4th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– In view of the fact that the adjourned debate on the question of the prohibition of the sale of intoxicants within the precincts of the House was, upon the. motion of the Prime Minister, made an Order of. the Day for to-day’s sitting, will the honorable gentleman postpone the eleven interveningitems of Government business upon the notice-paper so that the House may come to a. vote on the question without delay?
– I have stated again and again that an opportunity will be affordedto honorable members opposite to take a vote on the question, I hope, soon, but important Government business must take precedence.
– Is it true, as stated in a Brisbane newspaper, that the Honorable J. Blair has been offered the position of constitutional adviser to the Federal Government? Is it the intention of the Government to make an appointment of that sort?
– I have not seen the paragraph referred to, but there is no truth in the statement.
– Is it true, as reported in to-day’s Argus, that the AttorneyGeneral holds that the Commonwealth chauffeur is not amenable to the State Courts for furious driving?
– The paragraph in the press is a ridiculous one. The Commonwealth has no power to prevent the prosecution and punishment of the Government chauffeur if he has transgressed the law.
– Was the chauffeur at Prahran ?
– He says that he was not there at the time when he was said to have been there, and that at that time the car was in the garage, safely locked up. The paragraph is merely an entertaining one, intended to enliven the tedium of a dull time.
– Will the Minister of Home Affairs lay on the table a copy of the census paper before it is distributed, so that honorable members may have an opportunity to study it?
– It will be laid on the table in a day or two.
– The Minister of Home Affairs promised, three weeks ago, to let honorable members have a small map, showing the contour survey of the Federal Capital Site, but it has not yet been distributed ; when are we likely to get it?
– It will be available immediately.
– Has the attention of the Minister of Trade and Customs been called to an article in the West Australian of 20th instant, in which it is stated that, since the abolition of Inter- State certificates, no account is kept of the goods sent from State to State, and that the absence of such a record will cause trouble in the future. I should like to know if instructions will be given for the keeping of a record ?
– My attention has been directed to the article, but I have no intention of re-establishing the Inter-State certificates.
– I did not ask that that should be done.
Mr. TUDOR laid upon the. table the following paper : -
Patents Act. - Regulations amended. - Nos. 38, 48,133a-133c, &c. - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 85.
– I wish to know from the Postmaster-General whether his attention has been directed to a speech by Mr. R. F. Power, secretary to the electrical and mechanical branch of the Post and Telegraph Association, Sydney, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 24th instant, in which it is stated that the association is doing everything it can to secure the redress of grievances, but that the Postmaster-General is not assisting it, and that the time may come when it may have to try other means. I wish to know what are the “grievances” and what are the “other means” referred to.
– I shall be glad if the honorable member will give notice of the question. I may add - I did not intend to. refer to this matter - that in the same speech’ Mr. Power speaks of a number of persons being sent oyer at £60 by “ the present Postmaster-General.” That occurred, not since I have been Postmaster-General, but while the honorable member for Bendigo was in office. On the 21st instant the honorable member for Wentworth asked the following questions about the allowances paid to sorters and typists at the General Post Office, Sydney, for overtime: -
Office, are supposed to be from 9 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. on week days, and from9 a.m. until noon on Saturdays?
The Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, has furnished the following information : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
In the case of a uniform gauge the time to be added is based on the number of trains and the average interval in the running time-table.
With reference to a reply given on the 14th inst. to a question by the honorable member for Cowper on the same subject, I find that, by a clerical error, it is stated therein that if sufficient platforms and sidings were provided at Wodonga and Wallangarra, the time occupied in transporting 30,000 mounted troops from Melbourne to Brisbane would be reduced to 34 days : the reply should be that the delay would be reduced by 34 days.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
Will the Government arrange from time to time for the despatch of experts to the Old World, whereby its secrets may be won for application to our own industries and primary pursuits?
– While the Government are not prepared to give any general undertaking, they will be willing to consider any specific proposals in regard to particular industries that may be placed before them.
