our butter as first class. By way of illustration, I would point out that a firm in Queensland - the only firm competing with the Australian Sugar Refining Company - was asked to quote for 1.000 tons of sugar, for, I think New Zealand, One of the conditions was that the sugar should be put up under a special brand. The Commerce Act provides that the name of the factory and the word “ Australia “ shall be printed on every packet. The result was that this very large order went to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which probably supplied sugar produced outside Australia. I am not sure that I would suggest an alteration of. the existing system, but I do think that the whole matter should be investigated. No other country in the world, except New Zealand, has attempted the grading of produce for export.
– The system has been successful in New Zealand.
– Why does the honorable member object to grading?
– I do not object to grading, but to grade-marking.
– Why does the honorable member object to grade-marking ? It ought to be in the interest of the butter companies that that information should be given.
– As far as the butter industry is concerned, it is practically impossible to grade according to an absolute standard. A grade can be determined upon only in accordance with one man’s taste and judgment. The man who buys is sometimes prepared to pay a higher price for butter graded as second-class than for that with a first grading. But the fact that a second grading mark has been put on boxes or packets gives the buyer at the other end a lever to bring down the price of a commodity for which otherwise he would have been prepared to pay a reasonable price. I may give an instance from the experience of two factories working side by side in my own electorate. One factory believed in grademarking, and had the whole of its butter grade-marked during the past twelve months. The other factory objected to grade-marking. The returns from London showed that the factory that insisted on grade-marking received from is. to 6s. per cwt. less for its butter during the twelve months than the one that, adopted cypher marking. I should say that the two butters were equal in quality. At all events, both came from the same part of the country, and their produce should have been equal. But the placing of grade marks on the boxes led to a loss of .£600 for the twelve months, simply because the buyer had those marks to work upon.
– Does the honorable member mean to say that buyers give more for lower grade butter than for high grade ?
– Sometimes they do. What I meant to say is that buyers sometimes pay a higher price for butter that is graded second by our graders than for butter which has been graded first.
– Not on the same market. There may be a short market when the second grade butter is sold.
– I am alluding to butter sold on the same market, and sent to England by the same boat. I have known our second grades to realize higher prices than firsts on the same day in London. The merchant buys on his own judgment, if there is no mark on the boxes. But if there is a second grade mark on them, no matter what the quality may be, he insists upon a reduction in price. There is a difference of about Jd. per lb., or 4s. per cwt. between first and second grade in many instances. I have seen the same thing in Victoria. Perhaps it might be seen to-day if one went down to the saleroom. Last winter, Queensland secondgrade butter sold here at 8s. per cwt. less than first grade. Some of that secondgrade butter was sold to the Big Store, in Chapel-street, Prahran. There it was retailed at first-class prices. I bought some of it. _ I followed it right from Queensland to” the seller, and bought some to satisfy myself as to what was being done. The fact that the second-grade stamp was on the butter was worked on by the middlemen. I do not say that Maclellan and Company, of the Big Store, took advantage of the brand, but it was worked on by the middlemen. Consequently, the producer received less for his butter, but the consumer did not benefit, whilst the middlemen pocketed 8s. per cwt.
– How would the grading affect those conditions?
– It would affect them in this way : The manufacturer is his own judge of what is first-class quality butter. The buyer is also his own judge. He is prepared to back his judgment with his -money. But if there is a grade markon the boxes, a third party comes in and affects the value of the produce. Thereupon the buyer says, “ Your officials have graded this butler as second grade, I will pay you id.- less per pound for it than for first grade.” He does so, and reaps the benefit - which he does not pass on to the consumer. The consumer is not protected in any way, nor does he gain any advantage.
– Does the honorable member believe in cream grading?
– Yes, and I believe in milk grading also if I could get it.
– Milk grading and cream grading are right, but butter grading is wrong !
– The buyer grades the milk and the cream. The buyer would also grade the butter for himself if there were no grade mark upon it. I do not believe in any man coming in between the producer and the buyer and putting a value stamp upon an article.
– The honorable member does not believe in Government interference at all in this matter?
– The honorable member has no right to say that. There are certain functions which the Government ought to carry out. I believe in the inspection of produce passing from State to State. I believe in the inspection of produce passing from the Commonwealth to oversea markets. But the question is where this inspection should take place. If the Government are going to act merely as detectives on the border, and impound or prohibit the export of produce, they can do very little good. Let the Government put a mark on produce if they choose, but not a value mark. The Government are concerned only with protecting the reputation of Australian produce, and with safeguarding the health of the people in regard to foodstuffs. But to put a value mark on produce confers no benefit on the industry, nor on the consumer. I shall conclude by moving an amendment for the appointment of a Select Committee, which would be able to call before it persons interested in the producing industry, either as producers, merchants, or consumers. Those interested in the interchange of produce could give evidence. Such a Committee would be able to report to this House as to the best means of dealing with this very important question. In my opinion, the Commonwealth Government will before long have to administer the Commerce Act by means of its own officers. It is most unsatisfactory to have the Act administered by officers who are employed by the States, and responsible to them. They take their instructions from six different heads, and the result is that we have six different forms of inspection throughout Australia.
– The honorable member believes in unification in that matter?
– We require to have a uniform system. I do not think that we should be encroaching upon the rights of the States in doing what I recommend. The States, when they federated, surrendered the right of control over InterState trade. We should have uniformity as well as freedom of trade throughout the Commonwealth, and that involves a uniform system with regard to imports, exports, and inspection. This matter comes rightly within the sphere of Commonwealth action, and I would ask the Minister to give his most serious consideration to it. I move -
That all the words after the word “ House “ be left out with a. view to insert in lieu thereof the words (i) “A Select Committee with a representative from each State should be appointed to inquire into the best means of inspection and effective control of produce passing from State to State; (2) That such Committee should also inquire as to the most suitable means of inspecting, grading, and marking of produce intended for export.”
– I am sorry to have to oppose the amendment moved by the honorable member for Moreton. I promised the honorable member for Wilmot that, as soon as his motion had been disposed of, it was my intention to communicate with the various Ministers of Agriculture in the States, and endeavour to obtain uniformity in inspection charges, or, if that were not possible, more harmonious relations than apparently exists at present. Only yesterday Captain Evans, ex-Premier of Tasmania, brought under my notice a case, the facts of which are reported in the newspapers of to-day. It appears that on a shipment of apples to another State, the inspection charges amounted to over £100, although the work was completed in an afternoon, and should not have cost more than ;£io. If that be so, I consider, speaking, of course, as a layman, that there has been an undoubted violation of section 12 of the Constitution, which is as follows : -
After uniform duties of Customs have been imposed, a State may levy on imports or exports, or on goods passing into or out of the State, such charges as may be necessary for executing the inspection laws of the State ; but the net produce of all charges so levied should be for the use of the Commonwealth ; and any such inspection laws may be annulled by the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
Complaints are made that certain of the States levy such charges for the inspection of imports as to practically pay the whole cost of inspection, not only of imports, but of exports ; in other words, the whole cost of the Departments.
– Does the Minister know that of his own knowledge?
– No j as I say, the matter was brought under my notice as late as yesterday by Captain Evans. When speaking on the original motion I urged that the action of the States was doing more than anything else to force the Commonwealth into a system of unification, so far as this phase of Inter-State trade is concerned. The charges at present levied practically amount to barriers against other States ; and this will undoubtedly tend to make many honorable members, who have hitherto been strong State Righters, to favour the practical wiping out of State administration in this connexion.
– I contend that the Commonwealth has power under the Constitution to do what I ask without interfering with any State rights.
– That is a debatable point, on which we have had differing opinions from various Attorneys-General.
– I think the present AttorneyGeneral supports us.
– It was the intentionof the Attorney-General to speak on the motion, but he was not able to do so in the time allowed for private mem- . bers’ business. The honorable member for Moreton told us that the inspection charges under the Commerce Act vary in different States ; and that matter I shall have inquired into, because I am confident that no inspection charges should be made under that Act.
– I am confident I have paid the charges !
– Then the money goes to the States, and not to the Commonwealth. When the Commerce Act was passed, it was decided that, instead of creating a new Department, the services of State officers should be utilized, there not being work enough to keep them employed all’ the year round. In Tasmania, for example, the apple season lasts eight or ten weeks at the outside, and the butter season, in the other States for six or eight months only; and hence it was decided by the honorable member for Hume, I think, when he was Minister of Trade and Customs, that State officers should be employed. It was not until I assumed office that a single Commonwealth officer was appointed under the Commerce Act. The present Ministry decided that there should be a Commonwealth Act supervisor, and the successful applicant was Mr. Preedy, of New South Wales. His duties will be to supervise the administration of the Act, and ascertain what was being done in the various States.
– Who gets the fees?
– The Commonwealth does not charge fees.
– But the honorable member for Moreton says he has paid fees.
– When it was suggested by Mr. Lockyer in his report to charge a small fee of¼d. on each box of butter, there was an outcry on the ground that the industry could not bear to pay even that inspection fee on about £5 worth of produce.
– We have paid½d. per cwt. for the last five years.
– That is¼d. a box.
– That money did not come to the Commonwealth.
– But it came to£150 in our case !
– I shall make inquiries, and see that we get the money, or that the producers do not have to pay.
– Why charge the exporter at all?
– If by a charge we can practically compel exporters to improve the quality of the produce, and thus enable them to obtain increased prices, the money will be well spent. We should, I think, follow more on the New Zealand lines.
– We have left the New Zealand lines.
– If so, New Zealand is ahead of us so far as prices are concerned. Up to the appointment of Mr. Preedy. the question was whether the Commonwealth should administer the Commerce Act or leave it to the officers of the States.
– We should administer it ourselves.
– The honorable member is quite right; and I doubt whether there are any honorable members, or even a small percentage of the producers, who would advocate the retrograde step of abandoning the administration to the States. I was very glad to hear arguments to that effect from a deputation which waited on me in regard to the butter industry; and there is no doubt that we should have one system of administration under the Commerce Act, instead of six, as at present.
Honorable members will see in the Estimates that the charges in the various States are disproportionate to the services rendered. Some States charge infinitely more than others, and this made it absolutely necessary to appoint one officer to exercise a general supervision. As to grademarking, I must admit that I have learnt more about butter in the last few months than ever I knew before, thanks not only to honorable members, but to other persons outside, and also to a study of Mr. Lockyer’s report.
– Is it not onlyfair that the Minister should learn something about butter ?
– It is; and I dare say that there are honorable members who have also learnt a great deal since they entered this House. So far as I have gone, I have been guided by the experience of others, and have endeavoured to act as fairly as possible. The matter of grademarking I have still under consideration. It may be interesting to honorable members engaged in the butter industry to know that, so far as the percentage of butter fat is concerned, it will remain at 82, and that, while I should be very reluctant to increase the percentage of moisture beyond 1.4 for superfine, I have no intention to reduce it in other cases to less than 15 per cent. It will, however, take a little time for regulations to be formulated dealing with the whole matter. What worries me in regard to the grademarking is the fact that in the case of New Zealand, where the marking is compulsory, higher prices are obtained than for Australian butter. Figures in the Argus of last Monday week give the results of the seasons for the last four years, and show that, while the Australian average per cwt. is 108s.10d., the New Zealand average is 112s. 3d. At one time Victorian butter realized higher prices than the butter of New Zealand, but the position is now reversed. If this case stood alone it might be attributed to climatic or-
– There is a very good reason for that.
– However, the business is so complicated that no producer knows exactly what he is getting for his butter. I doubt whether the producer of cream knows whether or not he is paid the full value on the amount of butter produced or on a smaller amount. It would be very interesting to have balance-sheets in the case of some of the co-operative companies in order to ascertain the amount of butter they do produce, and not that which they allege they produce.
– What does the honorable member mean ?
– The Agricultural Gazette, a Government publication in New South Wales, has stated definitely that some butter factories which make 2,000 lbs. of butter only give credit for 1,850 lbs.
– I do not think it is correct to say that the factories will not show their balance-sheets.
– I should be delighted to see some of them.
– Surely their returns have to be filed under the Companies Act?
– It is now very doubtful whether the producer is in a position to know how he stands. I do not say that he is getting less than he ought from the factories, but it is possible to make it appear that he is getting1s.1d. per lb. when he is only getting1s.
– That is true.
– I am glad the honorable member admits it.
– That could only be done by faking the accounts.
– No; it is due to differing methods of arriving at a conclusion.
– Whether the butter is treated as commercial butter or otherwise?
– I do not say that the producers are being swindled, far from it.
– The basis of payment is not the same in all cases. Some factories pay on the butter fat and some on commercial butter.
– I am aware of that, but some of the producers think that they should get more for their produce, and it is claimed that we cannot accept New Zealand as a guide in the matter, because different methods are adopted there.
– New Zealand treats the milk, and in some of the Western districts of Victoria the conditions are the same.
– That is so. I think it is only right to inform honorable members that for 95 per cent. of her butter, which I presume is first grade, New Zealand receives the top price, whilst Australia does not receive the top price for more than 40 per cent. of her butter. There is a difference of opinion as to whether all our butter should be grade-stamped, and I have to admit that I still have some doubts on the matter, but I have no doubt that all pastry butter exported should be stamped.
– Hear, hear.
– The honorable member cheers that statement, but he should admit that if it is right to stamp the worst it is only logical, as well as right, to stamp the best. So far as fruit is concerned, I have it from a Tasmanian that Victorian apples graded for export fetch a better price than Tasmanian apples. One honorable member said that Victoria exports only a few barrels of apples, but the facts are that last season Victoria exported 200,000 cases, as against 500,000 exported by Tasmania, so that the Victorian export is about 40 per cent. of the Tasmanian export. My information is that Victorian apples graded fetch 2s. a case more than the Tasmanian apples.
– For the same kind of apples ?
– I understand so, and it must be clear that if by grading the Tasmanian exporters could receive a million shillings more for their 500,000 cases of apples exported it would be a big thing for the State.
– I understand that the higher price is obtained for Victorian apples because the exporters pack them more carefully.
– My informant was a Tasmanian, and he says that Victorian apples are graded.
– The higher price may have been obtained for a better quality of apples.
– I think that can hardly be the case, because I understood the statement to apply to the total export. It is claimed that it is right to grade cream delivered to the butter factories, and a farmer sending in poor cream would not then receive the best price for it, but I am at a loss to understand how honorable members can consistenly advocate the grading of cream and milk, and object to the grading of butter.
– Because the buyer would do the grading in one case, and not in the other.
– We take great care in Australia to protect the consumer of imported articles. If, for instance, there is any cardboard in imported boots, we compel the importers under the
Commerce Act to stamp them “ leather and cardboard.” While we do that, we allow our own people to export any sort of stuff they like without marking it.
– If we are to grademark butter at all, why should we mark only the worst?
– The marking required in connexion with boots is to protect the consumer against a wilful fraud.
– I cannot see why only the worst butter exported should be marked.
– I remind the honorable member that the amendment deals with the appointment of a Select Committee.
– I am giving reasons why I think the Committee should not be appointed. If it is appointed, the whole of the regulations under the Commerce Act will be hung up.
– Not necessarily.
– I am afraid they will. Honorable members are aware that objection was urged against the proposed regulation in connexion with telephone charges on the ground that it should be withheld until the Postal Commission had reported on the subject, and if we appointed a Select Committee to inquire into this question, I should be told that I ought not to enforce any regulations until the Committee presented their report. I admit that something should be done, and I have told honorable members what I propose to do.
– The Minister does not anticipate any radical changes?
– If it were decided to grade-stamp, the honorable member will admit that that would be a radical alteration. I have been glad to notice that the deputations waiting upon me in connexion with the matter have become less hostile as time has gone on. From the point of view of the Department, the second deputation was better than the first, and the third better than the second.
-It must be admitted that the deputation submitted important figures which deserve consideration.
– The figures from New Zealand where grade stamping is adopted, are irrefutable.
– I heard some one say that the Minister received the deputations with great patience.
– I think that is right, and I might be allowed to say that the receiving of butter deputations is a good training in patience.
– The Minister might say a word about the ticks.
– That is a matter of quarantine, and can be dealt with under our Quarantine Act.
– It must be dealt with continuously.
– And the regulations must be carried out.
– When we frame regulations, we do carry them out. I was informed by the deputation, of which the honorable member for Richmond was a member, that although certain regulations had been in operation for five years, persons in the business knew nothing of them, and they had remained a dead letter during the whole of that time. Regulations framed to deal with the tick will be carried out. I am opposed to the amendment, and I hope the House will reject it.
– I am sorry that it is not in order to deal with the tick question, because it is a very important one, and I understand that the honorable member for Moreton, in proposing the appointment of a Select Committee desires that the Committee should thoroughly investigate that question.
I wish to refer to what the Minister has said on the butter question. The honorable member for Moreton asks for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the question of grading and marking butter for export Inter-State and oversea. Although the Minister has already indicated that he is not disposed to accept the amendment, I believe that thorough investigation of the whole matter by a Select Committee would be beneficial to the great producing industries of Australia. I admit that the Minister has given the matter a great deal of his time and consideration, and has listend to many deputations with exemplary patience. But I do not think he has yet fully grasped the technicalities of the butter trade alone, which is only one branch of our great export business. He is inclined to support the grade marking of butter, but I remind him once more that all who are interested in the co-operative movement in the butter industry of Australia, are unanimously opposed to the grade marking of butter.
– Except the worst quality.
– We do not want pastry butter to be exported, except as pastry butter. ;We do not wish stinking butter to go Home without a distinct brand upon it. I wish to show the Minister how grade marking !n New Zealand has worked out as against our not marking. He states, quite correctly, that New Zealand producers are getting in the markets of the world a higher price for their produce than the producers in Australia. On the other hand, taking the principal co-operative factories in New South Wales and Victoria, and comparing the prices which the farmers are receiving from them with the prices which the New Zealand producers are getting, the producers in Australia are getting, on the average, more than the producers in New Zealand. The reason is this : We in Australia have been putting the whole force of co-operative effort against the spot selling of our produce. We have been endeavouring in every possible way to dispense with the speculator - the middleman. We have succeeded to this extent, that speculators can come, as they have come to me, as chairman of directors of a butter factory, and offered me 4s. a cwt. premium on Sydney prices, and we have been able to refuse that offer, consign our butter on our own account to our selling agent in London, and beat the spot buyer’s offer, made in Australia-. That is one of the principal reasons why we are opposed to the grade marking of butter in Australia, and Mr. Lockyer has pointed out, in his report, that one of the great gains that grade marking will produce is that our butter will be sold on the spot. That is the result which grade marking has had in New Zealand, because there the great bulk of the butter is bought on the spot, and it is the very thing which we have succeeded in breaking down here by the whole force of co-operative effort. Now the Department come along and try to force upon us the very thing against which we have been fighting tooth and nail for the last ten years. The result in New Zealand is that the man on the land is not getting as much for his butter as we are getting, although the New Zealand butters are commanding a higher price in the markets of the world; and I believe will always do so on account of the different conditions of climate, and other factors in the two countries. As we get still closer settlement, and the factories are brought nearer together, we shall be able gradually to improve the quality of our produce ; but under existing conditions we cannot produce as good an article right through Australia as they can. in New Zealand. We are working under disadvantages of climate, pasture, and so on, which will never enable us to produce quite as good an article, on the average, as they do in New Zealand. We may find in Australia here and there a district that can and is doing it, but, taking Australia as a whole, it will be found that the price must always be a little lower. I do not. think that any system of grade marking will ever bring our prices up to the New Zealand level, but it will lead to spot selling,, which is detrimental to the best interests of the producer, and which we-, as producers, do not want.
– Then, does the honorable member argue that the New Zealand producers would get more if they did not sellon the spot?
– We get more for our producers, because we do not sell on the spot. We consign direct to London on the factory’s account, and sell the butter there purely on its merits. We are thus able to pay our producers a better price than the New Zealand people get under their grade marking system, and with their spot selling.
– Then New Zealand producers would get still more if they did not have spot selling?
– I do not say they would get more in London for their butter, but the producer would receive more. The figures prove conclusively that we areable, even with our lower price in London, to pay our producers more than the NewZealand co-operative factories pay theirs.
– Would the honorable member explain how grade marking bv the Government would interferewith, that ?
– I am coming to that point. The Minister asked why, if wegrade down pastry butter, we should not put the grade mark on every box sent Home. He says, “ Why not grade it superfine, first class, second class, and so on?” That is where the whole casebreaks down from the departmental point of view. Any one who has had experience of butter knows that it is a product which varies greatly under different conditions. Under certain conditions of temperature,, and so on, you get the most extraordinary changes in it. I do not know why it is so, but it is. There are all sorts of chemical actions going on in butter, a great many of which we do not know much about, but extraordinary changes do take place in the long journey Home.
– Is the honorable member aware of the fact that the question before the chair is the amendment moved by the honorable member for Moreton ?
– I am endeavouring to show why it is necessary that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the question of grading. The matter is most important to the producing interests, and as the Minister has raised these issues, I am endeavouring to show why he should, from the producers’ stand-point, appoint a Select Committee, or take any other action necessary to have the question thoroughly investigated. If you grade butter, calling 95 points superfine, 90 points first class, and 85 points second class, with anything below that third class, you establish certain standards. But, after all, it is to a great extent simply a question of taste. If you say you will give so many points for colour, moisture, texture, flavour, and so on, one man may consider that certain butter should be graded as 95 points, and another may give it only 90 points. I have seen the greatest variations in the opinions of judges on questions of that sort. When it comes to a question of only two or three points between first, second, or third grades, the Minister will readily understand that it is a very serious matter to grade a butter down by even one point, in such a way as will reduce its price when it gets to London. When the deputation waited on the Minister recently, one of the factories was able to produce the reports as to the .butter graded in Australia, and the butter graded in London, in the case of two different lots of butter that were sent Home. In one case the Australian officer graded the butter down to second class, and gave his reasons, but when it reached Home the London grader classed it as first class, and gave his reasons. Possibly, on the journey that article had changed to a great extent. Often with lucerne-fed butters you get a volatile flavour, which may be very unpleasant for three or four days after the butter is actually manufactured, but which will disappear altogether during three weeks in the freezing room. These volatile tastes are well known to those connected with the industry. I do hot know why they should disappear under keeping conditions, but they do. A grader here may recognise the distinct flavour in lucerne-fed butter, but when it is kept for three or four weeks under proper conditions, that taste will have gone. The same thing often happens with rank food during hot summer months. We get that in our part of the world, particularly -in January and February, and it gives the butter a volatile flavour, which disappears on keeping. If the butter were graded two days after it was manufactured, it would be put down as second class, on account of its distinct flavour, but it would probably come out first class in London. That is one of the reasons why we say that it is practically impossible to put on the butter in Australia a grade which will work out correctly at the other end, especially seeing that butter grading depends only on a few points of difference. Nevertheless, the placing of that grade mark on the butter in Australia will “materially affect the London price. The buyer may recognise that it is a first-class article, but whilst he will always buy it on its merits, he will not pay for it on its merits if it bears the second grade mark. The Minister asks why, if we grade cream we should not grade butter also. There are certain definite and well recognised characteristics of cream which enable a factory manager to say at once whether it is or is not fit for the making of good butter. There can be no question where over- ripe or dirty cream is second class, but it is a different thing to determine whether butter is first or second grade. The latter is simply a question of taste, whereas the former is a matter of actual fact. That is the great difference. One can, as a rule, instantly recognise whether cream is over-ripe or dirty, and one can therefore immediately grade” it. But in the case of butter the position is entirely different. That is why we should grade our cream. There is no co-operative butter factory in the north of New South Wales which does not grade the cream supplied to it thoroughly and effectively, and there is not a single supplier to a factory there who does not get his proportion of second-class cream at certain seasons of the year. Anybody who is familiar with this subject knows that climatic influences will frequently cause cream to ripen upon one day several hours in advance of the period that is required to ripen it upon another day, and consequently it cannot be got to the factory at the right time. Of course, if any producer is so careless as to send along dirty cream to a factory he must submit to it being graded second class. We are endeavouring in every possible way to improve our Australian butter so that it will command the best price upon the London market. I am very glad to learn that the Minister of Trade and Customs has decided that the proportion of butter fat should not be raised beyond 82 per cent. The standard mentioned by Mr. Lockyer cannot be attained. The quantity of moisture allowed in butter should not exceed 16 per cent.
– Superfine butter will not contain above 14 per cent, of moisture.
– Superfine butter will never contain more than that quantity of moisture. Butter which does contain more than 14 per cent, of moisture will not be superfine. But if we fix a standard of 14 per cent, in the case of superfine butter we must also allow producers a sufficient margin to work upon, so that they will not have to make their butter too dry in order to insure that every pound of it which goes Home shall not contain more than that percentage of moisture. I think myself that 16 per cent, of moisture in butter would be a fair thing to allow, because it would give the producer a sufficient margin upon which to come and go, and as that is the standard fixed under the Board of Trade regulations at Home, we should be perfectly safe in adopting it.
– I have not said that 16 per cent of moisture in butter will be allowed.
– No. But I think we should give the producers the extra one per cent, as a margin upon which they may come and go. Anybody who is possessed of practical experience must recognise how difficult it is to make every pound of butter conform to a fixed standard. Of course every careful manager of a factory repeatedly tests his butter to ascertain the quantity of moisture in it. But it Would be exceedingly difficult to insure that every pound of butter produced did not contain more than 14 per cent, of moisture. 1 run sorry that the Minister of Trade and Customs cannot see his way to sanction an inquiry into this question by means of a Select Committee, but I have not the least doubt that he will give the point which I have mentioned his fullest consideration. I would again remind him that the whole of the co-operative move ment throughout Australia is opposed to this grade marking of all our butter. Lel us ship our butter to England, anc) let it be sold there upon its merits.