Students of Business Colleges
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
” LAND TAX ASSESSMENT BILL.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 23rd September, vide page 3703) :
Clause 3 -
In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears - “ Trustee,” in addition to every person appointed or constituted trustee by act of parties by order or declaration of a Court or by operation of law, includes -
.- I have circulated a definition of “ improvements,” which the Bill makes no attempt to define. I admit that there are considerable difficulties in attempting to define improvements, and a danger in doing so of making the definition too restrictive, which we do not want to do. At the same time, as we are throwing the onus of the valuation on the shoulders of the owners of land, they may find considerable difficulty in determining the unimproved value, and what they can or cannot allow as improvements. In the New Zealand and New South Wales Acts an attempt has been made to define improvements; and in one or two of the other States similar attempts have been made. I have consulted some of the legal members of the House, who seem to think that, whilst the amendment I have circulated does, to a certain extent, define improvements, it is not restrictive. I move -
That the following definition be inserted before the definition of “ Trustee”:-“’ Improvement ‘ in relation to land means any improvement whatsoever made by the owner or occupier of the land the benefit of which is unexhausted at the time of valuation, and particularly, but not so as to restrict the generality of the above definition, houses, buildings, fencing, planting, dams, excavations for holding water, wells, bores, drainage, irrigation, ringbarking, suckering, clearing from timber or scrub or stone or any noxious weed or plant or shrub and laying down in grass or pasture.”
– I would draw the attention of the honorable member for Richmond to the fact that if we once commence to define improvements, we shall land ourselves in a perfect quagmire of difficulties. If we confine ourselves to the very brief definition already given, to the effect that the State shall tax all improvements that are created by the State or by the community generally, and that all the improvements effected by the individual himself shall be exempt, we shall be on a good wicket. There are cases where men have spent a great deal of money in what they thought would be improvements, which have turned out absolutely valueless. I know one case where a man had a splendid little , piece of land, brought water on to it and irrigated it, with the result that it took him some years to get rid of the sedges and rushes that the water produced. The expenditure of the money in that case deteriorated the productivity of the land. All over the country one can find instances where large sums of money have been expended without effective results. Sometimes swamps have been attempted to be drained, and the work has. had to go by the board, because it has proved ineffectual. In many cases, heavily timbered country has been tackled, and the cost of clearing the land has been double what the land would bring if put under the hammer to-morrow. If we try to define improvements, and exempt their cost, we shall find the provision absolutely unworkable. A point was raised by the honorable member for Flinders on Friday afternoon, which I think every honorable member would like to see provided for, if possible, but that again would land us in great difficulties. He spoke of cases where men combine together to undertake some semi-public work, which would improve their property*. We should like to see them get the advantage of that ; but let me take a case in point in our own State. We have a municipal rate, the maximum’ of which is is. Inland holders have obtained what is called a permissive rate, by which any portion of a shire or ward have a right, of their own free will, to levy an additional rate of up to od. in the £1, and expend the money on a public road, which has been made and maintained by the .Government. The expenditure of that additional sum improves the state of the road, but it would be practically . impossible to define it as an improvement, although it is an improvement of which we should like to see the settlers get the benefit. If Ministers want this Bill to be a workable measure, they will have to exclude all definitions of improvement beyond the simple one, namely, that the unimproved value of land should be that value which the land will bring under the hammer, in open sale, provided no improvements were effected on it.
– We have already decided that point, and are now dealing with the value of improvements.
– If this amendment be carried it will destroy the definition altogether, because it will introduce a new system of valuation for improvements. If we once begin to either define or value the cost of improvements, we shall make the Bill practically unworkable.
– I hope the Government will -give serious’ consideration to the proposed amendment,Two questions are raised, one of which is the intention we desire to embody in the Bill. I suppose there is no doubt that it( is” intended by the Government to exempt, the cost of the clearing of timber from the operation of the tax. The second question- is whether, if that be the intention, the; Bill unamended will give effect- to it. I: represent a constituency - and other oem- bers are similiarly interested - in which :he original value of the land was practically nothing compared with the immense value given to it by clearing. Are we to regard the unimproved value as that of the land if we swept every visible and existing improvement away? Are we to take “ actual “; as meaning something that is there still as” the result of improvements made? We might leave the land as bare as a table,’ without any fences or buildings, and yet it would contain the results of the labour of men who had gone there and spent a vast amount on improvements which are hot visible; and I do not suppose it is the in,tention of the Government not to allow some exemption in regard to such improvements’.’ I could understand that there might be a difficulty in measuring the amount of exemp-.tion, because, in some cases, a man mayhave spent money or labour without sufficient care or skill j but in the vast majority”. of cases the value of labour or the money actually expended in the clearing remains there to this day. I assume that the Attorney-General would desire to give a substantial exemption in regard to clearing.