.- Although I think that if a Select Committee were appointed to inquire into this matter it would collect very valuable information which ought to be considered by the Minister before he fixes a standard in regard to our export products, I am pleased to know he has decided that the Commonwealth shall undertake the work of inspecting products passing between the States in addition to thoroughly regulating our export trade. I believe that our export trade can be satisfactorily controlled only by a central authority, and I have long thought that the Commonwealth Parliament has been backward in tackling this question.
– Does the honorable member think that we should take control of the whole export trade of Australia?
– Yes. Any system of grading which may be introduced under one central authority must be taken into very serious consideration, and I have no doubt that the Minister will give it that amount of attention which its importance deserves. Many experts have shown that there are two sides to the. question of grading butter, or marking it, and of determining the quantity of moisture that it should contain. I believe that a Select Committee would be able to collect very useful information on this matter, notwithstanding the very able, valuable, and exhaustive report of Mr. Lockyer. I am quite in accord with the determination of the Minister to make the general system of control a Commonwealth affair. I know that there is a difference of opinion in regard to the constitutionality of the present system of inspection in the case of products passing from one State to another. I agree with the honorable member for Wilmot that the practice of levying certain charges for the inspection of such products is a violation of the true principle of Inter-State Free Trade, which is one of the bed-rock principles of our Constitution. I know that this matter was very ably debated by the honorable member for Bendigo when the Quarantine Bill was under consideration. Upon that occasion he raised the question of how far our constitutional powers extend in regard to the inspection of goods passing from one State to another. Personally, I believe that as far as possible that system of inspection should be brought into uniformity with our Federal system of quarantine. I further hold that the whole of our export trade should be controlled by Australia so that our goods may be placed on the London market as the products of Australia, and not as those of a particular State. As the representative of a country constituency, I am pleased that this matter is to be taken in hand by the Minister, and I hope that he will, as speedily as possible, not only assume control of goods passing from State to State, but appoint officers to insure the control of our export trade generally in a way that will be satisfactory to this Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Fowler) adjourned.
Order of the day read and discharged.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Riley) ad journed.
– I move -
That this House is of opinion that a pension system should be forthwith initiated in the defence and civil services of the Commonwealth.
I do not propose to occupy the time of the House for more than a few minutes, because I recognise that it is desirable to dispose of private members’ business as quickly as possible, in view of the wish of the House generally, and of the Ministry in particular, to terminate the session at an early date. I shall, therefore, not extend myself in moving this motion, and I shall necessarily have to omit a great deal of matter which, under other circumstances, I should have deemed it advisable to lay before honorable members. We all recognise that the principle underlying the granting of old-age pensions is one which has been accepted without question by honorable members on both sides of the House. Whilst we are careful to provide pensions for those employed in private occupations, we have not provided pensions for public servants, although the great majority of the latter labour under the disability of having to pass years of their term of employment in receipt of small salaries, it being only in the latter period of their service that their salaries become large enough to enable them to put aside any reasonable savings against a rainy day. Furthermore, the Public Service Act requires the retirement of public servants at the age of sixty years. A praiseworthy attempt has been made by the Public Service Association to devise a scheme of retiring allowances, which I propose in a condensed form to put before the House. It is proposed that a fund shall be established to provide for the payment of retiring allowances and pensions, and that contributions shall be levied upon the salaries of all permanent officers, the fund to beactuarily investigated every five years, and should such an investigation show the need for a readjustment of the rates of contribution and retiring allowance, the re-adjustment is to be shared proportionately by the Government - which it is proposed shall contribute 3 per cent. upon the salaries of contributing officers - and the contributing officers. Officers receiving over ; £600 per annum are not to contribute in respect to that portion of their salary which exceeds , £600. The contributions to the fund are to be payable and to increase with increase of salaries in accordance with the following scale : -
The scheme is not to apply to officers now possessing pension rights, nor to those contributing to any existing State or Public Service superannuation fund. The retiring allowances to be paid to contributing officers are these ; To officers receiving £110 or less, a minimum of £60 per annum ; to officers receiving £200, £100 per annum; to officers receiving £300, £140 per annum ; to officers receiving£400,£180 per annum; to officers receiving ,£500, ^190 per annum; and to officers receiving £600, ^200 per annum, which is the maximum rate. The retiring allowances are to be computed on the average salary received during the last three years of an officer’s service, and officers receiving salaries between the sums mentioned are to be paid proportionate retiring allowances. It is provided, too, that the widow of an officer shall receive during her life-time half the amount due to her husband -
And his youngest surviving children, not exceeding three in number - until they attain the age of 16 years - one-twelfth each of the Retiring Allowance payable to such officer at the time of his death. Such allowances to be also payable to the widow and children of an officer who dies whilst in the service.
With regard to orphans under sixteen years of age, and not exceeding three in number, it is provided that they shall receive onesixth each of the retiring allowance payable to their father at the time of his death, the payments to continue until they reach the age of sixteen years.
– What will the Government contribution amount to?
– I am unable to say now. The whole matter, of course, is one for the consideration of Ministers, and, without debating the proposal further, I submit the motion to the House.
.- I second the motion, but should be glad, before making a speech, to hear the views of the Minister regarding it. I understand from his attitude that he wishes to have an opportunity to consider his remarks, but I hope that when he speaks, it will be to express, in fitting language, the pleasure felt by Ministers in supporting the proposal.
– I have no objection to hearing the remarks of the honorable member in support of it.
– I hardly thought that it would be necessary to speak in support of it.
– A previous Parliament deliberately rejected a proposal to establish a Public Service pension fund.
– Many of those who were members of that Parliament are not here now. Why do not Ministers say what they intend to do in this matter?
– We should know what the Government proposes to do. Last session the honorable member for Maranoa desired to provide pensions for (he Defence Department, and we were informed by the Minister of the day that the question of providing pensions for the whole Commonwealth service was under consideration.
– Since then that Minister has been tossed out.
– Surely, not because he promised to consider the establishment of a Commonwealth Public Service pensions scheme. What happened to his predecessor cannot account for the nervousness of the Minister in regard to a proposal for doing simple justice to our public servants.
– It has somewhat interfered with the continuity of the consideration though.
– Why cannot we have continuity of policy in this instance? It will be very unfortunate for civil and military servants if, because one Minister was “ tossed out “ of office, the continuity of the Commonwealth’s policy on a matter of this kind should be interfered with. That: is, I think, a strong reason why the Government should get straight to grips with the question, and have the pensions system initiated forthwith in these Departments.
One of the most deplorable features in connexion with some Departments is the very unfortunate position in which the older public servants occasionally find themselves, when they have reached the age at which they must retire under the provisions of the law governing their service. It is pathetic to find that a man who has devoted all his energies, practically his whole existence, to the service of the State, and has reached an age when there is no more work left in him, is dealt with by the State hardly more mercifully than are horses which are sent by their owners to the Zoo. I believe that in pen-: sions we shall find the key to an efficient system of officering the Military Forces in” the near future. An officer ought to be in a position to retire when he feels that he has passed his period of usefulness.Under the present system, an officer is bound to hang on in a public Department!, as long as he possibly can, because that is his only means of living.
– That is the way with the wharf labourer, too.
– I am not saying that it is not, but we are now dealing with public Departments. Occasionally the argumentis used, “ Although the retirement of this or that officer may be desirable in the interests of the Department, what is the poor fellow to do after he has been retired ? Is he to starve?”
– Some men cannot do any saving.
– No. Certainly in public Departments, it is extremely difficult for an officer to do any saving. I remind honorable members that a man who enters a public Department in Australia has his eyes open to the fact that the very utmost which he can expect to get, after many years’ toil, is £800 or £900, or perhaps £1,000 a year. He sacrifices the bigger rewards of life for continuity of employment. My honorable friends know that if a man starts in the battle of life free from Government employment all the rewards of life are open to him; he may become almost as wealthy as some of my honorable friends are. But he cannot arrive at that great result by being in the Public Service of the Commonwealth. The maximum salaries are cut down, because we wish to guarantee continuity of employment. It is that which these gentlemen prefer to accept in place of the opportunities of getting great rewards in other walks of life. Surely continuity of employment ought to include some consideration for men who have reached an age when they can no longer labour for the State !
I hope that the Minister of Home Affairs will do what he can to carry out the idea of his predecessor. A pensions system is wanted by the House and the country. The public Departments deserve it, and I trust that the Minister will consent to the motion being passed to-day, and deal with the matter in the immediate future.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Page) adjourned.
– I move -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to prevent children and aboriginal natives from being improperly taken out of Australia.
In the Bill it is not intended to interfere with any right of white parents as regards their children. It may surprise some honorable members to hear that at present it is quite possible for an Asiatic to marry a white” woman who has been the mother of children by a white husband, to take those white children out of Australia, to proselytize them in his own country, and to bring them up as he pleases. An incident of that kind has come under my notice. It is the duty of this Parliament, I think, to prevent white Australian children from being subjected to such a fate as that. I do not wish to labour the point, as I believe that honorable members are convinced of the necessity for legislating on this subject.
– The Government will offer no objection to the introduction of the Bill, but, of course, they reserve to themselves the right to peruse its provisions before they allow it to proceed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
. -I move -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Immigration Restriction Act 1901-1908 so as to give increased power to the Minister for External Affairs to deport criminals.
The Bill which I now desire leave to bring in is to some extent associated with the Bill which I have just obtained leave to introduce. Under the existing law it is only possible to deport persons who have committed crimes of violence, and I propose to amend the law in the direction of empowering the Minister to deport persons for the commission of any crimes which are contrary to the welfare or the morality of our community. I do not propose that we should empower the Minister to deport any person who is or can become an elector of the Commonwealth. I merely wish to carry out in this way what I believe is a necessary extension of our White Australia principle.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Sitting suspended from 12.55 to 2.15 p.m.
Fusion Party - Public Servants’ Grievances - Cronulla and Kogarah Telephone - Old-age Pensions - Postal Department, New South Wales.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into the Committee of Supply - proposed.
.- This is one of those days set apart under the Standing Orders to enable honorable members to exercise themselves as general critics. I would say, in the words of the poet -
I must have liberty
Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
To blow on whom I please.
On the last occasion of a similar kind the honorable member for Parramatta took us back to the recent elections, and gave us some very pertinent reminders of the way in which the Fusion had betrayed its principles. Save in one small particular, the honorable member did not controvert the statements which he read from the newspaper with which I am associated, but his argument was, “ Well, if I was bad, the other fellow was just as bad as I was.” I wish, in the first place, to remind him of some of the tactics of his own party, which are worthy of a place in Hansard, and, secondly, to remind him of some quotations which he failed to make from the newspaper to which he referred.
I have before me some of the pamphlets issued at the last general election by the Fusion party, with which the honorable member was associated. One of them, entitled “ Socialism and the Churches,” was distributed broadcast in my own electorate, as well as in others. Labourmembers were asked to shoulder the responsibility for utterances, opposed to Christianity, by miscellaneous writers in Labour papers - in some cases correspondents writing in the open columns, and in others gentlemen in direct antagonism to our party.
– And some of the quotations are garbled.
– That is so. In some cases a sentence was so extracted from a paragraph as to allow the context to be misconstrued. A more deliberate attempt to mislead the public could scarcely have been made. In this pamphlet, we have the following quotation from the Brisbane Worker : -
When the Labour movement has to turn to God for help, it will be God help it, indeed ; labour writes on its door-posts, “ Wanted a Saviour, no Gods or dogs need apply.”
That is very ancient. It was written by a correspondent to the Brisbane Worker, and the Labour party was not in the slightest degree responsible for it. As a matter of fact, even had it appeared in an editorial we could not have been held responsible, since the Labour movement is in no way responsible for editorials in the Brisbane Worker. That newspaper is one of the most powerfully edited Labour journals, if not one of the most powerfully edited general newspapers, in Australia, and the virility of the editor’s pen arises from his absolute freedom from control.
– And the article from which the quotation was made was not an attack on the Christian religion.
– It was not, and the quotation, if it had not been removed from its context, would have shown that. This pamphlet goes on -
One of the leading objects of the LabourSocialist teaching is to discredit Christianity and to hold up its teachers to contempt, as the terms “ whited sepulchres,” “reptiles to be loathed,” &c, demonstrate.
Ours was the only party challenging the Fusion at the recent election, and the honorable member for Parramatta labelled the Labour party as “ Labour Socialists “ wherever he went. These pamphlets, purporting to be opposed to the candidature of what the Fusion described as “Labour Socialists,” contained what were construed to be anti-Christian sentiments, which our party were asked to father.
– And the electors were asked to judge Labour candidates upon them.
– For instance, the honorable member for Calare, who for many years has taken a very prominent part in the counsels of his church, had pamphlets of this kind distributed throughout his electorate, and the electors were asked to judge him on his alleged association with men holding such views. I also find in this pamphlet a statement relating to the Sunday school established by the Socialists, under Tom Mann, in Melbourne. It is a reprint from an Argus article on “ A Socialistic Sunday School,” in which the Christian religion is said to have been discarded. As a matter of fact, Tom Mann has been opposed for many years to the Labour movement as at present organized, and to the Labour platform as now propounded. If he himself has not, others, at all events, associated with him in the Socialistic organization, have gone so’ far as to say that it would have been better had rank Conservatives rather than the Labour party been returned to power. Yet these statements are put forward and the public are asked to judge the Labour movement upon them.
– Most of those Socialists supported the Fusionists at the last election.
– I was not aware of that, but I know that some of them thought it would have been better for a rank Conservative party rather than a Labour party to come into power.
– Who does the honorable member say supported us?
– Some of those known as the international Socialists.
– I do not believe it.
– The honorable member knew, at all events, that these pamphlets were scattered all over the country, and he was not fair enough to repudiate them. He and others who claim to be good Christians allowed them to be put forward, and thus bore false witness against their neighbours.
Another of the pamphlets issued by the Fusionists was headed, “ Are you loyal or only lip loyal?” and it contained this statement -
We have heard much during the last few months of loyalty to the Empire. While the offer of a Dreadnought to the Mother Country was condemned lustily by the Labour party, they were particular, through their leader, to proclaim that they were not one whit behind others in loyalty. Are you not doubtful on this point? Have you not memories of various actions by prominent members of that party which justify doubt?Do not their favorite press organs reek with abusive and malicious attacks on Great Britain and her institutions and all her actions? If she becomes involved with another nation, is it not always contended that she is disgracefully in the wrong?
A statement, said to have been made by Mr. Keir Hardie in the British House of Commons, is then quoted. It was not enough to say that certain individuals somewhere in Australia were supposed to hold views disloyal to the Empire. These Fusionists had to go all the way to Great Britain, and to take two or three disconnected sentences from a speech said to have been made by Mr. Keir Kardie, with a view of showing that the Labour movement was disloyal.
– What was the quotation made from Keir Hardie’s speech?
– It reads-
The Socialists might have to interfere to prevent children being taught in schools to wave Hags and sing a ghastly bit of doggerel like the National Anthem.
That is one statement which he is supposed to have made. The subject upon which he was speaking at the time is not mentioned, nor is the context given. Even assuming that Mr. Keir Hardie is the very essence of disloyalty, what has that to do with us ?
The Labour movement in Australia has nothing to do with the Labour movement in England.
– But Keir Hardie is a great Scotchman.
– I have the greatest admiration for his giant efforts to lift the workers of England from the slough of despond to a position of something like manly independence. These are not criticisms of our party, but malicious falsehoods, and they were distributed all over the country to prejudice the electors against the Labour movement, and its humanitarian platform.
Another pamphlet circulated by the Fusion party was entitled “ An impudent try-on.” It appears that a union was called upon to be a party to a test action to determine the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It had thus to incur an expenditure totalling some hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds, and a request was made that the Commonwealth should pay its costs. In the account submitted to the Minister was an item of £141, representing a claim by a union secretary for£5 5s. per day in respect of twenty-seven days’ attendance at Court. This pamphlet was put forward as though the Labour party had accepted the account, and had decided that the Commonwealth should pay it. The statement was never sent out with this lying pamphlet that the expenses in respect of the union secretary’s attendance were not indorsed by the Labour party, and that, on the the contrary, it refused to recognise, at all events, that particular item. Itwas represented as a cool unblushing attempt to make the public pay. We have the statement -
Imagine the howls of virtuous indignation if such a document had been sent by the other party to the industrial dispute addressed to “ Dear Comrade Deakin,” or “ Dear Comrade Cook.”
– Was such a claim made - a claim for£5 5s. a day?
– The letter is in the Treasury.
Mr.J. H. CATTS.- I know nothing of it. Such a letter might have been sent to the Treasury, and, no doubt many foolish, as well as many reasonable, communications are received there. The individual members of the party, however, were in no way associated with that account. Neither the party nor the Prime Minister, to whom this statement of account was sent, indorsed it, so that there was absolutely no justification for the Fusion party pamphleteering Australia with these misrepresentations.
– Would the gentleman referred to come within the category of a ‘ paid agent ‘ ‘ ?
– I do not know; but in speaking the other day I expressed a view that he would.
– This gentleman sent in this account because he had had some experience of what lawyers charge, and he thought he was entitled -to as much.
– I have no doubt he did the work as well, if not better, than any other lawyer would have done it, and in less time. If a barrister had been engaged he would have charged, not five guineas, but possibly twenty-five guineas.
No political party in Australia can be absolutely above criticism; and the Labour party will never be in such a position that some of its actions will not give rise to difference of opinion. I have no doubt that some of the things which the party will be called on to do at times will not find favour in every detail with its members ; but, on the whole, their policy is one of which the rank and file of the movement approve. There is plenty of room for reasonable criticism without the Fusion finding it necessary to descend to the political tactics of the gutter. The honorable member for Parramatta does not interject, but simply laughs ; and I only wish that the picture of his laugh of enjoyment at the miserable tactics of his party could, like an interjection, find a place in the pages of Hansard.
– My laugh was at the honorable member’s reference to the necessity for liberty in his party, who do not seem to want him very much !
– I shall, presently, give the honorable member a few illustrations of the “ liberty “ enjoyed by members of his own party.
Quoting the other day from a paper with which I am associated, the honorable member was very careful to leave out statements that ought to find a place in the records of the last elections, if those records are made part of our parliamentary history. There is an article headed “ Classes versus the Masses - ,£400,000,000 against the
Labour party.” That article contains the following : -
The Associated Australian Press Agency wrote on 18th November, 1909, to a number of country centres in Victoria, arranging for a visit from Mr. Walpole, Secretary of the Employers’ Federation of Victoria, “outlining an offer to country papers to spend £50,000 in advertising at four times the ordinary rates if such papers would agree to publish articles from the Employers’ Federation against the Labour party. In this letter, it is stated, his (Walpole’s) federation represents capital interests totalling over £400,000,000, and if we help the Federation it will help us.
Senator Fraser (Victoria), speaking in Tasmania recently, said : - “The attitude of the Age was now uncertain, but it would not dare to oppose the Fusion. In one day its shipping advertisements would go, in another its wool advertisements. The Age proved obstructive ears ago, but similar pressure brought it to its bearings.”
– Of course Senator Fraser denies having said that.
– The newspaper which published the report made inquiry, and the reporter vouches for its absolutecorrectness
There was another article on the new Protection, in which it was stated -
Deakin’s promises regarding New Protection^ are not worth the paper they are written on. He made more solemn and binding promises in Parliament, but did nothing to carry them out.
Sir William Lyne, then Minister of Customs, speaking for the Deakin Government on 13th August, 1909 (Hansard), said : - “ I wish honorable members clearly to understand that before the Bill dealing with the Tariff is completed there will be either Excise duties or an Improved Provision under which Protection shall e ensured to the employes and the public.” Speaking for the Government on 8th October, 1907, he explained how manufacturers would only enjoy Protection if their employes received stipulated wages. “ The Government proposed - (1) An Excise duty on all goods protected by the Tariff; (2) an exemption to be made in the case of manufacturers paying fair wages.”
Speaking on 20th November, 1907 (Hansard), he said, referring to the New Protection Bill - “ It will be submitted and will be carried, too, or else the Tariff would not be carried.”
Mr. Deakin indorsed this statement on 20th November, 1907 (Hansard) - “ The Ministry put forward the matters referred to as a united proposal - the duties on the one side, and the New Protection on the other.”
On 11th March, 1908 (Hansard), Mr. Deakin said - “ The Tariff was passed by the House with the publicly announced intention to supplement it with the New Protection. The Government is absolutely bound by its undertaking.”
Mr. Deakin secured votes for the Tariff on those false promises, and now seeks to gain the votes of the electors of Australia on this same, policy of false pretences.
You can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.
The honorable member for Parramatta, in making the quotations, might have referred to this article on the New Protection; and it would have been very interesting to hear him explain it away. I suppose that his only reason for silence was that he was unable to explain it.
The honorable member, a moment or two ago, made some reference to the freedom with which members of the Labour party exercise their independent judgment ; and on this point there is another article headed “ The Degradation of Conscience,” containing the following : -
The coercion and intimidation exercised by the Fusion Government over their followers to bludgeon the secret financial agreement between the Prime Minister and the State Premiers through the Federal Parliament was one of the blots on the purity of our public life.
Mr. Starrer, M.H.R. (Tasmania), a Fusion supporter, said - “ It would be a mistake to bind the Commonwealth for all time to a per capita payment of 25s. per head to the States.” - (Hansard, 28th September, 1909.)
Mr. Starrer voted in opposition to his speech.
Mr. Knox, M.H.R. (Victoria), a Fusionite, said - “ I have not seen or discovered any reason for a referendum on the question. (Hansard, 6th October, 1909.)
Mr. Knox voted to send the secret agreement to the referendum against his conviction.
Mr. W. e. Johnson (New South Wales), said - “ In my opinion the Premiers would have been well advised had they accepted an arrangement limiting the duration of the agreement.” - (Hansard, 4th November, 1909.)
Mr. Johnson voted against any limitation.
Mr. Sampson, M.H.R. (Victoria), a Fusionite, said - “ I hope in Committee it will be found possible to meet the wishes of many honorable members, who, like myself, think the payments to the States should be limited to a. term of years.” - (Hansard, 22nd September, 1909.)
Mr. Sampson voted against any limitation.
– I said it was not a matter of principle but a matter for the people themselves, and that, if they were satisfied, I saw no reason to complain.
– The honorable member certainly did make that statement when he found it necessary to escape from an awkward position.
– I was not a member of the Fusion at the time.
– Although the honorable member believed there should be a limitation for a term of years, rather than give a vote on the same side as the Labour party, he voted with the Fusionists against his expressed conviction.
– I said distinctly that I had no convictions on the subject.
– Further, members of the Fusion party, one after another, rose in their places, and resented the pressure that was being put on them, as the following will show -
Mr. Harper, M.H.R. (Victoria), a Fusionite, said - “ I repeat that there are at least halfadozen members on this side of the House who did not vote for any amendment (limitation of 15 years) …. have it in their power if they vote according to their professed convictions . . . to put the matter beyond dispute.” - (Hansard, 4th November, 1909.)
Mr. Bruce Smith,. M.H.R., relating a conversation with another honorable member, said -
The honorable member I am referring to said - “ If I were free I should prefer to vote for a modification of this proposal for a term of years. … I wonder whether there is such a thing recognised as individual freedom.” - (Hansard, 4th November, 1909.)
Mr. Coon, M.H.R. (Victoria), a Fusionite, said - “Why an effort to induce me to go back on the position I have taken up, and to vote contrary to the views I have expressed, I am at a loss to know.” - (Hansard, 4th November, 1909.)
The Fusionites are slaves to their leaders. There is no limit to their subserviency.
It would have been very interesting, when a suitable occasion offered, to hear the honorable member for Parramatta explain away the intimidation and coercion exercised on members of the Fusion in con-: nexion with the Financial Agreement.
As a matter of fact, members on this side are infinitely freer than honorable members opposite. We are elected oh a distinct platform, which sets forth a number of defined principles. The party meet, and decide details as to the best means of carrying those principles into effect, every member having an equal say on the floor of the party room. What is the position of members of the Fusion ? The late Government came to an understanding with’ their supporters in regard to the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, but, without even saying “ by your leave,” or consulting his followers in any shape or form, the Prime Minister accepted an. agreement, drawn up in secret’ conference with the Premiers. This was a violation of the Fusion contract - a violation of the agreement between the two” wings which had come together in order to “ dish “ the Labour party. The extracts’ from Hansard, which I have read, show that members of the Fusion voted against; their convictions, and complained bitterly of the coercion and intimidation exercised on them by their leaders. We are told that all the freedom is on the Opposition side; but ex-Senator Gray, in his election campaign in New South Wales, “gavethe show away “ in a speech which he delivered on 3rd February, and which is reported in the Richmond River Times, as follows -
Regarding the Deakin-Cook Fusion, he had sunk his principles, but it was for the benefit of the country and not for himself.
Ex- Senator Gray has since been dealt with by his constituents for sinking his principles, and sent about his business, while another man, more faithful to his election pledges, has taken his place.
The honorable member for Parramatta, when criticising the defence scheme of the Labour Government some time ago, referred to the “ River “ destroyers as boats that ply up and down rivers.
– The honorable member knows that is not correct. Why does he repeat it ?
– Here is a quotation from the Adelaide Register of 5th March, 1908. The honorable member at an immense meeting in the Town Hall, criticising the Labour party’s defence scheme and trying to throw ridicule on the destroyers which the Labour Government had ordered, is reported as follows : -
He believed an investigation should take place regarding the kind of boats we had ordered, because Captain Creswell had reported in favour ofsea-going boats, and not boats for river work.
– There is only one word wrong. I said “coastal,” and not “ river.”
– As a matter of fact, these boats have sea-going qualities, enablingthem to travel 3,000 miles from the mainland, but the honorable member apparently referred to them as little boats that would travel up and down rivers and topple over with the first wave that struck them outside.
– If they could travel 3,000 miles from the mainland, would the honorable member state how they could travel 3,000 miles back, because they had a steaming capacity of only 3,000 miles?
– If the honorable member now wishes to emphasize his previous statement, that these were boats for plying up and down rivers, he is welcome to do so.
Here is another little quotation here from the honorable member for Parra matta which will no doubt be very appropriate for the use of some honorable members in connexion with the discussion of the land tax : -
Confiscation. - Hon. Joseph Cook, M.P., his real opinions - (New South Wales Hansard, p. 2543, 7th December, 1892) - “I do not believe in paying for land at all. I believe in taxing it, and if we tax it to its full unimproved value we shall have no need to sell it : indeed, no one will buy it. When a man wants a bit of land in this colony he has to go hundreds of miles back into the bush, behind his strong neighbour, who has picked out the eyes of the country. We ought to tax the strong neighbour for every ounce of privilege over the man who proposes to go into the bush.”
That is infinitely more extreme than the proposals of the present Government, which I have no doubt the honorable member will find some excuse for criticising before the debate ends. There were some further quotations which the honorable member did not think it wise to use. They referred to the debate on the Surplus Revenue Bill which the Reid-Cook wing of the Fusion found themselves called upon to oppose, although they knew perfectly well that the funds for paying old-age pensions at that time were to be raised by those means. The honorable member for Wide Bay on 29th May, 1908, during the discussion on the Surplus Revenue Bill, as reported in Hansard, at page 11710, said-
This Bill, if carried, will enable a Federal scheme of old-age pensions to be initiated at least eighteen months earlier than would have been possible by any other means.
This shows clearly that it was in the mind of the party, who were on this side of the House at the time, that old-age pensions should be provided eighteen months earlier by means of that Bill, and yet the ReidCook wing of the Fusion, then in Opposition, fought the Bill tooth and nail, and afterwards tried to make out to their constituents that they had supported the introduction of old-age pensions at that early date. The honorable member for Lang, speaking in the same debate, on 1st June, 1908, as reported in Hansard, on page 1 1749, said -
Something of that kind must have been in the mind of the Prime Minister when he gave notice of his intention to ask leave to introduce an Old-age Pensions Bill to-morrow.
That distinctly shows that to his mind the Surplus Revenue Bill and the Old-age Pensions Bill were linked together, and yet the honorable member delivered to us some of those lengthy speeches for which he is so notorious in opposition to the Surplus Revenue Bill. The honorable member for Flinders is reported to have said on 2nd June, 1908, as reported in Hansard, on page11824 -
Now, sir, the passing of an old-age pensions scheme has beendiscussed in connexion with this Bill.
This proved that the payment of old-age pensions was dependent upon the passage of the Surplus Revenue Bill. Yet those gentlemen saw fit to oppose the Bill, and tried to take equal credit with the Labour party at the elections for passing old-age and invalid pensions at least eighteen months earlier than would have been possible under any other scheme.
There are a few other things which the honorable member for Parramatta did not quote. In the issue of the Co-operator, of 14th July, 1909 - a considerable time before the elections - this prophecy was recorded.
– I saw only the one issue, which was sent to me.
– I am sure the honorable member will now appreciate the effort of one of our minor poets, referring to the formation of the Fusion, and its probable fate when the people had an opportunity at the elections of dealing with it. It is headed, “ The Writing on the Wall,” and runs thus -
Messrs, Deakin, Cook, and Fuller,
Forrest, Quick, and Agar Wynne,
With Employers’ Union Fairbairn,
Icy Irvine and Pat Glynn,
Foxton, coloured labour champion,
Groom and Millen, Robert Best,
What a motley combination
Sitteth on the people’s chest.
By your double-dealing tactics
You’ve secured an unjust call.
But you’re doomed, the jury’s waiting -
See the writing on the wall.
When you crucify your party,
And upon the fat man fawn,
Treach’rous conduct none have equalled
All just men would proudly scorn.
Life-long principles you’ve swallowed,
Trampled on your fiscal creed.
Office hunger doth devour you,
You must satisfy your greed.
Buy the press and stifle freedom,
In a chorus you may bawl.
Whilst the people cry for vengeance -
See the writing on the wall.
Hark, the bugle call awakens!
Labour forces now arise.
Hear the shout for retribution
As it echoes in the skies.
In each State the ramparts crumble,
Shot and shell shall lay them low.
At the polls the death roll numbers
Many a traitor out shall go,
Midst the dead lie mangled leaders,
Priv’leged classes one and all,
See the Fed’ral war cloud low’ring,
See the writing on the wall.
By your autocratic mixture
Of protection and free-trade
Pseudo democratic allies -
Willing helpers in the raid -
Ye have sought to fool the people.
Now the mask is torn aside,
Much too long have you deceived them
And the ballot-box defied,
Now the labour army’s marching ;
Can’t you hear their footsteps fall?
Hear the thunder ! “ Banish traitors !”
See the writing on the wall.
That little jingle, published in the middle of last year, was used by a good many of our supporters at the various shearing sheds to depict the throwing overboard of their principles by the members of the Fusion. I am sure the honorable member for Parramatta has not seen another little rhyme-
– Does the honorable member consider that he will effect any good purpose by continuing that line of argument?
– On the last grievance day, the honorable member for Parramatta quoted a number of paragraphs from an issue of the Railway and Tramway Co-operator, and I am endeavouring to show that there were other matters which he might have quoted also.
– I rise to order. On the occasion to which the honorable member alludes, I did call attention to certain matters in the honorable member’s paper, but, in every case-
– What is the honorable member’s point oforder?
– That the honorable member is out of order in the line he is pursuing, although, no doubt, it is very interesting.
– The honorable member has raised no point of order so far.
– I submit that the honorable member is not in order. He is purporting to reply to some remarks of mine - a perfectly proper thing for him to do - but on the occasion to which he refers I was appealing to the Government to rectify the allegations of sweating that had; been made.
– The honorable member for Cook has had considerable latitude in the reply which, I understood, that he was making to some accusations made against him on last grievance day. I cannot, of course, rule the honorable member out of order. It is purely a question of taste, and of the proper conduct of the business of the House, whether the honorable member pursues this line of argument further.
– The honorable member for Parramatta rose to take a point of order when he knew that he had no point of order to take. No doubt, he thinks that this squares with his professed principles. He rose with the real object of getting his own little speech into the middle of mine. I shall not take up much more of the time of the House, but I understand that these quotations are very interesting to a number of honorable members sitting near me, and while I have the right to make them, I feel that it would not be proper for me to break off my speech, as it is desired that they should be placed on record. The honorable member for Parramatta will be, no doubt, pleased with this effort, which he also failed to quote -
Who’s playing here with best intrigue
A flowry part in patriots (?) league.
Oh, look you, look at the marks on him,
If it isn’t Joseph in Anti-Sosh skin.
But mark you well it’s a tightish fit
Watch out my friends for another split,
Another split, as you’ll quickly note
Will entail the change of another coat,
Perchance as the need of the party urges
A return unto even Republican surges.
But oh ! who knows what the end will be
Of this versatile turkey-cock Joseph C - ,
Save only this, that he’ll never stop
At changing his coat till he gets on top,
And get there he will, I want you to know,
If it is to be done by “ Jumping Jim Crow.”
The honorable member must not expect to be allowed to criticise another honorable member in his absence without getting back something of what he gives. I am sure that the readers of Hansard will be pleased to have this rhymed account of his history.
During the election campaign there was issued a production called The Federal Liberal, which bears a great eagle on the front of it. To show that the Fusion party was associated with land monopolists, I have only to mention the fact that it was printed and published “ for the proprietors, the Federal Pastoralist Company, 12 Wool Exchange, Sydney.” This was the official Fusion manifesto. I understand that the production was preceded by another, whose title was altered during the Federal campaign, some one stating to the postal officials, on behalf of the Fusion party, that it was a newspaper which it was intended to publish henceforth at regular intervals. Thus the party was able to send through the post at newspaper rates what was really electioneering literature, perpetrating a fraud on the public revenue. The paper was supported by some of the great institutions directly connected with the landed interests. For instance, there is an advertisement from the Australian Mortgage Land and Finance Company Limited, in which it is stated that-
The company makes advances on grazing properties, acts generally as pastoral banker and agent, and undertakes the supervision of sheep stations for trustees, absentees, and others. Liberal advances granted on the ensuing clip of wool, and on produce consigned for sale in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane, or for shipment to London.
There is another big advertisement from the Bank of New South Wales, and others from the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, Hill Clark and Company, and the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company. These firms, by advertising in the Fusion manifesto, helped to pay for the circulation of the electioneering literature of the party.
– Absolute rubbish. This advertising is done by contract.
– Many of those firms advertise in the Bulletin.
– It is significant to find their advertisements in the Fusion manifesto, of which thousands of copies were posted throughout Australia-. The paper contains pictures of the honorable members for Ballarat and Parramatta, with personal letters from each, addressed to the electors, that from the honorable member for Parramatta being signed “ Your faithful servant, Joseph Cook.” This paper was a good text at a large number of meetings, where I pointed out to large working-class audiences that the big companies which I have mentioned were behind the Fusion party, who were defrauding the revenue by sending through the post, at newspaper rates, a publication which was in no sense a newspaper. A similar publication was issued during the previous electoral campaign, but I called the attention of the PostmasterGeneral of the day, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, to it, and he promised to have the matter looked into. If electioneering literature is to be sent through the post at newspaper rates instead of at ordinary “printed matter” rates, both sides should know; I object to one party having an advantage.
The honorable member for Parramatta, having felt it necessary to place certain things on record, I have referred to these matters to give publicity to. things which he seems to have lost sight of.
I wish now to speak of the grievances of the postal officials, and other servants of the Commonwealth. Day after day our business-paper is filled with notices of questions about the condition of our public servants. I often see notices of questions by new members on subjects dealt with by me twelve or eighteen months previously. Public servants ask members to place notice of questions on the business-paper in order that they may gain information, with a view to remedying grievances, though it is seldom that anything tangible is accomplished thereby. No doubt the officers of the Department have a very good idea where the requests for information are coming from, and give replies which do not assist the object which the questioner has in view. My experience as a member of this House, and as one who has much to do with the railway employés of New South Wales, makes me think that we should have a more satisfactory method for remedying the grievances of our public servants. Parliament cannot remedy these grievances, because it is impossible for it to hold an inquiry into each individual case. In my opinion, our public servants should be asked to take advantage of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration law, and submit their grievances to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The President of that Court has the right to appoint assessors or Boards to inquire into and deal with various aspects of industrial conditions, and might very well cause an inquiry to be made into the complaints of our public servants.
It has been said that the Public Service Act prevents what I have suggested being done. Sections 17 and 18 of that Act provide that -
It is there laid down that the salaries paid to officers of the Administrative, Professional, and General Divisions shall be those fixed by the Public Service Commissioner, except where the payments are in virtue of a special Act. Now, if the Commonwealth Arbitration Court made an award respecting any salary it would thenceforward be paid at a rate specified by virtue of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Public Service Act seems to contemplate that.
According to the definition of “ industrial dispute “ in the former Act it means -
A dispute in relation to industrial matters . . . and extending beyond the limits of any one State, including disputes in relation to employment…. in industries carried on by or under the control of the Commonwealth or a State or any public authority constituted under the Commonwealth or a State. . . .
The amending Bill passed this session contains an even wider provision, dealing with the matter. It declares that “ industrial dispute “ means -
An industrial dispute extending beyond the limits of any one State, and includes -
Any dispute in relation to employment in an industry carried on by or under the control of the Commonwealth or a State, or any public authority constituted under the Commonwealth or a State, and
Any threatened or impending or probable industrial dispute.
Further on, we have the provision that the definition of “industrial matters” includes -
All questions of what is fair and right in relation to any industrial matter having regard to the interests of the persons immediately concerned and of society as a whole.
The Postal Department is an industry for the carriage of newspapers, letters, and parcels, and is constituted under a proper authority created by the Commonwealth. It is conducted by the Postmaster-General for the time being, and the Public Service Commissioner, so that it would appear that in framing the amending Bill the Government have kept in view the provisions of the Public Service Act.
Whereas the Public Service Act provides that salaries shall be paid by the Public
Service Commissioner, unless a rate be specified by some other Act, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides that these employes may register under it, and may submit their industrial disputes to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court.
Some eighteen months ago, I felt so strongly that this was the proper courseto pursue - that not only would it grant relief to the Parliament, but that the employes would have their case thoroughly threshed out, and secure more substantial justice - that I called a meeting of these public servants in Sydney. A Deakin Administration was then in power, and there was a little diffidence on the part of the employés in taking steps to register under the Act, because they imagined that that Government would set its face against such an action. I informed them, however, that if they were prepared to test the matter, I would act as president of their society, and in that capacity would submit their rules for registration under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and see the action through, so that they would not be brought into personal conflict with the Minister. My proposal was accepted. A General Division society was formed ; I was elected honorary president, and framed a set of rules conforming to the schedules to the Act. An application for registration was submitted to the industrial registrar, but the then Attorney-General, Mr. Groom, acting on behalf of the Deakin Government, lodged an objection against Federal employes being registered under the Act. I obtained advice from one of the leading constitutional authorities of Australia that the Government had not the slightest hope of preventing Federal public servants from registering, that we could safely go on with our application, and that registration would be secured; but, unfortunately, the action of the Deakin Government caused the employés to become afraid ; they called a special meeting of the organization, and carried a resolution rescinding all that had been done.
– Does the honorable member say that we proposed to stop Federal public servants from registering?
– Not the Fusion Government, but the previous Deakin Administration. The Postal Commission may make recommendations that will improve the lot of these officers, but in a large service of this description industrial troubles are constantly arising, and there must be some Board or tribunal to adjudicate between the contending parties.
My strong advice to the postal employés has been, and is, as one who has had considerable experience in arbitration matters, that they should form one General Division Society, have their organization registered, submit any dispute which may occur to an impartial tribunal, and thus have awards made for a specified time.
At present, the requests of the employés are sent on to their superior officers, who can treat them as they please. They complain to me that on many occasions grievances submitted to the Departments are treated with contempt. If their organization were registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, that would not occur. Heads of Departments would be compelled to take cognisance of their complaints, knowing that their organization would have a right to submit them to the Federal Arbitration Court, or some such tribunal, and would thus be able to obtain a definite adjustment of the difficulty.
– They have in Parliament a better Court to which to appeal.
– I emphatically disagree with the honorable member. Parliament is not competent to deal with the details of the industrial conditions of an army of employes. I make that statement as one who has acted for seven years as general secretary for a body of 8,000 railway men.
– Parliament is the most competent body to deal with the complaints.
– It is absolutely incapable of entering into the details associated with the working of the service.
– I am glad that the honorary Minister, who was for some years in the State railway service of Western Australia, and has some idea of the manner in which industrial troubles are dealt with by public servants, supports my statement.
My position in connexion with the railway body to which I have referred is an honorary one, but I have caused to be set up industrial Boards covering 8,000 of these men. During the three years that I have been a member of this House, the men have had an increase in their wages amounting to £33,000 per annum, or a total of practically £100,000. There are eight awards in existence covering 8,000 men, and there are now sitting a number of Boards, one of them relating to a body of 5,000 men.
– If a Board reduced their wages they would come to Parliament.
– I have not known a Board to do that. That, however, is not the point with which I am dealing. There are 30,000 employés in the railway service of New South Wales, or more than there are in the whole of the Public Service of the Commonwealth. There may be some isolated exception, but, generally speaking, the railway men of New South Wales would never dream of going to politicians to secure the redress of their industrial grievances.
– Oh, have they not?
– They may have done somany years ago; but they do not at the present time. They can now go to the Arbitration Courts or Wages Boards, submit their evidence, and obtain an award extending, perhaps, over two or three years. Where there are two sides to a dispute no award can be entirely satisfactory, but under this system we have obtained a definite statement of what the men are entitled to. The conditions under which they are working are laid down in black and white. They can see when any breaches are being committed, and, generally speaking, contentment exists in the service.
What is the position of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department? The Department is seething with discontent.
– Because of bad management, present and past.
– They are running the Ministry.
– What does the honorable member mean?
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to explain.
Some trouble arose in the railway workshops of New South Wales on one occasion when Mr. Oliver was Commissioner of Railways. The point involved was not a serious one, but it gave rise to a lot of discontent. I therefore saw Mr. Oliver in reference to it, and, having made inquiries, he said that he found it would cost an infinitesimal amount to set the matter right. “ It does not worry me very much whether it is a good or a bad thing,” he said ; “ it does hot affect the industrial efficiency of the men, and if they want it let them have it. It will only cost a very small amount.” In talking over the matter, Mr. Oliver also said, “ Having regard to the small sum it will cost to put the matter right it is best that we should pay it at once, and have done with it.”
If there is any considerable grievance existing amongst a large body of men working together, as soon as the foreman’s back is turned very often one man talks to another of his grievance, and the Department loses hundreds of thousands of pounds rather than pay a few pounds to settle the whole trouble.”
– Then the honorable member says that the men loaf at their work in order to talk over their grievances. That is a fine statement to make.
– The honorable member “ strains at a gnat and swallows a camel.”
– It is the honorable member’s statement, anyhow.
– It is not my statement; and I shall not allow him to misrepresent me.
Whether private enterprise or governmental authority has charge of an industry employing large bodies of men, it is much better to remove causes of discontent and irritation, even at the cost of a few pounds, than to leave the men smarting under what they feel to be injustice.
I have been asked if the Sydney tramway men are under the Arbitration Act, and I have to say that they are. There was a good deal of irritation amongst them when they struck in 1908, owing to the fact that the Act under which their grievances were redressed was practically wiped out by the Wade Government, and an unjust and retrogressive measure substituted ; they were exasperated almost beyond measure by a system of spying, and almost ready to stop work rather than endure that system. However, these are exceptional instances.
In spite of Arbitration Acts and other industrial legislation, there will be strikes from time to time. For many years employés have been accustomed to rely on the strike method ; and they have not as yet been educated up to the point of accepting the judgments of specially constituted Courts. It will be some little time before the old feeling wears away; but every fair experiment in industrial arbitration legislation tends to make strikes fewer and fewer, and ultimately they will disappear.
– We have had a good many lately !
– That is not so; and, in any case, we should have had a great many more but for the industrial legislation in the various States.
At present we are enjoying unexampled prosperity, and, in many cases, wages remain as they were fixed in the times of depression, though the cost of living has since increased considerably. As I Have said, if it were not for the industrial legislation in the various States there would, in my opinion, have been some tremendous strikes in the last few years in an endeavour to raise wages to meet the new conditions. We must not forget that, for the greater part, industrial legislation has been administered by hostile Governments.
– The Government have nothing to do with administration.
– The Government have much to do with the administration, seeing that the Government choose the presiding officer and all subordinates.
– The honorable member does not make any charge against the presiding officer?
– I do not, but it has been found, in New South Wales particularly, that the Government have had a considerable hand in the administration.
– How can that possibly be?
– I know that the Wade Government have called on their AttorneyGeneral to take action in a number of cases.
– That has nothing to do with the administration, which is a matter for the Judge of the Arbitration Court.
– The administration is certainly a matter for the Judge. The point I really wish to emphasize is that, though a Judge may be perfectly fair-minded, as I believe Judge Heyden to be, he is fettered in his action by the Acts which he has to administer. I could show records, showing that the Judge has, time after time, been prevented, by the wording of the Act, from doing things which he believed to be perfectly just.
– But the honorable member spoke of the administration.
– A hostile or unsympathetic Government may place sections in an Act which prove restrictive.
– That is the Parliament, and not the Government.
– But an unsympathetic Government, with no faith in arbitration, may insert sections which hobble the Judge in his administration, and, consequently, bring the Act into disrepute. In a recent case which I conducted myself, an award was given in regard to holiday after twenty years’ service, and some other matters ; and when an appeal was made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, the Judge said he believed the case of the men was perfectly just, and that if it had been submitted to him he should have gone a great deal further, but he pointed out that, under the Act as it was, he was powerless, although the appeal was quite fair and equitable.
– But it is Parliament that passes the Acts !
– That is what I say ; and the workers have, in many instances, lost faith in conciliation and arbitration owing to provisions which unsympathetic Governments have passed, for the purpose of preventing the appointed tribunals from fairly deciding between the parties. However, that is somewhat beside the point, and I have no desire to unduly occupy time. As to the Commonwealth! public servants, it will, I think, ultimately be found that no means will prove so satisfactory as inviting them to form associations and register, so that their grievances may be submitted to the proper tribunal. While 1 am always glad to do anything I can in this House to help the workers of any class or section, and while I shall always be ready to assist the public servants, I feel that I am only doing my duty in advising them, as well as honorable members, to see that industrial troubles are referred to an independent tribunal, which will hear evidence and award fair and equitable conditions.
– In common with other honorable members on this side, I have endeavoured to facilitate the despatch of private members’ business this morning, so that we might proceed immediately after luncheon with Government measures, but we have had the whole of the time this afternoon occupied by the honorable member for Cook with matters which are not, in any sense, of public interest, and which properly should never have been introduced here. I rise now only for the purpose of correcting some misrepresentations by that honorable member, who quoted what purported to be my expressed convictions, when in a previous Parliament, I was addressing myself to the Financial Agreement made between the Premiers and the then Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. The honorable member gave a garbled extract from my speeches without reading the context, and thus imparted an entirely different complexion to my utterances. . The honorable member quoted from Hansard of the 4th November, 1909, page 5352, as follows -
The Premiers would have been well advised had they agreed to a limitation of the duration of the arrangement to fifteen, twenty, or twentyfive years.
What the honorable member did not quote was -
I am sorry the Premiers did not see their way to fall in with the suggestion for a fixed period, because it would have meant absolute unanimity on this side.
Then follows the important point he omitted j and I may say that the misrepresentation which I am now refuting was circulated in hundreds of thousands of leaflets by the Labour party during the recent elections in New South Wales -
But while I hold that view, and would have preferred a more elastic basis of agreement, I shall not help the Labour Socialists to dishonour the compact made with’ the States at the recent Premiers’ Conference. Under existing conditions, I rather favour the limitation of the spending powers of the Commonwealth, for the next few years at any rate. If we have an overflowing Treasury, and, perhaps, a Labour Government in office, they will have a very strong temptation, with the means of gratifying it always at hand, to try to materialize some of their Socialistic nationalization proposals, all trending in the direction of unification and the curtailment of State Rights. I want the rights of the States, as well as those of the Commonwealth, to be preserved, under their separate Constitutions, as far as possible intact.
Those words made my position absolutely clear. When I was twitted with voting against my convictions, I showed that, at that time, I had no convictions on the question at all. It was merely a matter of opinion subject to further and fuller information. The honorable member for Adelaide interjected -
I am distressed because the honorable member for Lang intends to vote against his convictions.
I then said -
I shall not do so. That interjection is merely intended to mislead and misrepresent my position.
It will therefore be clearly seen that al that time I made my position plain. In another portion of the speech I pointed out that, whilst I thought the arrangement I indicated would have suited the Premiers better, I recognised that their proposal was very much better from the Commonwealth point of view than would be a limitation of the period. I said it was a pity the Premiers had not accepted the limitation, but I made it plain that I spoke merely from the State point of view and from the point of view of the Premiers as parties to the agreement. I added that if they were prepared to accept the proposal before the House, I saw no reason to disagree with it, since the Commonwealth had the best of the deal. When an honorable member tries once more in this Chamber to fasten misrepresentation upon me, I take the earliest opportunity of counteracting the intended effect of his assertions by putting the truth alongside of what cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as in accordance with the facts. The honorable member also spoke about the attitude of myself and el her members of this party towards the Surplus Revenue Bill,- and tried to twist it into opposition to the payment of oldage pensions. He made some quotations which did not bear out the position he was taking up.
– The honorable member must admit that old-age pensions would not have been passed without that Bill.