– As the one improvement without which no other improvement could be accomplished. -
– It is the most essential of all improvements.
– It is exempt under the Bill.
– The question is whether it is exempt under the Bill. In Gippsland, for instance, .£10, ,£15, £20, and, in many- cases, many more pounds, or labour representing the money, has been expended per acre simply in rendering other improvements possible ; and. of course, that value should not be the subject of taxation. But if that be the view I. am very much afraid the Bill as it stands will not give effect to it. The Bill assumes that the actual improvements thereon or appertaining thereto made by the proprietor or his predecessor in title have not been made; but in all probability “ actual “ improvements would be read as meaning something which exists at the present time as a substantial entity - as meaning fences, houses, buildings, or something in existence which we might call, in general language, visible improvements. At all events, I think that is the very probable construction ; and if there is any doubt the Bill ought to be made perfectly clear. This would be attained by the amendment of the honorable member for Richmond. Some members entertain an apprehension thatif we enumerate these various particulars there may be a certain danger of exclusion, but I do not think so.
– Is the exemption for clearing to go on for ever ? For instance, would the honorable member exempt the original cost of clearing Collins-street?
Mr.W. H. IRVINE. - The cost of clearing Collins-street, compared with the improved value of land in Melbourne, is so infinitesimal that we may neglect it altogether, and it certainly would not be regarded in any land tax assessment. We are not talking about land at £1,000 or £1,200 per foot, but land at . £10 or £12 an acre.
– We are enacting provisions that will remain for all time in an Act of Parliament.
– Certainly ; and 1 suppose that if a man could prove what it cost to clear an acre in Collins-street he could have an exemption. I should say, however, that there were a few gum trees, and that the cost of clearingwas about £1 per acre; so that it is talking nonsense to cite that as an illustration.
– It is talking nonsense to attempt to define the value of improvements !
– We cannot define anything in this connexion with mathematical accuracy, nor is it necessary ; but we desire some approach to substantial justice.
– The owner has to prove the improvements.
– Quite so; and it is a ridiculous comparison to talk about clearing land in Collins-street. I am speaking of land on which people have spent their lives, on which, in many cases, they spent money or, what is more valuable, their labour, in creating the value; and there must be some method arrived at of giving them exemption. To provide for “actual” improvements will not attain the end in view, whereas the amendment would. The amendment is very carefully worded, and is based, I understand, on the New South Wales Act.
– We added words so as to make it not restrictive.
– The only possible danger is that by enumeration we may exclude something that ought to be included; but that is not really so, because the clause is specially drawn with that view. The phrase ‘ ‘ but not so as to restrict the generality of the above definition “ is a form adopted in some Federal Acts.
– Does the clause provide for the man who clears his ground of rocks ?
– It provides for clearing timber, scrub, or stone, but, even if it did. not do so in express terms, that is really provided for, because the clearing of stone is a similar kind of improvement to the clearing of timber.
– Why specify at all?
– We must improve the present clause.
– Would the owner in valuing the land not make the deduction himself ?
– But the deduction would not be allowed - that is the very point.
– The Commissioner would step in then.
– Honorable members seem to think that the Commissioneris a sort of “ God in the Machine “ who can notonly administer the law with propriety, but, whenever his own sense of equity or conscience requires it, can go right in the teeth of the law. We are framing the Bill and giving directions to the Commissioner.
– Does the honorable member say that the clause excludes the cost of clearing?
– I think it does - that the words “ actual “ improvements would probably be read to mean something in the nature of a physical entity. The amendment provides that - “ Improvement,” in relation to land means any improvement whatsoever made by the owner or occupier of the land the benefit of which is unexhausted at the time of valuation. ……
That excludes. It does not mean the money which was necessarily spent upon a work, and which, might be top much; it means the present value, as part of the land, of such effort or money as was expended in improving it to its present condition. The amendment, so far as I can see, will meet the case better than any other.
– The Government are unable to accept the amendment. There seems to be a confusion in the minds of honorable members ‘ to-day, as there was on Friday* respecting the fundamental distinction between “unimproved value” and ‘improved value.” The honorable member has been speaking about work done in the shape of draining and clearing land, and so forth ;- but that is not to the point. We are talking about npt what has been done, but of the value, which is an entirely different matter. Although the honorable member has it in his mind that he is speaking of value, yet he sees value in the work itself, when, as a matter of fact, there is none. As the honorable member for Franklin has pointed out, land, as the direct result of being cleared, might be worth less than it was before. A man might erect a mansion costing £20,000 upon his land, yet it might not be worth £1,000. There are only two values, the unimproved and the whole value, and when we deduct the unimproved value, what remains? The whole value is that which is put upon the land by any ordinary valuer. When a man thinks of buying a farm!, he inspects it and sees, perhaps, that it is fenced in with rabbit-proof netting, that it is cleared, subdivided into paddocks, and has dams and tanks upon it. Then he says to the owner, “ I will give you, say, £5,000, for your property.” Part of that money he offers because of the added value that has been given to the land - not what we call the improvements, but the added value, which is something very different The added value is that which appears in the valuation. It has necessarily nothing to do with ring-barking, fencing, or any particular work, although it usually attaches itself, to all such works, because men do not purposely expend their labour in unprofitable directions, although they frequently do. The honorable member for Flinders has repeated the terms of the New South Wales section which refers to the unexhausted benefit, and we have the same reference in other Acts. That reference is clearly not to the improvements themselves, but to the value, which remains at the time of the valuation, and attaches itself to the whole value as the result of those improvements. I submit that there is no necessity for this amendment, and that instead of assisting a person to value his land, it would lead to endless confusion. In reciting the improvements as set forth in the honorable member for Richmond’s amendment, a land-owner would be unable to distinguish between what they had cost him and what they were worth. He would say, perhaps, “ I have put up a house, erected fencing, provided for irrigation, have done suckering and ringbarking, or cleared the land of timber, and I will deduct the cost of labour and material, and so get the unimproved value as the net result.” That, however, in nine cases out of ten would be wrong. An expenditure of £20 might increase the value of a piece of land to the extent of £100 or £1,000. The £20 would be neither here nor there. The cost of a work is of itself nothing. It is the added value that has to be considered, and it would be wrong to say to a man, “ You are to arrive at the unimproved value of your land by preparing a list of the improvements which you have, or some one else has, made, and deducting the cost from the total value.” What the honorable member for Franklin has said is perfectly right. The honorable member for Richmond has set forth a lot of improvements in his amendment, but there are hundreds of others which are not included. The amendment can serve no good purpose. First of all, there is the confusion which must naturally arise in regard to the fundamental distinction between the value of a thing and the cost of a thing; and then there is the fact that in the amendment we have not one-tenth of the number of processes by which land might be improved. We have already clearly defined in the Bill the meaning of “ unimproved value” and “value,” and, in the circumstances, what more do we want? If we deduct from the total value the unimproved value, we get the value of the improvements which alone .is entitled to be deducted.
– The statement made by the AttorneyGeneral is more theoretical than practical, and makes the position worse than it appears in the Bill. I should have thought it was unnecessary to appeal to honorable members opposite regarding the particular principle involved, because what the Attor- ney-General desires to do is to tax what he would call “ community-created values.” He admits, to a certain point, that unquestionably everything that gives value to the land should be regarded in the light of an improvement, and then he proceeds to argue in the other direction. As the honorable member for Flinders has pointed out, many of the lands of the Commonwealth, and particularly mallee and scrub lands, have cost more in improvement that is not visible than they have in respect of visible improvements. What underlies the principle of taxing unimproved, as against improved, values? It is that we should not tax a man’s industry, and, therefore, we exempt improvements. I call the special attention of the Attorney-General to the fact that improvements that are not visible often do more to increase the productive capacity of land than do such visible improvements as the erection of fences or tenements.
– They are always taken into consideration by a buyer.
– They are not ; and the question is one regarding which the producers desire to be put beyond doubt. There is no reason why they should have to fight it out with halfadozen valuers. The amendment puts the question beyond the shadow of doubt. Many land-owners have cleared their properties at great cost, their improvements creating more than half, and in some instances three-fourths, of the value; but these improvements are not discernible now. The Government officials who will be appointed to check the assessments will know nothing of the original character of the land ; they will not know whether it was lightly scrubbed or heavily timbered. Improvements ought to include all expenditure by the holder of the land by which the value of the property has been increased.