– It was not even thought of at the time in that connexion. The point is that all through the elections the members of the Labour party in New South Wales issued a leaflet in which the position of myself and other honorable members was absolutely misrepresented, and our opposition to the Surplus Revenue Bill twisted into opposition to the payment of old-age pensions, although the honorable member for Hume, who was in charge of the Bill, admitted, as did other honorable members on that side of the House, thai there was no opposition on the part of any party in the House to their payment. When the honorable member for Hume moved the second reading of the Surplus Revenue Bill, and at other stages, not a word was said about any portion of the money being proposed to be devoted to the payment of old-age pensions. When I and other-i pressed the honorable member for Hume for a statement of the purposes to which it was proposed to devote the fund he told us that the object was to prevent the lapsing of votes for the construction of public works in regard chiefly to fortifications, and for other defence matters. He led us to believe that the purpose of the Bill was to enable the Government to carry out such undertakings as the Fremantle defence works. Not a word was said about old-age pensions until some weeks, or, I believe, months afterwards, when it was suggested, I think, in an article in the Age that the money might be used in that way. That was suddenly taken up, as a very good idea, to compel honorable members on this side to vote upon a misrepresentation of the intention behind the proposal to set aside the surplus revenue. I rose mainly for the purpose of setting these matters right, but while on my feet I may as well deal briefly with the question of the direct telephone line from- Cronulla to Kogarah. I have quite a list of grievances in connexion with the Postal, Defence, and Customs Departments, but I shall not air them at this time in the House. This telephone line was referred to on the last grievance day. The PostmasterGeneral will remember that I pointed out that a direct line had been promised, but apparently had not been erected. I have since had a letter from the Department reminding me that what they call a direct line has been constructed. It runs from Cronulla vid Port Hacking to Sutherland, and is about as direct as would be a line from Melbourne to Sydney via Adelaide and Port Darwin. It is not a direct line but a circuitous one, leading in an opposite direction for some distance and through the Sutherland office, which was not desired by the local people. A telegram from the shire clerk, in reply to further inquiries, tells me that this line does not serve the requirements of the district, is riot what they want, and does not relieve the congestion. I notice on reference to the departmental letter that mention was made of a suggestion to take the line round by way of Sutherland, but they spoke in the beginning of their letter of a direct line. That is where the confusion has arisen. It is called a “ direct ‘”’ line, when, as a matter of fact, the line constructed is roundabout, and, I am informed, does not meet the requirements of the district. I therefore ask the Postmaster-General to have the matter further looked into with a view to giving relief by the construction of a direct line.
– It has been known for a considerable time that a great deal of dissatisfaction exists in the Postal Department in New South Wales. I think it is the desire of the Postmaster-General to remove the causes of the trouble, and the proposal of the honorable member for Cook that matters ofthis kind should be remitted to an independent tribunal for investigation is worthy of the Minister’s serious consideration. The same trouble used to exist in the State Departments in New South Wales, particularly in that of the railways. There was at that time a Board of Appeal in the Railway Department, but it was mainly controlled by the officers of the Department, and the question of determining wages and conditions of labour did not come within the scope of its inquiry. Since the Wages Board has been established there these matters have been referred to it, and it has been effective in bringing about a considerable improvement in the conditions by removing many of the causes of * friction. I do not see why a similar independent tribunal should not be established in regard to the officers in our Postal Department, and I therefore recommend to the earnest attention of the Postmaster-General the suggestion of the honorable member for Cook as a means pf solving the difficulty and doing away with the dissatisfaction which at present exists in his Department in New South Wales.
– I wish to congratulate the Government on their excellent supporters, who evidently have no consideration for the time of the country and no regard for the kind of legislation which is before the House, when they waste an hour and a-half of public time in discussing matters that have nothing whatever to do with it.
– The honorable member set the example in this matter.
– I simply called attention to four matters published in the honorable member for Cook’s paper in which allegations were made of things that were taking place in public Departments, including an allegation of sweating in the Postal Department. I asked the Government if that sweating still existed, and why, if so, no mention had been made of it by the honorable member for Cook since the election. He has spoken for an hour and a-half today, and has not said a word about the disgraceful sweating which, I understand, is still proceeding in the Post Office.
– The honorable member for Cook suggested a method oi ascertaining and remedying it.
– I did not hear it. All I heard was an aspersion on a number of excellent workmen with whom the honorable member is associated, and his declaration that they loafed on their employers to talk their grievances over. I immediately pulled the honorable member up for making that reference, and Hansard will show whether I am correct or not. I have no intention to refer to anything the honorable member has done or said to-day. J wish simply to note the fact that when the Opposition observe the policy adopted by the House of pushing through the public business and sitting inordinately long hours to do it, the first to violate that honorable compact agreed to by the whole House is a Government supporter, who deliberately wastes an hour and a-half of public time.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that statement.
– Then I will say that the honorable member took such a course as had the effect of delaying the consideration of Government business for an hour and a-half, while he talked on trumpery things of long ago. That is the only reply I shall make to the honorable member.
Question resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from 31st August (vide page 2360), on motion by Mr. Fisher - -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Deakin had moved, by way of amendment -
That after the word “That” the following words be inserted : - “ the form of land tax outlined by the Prime Minister, and provided for in this Bill, is unjust in ils incidence and an abuse of Federal powers.”
.- I am sure the House and the country will not begrudge any reasonable amount of time spent in the discussion and criticism of the provisions of a Bill of such momentous importance and such far-reaching possible effects. I recognise, at the same time, that already the Bill has been very ably criticised from this part of the House by honorable members who have presented a formidable indictment of some of its lead ing provisions, and explained the principal grounds of opposition and objection to it from our stand-point. I therefore do not feel called upon, if I can possibly avoid it, to go over the ground that has been so effectively covered. My object in rising is principally to emphasize and apply the searchlight of criticism to some of the points which have been so far dwelt upon merely in a cursory and passing manner. I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition, because I believe that the form of land tax outlined by the Prime Minister, and provided for by the Bill, is unjust in its incidence, and an abuse of Federal, powers. My attitude with regard to this question has been clear ever since I have been identified with Federal politics. During three Federal campaigns I have announced myself an opponent of any interference with land administration by the Federal Legislature, because I have been of opinion that there is no need for the Federal Parliament to impose direct taxation with a view to obtaining revenue, and that the taxation and control of land rest with the State Parliaments, and can be more effectively exercised by them than by this Parliament. Honorable members, in addressing themselves to the measure, have speculated regarding the intentions of those who have introduced it or who support it, and have referred to the utterances of the leading members of the Labour party and to the Labour programme to show that the intention of this legislation is the bursting up of large estates - in other words, a reform of the land policy of the States. But notwithstanding the utterances of the Prime Minister during the electoral campaign that it was the intention of his party to introduce a measure to break up the large estates, when he introduced the Bill he stated its object to be primarily and principally the raising of revenue. The Attorney-General, however, seemed to suggest that the object is twofold, to raise revenue and to burst up large estates. In considering whether the measure is an invasion of the constitutional rights of the States, we must be guided in the main by the effect of its provisions. If it be hereafter attacked in the High Court on the score of unconstitutionality, that objection cannot be maintained by reference to the utterances of politicians. The intention of an Act is to be judged only from the effect of its provisions, without reference to extraneous statements. It will be admitted by the supporters of the Bill that if in the preamble it were stated that the measure was intended to burst up large estates, the High Court, should it be called on to pronounce concerning its constitutionality, would declare it to be an invasion of the rights of the States, and consequently ultra vires. If in Committee we amended the title to make it “a Bill for the disintegration of large estates,” or amended the preamble to make it read, “Whereas it is desirable that Parliament should pass legislation for the disintegration of large estates, and the improvement of the land tenure of Australia,” or effected any similar alteration, the High Court, if invoked, would declare the measure to be ultra vires.
– Why is not the intention of the measure declared in its title or preamble?
– It must be because its framers are afraid to make such a declaration.
– Honorable members who supported a measure imposing Customs duties did not insert in its preamble a statement to the effect that its intention was the encouragement of local production.
– It would have been quite constitutional to put such a declaration into the Customs Tariff Bill, because this Parliament has absolute and exclusive right to legislate in regard to, all matters affecting Customs and Excise, and trade and commerce with other countries. We have the right to legislate regarding such matters for any purpose, direct or indirect.
– Even regarding Excise?
– Yes. But while we have a general power of taxation, we have no power to impose taxation with the obvious purpose of interfering with land tenure, legislation with respect to which is exclusively the right of the State Parliaments. This is part and parcel of the Federal bargain, which was legalized by an Imperial Act. No one ever suggested that this Parliament should be given exclusive or partial right to legislate, either directly or indirectly, regarding the lands of the country. Honorable members who support the Bill would be only too glad to declare in it the intention of the Legislature, if they did not fear that by doing so they would make it ultra vires. The fact that they will not put such a declaration into the measure shows that they doubt our constitutional right to pass it. Let us consider what are the basic principles of the proposed law as they can be drawn, not from the declaration of politicians, but from its provisions. It is proposed, first, to impose a tax on the unimproved value of all land exceeding a certain amount. This is a tax, not on the annual value of land, but upon the corpus. The Commonwealth is not to take a percentage of the annual rents and profits, but to tax the capital value, irrespective of acreage or situation. Next, the tax is to be progressive, increasing with the increase in the capital value of the land. It is not to be a proportionate tax, which, as was shown by the honorable member for Angas, would be the fairest tax to impose on capital values. Thirdly, there is to be an exemption respecting land whose value is less than £5,000, subject to the qualification that one owner can benefit by only one exemption. Fourthly, by a cunningly devised provision, there is to be a linking together of the several blocks of land belonging to any owner.
– Why “ cunningly devised “ ?
– The provision is cunningly devised, not merely for the raising of revenue, but for the regulating of land tenure, and the limiting of the area which any one individual may hold.
– A desirable reform.
– The honorable member’s interjection bears out the contention that the main object of the measure is land reform, which, I say, this Parliament cannot constitutionally legislate for. If the object is land reform, why not set it out in the Bill? If, on the other hand, the intention is merely to raise revenue, then why these numerous differentiations and gradations? Why these numerous little clauses, apparently innocent in themselves, but bearing a tremendous significance, and all tending to modify and regulate the land policies and systems of the States? This Bill is intended 10 operate only on land held in fee-simple. I have carefully examined it, in company with some of my honorable and learned friends, and we can see in it nothing showing an intention to deal with land of any tenure, except that held in fee-simple. That also is another discrimination or differentiation relating to the kind of landed property to be dealt with. From these various provisions the deduction may be made that the object and policy of this legislation is to disintegrate, or break up, large or valuable freehold estates, above £5,000 in value, held as adjacent aggregations. If we had power to deal with land policy generally there might be some wisdom in a proposition having for its object the disintegration or dissolving of large aggregations of property in a given neighbourhood, which monopolize, so to speak, the adjoining territory. But this Bill,” framed in the manner I have indicated, goes further than that’. It does not merely aim at breaking up large aggregations of property or large ‘ estates clustered together in one part of the Commonwealth, but it goes on in its incidence and intention to limit the personal ownership of land in scattered blocks and allotments. It provides, for the purpose of enabling the Government to get as much as they can out of one owner, and of limiting the exemption of ,£5,000 to one owner, that his various blocks or allotments shall be consolidated.. A man- might have £5,000 worth of land in New South Wales, and areas of equal value in Queensland and other States. Under this scheme all those blocks are to be consolidated so as to form one estate to which only one exemption will apply. If under this Bill it is not deemed to be an act of land ownership, punishable by a tax, to possess land of the unimproved value of £5,000, which is not associated with other land held in the same neighbourhood, why is it made an offence for a man to hold blocks worth £5,000 each in different parts of the country, or in two different States ?
– It is for revenue purposes.
– No. The whole of these provisions evidently run together as part of one scheme to interfere with, regulate, and modify the ownership of land as it exists at the present time under State laws. There can be no reasonable doubt that that inference can be drawn from this proposition. Another deduction that can be made is that this is a Bill to discourage the holding of freehold property above the unimproved value of £5,000, and to encourage leasehold estates from the Crown. There is no provision for the taxation of leasehold estates.
– Surely the honorable member does not desire such a provision.
– I am not supporting any form of land taxation by this Parliament; I am supporting a proposition that land taxation should be left to the States, because they can more fairly and effectively deal with it. In other words, I think this may be described as a Bill to penalize the owners of freehold land above £5,000 in unimproved value. There may be other possible objections, but whilst I may claim, in common with other honorable members, to have a special knowledge of the land system appropriate to Victoria - the State to which I belong - I cannot be expected fairly to understand land conditions in New South Wales,. as well as do the representatives of that State in this or the State Parliament. It would be impossible for any honorable member to adequately predict what might be the possible results of some of the provisions of this Bill - taxing ostensibly in their form, but, it may be, penalizing and confiscatory in their effects. This Bill, taxing in its form, but penalizing in its consequences, may tend to concentrate the pastoral industry amongst single owners of small freehold areas. It may tend to discourage the prosecution of the pastoral industry on large areas of poor land. I am not sufficiently familiar with the landed conditions of New South Wales, or those of the great’ State of Queensland, to know what may be the possible effects of the application of this Bill there; but I have seen, in various newspapers, references to specific estates where terrible hardships will be inflicted by the apparent unequal operation of this Federal land tax. Whether those effects are intended by the promoters of the Bill, I do not know ; but some of the cases, particulars of which have appeared in the press, go to show that if this land tax, as now formulated, becomes law, it will have the most injurious and even disastrous effects upon a. large number of estates in the rural districts of New South Wales, Queensland, and other parts of the Commonwealth. That leads me to a further consideration of the constitutionality of this form of legislation. The honorable member for Lang last night invited me to reply to a question which he put as to whether or not this legislation would involve a “discrimination” coming within the meaning of some of the provisions of the Constitution. Only one section of the Constitution - section 51, subsection 11. - deals with the question of discrimination in relation to the possible taxation of land. It provides that the Federal Parliament shall have the power of taxation generally, subject to the proviso that there shall be no discrimination “ between States or parts of States.” The question is as to whether, in actual practice, this scheme of taxation will operate by way of discriminating between any of the States, or parts of the States. I understand that in the case of The King v. Barger, the High Court decided that the expression “ parts of States “ may mean different localities in different parts of the States. I do not suppose that many honorable members would undertake, without knowledge of its application, to say to what extent this tax, in its present form, may operate so as to discriminate between parts of the States, or between different localities in different States. I have, however, seen it made the’ subject of complaint that the tax, in its present form, will be more serious in its application to some of the pastoral back country of New South Wales than it will be in the case of the more thickly populated parts of Victoria. 1 have been furnished with an illustration showing the possibility of such discrimination arising between various localities. Take -an estate of 600 acres, in the Western District of Victoria, of an average value of ^30 per acre, representing a capital value of £18,000, and contrast it with another estate of 6,000 acres, in the northern, or arid, district of Victoria, of an average value of £3 per acre, and with the same capital value of ^18,000. The capital value is the same in each case, but the situations are different. From those two estates the same amount of land tax will be derived, no doubt, on account of the uniformity of the capital value. But, as has been pointed out to me, this tax will operate in a very unequal manner. The Western District of Victoria is a fertile region, accessible to railway communication, with a good rainfall, and greater productive possibilities and more numerous powers of utilization than the arid region in the north of Victoria. Honorable members representing Victoria and other parts of Australia may make use of their own knowledge of the difference in the surroundings and environment of the two estates I have cited to arrive at the conclusion that the earnings of a property or estate of 600 acres in the Western District will be very much greater than the larger estate in the arid regions. Its standard of stability of value will be more constant than that of an estate in the northern portion of the State, where the rainfall is less and the means of communication not so great. It may be that the principle of comparison which I have shadowed forth could he carried out on a larger scale. We might take an estate in Victoria and an estate in Riverina, both of the same capital value, but the earning value of the Victorian estate might be very much greater than that of an estate of similar capital value in New South Wales, or some portions of Queensland. Hence, arises a possibility of complaint, which may afterwards reach the High Court, that this system of taxation, apparently so fair, as based on equality of capital value, is, in reality and in actual practice, a discrimination in favour of land-owners in one portion of the Commonwealth, and against land-owners in another portion. I venture to say that, if it were shown “this taxation operates in the way of giving an advantage or privilege to land situated in one part of the Commonwealth, and imposing a disability or disadvantage on land situated in another part, it would come within the meaning of, and be obnoxious to, that section of the Constitution which provides against discrimination in taxation.
– ‘What does the honorable member suggest as an alternative?
– I am not here to suggest an alternative. What I say is that this question of land taxation is so complex that it ought to be dealt with in each separate State, where there is special knowledge of the various areas, to enable the formulation of a scheme of classification, by which a tax might be devised according to situation and earning capacity, rather than based on the dead level of uniform values. I admit that the scheme proposed is fair on the face of it, and to that extent it. is seductive; but in actual practice I believe it will result in the discovery of numerous inequalities, discriminations, and cases of unfairness, leading probably to forfeiture and confiscation - an end which I am sure honorable members neither desire nor design. That is one point of view from which the constitutionality or legality of the scheme is open to attack. There is another point of view from which this tax is open to criticism on constitutional grounds, if not to successful assault on legal grounds in the High Court; and I should like honorable members to take a note of that proposition. In dealing with the legal points and possible legal objections, I wish it to be clearly understood that I am not now endeavouring to pose as a legal prophet of evil ; I merely desire to point out possibilities of the future. I do not believe in cocksure constitutional lawyers; because a number of these questions are honestly open to difference of opinion, and can only be finally decided by the High Court; so that any suggestion which I now make is not necessarily final and conclusive, even in my own opinion, but merely what I conceive may be the result in the future, when this Act is subjected to that searchlight of legal criticism to which other Commonwealth legislation has been subjected. There were, for instance, the Excise duties in the Harvester cases, which resulted in the Federal legislation being declared null and void, much to the surprise of many honorable members. There was also the legislation relating to the bringing of the State railway employes within the operation of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which was also held to be null and void on constitutional grounds. Those two cases are certainly worth perusal and investigation by honorable members. I now wish to present a point which has occurred to me as open to be taken in connexion with this scheme of land taxation. Honorable members know that the scheme starts with an exemption of £5,000 worth of property held or occupied by any one individual, and that all property above £5,000 in value is divided or graduated according to capital value. The first class of property, up to £15,000 in value, is liable to a tax of 2d. in the £1 ; from £15,000 to £30,000, the tax is 3d. ; from £30,000 to £45,000, the tax is 4d. ; from £45,000 to £60,000, the tax is 5d. ; and, finally, the tax on properties of the capital value of £75,000 and upwards is 6d. in the £1. This form of graduated or progressive taxation is open to the objection that, whilst it may be, in form, and apparently designed to be, a tax, it is in reality and substance a penalty. The High Court has held that, in dealing with Federal legislation, it will be guided by the substance of the Act itself - its actual results.
-What about a Customs Tariff?
– I have already dealt with the Customs Tariff, and need not go over that ground again.
– We cannot discriminate between a Customs Tariff and this tax.
– The High Court of Australia and the High Court of the United States have held that, although we may call a thing a tax, if, in reality and in substance, it is not a tax, but a penalty, designed to cover an ulterior object, it may defeat its purpose, and be in excess of the constitutional authority.
– A Free Trader would say that of a Protectionist Tariff.
– No, because, asI have pointed out, the Federal Parliament has exclusive authority over Customs and Excise duties and foreign commerce, and, therefore, it could impose an import duty or an export duty for any purpose whatever.
– It could prohibit any kind of importation.
– Quite so; the Federal Parliament could not only impose a tax having an indirect object, but it could pass a declaration actually prohibiting the importation of any boots, for instance, into Australia. It will be seen, therefore, that the argument of the honorable member for Newcastle does not apply in the present case. Our powers, taxation of land, are limited to honest bond fide taxes for the raising of revenue ; and under our Constitution we are not allowed to call a thing a tax and raise money in the name of a tax, when, in reality and in substance, it is a penalty intended to penalize people who hold land of a certain value or above a certain value. It may be that the tax is intended not merely to penalize them, but to penalize them out of existence by practically forcing them to sell their land, in order to bring themselves within the exemption. What is the obvious meaning of this schedule for the taxation of land extending by rates from 2d. to 6d. in the £1, distributed over various grades of values above £5,000? The object, of course, is plain on the face of the measure; it is not to raise revenue, but to induce people, by the strength and force of the operation of this burden of taxation, to sell their land to their neighbours for the best price they can get, in order to come within the protection of the exemption. That is a reasoning capable of being deduced by the High Court, apart from any speeches or declarations in Parliament. The Bill itself, while it purports to be a measure to raise revenue by taxation, or to impose taxation for the purposes of revenue, will defeat’ its object, if the people intended to be affected unburden themselves of the possession of land. It has been said that there is a double object in this scheme - the bursting up of large estates and revenue. Let me point out, however, that these two objects are conflicting, inconsistent, and self-destroying. If this Bill results, as a taxing measure, in revenue for the Commonwealth, it will be a failure as a. measure for bursting up large estates. On the other hand, if it bursts up the big estates the revenue is not realized. If the Bill has the double object of raising revenue and bursting up estates, those two purposes are inconsistent. This shows that there is in it an inner motive, which is not revenue and incidentally the bursting up of land, but the bursting up of land with revenue a mere incident to it. If that be so, what will be the position of the Bill when it comes to be analyzed before the guardian and arbiter of the Constitution - the High Court? It will be open to the very strongest objection. I say this now in, I hope, the same spirit of moderation as I put my other points, merely to show possibilities, and to prove that we cannot and will not be allowed by a side wind to invade State rights or the province of legislation reserved to the States by the very terms of the Constitution. It appears to be admitted by the declarations of the leading members of the Labour party and of the . Government that the bursting up of large estates is the purpose of the Bill, and yet they are unable, or unwilling, or afraid, to put those words into it. If I have -spoken to any effect at all I have shown that even although those words do not appear in the Bill, there is sufficient evidence on the face of the Bill itself of an intention to deal with land legislation and land tenure, and to impose disabilities upon the ownership of land in various forms rather than merely to raise revenue from the land. The question of whether a large estate is a public good or a public evil depends upon the circumstances to be considered in connexion with each case. A large aggregation of territory near a city or a railway, or having access to water supply, might, if allowed to remain, be an obstacle to progress. I can take no more appropriate example than some of the large estates lying in or near Melbourne, such as the original Clarke estate, which, by the way, is gradually being disintegrated by natural process without legislation, or some of the lands on the Werribee plains, and_in the Western District. Those large estates might fairly be considered to require special consideration and treatment. By that I mean legislation by the proper authorities, and not by any process of usurpation or invasion of State authority. As a State member and a citizen of Victoria for many years I have advocated the desirability of passing laws for the promotion of closer settlement. At the recent and all previous Federal elections, whilst strenuously opposing a Federal land tax, I have always advocated legislation by the proper State authorities for the promotion and encouragement of closer settlement. But I do not think that either by the Federal Parliament, or by even any State Parliament, you can give effect to a fair and reasonable scheme of closer settlement and for the breaking up of large estates fit to be broken up, by any process of taxation or confiscation, without special legislation. 1 have always urged and continued to urge that the question of breaking up large estates and promoting closer settlement should not be dealt with by a drastic penalizing law intended to bring down land values and to rob the owners of landed estates of their current land values in order that other people might buy in at cheaper rates. I never supported a principle of that kind, nor can it be fairly or honestly supported. It is the right, and duty, and province of the Legislature in each of the States to deal with this important land problem fairly, honestly, and effectively. It ought not to be dealt with by the Federal Parliament by a side wind, by putting on a stiff, penal land tax to destroy land values. If we want to take possession of those large estates which are capable of sub-: division, let us take possession of them, or let the people through their State Legislatures do so by honestly and fairly buying out the existing owners at the current market price. That is the principle I put to my constituents, and that principle they, approved of at all my meetings. Although a Federal land tax for killing out these big estates sounded well and appealed to the gallery, when it came to reasoning it out and considering the fairness and equity of the proposition, even large meetings could realize that if the State wanted to promote closer settlement by the resumption of large estates,, it should buy the land back by compulsory arbitration and. subdivide it afterwards.
– But the States have not done it.
– The honorable member cannot expect the States to carry out these great revolutionary undertakings within a year or two. Time must be taken, and it is far better to allow these great changes to be brought about by a fair and equitable process than by revolutionary methods of confiscation and forfeiture such as are involved in the scheme of this Bill, by which the owners of estates of a certain value are to be told that they are to be penalized and made to pay according to capital value unless they get rid of their estates over a certain amount of value. I forgot to say, when referring to this tax being based upon the capital value, that, whilst it sounds fair and plausible, when you come to analyze it at the bar of- reason and fairness it is found to be unjust. It is based upon the capital value and not on the annual value, or the produce, or receipts ; not according to its fluctuating value from year to year, or what it is earning, as it varies according to the climate or the industrial conditions for the time being. Twopence, 3d., 46., sd., or 6d. in the £1 on the capital value, whilst nominally a tax, in reality works a forfeiture. After all, this tax on the capital value for a certain time, if persisted with, will, in the end, absorb the whole of the value of the corpus of the estate, and the owner will be deprived of his inheritance. Is that fair?
– It is not true.
– It is true. If you impose a tax of 6d. in the £1 on land worth, say, £1 an acre, it is a mere matter of calculation to find how many years the tax will have to continue before the whole of the capital value is absorbed.
– Land is always improving in value.
– Not always. If the Government want merely to raise revenue, why not base the tax on the annual instead of the capital value? The proposal shows at once that there is an ulterior purpose. It is thought that a tax, based on the annual value, would not be rapid or drastic enough in its operation to force and constrain owners of land of these values to sell out at whatever price they could get. I was pointing out that it might be sound public policy, in order to promote a dense population, to resume large estates in certain localities, near cities or railways, or water works, according to accessibility, fertility or the possibilities of utilization for industrial purposes. On the other hand, a large estate, in a poor, locky, or mountainous country, may be fit only for grazing purposes, and in being so used may be serving the only purpose of which it is capable.
– The capital value then is very small.
– Not a bit of it. The capital value does not diminish or increase in every case, according to the purpose for which the land is being used. But why do the Government want to impose this confiscatory tax upon land which is not fit for disintegration, or not capable of being subdivided? I asked my constituents, “ What is the use of bursting up large estates consisting of mountainous country, rocky areas, arid regions, in some portions of Queensland, South Australia, and New South Wales”? Who would think or suggesting closer settlement in the arid regions of those States?
– And yet the tax which the honorable member advocates is going to operate on those lands according to their value.
– I do not want the honorable member’s interjection to point that out to me. If the honorable member’s primary object is the disintegration of large estates fit for closer settlement, why not confine the operation of the tax to land fit for that purpose?
– Are there such estates as the honorable member has just mentioned in Victoria ?
– Probably this tax will not be so severe in its operation in Victoria as in some portions of the other States.
– There are no such freehold estates in South Australia.
– I have heard of and read in the public press statements regarding such estates in South Australia, and, of course, in dealing with a big subject like this we can only endeavour to collect evidence as best we can. There are, in New South ‘Wales and Queensland, at any rate, plenty of large estates of, in some cases, 50,000 or 100,000 acres, which are fit only for pastoral solitudes. Yet this tax is intended to come upon those grazing areas where there will never be farmers or orchardists or any form of intense culture. Why, then, do the Government want to impose this tax in those localities ? As an example, let me cite a case which I sawreported in the papers recently. I have seen it stated that, in Riverina, land has been sold by the Crown for from 10s. to 30s. an acre in its unimproved condition, and that frequently such land afterwards finds no purchaser, and that many properties have been taken over by the mortgagees because the mortgagors could not keep up their improvements. What is the use of putting a tax on land so poor as that? The Bill proposes to tax such land at the same rates as the rich land in the Western District of Victoria.
– If the land is as poor as the honorable member described it to be, what could we get by taxing it? Nothing.
– It will be taxed on a valuation of at least IOS. or ,£1 per acre, although the holders are making little or nothing out of it. No consideration is to be shown to struggling pastoralists who own poor land.
– My experience is that the pastoralists do not buy the worst land on their runs.
– The best and the worst land will be taxed’ alike. Why should we tax land which is so poor that it gives hardly any return? We shall not bring about closer settlement by doing so. In the Argus, of 16th August, it is stated that a block of land in Queensland was sold by the Crown at IOS. an acre. A firm bought 200,000 acres at that price for grazing purposes, but had to raise £50,000 by way of loan to meet the payments to the Crown. The proposed land tax will mean a charge of £1,550 on the- estate, which, at 5 per cent, on the capital value, will reduce the margin from .£50,000 to £31,000. We cannot expect to convert that huge block in the wilds of Queensland, fit only for the grazing of cattle and sheep, into areas suitable for closer settlement.
– It is a shame to tax an owner who can afford to pay £100,000 for his land !
– Although this firm has bought 200,000 acres from the Crown, and paid £100,000 for the land, it has had to borrow £50,000 j but it will be taxed as though it owed nothing. The honorable member’s interjection appeals to prejudice, and not to reason. He would tax men who possibly have as much to do as they can to make both ends meet. Many pastoralists would probably be glad to realize on what Mr. Shiels once aptly called their damnosa hare (Lit as. I am not here to advocate the imposition of any land tax by the Commonwealth.
– The big pastoralists send £22,000,000 worth of wool out of Australia every year.
– That is another vindictive interjection. While the free holders are to be taxed, pastoralists who lease large areas in Queensland for from id. to 3d. per acre are not to be taxed.
– Why should they be?
– If this land tax is justifiable, why is discrimination made between the perpetual lessee and the freeholder? Why should the leaseholder, whose interests are practically equivalent to those of a freeholder, escape taxation? Honorable members exclaim about the big freeholder, but why do they not tax the big leaseholder?
– The land of the leaseholder belongs to the people, that of the freeholder does not.
– The leaseholder has the use and occupation of the land, and gets the rents and profits obtained from it, on payment of merely an annual rent to the Crown. If we tax the leaseholder, we shall tax his interests, not those of the Crown.
– Would the honorable member like us to tax the leaseholder?
– I do not advocate the imposition of any land tax by the Commonwealth ; I point out these anomalies so that they may be rectified. If the original intention was merely to tax freeholders, why were we told that the Government intended also to tax leaseholders? Is there a difference of opinion amongst the members of the Labour party, a “-rift within the lute”?
– We are’ all wonderfully happy.
– I hope that everything will end harmoniously. We are helping the Labour party to remove the angularities, excrescences, and anomalies from its legislation. That is the function of an Opposition. I wish now to make a few remarks on another phase of the subject. A great deal has been said on the platform, and in this chamber, about taxing the unearned increment, and when I was a young land reformer, I was spellbound by Mr. John Stuart Mill’s advocacy of that doctrine. The theory is all very well, but how can you apply it? The right of the State to the value given to its land by the expenditure of the community at large has been used as one of the strongest arguments in favour of land taxation. If Parliament could always get at the original purchaser from the Crown, there might be something more to be said in favour of the theory that the unearned increment should be taken by the State.
But in almost every’ case the original purchaser has long since gone, and his land has passed through a number of hands, the present owners having probably paid its value to the last farthing. Changes in the ownership of land are very frequent, and land is constantly changing hands all over Australia, either as the result of auction sales or of private negotiations. This makes it impossible for the State to fairly tax the unearned increment, and by attempting to do so it merely penalizes men who have paid full value for the land which they hold.
– That is an argument against a land tax of any kind.
– No. My position is that it is for the State Parliaments to impose land taxation. They can discriminate better than this Parliament can. The only suggestion that I shall make during the debate is that a land tax ought to be based on classification, according to situation, utility, and the other factors of value.
– The honorable member suggests everything and anything that this Parliament cannot do.
– If the object of the Bill is merely revenue, the gradations provided for should not be proposed.
– Why does not the honorable member say straight out that he wishes to leave the control of the public lands to the Legislative Councils of the States ?
– The people of the States are wide enough awake to assert their influence on their local Parliaments. The interjection about the Legislative Councils is the usual retort. No doubt in the past there has been delay in dealing with land matters, but there is now a reasonable prospect of getting proper land legislation passed by the State Parliaments.
– There has never been delay in the taxing of the poor man.
– That is an appeal to prejudice. Such remarks should be kept out of the debate. The State Legislatures are strong enough, or are becoming strong enough, to deal effectively with land legislation, and they can pass measures more suitable to the condition of their people than any that we can frame.
– How can that be so, seeing that some of the Upper Houses are elected on a property qualification?
– The State electors can, if they think fit, abolish the property qualification. The matter affects their own destinies, it affects their own interests, and surely they are not going to remain dead to their own rights. If they want land reform, and the Legislative Councils stand in the way of that reform, then why do they not reform the Legislative Councils put of existence? They can do so if they think fit.
– They have not the power at present.
– The State electors were strong enough to carry the Federal Constitution Bill, and surely they are strong enough to carry their own reforms.At all events, I see no reason for straining the Commonwealth Constitution to make up for the shortcomings of any State Legislative Council.
– If it does not meet the strain, we will make it stronger.
– The honorable member shows a familiarity with the use of the editorial word “ we “ j but probably the people of Australia will have something to say before anything further is done in the direction of Unification or the abolition of the State Parliaments, so intimately associated with their daily lives, their interests, and their destinies. If the State Parliaments were abolished, I think that they would soon find out that a fatal mistake had been made. If they surrendered to a central legislative authority, such as the Federal Parliament, the powers of local self-government and local land reform which they now possess, with any outside body having the right to intrude upon them, they would soon discover their mistake. There would soon be a reaction and a cry in favour of home rule, and for the restoration of those local rights and liberties which had been taken from them by a process of centralization. We should hear once more the old story. The swing of the political pendulum would soon disillusionize them as to the so-called advantages of centralization - the so-called advantages of appealing to a central Parliament, in some cases hundreds of miles away from them, to deal with matters affecting their domestic progress and liberties.
– Poor liberty !
– “Poor Liberties !” The people of this country generally enjoy the strongest measure of provincial and national freedom existing in any part of the world, and yet the honorable member speaks of the political pioneers of Australia as having obtained for the people poor liberties.” What would the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland say if they possessed such liberties as we enjoy ? There is only one other feature of this Bill to which I desire to draw attention, and that is in relation to self-assessment. Under it every land -owner has to send in a return showing the value of his estate, unimproved and improved. Whilst-, no doubt, it is only fair that every owner of a taxable estate should be required to send in a return, it is quite another matter to say that that return shall be utilized for appeal purposes. There are in this Bill two provisions of an extraordinary and drastic character, relating to the manner in which land-owners sending in returns may be dealt with. One is that if an owner sends in a return of the unimproved value of his land, and that return, apart from any intention to mislead, proves to be an undervaluation, the Federal Government shall have the option of acquiring his land for Federal purposes at that valuation. That provision also comes within the denunciation of the amendment ; for if not an illegal use of Federal power, it would be an abuse of it. Even if we had the power, it would be an abuse of it to provide that because a man sends in a return which happens to be an undervaluation, the Government shall be allowed to say to him : “ Hand over your estate; we will take it at that valuation.” I believe that there was a similar provision in the New Zealand Act; but 1 have been told that under that Act the land-owner had the option of requesting the Government to take over his land at the , valuation which they placed upon it.
– I think that that is, or was, so.
– It is so.
– There ought to be some reciprocity of obligation or right in a matter of this kind. If the Government has the right to say to a land-owner : “ We will take your land at your own valuation,” then the owner, if he disapproves of the Commonwealth valuation of his property, should be able to say: “I cannot afford to pay this tax; you may take my land at your own valuation.”
– Such a provision would be unconstitutional.
– That is a twoedged sword.
– It may be, but it is an unanswerable argument.
– Under the Constitution, we have power to take over land only for public purposes. I should like to know how the Government would be able to take over, say, 100,000 acres in the Riverina, for public purposes, merely because the owner had undervalued it. Surely there must be an honest statement of public purposes. There should not be a sham.
– Where land is suitable for public purposes, that power may be properly exercised; but otherwise it will not be exercised.
– If the public purpose for which land is taken over be an honest, bond fide one, such, for instance, as its use as a post-office site-
– There are other public purposes.
– Or a parade ground.
– Or a horsebreeding station.
– The Government cannot go on multiplying indefinitely the public purposes for which land may be acquired. I should be sorry to think that any Government could ‘be suspected of suggesting a public purpose that was not required. There is another provision in this Bill relating to forfeiture, and I ask the Attorney-General, apart altogether from the question of its fairness, to consider its legality. Clause 67 provides that if a man sends in a return declared to be false and fraudulent, it shall be open to some authority to declare a forfeiture^ That is a most atrocious proposition.
– What ! In the case of a deliberate attempt to defraud the revenue?
– In connexion with the exercise of the power of taxation, no doubt, there ought to be provision for penalizing false returns, but under cover of taxation the Government cannot work a forfeiture of land. To do so would be to abuse their power. They might as well talk of depriving a man of his life for making a false return.
– The same thing is done under the Customs Act.
– But that Act deals merely with trade and commerce.
– It deals with property. Under it a man might have his ship for feited to the Crown.
– But there is a great deal of difference between ordinary chattel property and freehold property.’
The Commonwealth does not itself presume to take over the goods and chattels that are forfeited under the Customs Act, and to use them for public purposes.
– The principle is the same.
– The principle, so far as this Bill is concerned, is very unfair, and comes well within the strong words of denunciation that I used a few minutes ago. The provision with reference to self-assessment is a mistake. I believe that in New Zealand it has been found to operate in some cases adversely to the interests of the land-owners, and, in others, adversely to the interests of the Government. The Dominion Government, I understand, have decided to discontinue self-assessment valuations. They have arrived at the conclusion that if the Government desire to tax the people they should take the necessary steps to ascertain the value of property by a legal procedure, and that they should not unnecessarily penalize a man, or ask him to penalize himself, by taking too responsible a part in the work of valuation.
– We should have to levy a heavier tax to pay for the work of valuing the properties.
– In’ any case, the Government must have in existence all the necessary machinery to test these selfassessments. The land-owner is sufficiently harassed, worried, and penalized by the tax itself, without having imposed upon him this self -condemnatory process of selfvaluation.
– It is a principle generally applied in income and land taxation.
– It was applied in New Zealand and found wanting, and I am informed that it has been abolished. It is one of the conspicuous blots on thi.? Bill, and I hope that in Committee it will be removed. I say here, as I have informed my constituents at three successive Federal elections, that I do not, and cannot, believe in Federal land taxation. Land taxation ought to be reserved to the State Parliaments, for they are more competent to deal with it. If this Parliament honestly and fairly desires to raise revenue it should not fix upon a class tax such as this is. This Bill will operate as a tax on a class of free-holders. It will prove a class tax upon a limited section of propertyholders. A tax on a special form of landed estates is not justifiable as a tax, apart from the desirability of land reform or land legislation. If we require revenue for national purposes, we should resort to some form of direct taxation which will reach, not merely one form of property, but all forms of realized wealth, which is the true basis of taxation. The principle of our income taxation, under which we receive revenue on the produce or result of personal exertions, as well as of property differentiated, according to value, is one of the fairest of all revenue taxes - some form of taxation based on realized wealth is the best and fairest. Why should the owner of freehold estates above the value of £5,000, be selected as the victim of Federal taxation, while other men in the community, much richer and better able to bear the burden, are allowed to go scot free?
– Would the honorable gentleman be satisfied to tax them, too?
– I am not advocating any particular form of taxation, but criticising the Bill, and showing that it is one-sided, based on a desire merely to “ get at “ a certain class of people - not on a desire to tax wealth as a whole, but to tax a form of wealth as such. Such taxation is unfair and inequitable ; and, in the words of the amendment, is “ an abuse of the Federal power.” I, therefore, hope that the amendment will be strongly supported.
.- We are told that this taxation is intended to burst up large, estates ; but, so far as South Australia is concerned, everything in reason in that direction has been done for many years past, and land settlement is there progressing very satisfactorily. I am sure other representatives of South’ Australia will agree with me that the Government of that State have done every-: thing possible in the way of settling people on the land.
– Do not include me !
– The honorable member can speak for himself. During the last ten years the South Australian Government have purchased twenty-eight’ large estates at a cost of about £1,000,000 for the purposes of settlement. Land has been purchased from Mount Gambier away to the far north; and that I con,sider very creditable indeed.
– Has the honorable mem-: ber any idea of the prices paid?
– The amount paid for the estates purchased is £859,112 13s. 6d., while the unimproved value is £589,302. In addition to the efforts of the Government, private people, especially in my own electorate, have subdivided large estates, and given settlers long and favorable terms.
– Then there will be no taxpayers under this Bill there !
– There is a State land tax of a half-penny in the £r on properties up to £5,000 in value, and on estates over that value a tax of id. In addition there is a tax of 9d. in the j£i on incomes from land up to £800, and, over that amount, is. id. in the ,£i. It will be seen, therefore, that the land-owners of South Australia are pretty heavily burdened already; and an additional Federal tax will give them a very bad time.
– The honorable member does not mention the exemptions.
– There is no exemption in the case of incomes from land. I may point out that neither land companies nor absentees enjoy any exemption from income tax under the land taxation of South Australia, but, that, on the contrary, absentees have to pay an additional 20 per cent. In Queensland only 1.5,296,688 acres have been alienated ; there are 6,806,467 acres in process of alienation, and 282,878,758 acres leased. In the whole of the Commonwealth only 93,555,767 acres have been sold, while there are in course of alienation a little over 45,000,000 acres. Under the circumstances, it is not fair to say that there are no more public lands in the Commonwealth for the purposes of settlement. As a matter of fact, we have as yet only touched the country a few miles from the sea ; and I suppose that Australia is the emptiest continent in the whole world, though we all know it is by no means the poorest. During recent years there has been a great change in the manner of estimating the value of Australian land. As the honorable member for Swan pointed out last night - and I do not suppose there is another who knows more about Australia generally - millions of acres, which a fewyears ago were regarded as valueless for settlement, are now occupied at great profit. In South Australia, following the example of the United States, railways are being pushed out in advance of the people, with excellent results. At present about 300 miles of railway are projected, which will open out about 3,000,000 acres of land for advantageous settlement, and the Government are offering the greatest inducements in the form of varying and convenient leases, and long terms of payment. There is also a system of advances to settlers after they have made certain improvements. In my opinion, a tax such as that proposed should not apply to a State like South Australia, where it will prove very severe on land-owners. My own opinion is that in the case of many of the lands it would be impossible to arrive at the unimproved value, considering that in the grassy fields now presented to view there is nothing to indicate the large sums of money, amounting to about X5 an acre in some cases, spent in clearing away the dense bush, stones, and bracken. The honorable member for Angas the other day suggested that it would be fair to allow the original price . of the land to be deducted from the unimproved value; but I remind him that, many years ago, when the land was first thrown open, there was a favorite process of what was called “ killing the squatters.” This meant that the squatter had to go into the market and buy his land ; and there were plenty of sharks about to run up the price, and in some cases it would not bring the price to-day.. It is very singular that to-day we should be reversing the process, and in our efforts to “ kill the squatters,” we should force them to sell the very land which, forty years ago, we forced them to buy. It would be much better to turn our attention to promoting railway construction over the big tracts of fertile country, capable of carrying immense populations, instead of imposing a burdensome tax on those who are doing their utmost to develop our land. It has been proved that from Port Augusta to Coolgardie there are very valuable tracts of agricultural and grazing land ; and, with the improved methods of water-boring and conservation, areas in Western Australia and in the north of South Australia could be advantageously occupied. It is reported by one of the best authorities in South Australia that there are 16,000,000 acres on the tablelands of the Northern Territory capable of carrying 16,000,000 sheep and growing wheat; and, under such circumstances, the Bill we are now proposing seems really ridiculous. There is no doubt that the imposition of this tax will make a great difference to the producing value of this country.
– It will make the producing value greater.
– The honorable member knows that in a country like Tasmania, for instance, it is practically impossible to ascertain the producing value. One man may practically allow his land to go to waste, while another man, over the fence, may spend thousands and be obtaining splendid results. How, under such circumstances, can the producing value be ascertained ?
– Men will have to work their land in order to pay the tax.
– But it is hardly fair to tax the man who does work his land. In my own electorate people are spending large sums of money in draining and other improvements, and very shortly, as I have already pointed out, there will be nothing to show what the state of the land originally was. New Zealand is always held up to us as an example, but the land taxation there is a good deal fairer than the proposals in this Bill. The mortgagee there pays Jd. in land tax on his mortgage, and the balance paid by the land-holder is id. In New Zealand they have also no income tax on the produce of land. That seems a little more fair. A great deal is said about the prosperity of New Zealand, and, no doubt, that country has been very prosperous, but why? During the very dry time of 1902-3, New Zealand had a great market for her stock in Australia, and all over the world, and for the past ten years about £18,000,000 to £20,000,000 of borrowed money has been spent in improvements there for the benefit of the country generally. In Australia, we have not been doing anything of that kind, but have been living on our income. We have lost sight of the fact that new methods of farming are being introduced, and one of our senators ought to be thanked for going to the United States, at his own expense, to see what could be done with dry farming. Country in Australia with from 10 to 15 inches of rainfall, that we thought valueless, is now going to turn out first class country. Any number of young men who are starting out in life in Australia ought to try for one of the Government blocks of that land, and use the machinery that is now available to cultivate the soil. In twenty years’ time they would have a very valuable property indeed. Therefore, I say a great avenue has been opened up in this country that no man ever expected to see. I do not think it was ever expected that this Bill would apply to municipalities and corporations, and their like. It is ab solutely wrong. If it is a measure for bursting up large estates, why should it apply to the towns at all ? Some of the places in the towns will be very heavily taxed, but at one time they did not think they would be touched.
– But the Government cannot, according to the Constitution, discriminate.
– If the object is to settle people on the land, how can the Government burst up the land on which big factories have been built? I know a good deal about the land of Australia, and about Australia generally, and I do not see how it is possible for the Federal Parliament to deal with the land question. No one ever expected it to do so. There are six different States, and the land differs in quality in each. In South Australia, for instance, you may start from Mount Gambier, and, as you go north, find almost every class of land to be discovered in the civilized world. When you get to the middle-north, conditions change; when you go further on to Oodnadatta, they change again; and the same thing applies as you reach the Macdonnell Ranges and the Northern Territory. We, therefore, have a very great area to deal with, under the most diverse conditions. To deal successfully with South Australia alone, it would be necessary to divide the country into six different districts, and I fail to see how all these are to be managed from one point. I think you would have a wholesale muddle, and the Federal Parliament would be very well advised to keep out of it altogether. In fact, I do not think we have any right to touch the question without specially asking the people for authority. I do not think they were ever asked to give this Parliament leave to deal with the land. I never heard of it in my State. No one there had any idea of this Parliament dealing with the lands of Australia. They thought the question should be left to the different States. I am sure if the people had thought that this Parliament would tax the land, they would never have given us the power of direct taxation. Section 114 of the Constitution shows that there is one lot of land which this Parliament cannot tax. I refer to leases which are Crown lands. Unfortunately, we are very badly situated in my State in that regard. We have rightofpurchase leases, covenant-to-purchase leases, and perpetual leases. They all belong to the Crown, especially the rightofpurchase leases. They may come into the hands of the Government at any time, and how can they be taxed? They are neither Crown lands nor freehold, and if we attempt to touch them we shall find ourselves in a very difficult position. We in South Australia have been doing everything in our power to deal with the land in the best interests of the people, and, therefore, we demand special consideration from this Parliament. I should like to hear from the representatives of some of the other States what they have been doing. I know that in some parts of New South Wales and Queensland there is very valuable country, and I am very glad that that is the case. We are told that we are at the beginning of a very big drought. I hope not, but I do not think that a drought will ever have the same effect on Australia that it had in the past. We have had too much experience, and our people have been carefully conserving wafer and making provision against times of drought and trouble. Therefore, if we ever see another drought like that of 1902, we shall find our people very much better prepared to meet it. Instead of taking a lot of land from those who own it, and trying to get more land for the people, I think we shall have millions of acres that we shall want people to go on. I have heard it said that the farmers have not mortgages, but are very rich men. To my knowledge, the farmers are a speculative, enterprising people. Directly a man has his farm clear of debt he generally has a son or daughter to whom he wants to give a start, and he gives a mortgage on his farm to help them.
– We want to help him to place his children on the land.
– It is quite right that he should be helped, but as I was saying, he is no sooner out of debt than he finds his little place mortgaged again. I do not think you will find any people in the world more enterprising than the Australian farmers, especially those in South Australia. For several years they faced a drought, but they were always hoping for better times. No one knows them better than the honorable member for Grey, who will tell the House later on about his district. He knows as much about the land in Central Australia as any man in the Commonwealth, and therefore I hope to hear from him an appeal to the Government not to further penalize these people who have been penalized for so many years. Reference was made yesterday to a man and wife being separated, but under this Bill if a man and wife hold separate blocks of land these blocks are to be put together, and the tax is to be imposed on them as one lot. That is not fair, because, in our State, and in others, married women can hold property. Up to the present this tax has not been specially wanted. If the Government were hard up for money I am sure that not a member of the House would say a word against it. I do not think any people in the world would respond more cheerfully to taxation than the people of Australia if it was absolutely necessary. The other day the honorable member for Parkes pointed out that the way in which the Government were seeking to raise money was much dearer than the floating of a loan, and I have not yet heard his figures contradicted. I hope the Treasurer will take them into consideration, and if he finds that the honorable member for Parkes is right, he should say so in the interests of Australia. If he is wrong, the Treasurer should point it out, because it should not go forth to the world that the Federal Parliament are raising money by a land tax when they could raise it much cheaper by a loan. I do not think any one can say that the Australian Parliaments have wasted the money that they have borrowed. They have raised millions of pounds, and spent it all on railways, roads, telegraphs, telephones, bridges, big water conservation schemes, and other reproductive works, of which we are very proud. Those are a splendid asset for this country, and if we had not had legislators game enough to borrow money in the early days we should not be in this House to-day. The blacks would still be in evidence. Do honorable members think that the people of to-day are not as good as the people of forty years ago? They ought to be more competent, because they have more appliances, and why should they be afraid to launch out, and build a railway to Western Australia, and another to the Northern Territory ?
– We are not afraid. We are going to build it. We want to get a uniform gauge first.
– So we should. I agree with the Minister of Home Affairs, that we should have a proper railway gauge throughout Australia, and have it very quickly. I indorse his recent statement, that you cannot handle troops effectively without a uniform gauge. The AttorneyGeneral stated distinctly on Friday that this taxation did not apply primarily to towns, and was intended to burst up estates. . He also said that if there were any adjustments to be made the Prime Minister could make them. I contend that the Prime Minister has absolutely no power to do so, although I am sure that if he had the power he would be only too pleased to exercise it. I should like to be shown what power he has to make adjustments The Attorney-General also said the Government were going to bring people here in the proper way. Nobody would be more glad than myself to see that done, but it would not be treating the people themselves fairly to buy land for them, build houses on it, clear it, and provide water, as the honorable member suggested. That sort of thing would cost millions of pounds. I do not object to building houses for them, but why not let them clear the land themselves? That would give them work to do immediately, and they could gradually make homes tor themselves.
– They get the land in that condition in some parts of Australia.
– I believe that is so in Western Australia, but we are not quite so liberal in our State. The States could manage the immigration business much better than the Commonwealth. They could do it according to local conditions, and deal with the people as they entered Australia on much better terms than we could through a central body like the Federal Parliament. To deal with those people, and look after them, we should require an army of inspectors. Instead of the people getting the benefit of the system, that would go entirely to those employed in administering the law, and the system would prove so costly that it would break down. I know a great deal about the conditions of those on the land. Every one seems to think that a man has_ only to take up land to make a good living, but one cannot do well on the land without a great deal of experience, pluck, and capital. The States have endeavoured to assist land settlement by providing for the time-payment of purchase money, and those who know South Australia are aware that land-holders there have never been turned off land on which they were residing with their families, even when they have been as much as six years in arrears with their payments. No doubt the State Government will be as lenient in the future as it “has been in the past. I might mention, too, that the arrears of payments in re spect of re-purchased land amount to only £400, which is creditable both to the Government and to the people. These facts show that it is reasonable to leave the management of the land to the Governments and Parliaments of the States. I was pleased to hear the AttorneyGeneral say that trustees and beneficiaries will not be affected by the Bill.