– That expenditure might amount to several times the value of the land.
– In such a case, there would be no unimproved value to tax.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) (3.43]. - The Attorney-General seems to have in his mind only the utilitarian value of improvements, but there may be bona fide improvements which do hot increase -the productivity of the land at all. For instance, the building of a large house on it might, or might not; increase its ‘ value.
But all the expenditure on improvements should be deducted from the whole value of a property in assessing its unimproved value.
– There is no difference of opinion as to principle; the only question is how best to give effect to what we desire to “enact.
– Yes, but it seems to me that we should consider more than the cost of improvements to the holder of the land. A property might be increased in value by expenditure by some one other than the owner, in which the Government or the State had no part. For instance, a track giving access to two holdings might be made wholly at the expense of one of ‘ the holders, though it undoubtedly benefited both, and the Government or the State would not have contributed anything towards the improvement. Account should be taken of expenditure of that kind not made by the holder of the land. Probably it would be well to retain the words “ made by the owner or occupier of the land,” but to’ add others to embrace all improvements other than those made by the Government or the community. All improvements which are not directly traceable to the expenditure of the Government or the community should be exempt from taxation, but, as the amendment stands, they would not all be included.
– The Attorney-General simply set up an Aunt Sally of his own making to knock it down again. I did not suggest any doubt as to the object and purpose of the tax. The measure is designed to tax that portion of the value of landed property which owes its existence to the efforts of the community. As the Attorney-General admits, there is no difference of opinion regarding the principle, the only question being how to give effect to it. In my opinion, the Bill will not give effect to it. It is easy to ascertain the market price of a property with its improvements, or the value of the land and its improvement? can be estimated pretty nearly.-
– The definition of “ value of improvements “ as amended last Friday covers the whole ground.
– The definition of “value of improvements “ is amended to mean “ added value which the improvements give to the land at the date pf valuation, irrespective of the cost of improvements.”
– That definition might be all very well if everything which should be included were included in the word “improvements,” but, in my opinion, clearing, for one thing, is not so included.
– Then it should not be deducted.
– I submit that, according to all principles of reason and justice, it should be deducted. The Minister of External Affairs asked me by interjection if I would exempt the cost of clearing land in Collins-street, indicating that in his opinion the exemption of that improvement is wrong.
– Nothing of the kind.
– The words “ actual improvements “ do not prima facie include clearing. In my view, they only include visible, tangible, and still existing improvements; some visible entity on the land. If that be so, how does the amended definition of value of improvements meet our position? We all perfectly understand the principle of the Bill, but I should like the Attorney-General to state whether it is the intention of the Government to make an exemption in regard to clearing ; -which I mention only as an example of a kind of improvement which I think is not included. The words “ actual improvements, if any, thereon or appertaining thereto” would not, in my opinion, be construed to include improvements having no visible or tangible existence at the time of assessment. We have now before us a definition which has stood the test of administration in New South Wales, and a similar provision which has stood a like test in New Zealand.
– There is no sui h definition in South Australia.
– We have had it applied in practice.
– We are not governed by the practice of South Aus.tralia. There may have been in that State a Commissioner whose interpretation of the Act was very loose, but who has never been tailed to account for it.
– The honorable member was citing authorities.
– The Commissioner is no authority. Why should we adopt a form of language which is open to very grave doubts when we have available a perfectly clear mode of expression that has been in use in two instances for a considerable time?
– The honorable and learned member for Flinders accused me of making some remarks that were not quite relevant to what he had said before. I submit that they were perfectly relevant, and I hope that what I am about to say will also be relevant. If the honorable member will look at the definition of unimproved value-
– Does the honorable member mind saying whether the Government do intend to exempt clearing?