– That does not appear so from the measure itself.
– Then the Govern-: ment will make the intention perfectly, clear. It was pointed out the other day, that if two persons held shares in an estate, and one lived in England and the other in Australia, both would be treated as absentees. I am glad to know from’ the Attorney-General that that is not intended, and I am sure that he will see that the Bill is altered to prevent it. The honorable member stated, too, that he intended to tax all who had interests in land, which would have been very drastic.’ But section 114 of the Constitution seems to prevent it, because it says that the Commonwealth shall not “ impose any tax on property of any kind belonging to a State.’’ It is clear that we cannot tax Crown lands, though we may be able to tax perpetually leased lands, or land leased subject to the right of purchase. I do not think the land-owners should be compelled to send in valuations of their land every year. We have had great trouble in South Australia’ in getting people to make out income tax returns yearly, and I do not think that any Government should have the right to take land from an owner. The Bill, however, puts on every land-holder the onus of declaring its value, and gives the Commonwealth the right to take it at his valua-lion. We do not believe in confiscation, and should not seem to provide for it in any measure that we may pass. Such a provision would make the people frightened, and I trust that the Government will amend the Bill to prevent this. The AttorneyGeneral told us that the Commonwealth has power to take land for any purpose, but I think that it can resume land only for specific purposes connected with administration. We have made a lot of mistakes in Australia . regarding land matters. In the early days in South Australia there was a. great clamour for taking away land from the men who then occupied it. The honorable member for Grey will remember that time. I inspected the whole of the country, and on my return expressed the opinion that it was unfit for closer settlement. I am sorry to say that my report was justified. I travelled from Port Augusta to beyond Mount Eba. The small men who took up that country found, after battling for years with the rabbits, wild dogs, and other troubles, that they could not live on it, and the Government came to the rescue. No one did more to bring that land into proper occupation again than the honorable member for Grey, who by dint of hard work, and years of effort, convinced the Parliament that the original occupiers had been harshly treated. Fair leases were therefore granted again, and the country was fenced to permit of the destruction of vermin. The honorable member, no doubt, is proud of what he did, and the people have been proud of him. Indeed, he has never yet had to contest his seat for this Parliament, and I hope that he never will have to do so. I look forward with pleasure to hearing him speak on this measure. The buying of land is a very dangerous thing. Many of the early pioneers were absolutely ruined by it. My good old father happened to be one of the first. He bought at very high prices, thinking, as others did, that the value of the land would increase by leaps and bounds ; but bad times came, and the old settlers were nearly all wiped out. It may be information for honorable members to know that from the Murray, following the coast line to Port Melbourne, you will not find a descendant of the old pioneers in possession of the land which they took up, with the exception of Mr. Sutton, of the Dismal Swamp station. That fact disproves the assertion that the Australians have gone in for accumulating estates. It is not so. Like their forefathers they are wanderers. The honorable member for Hindmarsh knows well the district which I represent, and in the early days assisted me in getting a Bill passed through Parliament to drain part of it to make it more fertile. He also helped me to improve a block in the Glencoe district, and, wi th his assistance, we got the first piece of railway started that had been made there for twenty years.
– He ‘ would do the same thing again.
– I am sure he would do all he could to advance the interests of Australia.
– We have heard him on this Bill.
– We shall hear him again, and he will talk some good, sound sense. He does not generally speak nonsense. The honorable member for Robertson says that we are not going to stop at the present tax; that it will go up to is. in the £1 I am sorry to hear that said. In South Australia we already have a land tax. various local taxes, and an income tax, and we shall be in a bad position if we have a Federal land tax in addition. Australia has never been more prosperous than it is to-day, and I hope that its prosperity will continue. Although some have described it as a barren desert, it is a beautiful country, and, in my opinion, the finest in the world. Up to the present time it has been well governed, and I hope that nothing will be done to a fleet its reputation for good government. I am sure that if the Leader’ of the House thought that the tax would injure the credit of Australia for good legislation, he would give way in regard to it. He is a good Scotchman, and admittedly one of the most straightforward men in the Commonwealth, and would not, in my opinion, put his position before the interests of the people. We, in Australia, understand the climate better now than we did years ago, and our experience enables us to make better use of our opportunities. We have in existence at the present time enough legislative machinery to provide, not only for our present population, but for all who may come here during the next fifty years. Whatever some honorable members may say as to our large landholders, I have no hesitation in declaring that we are very much indebted to them. They have spent large sums in the development of the country, and in many ways have been of great advantage to the Commonwealth. They have imported the very best strains of live stock, with the result that we have in Australia to-day the finest flocks and herds to be found in any part of the world. We should be very careful nol to do anything that may damage the national credit. There can be no doubt that this Bill, if passed, will damage the credit of Australia, and I hope, therefore, that before attempting to penalize the landowners as a body by the imposition of this lax, the Parliament will decide to consult the people. Our land-owners have paid for their land, the States have been paid to the last shilling, and if they hae not spent the money so obtained to the best advantage in opening up and developing the country, they ought to have done so. I sincerely “ trust that the Parliament, instead of passing this Bill, will decide, first of all, to submit the whole question to a referendum of the people.
.- It will be readily admitted that this is one of the most important Bills that has been before the House, and that it is attracting the attention of all sections of the populace. On the one hand, we have a very large majority of the people declaring that such a measure should become law, while, on the other, we have a minority, representing vested interests, particularly anxious that it should not be passed, and complaining that it will interfere with privileges which they have enjoyed for years. There is wonderful unanimity on the part of the Opposition as to the desirableness of leaving the taxation of land to the State Parliaments. Whatever other views they may hold, they all cling tenaciously to the point that the State Parliaments alone should deal with this question. Perhaps the only exception is the honorable member for Lang. True to the flag of freedom, under which he has been fighting for a lifetime, and his regard for which, so he tells us, caused him to part company with the Labour party, he stands by the principle of the single tax. The honorable member tells us that the whole of the revenue should be raised from a tax on land. I am not going to debate at the present time the question of whether or not that would be a wise course to pursue. I am, to a certain extent, an admirer of Henry George, althoughI do notindorse his views in their entirety. I wish to remind the honorable member for Lang, who made so much of the Labour party having deserted him, of the Labour movement of 1892. The honorable member made it clear that he had to part company with the Labour party on account of what happened in 1890. It may be news to him to learn that in 1892 he himself supported, in a Labour Conference, a resolution in favour of hauling down the great flag of Free Trade under which he is fighting, and the flag which he tells us the Labour party should have never deserted. I know that I shall not be in order in dealing with the fiscal question, but I wish merely, in passing, to remind the honorable member that in 1892 he supported the resolution to which I have referred, and rejoiced to know that that Conference decided that Labour principles had to be carried into effect irrespective of what Ministry might be in power. The Confer ence resolved that, so far as the banner of Free Trade, under which he was living, was concerned, the fiscal question must stand aside as long as we could secure from any Government in power measures giving effect to our platform.
– Order ! The honorable member must not refer to that matter.
– I know I shall not be in order in referring any further to the subject, and I shall, therefore, conclude my reference to it by inviting the honorable member, if he wishes to obtain further information, to examine the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 27th January, 1892. Coming to the question immediately before us, let me say that I differ entirely from the view that land taxation should be left solely to the States. If land monopoly is a curse, and I believe that it is, then it is a national question. It is a question affecting Australia as a whole, and, there- fore, should be dealt with in some uniform manner. Uniformity can be secured only by action on the part of the Commonwealth Parliament. It is admitted that we have power to impose a land tax, and if we require revenue for Commonwealth purposes, why should we not impose a tax on land? To leave such a duty to the States would simply be to invite failure. The people of Australia desire that large estates shall be burst up, so as to provide for the better settlement of the land, and that having been brought about we shall be able to proceed with the system of immigration to which so many honorable members have referred. What is the position to-day? Why is it that the larger part of our population is to be found in our several State capitals? The reason is that the land is not available, and that it is held in large areas, and that settlement cannot take place within a reasonable distance of a market. Honorable members opposite have contended that the land in New South Wales which will come for the most part under this Bill is remote from a market, and is used for pastoral purposes. It may be news for some of them to learn that in almostevery part of New South Wales, and within easy reach of a railway, there are large estates to which the people cannot gain access. They are not being put to the best advantage, and this tax will dosomething towards placing them on the market. About 33 per cent. of the population of New South Wales is to be found in and about Sydney, the reason being that country lands are locked up, and men cannot get upon them to obtain a livelihood.
The honorable member for Darling, in his book, Australia’s Awakening, points out that the Victorian Settler’s Guide for, I think, 1908, says - “It is a fact that the maps of many of the early settled parishes of Victoria, subdivided as they originally were into numerous valuable farm sections, present the appearance of so many draught board squares from which the men are missing, the land of whole parishes having become in many instances merged in one large estate - the property of one person.”
On this he comments -
No wonder that 45 per cent, of the population live in Melbourne ; 30 per cent, of New South Wales people are in Sydney, and of South Australian’s, 42 per cent, are found in Adelaide. In New South Wales, forty-nine million acres are alienated, in Victoria twenty-one million, Queensland fifteen, South Australia twelve, Western Australia six, and Tasmania four million acres. The country is a sheep walk, and if the owners sell at all it is only at prohibitive prices.
That goes to show that the system which has sprung up in New South Wales and Victoria is becoming general all over Australia. The right honorable member for Swan, and others, have contended that there are large areas available in their respective States. That may, or may not be. I believe that there are large. areas available in Western Australia, but the point is that, if this system of allowing large holdings to get into the hands of the few is bad, we ought to nip it in the bud. If the experience of New South Wales or Victoria proves beyond doubt that such a system is opposed to the best interests of the State then should we not save the younger States from the same fate? Should we not legislate to keep their lands available to the people?
– The younger States are saving themselves.
– I am inclined to think that there are, in the younger States, many large estates, which are held by only a few individuals. There has been much splitting of straws during this debate, as to whether this Bill is designed to produce revenue, or to break up large estates. I do not intend to mince matters. Personally, I believe in it for both purposes. I believe that we should have revenue from the land, and I fail to see how the, Commonwealth is to carry out its great undertakings unless we can obtain more revenue. Our defence scheme involves a considerable expenditure, and we also have proposals for the construction of transcontinental railways, the establishment of the Federal Capital, and many other national works, which must be carried out within a rea sonable period. All these have to be financed, and are we not justified in raising revenue by imposing a tax on the land ?
– Are all those undertakings to be provided for out of revenue?
– My present view is that they should be.
– If all the big estates are broken up by means of this Bill, how will the Government obtain revenue from the tax?
– I believe that we shall obtain ample revenue, and that the imposition of this tax, if it results in the subdivision of large estates, will prove the best thing that ever happened to Australia., Honorable members opposite say that we are going to impose class legislation. Do they contend that those who have the greatest interest in the country should not bear the larger share of the cost of protecting that interest? Are they going to urge that the poor man who owns, perhaps, nothing more than his little cottage - who has to go to the front when the nation is in peril and never hesitates., in such circumstances, to do his duty - should pay the larger share? He has to depend on the small wage that he earns to support himself and his family, and are we going to ask him to pay taxation equivalent to that paid by the- owner of, say, £200,000 worth of land ?
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 -p.m.-
– Before the dinner adjournment, I was “dealing with the ques* tion of revenue, and urging that those who Rave the greatest stake in the country should be called upon to pay iri proportion for the defence of the country. I instanced the man who has to depend on his earnings for the support of his wife and family, as compared with the man who has a large estate, and claimed that, as the former has very little to defend, and always goes to the front, the latter, who has the most property to defend, should provide the sinews of war. Honorable members opposite have charged us with being afraid to say that the Bill has the double object of revenue and the bursting up of large estates; but I have no hesitation in saying that we should derive as much revenue as possible from the large estates for the purposes of defence and for carrying out necessary works. Further, I believe that this tax will burst up large estates ; but if it be found insufficient after experience I shall be prepared to support a higher tax. The question has been raised whether revenue will not fall off if the tax has the desired result in the way of settlement. I confess that revenue will fall off under such circumstances; but the advantages reaped by the Commonwealth in the way of extended settlement will more than compensate us. Every head of population is a valuable asset. Each new citizen is both a producer and a consumer, and the enlarged population must result in an increased general revenue. There are many large estates now only used for grazing which would maintain 100 families, or probably 200 families ; and, so far from this tax resulting in a loss of revenue owing to extended settlement, there will be an increase. We are told that we ought to leave this matter to the States ; but I notice that the advocates of that course are very careful and guarded in their utterances, so as npt to commit themselves. Very few indeed would confess that they are not in favour of a land tax ; and the suggestion to leave its imposition to the States is only a convenient way of getting out of a difficult position. What is the experience in some States which have been struggling with this problem during the last few years? I suppose we can all speak with intimate knowledge of the States we represent; and I can say that in New South Wales, since 1904, when the Closer Settlement Acts were passed, the Government have been continually resuming estates. The only result, however, has been to increase the price of farms. I know that honorable members opposite contend that the full value of the land should be obtained; but, in my opinion, the true value is the use value, and that the present values are fictitious. No doubt, the terms of, say, thirty-eight years at 5 per cent., to liquidate the interest and principal, are very alluring to the poor man with £100 or £200 ; but he has to make improvements, and depend entirely on his return to meet his indebtedness. All goes well in favorable seasons, such as we have experienced during the last few years ; but a change may come in that respect, and then what will be the position? Those farmers who are struggling to pay their interest will, I am sorry to say, in many cases fail, and lose their holdings ; and it is time our eyes were opened to the situation. Values are made by the law of supply and demand;’ and if the supply is kept short the values, of necessity, become high. This principle applies to land as to other commodities; and I can show that in New South Wales farmers are really paying more for holdings to-day, in spite of the large resumptions by the Government.
– The honorable member’s argument is that this tax will reduce values?
– Yes, I hope it will have that effect, because land should never be above its use value. In New South. Wales, in 1905, Mr. Ashton, when Minister of Lands, resumed three estates, and’ divided them into 321 farms, at a total cost to die State of £475,758, the average price of the farms being £1,482. Later, in 1907, Mr. Moore, when Minister of Lands, resumed four estates of a total value of £807,359, which were divided into 374 farms, of an average value to the incoming farmer of £2,152, showing an increase in two years of about £700 per farm. Several other estates were subsequently resumed at a cost of £556,569, and divided into 256 farms, at an average value of ^2,213, showing a further increase. The total estates resumed numbered fourteen, at a cost of £1,849,687, and the average price per farm was £1,943. Most of the persons who took those farms will never be able to succeed, though I hope I may be proved wrong on that point; at any rate, their success depends entirely on the seasons. The honorable member who preceded me thinks we shall never experience the effects of droughts again as we have done in the past, but that is more than we can say, and perhaps it is just as well we do not know what the future has in store for us.
– What was the average area of the farms?
– I have not the figures here, but the average area has not fluctuated much, or, if at all, it has become somewhat less.
– I am anxious to know whether too much land has been taken, or the values are too high.
– The values are high, as is shown by the fact that, from 1904 onwards, there has been an increase in each case. As to the area, I gathered from a debate in the Legislative Assembly that a suggestion was made that it was not” sufficient to enable the settlers to earn a living. All -this shows that the closer settlement policy in New South Wales has not had the effect of reducing prices, but, on the other hand, has maintained and increased fictitious values.
– Does it not pay to occupy the land ?
– That remains to be seen; it depends on the seasons, to a large extent. The honorable member for Fawkner spoke of the Gobbagombalin estate, which had been resumed. This was the case where the land was extremely cheap, and a company offered to the Government £25,000 more than had been paid for it ; and the honorable member told us that when it was thrown open there were not sufficient applicants to occupy it. This estate was resumed, with two others, in 1906 ; and, in 1908, when the New South Wales Parliament met, Mr. Ashton, in answer to a question, had to say that all the land of the resumed estates had been taken up with the exception of some at Myall Creek, which had been resumed for a State purpose. It is not correct to say that there were not sufficient applicants, because in every case in which land has been thrown open there have been more applicants than could be accommodated. Land is cut up here and there, and care taken not to make too much available, with the result that the high prices are maintained. One effect of the land tax will be to reduce the land to its use value ; and we know that any one who takes land at a higher value only courts disaster. We are quite justified in making the tax uniform throughout the Commonwealth, in order to put an end to the present situation. It may be contended that the policy of the New South Wales Government has resulted in the reduction of large estates in that State; but, as a matter of fact, large estates have actually accumulated, because there is nothing to prevent individuals disposing of their holdings to large land-owners. In 1904-5, there were alienated holdings numbering 75,872, of a total area of 48,081,314 acres. Of these, 722 holdings comprised 22,290,887 acres, or 46.36 per cent, of the total area, and 5,502 comprised 13,994,182 acres, or 26.18 per cent, of the total area. These two groups added give 6,234 holdings, comprising 36,285,069 acres, or 73.54 per cent, of the total area of all rural holdings. Small holdings, which would not be affected by the progressive tax, represented the other 26.46 per cent, of the whole, and embraced an area of 11,796,245 acres. In 1909, after the closer settlement policy to which the State Government pinned their faith had been in operation for five years, there were 83,045 holdings, with a total area of 50,509,842 acres. Of these, 718 large holdings comprised 22,075,268 acres, or 43.7percent of the whole, and 6,487 holdings totalled 16,138,703 acres, or 31.96 per cent, of the whole. There were thus 7,205 large land-owners holding 38,213,971 acres, or 75.66 per cent, of the total. Thus, of the whole of our alienated rural lands, the large holdings had increased by 2.12 per cent, in area. There were ten times as many farms as there were big holdings, and yet the small men owned only onefourth of the gross area. There was in the four years a decrease of only four in the owners of holdings over 10,000 acres, while the holders of areas over 3,000 and under 10,000 acres, which might be classed as big holdings, had increased by 182.
– What is the least area included in what the honorable member calls large holdings?
– I could not say exactly, but all the holdings that I am quoting in the 75 per cent, lot would be taxed under this Bill, so that they are above £5,000 unimproved value. The great majority of them run up to £30,000 or £40,000, and some to £100,000 or even £200,000 in value.
– Are there any so low as 3,000-acre blocks ?
– I should think not. We are dealing with estates of over £5,000 unimproved value. My point is that the State has been struggling for the last six or seven years with the problem, and has not been able to effect any tangible result. In fact, the land has gone up in value, and the big holdings have really accumulated. There are more of them to-day than there were at the time the legislation was passed. That is one proof that the State’s method of resumption cannot effect the purpose that we desire. The only means of bringing it about is to impose an unimproved land value tax. I believe that if it is imposed the land will have to be used to the best advantage. Those who are not prepared to do that will have nothing left but to dispose of the land and cut it up into smaller areas. Consequently, the breaking up of estates and the raising of revenue go together. I will not go into the constitutional aspect of the question, but I am always pleased to listen to the legal members of. the House, and will listen very carefully to the honorable member for Flinders on that matter when he speaks. My views. are so strong in regard to the necessity of an unimproved land value tax, that if the Constitution is not sufficiently wide to permit u5 to impose it, I shall make one to appeal to the people to amend it, so that we may be able to give effect to their wishes.
– That would be the right and straightforward way to do it.
– I am prepared to do it, but there is a difference of opinion as to the necessity. Some of the legal members of the Opposition believe that the Bill is constitutional, while others have a doubt. We are of opinion that it is constitutional, and we are prepared to exercise the power. If we find afterwards that we have not sufficient power to legislate in this direction we shall appeal to the people, and I have no fear that they will not give us the right to impose an unimproved land value tax.
– There would be no objection then.
– There could be none. Although the speaker who preceded me said the matter had never been placed before the country, I know of no part of New South Wales where it was not made the battle-cry. Everywhere we placed before the people the necessity for populating Australia and the fact that the obstacle was the ownership of large estates. We said that they must be broken up, and that the only way to do it was to impose an unimproved land value tax. The result was that we received a big majority in New South Wales in favour of our policy.
– Why did the people not do it themselves through the local Legislature ?
– Because the Government that have been in power in New South Wales are not in favour of an unimproved land value tax. An appeal will be made to the people of that State in October, and this question will play a prominent part in the campaign. If we fail in this direction through our powers being limited by the Constitution, probably before we can get the people to amend the Constitution the new Government of New South Wales, which, I believe, will be a Labour Government, will impose an unimproved land value tax, having received a mandate from the people to do it.
– In addition to this ?
– No. I said if this were declared unconstitutional. I would also point out to the right honorable member for Swan, although he knows it as well as I do, that we have a further difficulty in New South Wales in a nominee Upper House, and that although we may get the power from the people so far as the Legislative Assembly is concerned, when the Bill goes to the Legislative Council it will meet its Waterloo.
– That is no reason why they should not get it through the Lower House.
– I quite admit that we ought to try. We believe that we have the power to impose the tax in this Parliament, but that question can only be decided when an appeal is made to the High Court if such a thing ever happens. We cannot get uniformity in State legislation. New South Wales may impose a tax, and the other States may not. What, then, will be the position? The holding of large tracts of country by individuals which is detrimental to the best interests of Australia will be perpetuated in some of the States, and we want to put an end to that at once.
– Who are “ we “ ?
– The people of Australia, and the right honorable member will find that a majority will say so.
– Why should not the States, which have the power, exercise it in the way they desire?
– Because it is much easier to deal with the matter in a uniform way by imposing a tax covering the whole of Australia than to leave the taxation to six different States.-
– But that is not in the Constitution.
– I do not say it is, so far as that aspect of it is concerned. I believe that values will be, and ought to be, reduced. They are far too high, but I do not think the tax will have the effect on the small farmer which many people are trying to make believe. They are evidently endeavouring to make capital out of the fact that values will be reduced, but those who have small holdings are not desirous of disposing of them. They want to work them for the benefit of themselves and their families, and hand them on to their sons, who come after them. These holdings are heritages, handed down from one to another, and the only people who would suffer if a diminution in values took place would be those who had large estates, and they would be getting the real value and probably more than the real value of the land. Most of them got their land for a peppercorn; some for IOS. and some for £1 an acre, and if they get half what the land is bringing to-day they will not do badly. They are getting good returns, probably, without having done anything to justify them.
– More money is being made through breaking up estates today than the squatter ever made.
– Yes, by land speculators.
– By members of the honorable member’s party amongst them.
– Not by members of our party. The honorable member for Parramatta probably knows some of those land speculators as well as I do. I do not like to mention the name of any public man in that connexion, but there are numbers of men in New South Wales who are buying estates and disposing of them and making great profits by the subdivision. I quite admit that land speculation is going on, and that is all the more reason why we should impose the tax uniformly, so as to place additional land on the market and bring values down to their “use- level,” thus preventing speculators from making money at the expense of the man who has to cultivate the land for a living.
– What about the man who has given a high price for the land recently?
– I feel for the men who have been buying land of late. When bad times come there is no doubt that they will probably lose all they have put into it, because they will not be able to meet their payments under the extended system. One matter in which I am specially interested, and which I have not heard touched on by members of the Opposition, is that of leasehold estates. I accept the Attorney-General’s legal view that no estates held by any person, either as a tenant or owner, will be taxable except in the case of an absentee unless the unimproved value is over ,£5,000. Personally, 1 would have kept this measure to the registered holder in every case, including land in process of alienation,’ so as to prevent any unnecessary tax being placed upon tenant farmers. There are probably 150 cases in my own district where these big estates, two of which at least are held by absentees, are leased out to people on tenures running from one to twenty-ono years. The tenants have to improve the land, and spend all their energy on it during their term. They improve their holdings by fencing and making their homes on them, and then, when their term expires, they are at the mercy of the land-owner. Those people ought to be protected. We should prevent as far as possible this system of legalized robbery that obtains . throughout Australia. I say advisedly that it is nothing short et legalized robbery. It is utterly wrong that a man simply because he has been successful in getting hold of a large tract of country should be able, without doing anything to the land, and probably residing al the other end of the world in idleness and luxury on the money that he is deriving from his tenants, to pass the tax on to them. That should not be permitted. I hope the States will deal sternly with the question in the near future so that the tenants may not lose all their improvements at the expiration of their leases. It is a scandal that people who improve land and make it of considerably greater value than when they went on to it, should be able to be turned adrift without compensation at the expiration of their leases. I know of a case where an absentee in England is leasing out some of the best land in New South Wales on the banks of the Hunter River. One family who had been working there for nine years improving their holding found, -at the expiration of their lease, that the owner’s local agent called for tenders and accepted one of a few pounds higher than they thought they could pay. They were turned adrift, and had to leave everything.
– If the Government leased the land renewals of lease would probably be by tender.
– The Government will never lease land under those conditions. With a perpetual leasehold a man would have a right to his improvements, but if the New South Wales Government were of our way of thinking they would adopt the principle of the tenant’s right to improvements, which we have advocated as a party for years, and thus protect the man who leases and improves land belonging to other people. If he was turned out he would have to be paid for his improvements.
– The cost of the improvements would be added to the incoming tenant’s rent.
– The landlord would nol be able to charge another tenant rent exceeding the economic value of the land, and would think twice, therefore, before turning off a tenant to whom he might be called upon to pay some hundreds of pounds for improvements. To-day we allow tenants to be turned adrift without being paid for their improvements.
– The honorable member means under the New South Wales land system.