– If the honorable member is going to answer the question himself I shall sit down. I propose to make the answer in my own way. If the honorable member will look at the definition of unimproved value which he was quoting, and at the definition of “ value of improvements “ to which I directed his attention, and also the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Richmond, he will see that there is no foundation for his complaint that “ clearing,” for instance, is not covered by the words “ improvements, if any, thereon, or appertaining thereto.” If the honorable member for Richmond’s amendment amended that definition there might be something in the honorable and learned member’s contention, but it does not. “ Unimproved value “ is obtained by subtracting from the whole value the value of the improvements, and that definition is not affected by the proposal of the honorable member for Richmond. The honorable member proposes to classify and set forth all or most of the improvements that occur on country lands. The honorable member for Flinders wants to know whether clearing is such a work as we desire to classify as an improvement under the heading of “unimproved value.” The answer to that is the answer that must be given in respect to all such things - that if clearing has improved the value of the land, then it 7s an improvement, the value of which the owner or occupier is entitled to deduct, but not otherwise. We come now to the point whether the amendment of the honorable member for Richmond will include “clearing” more specifically and certainly than the clause does without it. The definition of “unimproved value” states that improvements in relation to land are those things which are thereon or appertain thereto. It is perfectly clear that no matter how many classes of improvements you lay down you cannot include any that are not included in the phrase “ thereon or appertaining thereto.” Therefore, if clearing is not ‘ ‘ thereon or appertaining thereto ‘ ‘ now, it will not be made so by the honor - able member’s amendment. I take it that the intention of the amendment is partly to enable those persons who are valuing their property to know what to include among improvements. That is a laudable and very desirable object, but my objection isthat, instead of doing it, the amendment is likely to lead those people astray, first, because they may imagine that the value has something to do with the cost, and, secondly, because a limitation would affect them unfairly in one way and the Commonwealth unfairly in another. They might exclude altogether those improvements which were not included in the list.
-Does not the value in some instances depend on the cost?
– The value of improve ments bears usually a relation to the cost, but does not depend on it in any economic sense of the word. I submit that the value of improvements in relation to land is defined as meaning the value which the improvements give to the land at the date of the valuation. “Unimproved value” is defined as. meaning the’ value which a bond fide buyer would give at that time, if the improvements were withdrawn. In that way we arrive precisely at the taxable value. The words proposed by the honorable member for Richmond are words of limitation, and would result in endless confusion. I do not think it will be possible to show that such words have been useful in any of the State Acts. I was in the New South Wales Parliament for some time, and I hear that statement now from the honorable member for the first time. Anyhow, whether they are or are not useful in the New South Wales Act, I submit that there are not to be found in any one existing Act two definitions precisely the same as those in this Bill, which, together, cover the whole field. It is because they do cover the whole field, and cover “ clearing “ and all other cases of the application of labour to the land, giving added value to the land, that we cannot accept the amendment.
.- One difficulty raised by the Attorney- General is that the proposed definition may operate as a limitation. I confess that, on looking at it first, I was doubtful as to the expediency of defining improvements. We do not define them in South Australia. I candidly recommend the honorable member to look at that Act. It was draftedby Mr. Kingston, and is simplicity itself. We are getting into a fearful tangle over the adoption of the legislation of New Zealand and New South Wales in relation to. our proposed tax. If we are to keep clearof harassing returns, assessing, perhaps,nine or ten men for one estate, which isa departure utterly unjustified as regards the experience of South Australia, where nothing of the sort is asked for, we should be careful what precedent we follow. A very liberal interpretation is given to the Act in South Australia, and we. ought to liberally interpret this measure ; otherwise a great mistakemay be made against a very deserving part of the community- the primary producers’. , It is for thatreason that in South Australia, in 1888, I moved a resolution to increase the land tax, and to exempt the amount originally paid to the Crown, because,if you did exempt that to the extent of, say], £1 an acre, it would probably get over errors of valuation as against the true producers of the Commonwealth - the men who build up our prosperity far away from the centres of commerce and social life. As that is. not done in this Bill, we should consider whether we ought not to import some definition that will cover cases of draining and clearing and other expenditure of that class, which are certainly not “improvements thereon” - indeed, I very much doubt if they are even included in the vague phrase “ appertaining thereto.” I do not quite know what “ appertaining” means. The words “ improvements thereon,” in the opinion of the Attorney-General, convey something of a physical meaning, because he referred last week to the fact that they were something saleable by the owner ; and, as a rule, you do not sell intangible things. That is borne out by clause 44, under which, in arriving at the value of the land, we have to take the value of the improvements as part of the assets that are being compulsorily taken over by the Commonwealth. It struck me at first that, perhaps, it would be a mistake to define improvements ; but in South Australia a liberal interpretation is given to the term. Judging from the difference between the text of this Bill and the text of that Act, and the difference between the temper that inspired the instructions given to the draftsman in this case and the temper that inspired the Legislature in the other-
– Hear, hear 1 They are as different as daylight from dark.
– There is a big difference. This Bill looks on every man who is a possible taxpayer as a potential criminal. I say that advisedly, because the Bill adopts the most harassing ways possible of getting results for the revenue. I am speaking as a friend of land taxation. I advocated the policy as far back as 1884, when the South Australian Act was passed ; but I do not believe in crushing people under the weight of the machinery.
– I submit that this is quite out of order. The honorable member is getting in some very fine points-
– The fine points may perhaps do the Attorney-General some good.
– The honorable member is getting away from the question.
– I shall come back to it, at your suggestion. Leading economists say that we ought to take into account improvements in the nature of clearing and draining. Let me refer to Henry George, the greatest authority of all on the point. I am not altogether opposed to the Government position from their point of view, because they . are entitled to look with great care at any amendment. I should like to see some alteration made ns regards the time for certain classes of improvements to be counted. I do not see, for instance, why we should allow the cost of clearing land forty or fifty years ago to be counted as against the present fair valuation of the land. In Ballarat, in cases, the timber, I believe, was sold for as much as the actual cost of the clearing. In some cases in South Australia it would pay almost as well to clear the land and sell the timber as to crop it. I want to be fair, arid for that reason I point out that it might be as . well to introduce some limitation as regards improvements which do not deteriorate with time. Clearing, as a rule, does not deteriorate with time. Once done, it is done for ever, although you may have at times to keep down some amount of second growth. Once the scrub
Or heavy timber is removed from the land, however, the land is cleared, and surely we are- not going to allow that cost for all time as against the value of the land.
– What has a time limit to do with it at all?
– If the Attorney-General cannot understand a point m his own favour, I shall not try to impress it on him further. The .Attorney-General would, perhaps, be justified in saying that, if the cost of clearing the land when it was originally sold by the Government were exempted, without some limitation as to time, it might carry the exemption through generations.
– The value is always there.
– Yes; but take the case of an ordinary improvement, such as a house which has a duration of perhaps forty or fifty years. It has to be repaired. According to the English Board of Trade, a railway will be exhausted in twenty-eight years, but land, when cleared, is, as a rule, cleared for all time. No repairs are required in respect of that clearing.
– The cost value of the clearing remains for ever.
– What we are asked to do is to make an allowance to the present holder for the cost of clearing the land. In the case of other improvements, we allow the effective cost, but that allowance may expire in thirty years.
– It is not the cost of clearing, but the value of the land ir» consequence of the clearing.
– I know ; but I leave the word “ cost “ out.
– The “ value “ means the value at the date of valuation.
– I know that. I am merely trying, to some extent, to sustain the position of the Attorney-General that the value of the clearing may last for ever ; and what I say is that it might be fair, in the amendment, to provide for some limitation as regards time. I am not moving any amendment to that effect, but merely making a suggestion. Leading economists, such as Henry George, took the opposite view from that of the Government, and said that we should not tax the cost of the clearing and draining.
– That is not necessarily the “opposite” view.