– And everywhere else, so far as I know. Since it was decided to introduce this Bill, an estate in my district has been sold for £26,000 to a speculator, who has informed the tenants that he is going to subdivide it, and is willing to sell to them on terms. He had arranged a fortnight ago to sell a third of the property in this way for £13,000, and if he sells the balance to the same advantage, he will receive £39,000 for what he paid only £26,000, although probably the value of the land, when the tenants entered into possession of it, did not exceed £10,000.
– The landlord will probably have to wait twenty or thirty years for his money, and tenants do not always pay.
– Does the honorable member hold that such transactions are justifiable? Does he think that those who have made homes on the land should be turned adrift because they will not allow a speculator to make money out of them? It is no wonder that such transactions have been termed legalized robbery. Public men should try to prevent this sort of thing.
– The honorable member should enter the State Legislature, and advocate the reform there.
– I did advocate the reform in a State Legislature, but my party was always in the minority, though I hope that after the next elections it will be in the majority, in which case one of its first acts will be to protect the rights of farm tenants. The Attorney-General says that the Bill will not tax municipal property, and I advise him to look carefully at its provisions, to make sure that it will not do so, because property that is held in collective ownership by the community should not be taxed. I firmly believe that the proposed tax will bring in a great deal of revenue, will break up large estates, and will provide for immigration.I am favorable to the coming here of immigrants if there is employment for them. If we open up the country by breaking up the large estates, we shallbe able to extend the hand of fellowship to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, and to welcome them as citizens of the Commonwealth who will be ready, if necessary, to defend it. But we should not be justified in bringing people here without making provision for their reception. The Bill is a step in this direction. It will be the means of settling the country, and this will provide a market for our manufacturers, and population will increase, not by hundreds, but by millions. I hail the day when we shall have a population large enough to adequately defend our country, and to provide for the opening up of the interior by means of transcontinental railways. I believe that the efforts of the Government will be crowned with success.
– I recognise that at this stage it is unnecessary, and perhaps would be unwise, to make long speeches, and I shall endeavour to avoid repeating any of the arguments which have been used on either side. But the honorable member for Hunter has invited me to express my views on the constitutional question involved, a challenge which I think every legal member, on whichever side he may happen to sit, is bound to accept, because it is the duty of members trained in the law to put aside their party views, and give the House their best advice on legal questions. With regard to the general power of taxation given by section 51 of the Constitution, I am not prepared to admit any limits to it, either in subject-matter or mode of imposition. But the same remark applies to the taxing powers of the State Parliaments. I listened with a great deal of interest to the thoughtful sentences of the Leader of the Opposition on this point. He showed that, although the Commonwealth and the States have co-ordinate powers regarding all’ subjects of taxation, so that there can be no constitutional conflict between them, the powers of both extending over the same field, there may, unless both exercise their powers with some degree of moderation, be practical conflicts, which may have results dangerous to the existence of the Union. That is the point which he made, and it should always be present in the minds of members’ of this and the State Legislatures. Both, as agents of the people, are intrusted with the same extremely wide powers, and can live together in Federal union only by exercising those powers with! reasonable consideration for the interests -intrusted to each. As to whether this measure is a legitimate exercise of this wide taxing power, I should be sorry at this stage to pronounce a definite opinion, because, although I have studied it very carefully, there are considerable portions whose legal effect I have utterly failed to understand. Before I sit down, I shall draw the attention of the Attorney-General to a few of the difficulties which I have discovered. I admit, not only that we have the fullest power of taxation, but that there is no authority - not even the High Court - which can inquire into our motives in imposing taxation. There is no authority which can say, “ You are going too far,” no matter how cruel, unjust, or oppressive our tax may be. Even if it deprived men of their means of living, there is no authority which could say, “ You must not do that.” But the rule has been laid down by the High Court, following the traditions of generations of lawyers who have lived under the Constitution of the United States of America, which is similar to ours, that in order to determine whether a measure is an exercise of the taxing power you are not bound by the fact that Parliament has called it a taxation Act. The AttorneyGeneral stated the position very clearly. He pointed out that the Court is not bound by the declaration of Parliament. Even though an Act is called a taxation Act, the Court may go beyond it, and inquire into the substance, nature, and character of its provisions. But its intention is to be drawn, not from the declarations of members, as reported in the pages of Hansard, nor from the manifestoes of party leaders, but from the actual purposes of its provisions. If this examination proves it to be a taxing Act, it cannot be pronounced invalid, whatever effect it may have. That is the law as laid down in the case of The King versus Barger. Although in that case an Act purported to be an exercise of the taxing power in regard _to a matter exclusively within the right of this Parliament to legislate upon, the imposition of duties of Customs and Excise, and was stated to be an exercise of that power, the Court held, and, in my opinion, properly, that in view of the real purpose and object of the measure, the thing aimed at, and, in fact, achieved, showed it to be, not a taxing Act, but an Act to regulate the industrial conditions of a certain section of the people. I do not say that this measure will fall under that decision. Without pronouncing an absolute opinion, my opinion is rather the other way. But I would remind honorable members that, when they set out to do something not permitted to Parliament under the Constitution, under the guise of doing something which is permitted, they are treading on very dangerous ground, and have to consider very carefully the real or main effect and purpose of their legislation. They must frame their measure very carefully, and have regard to all its consequences, direct and indirect, if they wish to escape the effects of the decision to which I have referred. Apart from certain provisions which I hope will receive a much fuller explanation from Ministers than has yet been given, I do not know that this measure falls within the decision given in the case of The King, versus Barger. No doubt we shall hear a great deal more about certain of its provisions. Passing away from the constitutional point, I wish to say a few words regarding the merits of the proposal. I have always thought, and am still of opinion, that of all forms of direct taxation, the taxation of the unimproved value of land is one of the most just, provided that it be well within the limits of taxation in the ordinary sense, and be adopted as one of the modes of imposing upon the whole of the citizens a fair share of the burden of maintaining the public revenues. We are assured by honorable member after honorable member on the other side that not only have they a mandate from the country in favour of the principle of land taxation, but a mandate from the country to pass this Bill. Their claim that they are not only justified in proposing, but are compelled to carry forward a particular measure, because there is a mandate from the country for it, is in one sense absolutely true. But in what sense are they about to carry out that mandate from the country ? To admit that a mandate from the people is to compel the Parliament to pass a particular measure, even if that measure had been discussed before the country, is practically to subordinate this Legislature to the position of a mere registering machine. It is practically to subordinate it to the position of a machine for the registration of the generally loose expressions of promises and pledges made from the platforms of Australia. If honorable members say that that is the meaning of a mandate from the country in regard to any measure, they absolutely degrade Parliament from the position of a deliberative assembly, bound to listen to debate and to consider objections, to that of a mere penny-in-the-slot machine.
– We can get a mandate on the principle.
– I agree with the honorable member, and it is only to that extent that either side of the House should consider itself, bound by any mandate. Otherwise they must degrade the whole functions of Parliament. In weakening the authority of Parliament as a deliberative assembly, in any constitutionally-governed community, we do nothing to strengthen Democracy. We may do something to hasten the immediate fulfilment of some of the desires of the more extreme people on the side of Democracy, but we do much to weaken the very functions of Democracy itself.
– What about the principle of the initiative in the referendum?
– I have always been opposed to the initiative. There is a great deal to be said in favour of one kind of referendum, but that is a matter which I shall not be allowed to discuss at this stage. I have referred to this phase of the question because it has been said over and over again that there is a mandate from the people in favour of this Bill. If I might be permitted to express very humbly to honorable members opposite - and no doubt they are now our masters, for they are in power-
– The honorable member on occasions does not express himself very humbly.
– I feel humble. He is a foolish man who will not give ear to the logic of facts. The facts in this case are apparent. The Government and their supporters, having a large majority, are entitled to claim that that majority represents opinions to which effect must be given by this Parliament. We are entitled to say that they come here with a mandate from the people. The only question is as to what is the proper interpretation of that mandate.
– Can there be any doubt as to that?
– To a certain extent there cannot. Looking at the platform speeches and at the manifesto of the Labour party at the last general election, we must admit that they have a right to claim that they come here with a mandate from the people to impose a tax on unimproved land values. Before we can arrive at any business-like understanding as to what is our position as an Opposition - before we can fairly claim consideration - we have to admit the plain facts of the political situation. The proposal for a tax on the unimproved value of land was placed in the very forefront of the Labour party’s programme, and we know that they were returned with a very large majority. That must be admitted, but it is not an unfair addendum to say to the Government, “ Your supporters, who gave you that mandate, were mainly influenced by a desire, not so much to obtain revenue, as that land at present suitable for settlement should be made available for that purpose. Assuming that all those whom you represent did authorize you to impose a tax on the unimproved value of land, and did so mainly, if not entirely, with a view to the breaking up of large estates, we must admit that there were two different classes from whom, that mandate proceeded. A very large section of your supporters were not regular adherents of your party. You have a right to claim that they supported your platform, but they were not official members of your party or in. any way bound to it.” The only mandate that they gave with regard to land taxation was, I think, that a reasonable tax should be imposed on unimproved land values for the purpose, it may be, of breaking up large estates.
– A tax that would be effective in breaking up large estates. That is what we proposed.
– To that extent, I think that the Government may claim that they have a mandate from the people. But there is another section which supported the Labour party to whom I must refer. I do not think that it includes anything like the regular supporters of the party. Honorable members opposite are better judges than I am in that regard, but I imagine that it includes only a small section of their direct supporters, and they supported this mandate for the reason that they viewed it as the first gun in the war of confiscation against all rights of property.
– Why say “ confiscation “ ? Should not the honorable member rather speak of the “nationalization” of lands ?
– But there are two ways of nationalizing anything. The one is to take a thing and pay for it honestly, and the other is to take it and not pay a penny for it. The word “ nationalization “ is rather too wide, because it includes the honest and the dishonest method. I prefer, therefore, to use the word that more accurately describes that which I have in mind. Are honorable members opposite prepared to deny that there is amongst their supporters a section - they may be only a minority - who put forward this land tax as the first instalment of a confiscation of the rights of property ?
– I, for one, deny it.
– Honorable members opposite will deny it for themselves, and many of them’, I believe, would not back up such an opinion. It is remarkable, however, that the mandate that the Government have received in this regard is really composed of an expression of opinion from two totally different points of view. No doubt the majority of those who voted for the Labour party are in no way attached to the socialistic programme, but support them because they are in favour of imposing a tax for breaking up large estates, and making land available for closer settlement. But what has the Government done? In saying that it has a mandate from the country, and introducing this Bill, it has put itself in the position of representing that extreme section to which I have referred.
– In New South Wales they ran their own candidates.
– I am speaking, not of ‘the incidents of the last general election, but of the facts. Though that section may have run their own candidates, there is no doubt that the bulk of the party behind the Government and their supporters are in favour of the nationalizations of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
– That is not confiscation.
– It may not be. Before one can nationalize anything one must obtain possession of it, and a thing may be secured honestly or dishonestly. Therefore, “ nationalization” may, or may not, mean confiscation.
– Our mandate goes to the extent of the imposition of a tax on unimproved land values, with an exemption of £5,000.
– I think that is so. That proposal in the Labour party’s programme was brought well to the front so that their supporters knew of it, and, in that sense, I think that they supported what is very largely a piece of class taxation. It was never put before them, however, that the tax to be proposed would be anything like as heavy as that now before us. It is nearly 50 per cent, greater than the tax which was put before the people by the Prime Minister in his Gympie speech.
Surely this is one of those matters in regard to which we ought not to expect a direction from the people. We ought not to expect from them a mandate as to the amount of a tax, its incidence, and the peculiar characteristics of its application.. Those are matters which must be the subject of deliberation in this House, unless we are prepared to abrogate our functions as a Parliament. This tax, I repeat, is much larger than the Labour party proposed in their manifesto. Do honorable members opposite imagine that any considerable percentage of the electors, when told that a tax of 4d. in the £1 was to be imposed on unimproved values, took a pencil and paper, and worked out for. themselves what the effect would be? To most people a tax of 4d. in the ,£i would seem very moderate. It is only when they, begin to regard the returns from land,’ especially that portion which is represented by the unimproved value - only when they begin to calculate what a large proportion the unimproved value bears to the total value - in some kinds of property more than in other kinds - that they have any idea what the tax really means. It is little better than hypocrisy, and certainly absolute nonsense, to pretend that the Government come here with a mandate to impose this particular rate of tax with its particular incidence on various classes of people. No doubt the Government come with a mandate, but they ought to be prepared to discuss with honorable members on both sides, the various effects and consequences of the measure.
– We realize that is. is the economic value.
– I listened to the honorable member’s speech on the Australian Notes Bill, and derived from it some very new ideas on the subject of political economy ; but I have not the time at present to recast all my ideas of political economy in regard to the question before us, and, therefore, I ask to be excused.
– Are all the brains on that side of the House?
– I do not think’ I said anything to justify a remark of thai kind. It is for honorable members opposite to judge, and not for us to do more than suggest; but I ask whether their, present proposal is wise, seeing that they represent not merely the views of that extreme section whose object is nationalization, but also a larger number who do not desire either immediate nationalization or steps to that end? Is it wise to press forward a measure so extreme?
– It is the same as the measure that was brought forward twelve months ago.
– I venture to say that it is not the same measure. The present rate was not then suggested, though the rate then was an extremely high one. But even if it were the same measure, are the mouths of honorable members to be closed ? Are honorable members behind the Government not prepared to listen to arguments as to the effects of such a measure ?
– Nothing of the sort !
– Just to test the character of this measure, may I ask what honorable members opposite would do to gain the object they have in view, supposing we possessed the unlimited constitutional power? Would they not point to a large number of estates, which, though only a small portion of the country, are still considerable in themselves, and which are now being shepherded for future values, and say that the first step was to ascertain what lands capable of supporting families were not being put to their proper use ? It cannot be suggested that all the lands over £5,000 in value in one holding are in that condition. If our hands were free to deal with this problem, as thoroughly and drastically as we like, but justly and fairly, would honorable members opposite not adopt the suggestion of several speakers on this side, and appoint some official body to classify the land ? I may be permitted to point to the fact that I was the first to propose the policy of compulsory resumption in Victoria, a policy which has since been adopted. I recognised that even in Victoria there were numbers of land-owners who failed in their obvious duty to the State by holding back land which could be put to much better uses.
– When the honorable member was first returned to Parliament, was he not returned as a land taxer?
– That is so. The land tax then introduced was one of id. in the £1 on the unimproved value, coupled with an income tax. I thoroughly approved of the principle, provided there were no exemptions, although I represented a farming district, and said I would support the tax; but when the farmers insisted on exemptions I voted against the third reading of the measure. I believed then, as I do now, in a tax on unimproved land values, and should not object if it were graduated considerably. However, this is a digression.. Suppose we had the power to do what admittedly the other side are really aiming .at, namely, to exert pressure on those people who are holding back their lands unjustifiably, should not we, as reasonable men, regard it as a delicate operation that we had to perform? In that, as in the case of every operation, proper, instruments are necessary ; and because we have not a lancet to cut out the particular portion diseased, are we to use a butcher’s cleaver? If this Parliament possessed the real power, should we not, by a Commission of inquiry, or some other means, endeavour to ascertain what lands were being withheld near centres of population and railway communication, and sufficiently well watered for the purposes of closer settlement? Should we not, under such circumstances, give the owner of the land time, no matter how short, to turn round and get rid of his land? If a man did not then do his duty to the State, I should not have the slightest objection to a penal tax.
– Could that course be pursued constitutionally ?
– No; if the honorable member had followed me he would see that I am supposing we had the unlimited constitutional power.
– We have not the power.
– That is true; and, to some extent, it is an answer. Not having the constitutional power to do what is right, it is proposed, in order to do a little right, to do a great wrong, which happens to be within our constitutional power. Is there not a good deal in the argument that if we desire to have the power, we ought to go to the source of it, the people, and ask for it?
– We have full power now in this matter.
– I think the honorable member was not present when I dealt with that phase of the question; and I cannot now repeat my argument. If we had the constitutional power, what would we do in order to deal with this evil ? We should adopt a just and equitable course, that would make the burden fall on those who are guilty, and not indiscriminately on the just and the unjust.
– That is how the rain falls !
– We cannot control the rain, though I believe that the Labour party sometimes claim that the results of the rainfall are entirely due to their interposition. If what I have suggested is a reasonable course to pursue, are we doing that which will inure to the honour of Parliament, by imposing what is really not a taxing measure, and, by that means, hitting hundreds and thousands ofpeople, rich and poor alike? That which is unjust as applied to a poor man, is also unjust as applied to a rich man; the line of justice and injustice does not stop at £5,000.
– Why make an exemption in the case of the income tax?
– Usually because it is not worth collecting the tax on the amount exempted.
– Not always that.
– There is another reason which has a certain amount of merit, namely, that the people whose incomes are less than the exempted amount usually pay rather more than their fair share of indirect taxation. We may have the power to do what is proposed; but I say again that the Government have no mandate for this extreme measure. A number of instances have been pointed out where this tax will operate with sledgehammer force on people, both rich and poor, whose interests are guaranteed by the laws of the country. I know of a case in which a number of people advanced money in small amounts to a Victorian company, and during the boom time lost threefourths of their capital. It is true that most of those people, though not all, live in the Old Country. As to the remaining fourth of the money, a company was formed for the purpose of saving what they could out of the wreck. Under the taxation now proposed the members of this company will lose about two-thirds of their remaining income. They number about 150 shareholders in the Real Estates Company, which has been referred to before in this debate; and they are mostly small people, scattered throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. They do not own one acre capable of closer settlement - not one inch of land intended to be affected by this Bill - their interests are solely in what is left of the remnant of the security for the gold they advanced to benefit the people of Victoria and of Australia. To that end they sent solid golden sovereigns out here; and they own the remnant in the form of shares in this shipwrecked company.
– That is not much of a testimonial to Victorian financiers !
– How is the argument affected, if our financiers were too sanguine, and sometimes not altogether too honest? Those people advanced money on the faith of the representations of those financiers ; and, as I say, they now have the remnant in the shape of shares in a company which has taken over freeholds in the neighbourhood of Melbourne. Now you are at one swoop coming down and cutting off from one-half to two-thirds of their modest incomes. Many of them are trustees representing children; many of them, as the share list shows, are widows. These are not rich people, but that is only one, although it may be an extreme, example of the manifold directions in which the Government are by this Bill, if they pass it in its present form, hitting people who have no interest, direct or indirect, in land that the Government want to cut up.
– If they have no interest in land, direct or indirect, they will not be taxed.
– They have no interest, direct or indirect, in any of the lands that the Government want to burst up.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– They have no interest in that kind of land in their connexion as shareholders, and there is no reason to suppose that they are interested in it in any other way.
– Would the honorable member exempt all companies, or only some ?
– I will come to that point in a minute. My objection is that the Government in imposing a penal tax, designed to hit some people very hard, in order to compel them to burst up their estates, are hitting also a large number of people who have no estates to burst up, and are thus bringing ruin into many households, which are certainly not wealthy.
– In what respect is this tax harder than the New Zealand tax on companies ?
– I shall deal with that directly, also. I am telling the honorable member facts which he cannot deny or disprove. I challenge him to do it. All he can do is to attempt a justification of them. If the Government bring forward a tax on land for the purpose of getting revenue and couple it, as they ought in all reason to do, with an income tax, or some other form of taxation that would draw moneys from other sections of the community - if it is revenue they want, no person could object to it, and I, for one, would welcome the particular incidence in that direction of a tax on the unimproved value of land. But they bring down this sledge hammer, smashing not only the small evil that they want to deal with, but doing infinite damage to hundreds and thousands of other people.
– Does the honorable member call it a small evil?
– It is small in comparison with the evil they are creating, and it can be dealt with in a hundred different ways. It would be a great thing if we could adopt just legislation that would compel those who are holding back lands suitable for closer settlement to throw them open to those who are willing to take them. I am not going to say a word against that, but honorable members must know that this country, like every other country of the same’ kind, goes through one particular course of development. In the earlier times and in the outlying districts land is always taken up in large areas, and always put to inferior uses. Some holders succeed and some do not ; some make large fortunes, others do not. Those who have the courage and energy to throw their money and lives into the enterprise often make large fortunes, if they are lucky, and leave them to their children. Usually the result is that, as roads and railways are made and larger markets opened, these lands gradually pass into other hands. Some of them do not. You cannot alter that genera] condition of development in Australia. You find outlying districts which are too remote for small farming settlement being developed first in large holdings which involve a large expenditure of capital and give large returns, but involve great risk. As population proceeds, towns develop, and new means of communication are opened up, these holdings become gradually absorbed, but sometimes, I admit, too slowly. That is the evil. Near certain centres it often happens that glaring cases are seen, and people are misled by seeing unutilized a large tract of land suitable for closer settlement at no great distance from railways and considerable population. They say, “ There is an evil. If we once had such land thrown open everybody would be happy.” But, although you may deal with those glaring cases in a just way, you cannot alter the general mode by which the development of a country like this progresses. It is really only in the cases which you find on the border-line between the pioneering work and the closer settlement already existing that there is any room for the bursting up of large estates. It is simply nonsense to talk about bursting up large estates, in many parts of the Riverina, in Queensland, or in Western Australia. You may achieve it in one sense. You may render it impossible or unprofitable for the people to expend their energies or money there any longer. But you do not burst the estates up, because nobody will take the land. In order to get people there you must do a great deal more than impose a tax. You must bring railways - perhaps water - and roads, and schools to them. You must bring all the means of ordinary habitation to them before you can render such areas available for settlement. The interjection of the honorable member for Gwydir led me into that digression. The state of things to which I have referred is in one sense a great evil, but it is not great in comparison. It is only to a small portion of the land that this great weapon ought to be applied. It ought to be applied to it in a way that would hit where the evil is, and not cause damage all round. There are provisions in this Bill which seem to me most extraordinary. There is the provision making mortgagors liable for the whole taxation. Just think of the “position !
– When they are in occupation.
– Yes J I am referring to the debtor. If the mortgagee goes into occupation he makes himself liable for the tax, and I do not object to that. In connexion with companies with the management of which I happen to be connected, I know of many hundred’s of cases of people whose interests - often family interests divided between a number of people - are solely what is called the equity of redemption - interests in property which is mortgaged up to 60, 70, or even a higher percentage. By this Bill the Government are actually asking us to tax those people, who are only receiving comparatively small returns after the payment of interest; who are receiving, in fact, a mere margin. That is another provision by which the Government will do wholesale injury unless they greatly modify it. Those affected are often owners of city interests, which under no consideration is it necessary to touch except by way of ordinary, natural taxation. In country districts, too, the Government will, by this means, do widespread wrong and injury to hundreds of families, and these not rich people, but people who are depending for their support upon what they get as mortgagors. Let me put another point. I find by clause 29 that actually a trustee is the person, not only assessed, but made personally liable. I understand that the Attorney-General - although I did not hear him - said something in mitigation of that assumption, and I hope we shall hear more about it in Committee. But actually as the clause stands the trustee is the person bound to pay.
– The trustee under a will?
– Yes. It provides that any person in whom land is vested as a trustee shall be assessed and liable in respect of land tax as though he were beneficially entitled to the land.
– Only to the extent of the land, I hope.
– It does not say so. I do not believe that the Attorney- General really intended to do this, and I feel sure the matter will be rectified, but it is bound up with certain other things from which it is very difficult to separate it. Then there is the provision relating to husband and wife. I thought it was the object of Parliament to encourage matrimony, but apparently, from this Bill, we want to discourage it. I have read clauses 25 and 26 relating to leases over and over again, and I shall say nothing about them, for I do not understand what they mean. At last I thought of reading them backwards.
– They are the simplest in the Bill.
– I am inclined to pass them by in the pious hope that we shall receive a full explanation of them in Committee.
– The honorable member has not read them in conjunction with clause 39, which throws an illuminating light over the whole lot.
– I turned to clause 39, hoping to find the key. Since the honorable member refers me to it, I shall read it to him. It says -
Where under this Act -
one person is deemed to be the primary taxpayer, and another person is deemed to be the secondary taxpayer, in respect of the same land or interest ; and
it is provided that there shall be deducted from the tax payable by the secondary taxpayer, in respect of the land or interest, such amount (if any) as is necessary to prevent double taxation, the amount of the deduction (if any) shall be the amount by which the tax payable by the primary taxpayer is increased by the inclusion of the land or interest in his assessment.
– Hear, hear !
– But that does not end the matter. I thought I had a glimmering of what it meant down to that point, but it proceeds to say -
Provided that the amount of the deduction shall not exceed the amount by which the tax payable by the secondary taxpayer is increased by the inclusion of the land or interest in his assessment.
Is this the production of the AttorneyGeneral himself, or of some familiar spirit ?
– I could have introduced an allusion to the tertiary taxpayer, but declined to do it.
– I sincerely hope we shall not get into geological periods in this measure. But if this is the lamp that we are to carry about through all its intricacies, I think its wick will need a little trimming from the Attorney-General before we get much light from it.
– What is the penalty for misvaluing under that clause?
– I think it is the only clause that has not a penalty attached to it. I honestly confess that I have got a headache trying to understand it. When you try to apply it to joint owners of land, and when you apply the joint owners of land clause to companies, where are you? Let me give an example. I wanted to find out the tax that would be payable in the case of a company that had £100,000 of taxable land value. Let me assume, to take a simple case, that the company had ten shareholders, each holding 5,000 fully paid-up shares, and five shareholders each holding 10,000 fully paid-up shares. According to the schedule, the amount of. tax that the company would pay would be £1,500. According to clause 35 -
All land owned by a company shall be deemed (though not to the exclusion of the liability of the. company or of any other persons) -
I have not the remotest idea who these “other persons “ may be - to be owned by the shareholders of the company as joint owners, in the proportions of their interests in the paid up capital of the company.
I understand that. Then follows subclause 2 -
The provisions of section twenty-four of this Act shall apply accordingly (but so that the assessment and liability of the company shall be in lieu of the joint assessment and liability under sub-section two of that section), and the shareholders shall be separately assessed and liable, and entitled to deduction in accordance with that section.
– The company is the primary taxpayer.
– We are told that the company is a joint owner, and each of its shareholders separate owners. Clause 33 says-
The joint owners shall be jointly assessed, and liable in respect of the land as if it were owned by a single person, without regard to their respective interests therein, and without taking into account any land owned by any one of them in severalty, or as joint owner with any other person.
That is simple enough. It means that whoever may be taxed, the company shall be taxed in respect of. all its land. The clause continues -
Each joint owner of land shall, in addition, be separately assessed and liable in respect of-
his individual interest in the land (as if he were the owner of a part of the land in proportion to his interest), together with
any other land owned by him in severalty, and
his individual interests in any other land.
Then comes this wonderful provision, to which we have the key in clause 39 -
The joint owners in respect of their joint assessment shall be deemed to be the primary taxpayer, and each joint owner in respect of his separate assessment to be a secondary taxpayer; and for the tax payable, in respect of his interest in the land, by each joint owner - that would be each shareholder - under the last preceding sub-section, there shall be deducted such amount (if any) as is necessary to prevent double taxation.
Applying those provisions to my proposed company, how will they work out? I have to carry clause 39 about with me all the time. The company pays £1,500 in taxation, and its ten shareholders, who each hold £5,000 worth of shares, pay nothing individually ; but the five shareholders who each hold £10,000 worth of shares pay on half their holding; that is, a tax of £4 each, or£20 altogether. Therefore, this provision about the primary and secondary taxpayer amounts to this, that you give the secondary taxpayer - the man who is supposed to be the beneficial owner - an exemption of what? Of £1,500, provided that £1,500 does not exceed £4; that is, you exempt him from all the tax he has to pay as a separate shareholder, leaving him liable through the company to pay taxation at the highest rate on his interest in the company.
– The Bill does not provide that.
– H ansard will contain a record of my speech, so that I need not labour the point. We shall welcome any explanation from the AttorneyGeneral, and if I am wrong I shall be the first to admit it. I have tried to follow the meaning of these provisions to the best of my lights, but have been walking in dark places all the time. I hope the AttorneyGeneral will lighten our darkness. As the Bill is drafted, it is a measure for the bursting up not of large estates, but of companies. In other words, it is a tax on aggregrations of property in the form of company shares. Clause 37 provides that land owned by a mutual life assurance society shall be deemed to be owned by the society as trustee. For whom? For the Australian policy-holders as beneficial owners ! The Australian policy-holders will have to pay taxation at the higher rate, while the policy-holders living out of Australia will be exempt.
– The honorable member is in error. Under what circumstances would a mutual life association pay taxation?
– I understand that clause 37 was inserted for the purpose of making such a society pay taxation.
– It was inserted to exempt such societies.
– The honorable member for Flinders is going far beyond the limits of a second-reading speech.
– I am endeavouring to show that the Bill contains some very extraordinary provisions. It is avowedly a measure to put an end to a particular mischief; to break up large estates which are suitable for closer settlement. I am endeavouring to show that the machinery devised to effect that laudable end will produce the most extraordinary results.
– Cannot the honorable member state the position in general terms ?
– I read clause 37 in conjunction with clause 29, which deals with trustees. Clause 37 says-
– The honorable member is going further than is permissible on the motion for a second reading.
– I bow to your ruling, sir, and shall be very happy to mention my difficulties to the AttorneyGeneral in private. I thought that it would save time to discuss these matters before going into Committee. I shall conclude by saying that I sincerely hope that Ministers will not shut their ears to the representations from this side of the Chamber; thatthey willbe prepared, even though it should mean the modification of their rates, to make the measure less hurtful, cruel, and oppressive than it is. They cannot claim the mandate of the people for the rates, and we on this side are unable to do more than put before them what we deem to be the interests of those who are, as we think, unjustly affected.
.- As I shall have no opportunity in Committee to make my position in regard to the Bill clear, I must take this occasion to speak. I have advocated progressive land taxation during the whole course of my political life, so that in supporting the Bill I am not inconsistent. The proposal may be spoken of as the introduction of the thin edge of the wedge, but, unless the people declare for it, the exemption of £5,000 cannot be reduced. The Bill must do a great deal for the settlement of the people on the land. I shall leave its constitutional aspects to the legal members of the House. Its practical effect must be to bring about the subdivision of large estates. The agencies for land settlement to-day are the Governments of the six States, but when the Bill has been passed every man possessing taxable land will become an instrument for settling people on it. He must do that in his own interests. As the result, thousands of persons will be settled in the country. Is it likely, if that result is brought about, that there will be any cry for a reduction of the exemption? History repeats itself, and the honorable member for Wakefield will remember the time when, in South Australia, we gave a number of small men - “blockers” they were called - small leaseholds. Not long afterwards, these men, who had been placed on what were known as workmen’s blocks, threw in their lot with those who desired the right of purchase, and they obtained that right.
– That is always the way.
– We shall have the same experience under this Bill. With closer settlement we shall be prevented from reducing the exemption. I regard this measure as being inseparable from the questions of immigration and defence, and its introduction is justified if for no other reason than that of providing for the defence of Australia. We shall derive from it for a considerable time a large amount of revenue. I could not conceive of a man objecting to assist in the defence of his country, and those who have valuable possessions ought not to object to bear their fair share of the taxation necessary to provide for it. Under our present fiscal policy the whole of the cost of the defence of Australia is being provided for out of the revenue obtained from Customs and Excise duties, and the average family of the poor man has thus to contribute more than it ought to be expected to do. We have gone so far as to provide for compulsory service, and I do not think that we are asking too much when we call upon those who have great possessions to contribute something towards the cost of the system. I am, therefore, in agreement with the main principle of the Bill. At the same time, I do not approve of all its details. I regret very much that those who framed it should have got away from the beaten track by failing to recognise that only the registered owner of land should be responsible for the payment of the tax. The moment we provide, as we do under this Bill, that a lessee may be taxed under certain conditions, we step on to dangerous ground. We have had a Land Values Assessment Act in operation in South Australia for many years, and I have not heard of any serious difficulties arising under it. I certainly have not heard of attempts being made to evade it by undervaluations of property; and I believe, as I have told the Attorney-General, that the Government would have followed a simpler and an easier course had they determined that the recognised registered owner should be the person taxable under this Bill. That principle, however, has been departed from. I submitted certain cases, by way of illustration, to the Attorney-General, and I am not satisfied, from the answer I have received from him, that fair play is to be meted out to lessees. I would remind honorable members that in all our large cities, buildings - some of them five and six stories high - -are erected on land which is leased, in some cases, for only twenty-one or twenty-eight years. The ground rent paid does not represent the economic value of the land; but under this Bill, if the unimproved value of the property exceeds £5,000, then the lessee will have to pay a proportion of the tax. I inquired from the Attorney-General whether, in computing the lessee’s interest, as compared with that of the lessor, the Department would take into consideration the buildings erected on land rented on such short leases. The class of building to be erected is always taken into consideration when the ground rent is being fixed. For instance, a man who proposed to erect a substantial fivestory building would pay less ground rent than would a man who proposed to erect one of only three stories ; and we cannot honestly compute the proportion of tax payable as between the lessor and the lessee, unless the value of these buildings, when the leases fall in, are to be taken into consideration. Like the honorable member for Flinders, I take exception to that part of the Bill which relates to mortgagees and mortgagors. I understand that the reason why the mortgagee is not held to be responsible for the payment of the tax is because it is contended that a man who subdivides an estate and sells it on easy terms should not be penalized by being charged on the accumulated mortgage. But will such an argument apply to a mortgage on city property ? Can there be in any city such a subdivision of an estate as would justify freeing mortgagees from the payment of the tax and placing the whole burden on the mortgagors? I come now to the question of penalties, and I fully recognise that provision must be made for drastic penalties for fraudulent evasions. We find in one part of this Bill a provision that the GovernorGeneral shall have power to take over land at the valuation placed upon it by the owner where it is considered that there has been an under-valuation. That is as severe a penalty as we ought to provide for. The New Zealand Act gave the Government power to take over a property at the valuation placed upon it by the owner, plus 10. per cent., but that is not to be done in this case. I take strong exception to clause 67, for which no justification can, in my opinion, be found. As it stands, it pro vides for the forfeiture of the land where there has been a fraudulent undervaluation. The Attorney-General, if I understand him aright, proposes to modify that provision by providing that no forfeiture shall take place except by direction of the High Court. Having regard to the other penalties that may be imposed in respect of the same offence, I think that that provision is too drastic. In the first place, a man may be fined £500, and called upon to pay treble taxation, where he is held to have under-valued his property, and, thereafter, absolute forfeiture may take place. Such a penalty is far too extreme. I think it would act as a sufficient deterrent against under- valuations to provide that the Crown may be at liberty to take over land at the valuation placed upon it by the owner, plus 10 per cent. I wish now to point out how these provisions may affect innocent beneficiaries under a will. Many estates are administered by trustees, some of whom, in their efforts to economize, might be guilty of an under-valuation, and, although the beneficiaries might be perfectly innocent, they would have no redress.
– Does the honorable member really believe that they would have no redress ?
– Under the Bill they would be held responsible for the acts of their agents.
– But they would have an opportunity of stating their case.
– Can the honorable member point to a similar provision in any Act of Parliament? While I believe that the imposition of such a tax as this is in the interests of Australia, I do not desire to see it accompanied by such penal provisions as we find in the Bill. It is set out very clearly in one of the clauses that trustees under wills are to be held responsible and taxable on the full value of the estates. We know, however, that there are some cases in which five or six members of a family each have an interest, and that, under’ the will, the estate is not to be divided until the youngest comes of age. I contend that such an estate should not be taxable, but should really be regarded as representing separate estates. I am very glad that the Government have abandoned their proposals to tax Crown leases. In South Australia there are various forms of leases, including miscellaneous leases, which, though nominally for twenty-one years, can be resumed without compensation on six months’ notice ; grazing and cultivation leases, under similar conditions ; perpetual leases, with revaluation every fourteen years, and others without re-valuation ; right-to-purchase leases with re-valuation every twentyone years ; covenant-to-purchase leases, on the thirty years’ instalment plan; pastoralists’ leases ; annual permit leases ; and also what are known as “eightyeight “ leases, “ ninety-three “ leases, and “ forty-two-year “ leases. I think the time will come when these leasehold lands will have to be considered from the taxation point of view, but the conditions are so complicated that it would be best to leave it to the States to adjust the taxation in accordance with the rental. I should like to hear from the Prime Minister whether every landholder in Australia, no matter what the size of his holding, will have to send in a return under the Bill, or whether returns will be expected only from those whose property is at or about the taxable value ? As far as I can see, there is no provision in the Bill in this connexion. If every owner of a 5-acre or10-acre block has to send in a return, a large staff will be required, and considerable friction caused. Some information ought to be given to the public on the point. We must remember that we are now administering the affairs of the continent, and that, owing to the size of some of the States, correspondence takes a considerable time to reach its destination. In the case of returns and so forth under the Bill, a sufficiently long time should be allowed to permit of replies being sent in. One suggestion I saw was that a month should be the period, but there are places in my electorate to get a reply from which would require two months, and even three months. I hope and trust, however, that the Government will not strictly adhere to every detail proposed in the Bill. The Government and the party behind them are pledged to a progressive land tax, but there is no necessity for such drastic provisions as those to which I have drawn attention, and without which all the interest of the public can be conserved. In the case of leases of freeholds, I trust that in computing the value consideration will be given to the buildings erected, seeing that they form a portion of the consideration for the ground rent. I feel confident that the Prime Minister will not be above taking advice from any quarter, but will do everything possible to insure the smooth running ofthe machinery, so long as the basic principle of the Bill is left intact. No great reform has ever been introduced without imposing hardship, great or small, on some people, and I am of opinion that this measure will adversely affect some people who own lands under the taxable value. Owing to the land that will be rushed on the market, there will be a tendency to lower values, and many persons who have purchased land at an inflated value have done so on terms with a small cash deposit. The mortgaging value may therefore vanish as a result of the Bill. A banking institution, when advancing money, hold the lease and an assigned mortgage, but they give an overdraft, and do not register the mortgage, which is payable practically on demand, so that it will readily be seen that some people may be very hard hit. However, as I have. said, no great reform was ever introduced without hardship; but I feel confident that the Government will do everything possible to avoid injustice.
.- This Bill is recommended by the Prime Minister on two grounds ; first, that it will result in the bursting up of large estates ; and, secondly, that it will return revenue to carry on the great and important works intrusted to the Government. So far as regards the bursting up of large estates that may be judiciously subdivided to the advantage of the community generally, I am entirely with the Government, and from the revenue point of view I have no quarrel with them, except that I am afraid we are entering upon a period of great political extravagance. Heavy expenditure is in anticipation, which I fear will prove a heavy burden on the community. I approach this Bill from a stand-point entirely different from that of the Prime Minister. I said plainly to my constituents that I regarded a Federal land tax as justifiable only in an extreme emergency, and that, under ordinary circumstances, such taxation should be left to the States’. I am convinced that it is morally impossible for the central authority to impose land taxation which will prove equitable in all the States, with their varying conditions. Strangely enough, a good many of the arguments used by the Prime Minister in support of the Bill are arguments which I should advance in oppo- sition to it. In the course of his utterance, the honorable gentleman said -
It is hardly necessary to remind honorable members that practically “the whole of the public estate is in the hands, and under the control, of the State Parliaments and Governments.
That fact cannot be gainsaid, and it leads us to question how much this Bill is likely to interfere with that state of affairs? The land is vested in the State Governments and Parliaments, but we come along with a tax, suitable to the view of the majority of the members of this House, of such a nature that it takes away from the States the land control which the Prime Minister says “s vested in them, and which they otherwise would exercise. The Premier of Victoria had to tell a deputation yesterday that, in consequence of the land taxation proposals of the Federal Government interfering with the State’s possibilities of revenue from land, he was compelled to give them an unfavorable reply. The proposal contained in this Bill supersedes the right of the States to determine their own land policy, and it was clearly evidenced in the Prime Minister’s speech that that would be so. The honorable member stated that every State in the Commonwealth, except Queensland, had its land tax. With regard to Victoria, he added - but a Bill is under consideration for a graduated tax on unimproved values starting at jd. in the £1 from £500 to ,£2,500, gradually rising until it amounts to 3d. on estates valued at ,£80,000 and upwards.
The feeling in the minds of honorable members opposite seems to be “ Who is to get in first with the land tax ? “ The whole tenor of the Prime Minister’s speech was t:> show that the States were absolutely dead so far as their land taxation proposals were concerned, and that because the States were failing in their duty in this respect, the Federal Government were justified in stepping in. He referred to the land policy of several of the States. lt is a definite policy, which, although not perfect, is securing a considerable amount of advantage to the public in the way of land settlement, but the Prime Minister questioned its wisdom. The State Premiers are in an infinitely better position to determine what is a wise land policy for their various States than is the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth .
– They are all rank “jibs.”
– I shall quote from the Prime Minister’s speech to show that they are not. They are by no means failing to do their duty. The Prime Minister said -
I have grave doubts whether it is desirable for the State Governments to become land agents for the re-purchase and re-sale of lands.
He does not approve of their policy, and thinks he can do better. The policy of Victoria and New South Wales, and, I think, South Australia, is to purchase lands, cut them up into small holdings, settle people on them, and find the settlers money to go on with. With that policy the Prime Minister disagrees ; but what does he propose to substitute for it? He says it will not be as effective as it should be in bursting up large estates, and therefore he resorts to a policy of taxing the value out of the land in order that the Government may practically confiscate it. I do not believe the people are behind the Government in a desire to confiscate the property of any member of the community. Excessive taxation, calculated to greatly reduce the capital value of a man’s property, amounts to confiscation, call it what you like. One course is to re-purchase, and that is being pursued by the States. -The other is to confiscate, and that is proposed by this Government. I am almost ashamed to be a member of a House where a proposal is made to confiscate the rights of any man.The Prime Minister asserts that the policy of purchase is not effective. I admit that if it were not effective there ‘would be a strong argument for adopting another course, but I have only to refer to the Prime Minister’s speech to show that it is effective. He said -
In South Australia the Government has repurchased lands with the greatest advantage to settlement.
That does not show failure. It rather shows that what South Australia is doing is in the interests of the very thing which the Government say they favour. The Prime Minister went further, and said -
The same remark applies to the State in which we are meeting (Victoria).
Is that not eminently satisfactory? Does it not go to prove that, so far from this measure being necessary to burst up the big estates in Australia, the State Governments are alive to their responsibilities, and are doing the work?
– They have cut up big estates, and have had them aggregated again.;
– The honorable gentleman referred also to New South Wales, where the conditions are not quite so favorable. He said -
New South Wales has been struggling with this question. My honorable friends from that State will recognise that that is the best term to use.
It is true that the New* South Wales Government are struggling with the question, but they are accomplishing good results, as I am prepared to show. State action; in the direction of closer settlement has not been a failure in New South Wales. Here we have the Governments of three of the largest States of the Commonwealth grappling with this question of the subdivision of lands, in order that people may be settled’ upon them; yet 90 per cent, of the arguments used in support of this Bill go to show that it is intended, not for the purpose of raising revenue, but in order to accomplish the subdivision of large estates. The Prime. Minister said further of South Australian-
Much of the prosperity of that State is due to their land policy.
I can speak from a practical experience of Victoria and New South Wales, where I have some landed interests, although I believe I shall escape the payment of the proposed land tax. I speak as one who has some interest in, and knowledge of, land settlement. The policy adopted for the settlement of the lands of this State was not without its defects. It is deplorable that the original 320-acre blocks have been aggregated into large estates. That is a regrettable incident; but it is common to every young country,, as mistakes in life are common to youth. We are doing the best we can to remedy the evils that have arisen. We have evidence that the Governments of the various States are becoming alive to their obligations in this respect; and, therefore, it is inopportune for the Government to thrust such a measure as this before them at this time, and so endeavour to overreach them. As I said earlier in my remarks, it would appear that there is some anxiety to see who will get in first. I have contented myself with quoting the remarks of the Prime Minister; and if, according to him, the State Governments are doing so well, why should we, in this way, endeavour to do what the State Governments are doing? The honorable gentleman referred to the State of Queensland, and the settlement of the land taking place there. In answer to an interjection by the honorable member for Darling Downs, the Prime Minister said -
I am aware that on the Darling Downs the population has certainly increased by three times. All honour to those who took a part in breaking up the large estates.
But surely that is an argument against this Bill ? What the Government expect to follow from it is the bursting up of the big estates; and yet the Prime Minister admits that the State Governments are doing that without his assistance.
– I supported the first measure introduced in the Queensland Parliament for that purpose; but it has not effected all the results that were desired.
– Does the honorable gentleman think that this Bill will effect all the results he desires?
– It will cure many of the existing evils, and will promote settlement.
– The strongest argument against this Bill is to be found in the map placed on the walls of this chamber. The red patches shown on that map indicate the area of land alienated in each of the States.
– It ought to be turned towards the wall.
– The honorable member says that because he does not desire that the facts should be known. He is prepared to trade upon the credulity and ignorance of the people; whilst0 we are putting the facts plainly before them. I look upon this map as an eye-opener, and I wish all the people of Australia could come in here and see it. It would be a good thing to have it reproduced, in order that the people of Australia might know how little of the lands of this Commonwealth has been alienated.
– The map is a disgrace to every Administration that has held office in Australia.
– What has followed since the adoption by the State Governments of the policy of breaking up large estates? I say that in Victoria the progress made has been eminently satisfactory. Victorian owners of land increased in number from 52,987 in .1906, to 56,065 in 1908, an increase of 3,078 in two years.
– The figures quoted refer to holdings, not distinct owners.
– I venture to say that that is a very fair rate of progress, and indicates satisfactory development. Further, private holdings, in estates of 10,000 acres and over, during the same period were reduced by twelve. I submit that nothing could be more gratifying to those who wish to see the large estates of the country subdivided. It is a strong argument against the introduction of this Bill at the present time. If the large estates are being cut up, as these facts show, where is the necessity to resort to this drastic and dangerous proceeding? The number of holdings of 320 acres has, during the r-ame period, been increased by 2,637. That is largely the result of the policy which the Prime Minister condemns. The honorable gentleman challenges the wisdom of that policy; but I say that a policy which can secure such results is a satisfactory one. I venture to say, also, that, as a result of the important mission of the Victorian Minister of Lands to the Old Country, and the representations made there, we shall in’ this State witness astonishing developments in the almost immediate future. I hope that we shall shortly find an important part of the district which I represent, the Goulburn valley, become a veritable Garden of Eden, occupied by men and women of the highest type.
– We shall, after this tax has operated for a little while.
– This tex will not affect the lands to which. I refer to any material extent. The large estates in that district are being cut up, because the irrigation policy of the State of Victoria makes it impossible for them to continue to be held, in large holdings. - There has been a total increase in the number of holdings in the last ten years of 6 per cent. Surely these facts prove that the settlement of Australia is proceeding at a fairly rapid pace, in view of the fact that immigration has for some time almost been stagnant. Every one, I am sure, is pleased to notice that there is now ari influx of people to Australia. I hope the volume of immigration will increase, and that I shall live to see the time when the population of Australia will be at least double what it is to-day. The arguments which .were used by the Prime Minister in support of this Bill are the arguments which I have used to-night in opposing it. The honorable gentleman contended that the area of land under cultivation in Australia had decreased. ‘He wished to show that the owners . of land had not been making the best use of it.’ There is one reason why,, in some places, land has gone out’ of cultivation. The export of lambs and the exceedingly good prices that have been ruling for wool have induced a considerable number of persons, to go in for sheep breeding rather than the cultivation of the soil. If in some of the States there has- been a decrease’ in the amount of cultivation, I have stated the rational explanation of it. 1 think that the Prime Minister was scarcely fair to the House in this matter. He stated a part of the truth, as though it were the whole truth. He gave the figures for three States in which there had been a decrease in agricultural holdings. In New South Wales he said ‘ there had been a decrease to the extent of 123,000 acres; in Queensland 30,000 acres and in South Australia 47,000 acres - making a total of about 200,000 acres decrease. On the other hand, he was good enough tomention that in Western Australia therebad been an increase of land in agricultural occupation of 385,000 acres. I am very, glad to -know that Wes.tern Australia is making satisfactory- progress in that direction, and’ that she is inducing people to come out and settle her great territory. But why did not the Prime Minister give the figures regarding Victoria and Tasmania? In Tasmania there has been an increase of 40,000 acres in the same period, whilst in Victoria there has been an increase of 226,000 acres. Thus we have a total increase in three States of 654,000 acres, against a much smaller decrease in the other three States. In the aggregate there has been an increase in Australia of 454,000 acres. According to the Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Knibbs, the total increase .during five years amounts to 527,000 acres. It would be an exceedingly strong argument in favour of this Bill if it could be shown that there was no land suitable and available for settlement. If that could be shown, I should whole-heartedly accord my .support to the measure, in spite of my preconception that the States ought to have land taxation committed to them. ‘ But is it true that there is no land available?
-f-Why are Victorian farmers going to Queensland ?
– For obvious reasons. They have been accustomed to farming large holdings, and now that they see it is inevitable’ that large holdings will be subdivided, ‘ they are going’ to Queensland) where they can obtain larger holdings. The Prime Minister Himself admitted that there is suitable land available for settlement in this country. He was good enough to say -
I wish to indicate that not only have wc a country containing good land and enjoying a fair - rainfall, but that we have good land in latitudes that in other countries are practically uninhabited by white persons. We, in Australia, are fortunate in having one of the most favoured parts of the world. Although it is in thatzone, from time to time public men who have travelled through Australia have declared that it is marvellously adapted for settlement.
There we have the plain statement that there is plenty of land available for settlement in latitudes that, in other parts of the world, are unfit to be occupied by white persons.
– Leased lands?
– Does not the honorable member know the position in New South Wales in regard to leasehold properties? Half of the lands in the western portion of New South Wales are resumed areas, though they still remain in the hands of the original lessees.
– The honorable member is wrong.
– I speak from knowledge of matters in which I am interested. I can name stations in western New South Wales where persons can go and take up land on resumed areas. The honorable members opposite can get information to that effect from the Lands Office in Sydney. The Prime Minister was not satisfied with making a general statement, but he supplied the House with details. He -quoted a table of figures containing this important information. In Australia we have lands alienated, 91,693,000 acres; lands in process of alienation, 38,199,000 acres; total, 129,892,000 acres. There are lands under lease, which leases will fall due in time and be available for the public–
– Some of them in about forty years.
– Some of the lands in the resumed areas may be taken up to-day.
– The honorable member is wrong about that.
– My statement is absolutely correct. Under lease we have 787,000,000 acres ; unoccupied, 986,000,000 acres. There is an immense area of land still owned and controlled by the State Governments. Some of it is leased, but the major portion of it is absolutely unoccupied. I venture to say that in fifty years or so the major portion of that land will be occupied and used for the good of mankind.I should like to continue my speech to-morrow.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and, on motion by Mr. Fisher, read a first time.
House adjourned at10.31 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 September 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1910/19100901_reps_4_56/>.