– But it was the opposite view from that of the draftsman, and the Bill until we amended the definition by the insertion of the unintelligible words “ appertaining thereto.” I asked the AttorneyGeneral to adopt other words which would have got over the point raised by the honorable member for Parramatta. Henry George, for instance, pointed out that the tax had been opposed by quibblers, amongst whom he included McCulloch, or* the ground that we cannot distinguish between the value of the improvements and the value of the land. I may say that, at all events, we have done that approximately in Australia j and it indicates a great desire not to tax the reward of a man’s industry, and, as far as possible, to exempt all classes of improvements. Henry George said that if, for instance, he cleared a forest, drained a swamp, cr filled a morass, all he could justly claim was the value given by those exertions. The Bill before, us speaks of the value at the time of the assessment, but does not include such improvements. Henry George went on to say that improvements of the kind gave him no right to exemption as regards the land itself, or any claim other than to an . equal share with every other member of the community in the value which was due to the growth of the community. He points out that there may be certain classes of improvements that in time become part of the land itself, but that there would be no great hardship, after the lapse of a generation or two, if the tax did fall on such improvements. We must adopt some definition such as that proposed by the honorable member for Richmond if we wish to exempt the cost of clearing. I am judging now by the administration in South Australia, where there have been included under the words “ improvements thereon “ improvements made on adjoining land, but extending, as in the case of drain pipes, to the taxed land. It may not have been necessary to put in the words “ appertaining thereto,” because, under a “general interpretation, pipes on the adjoining land, or from the taxed land to somewhere else, for drainage purposes, might be regarded as “ thereon.” In regard to clearing, however, I do not believe that the words “appertaining thereto” apply, and I shall support the amendment. The AttorneyGeneral says that the amendment may operate by way of limitation ; but that could be got over with the greatest ease, as shown in Act after Act. In the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, for instance, in order to prevent any limitation in the construction of the words “ industrial matters,” it is provided that the phrase “ includes,” a number of matters which are enumerated. All we have to do is to say that improvement in relation to land “includes” and not “means” certain things. T make this suggestion to the honorable member for Richmond, because it cannot possibly cut down the scope of the word “ improvements,” and if the AttorneyGeneral objects to this, it means that there will be included for taxation improvements that are not part of the unimproved value. The drafting up to the present has added confusion to confusion. “Land,” for instance, is used in contradistinction to “ land “ in clause 44, where it means the whole realty - the improvements and the land itself. In the Acts Interpretation Act, which is the only definition we have of “ land “ as distinguished from “ unimproved value, “ it means the whole realty ; but we have added something to that. However, I am not the draftsman; and I can only point out matters which require clearing up.
.- The legal aspect of the question has been sufficiently explained. So far as I understand the position, the Government, in order to reach the unimproved value, propose to take the value of the improvements from the total selling value; and every owner is obliged to send in his own valuation. That being so, it is all the more necessary that some guide should be given to the owner ; and the amendment of the honorable member for Richmond gives the widest possible interpretation, merely setting out the principal improvements usually placed on land as a guide to the owner in sending in his valuation, and deducting the value of the improvements. It is our duty to make such instructions or directions as full as possible, not only to the Commissioner and the valuers, but to the owner. There is no fear of the exclusion of other particulars by the enumeration in the amendment; and if a similar provision has been found necessary in the case of New Zealand and New South Wales, but particularly in New Zealand, where there is a complete staff of valuers, how much more is it necessary where the individual owner has to send in his own valuation ? Two adjoining owners may have very different ideas, indeed, as to the interpretation of a provision of this kind, and the fullest particulars, as I say, ought to be given, because every man cannot be expected to be an expert able to differentiate between unimproved value and improved value. As an illustration of the difficulty that may arise in these matters, I may point to a case in Victoria, in which Mr. Justice Hodges was called upon to fix the value of an estate in the Western District. The value exceeded £100,000 ; and the Judge after having heard expert evidence, on both sides, commented on the bald nature of the Act under which he was empowered to act. He urged that it was the duty of Parliament to say exactly what was required, so as to assist the Court- that it was not fair to ask the Court to act without instructions, or without knowing what was in the mind of the Parliament.
– That would indicate that an enumeration would mean a limitation.
– That; I think, is a misconception. The amendment does not purport to enumerate all the possible improvements, but merely to set out broadly the nature of improvements which increase the value of the land, and remain unexhausted at the time of valuation. This is done merely as a guide,, or a basis on which the Commissioner, or the owner, may act, and does not exclude other improvements. The amendment is so reasonable that I am surprised the Government should take any exception to it.
.- If the Government needed any reasons why the amendment should not be alopted, they have, I think, been supplied by the honorable member for Wimmera. It is suggested that the proper method to arrive at the unimproved value is for the owner to rake up every possible piece of work he can think of or dream of in the past history of the land, and deduct it from the value. The honorable member told us that the owner would deduct the cost of improvements from the existing value of his land, and in that way ascertain the taxable value. That is quite a new proposition, and is not in keeping with the provision that we have already adopted with regard to the unimproved value. It would certainly be unworkable, and lead to endless difficulties. The amendment refers to “ any improvement whatsoever made by the owner or occupier of the land.” How far back is such a provision to go? In many cases land has been improved by previous occupiers, and no record has Deen kept of the improvements.
– But the occupier has paid for them.
– He may not have done so. Improvements may, or may not, have been made by the present owner of a block of land. In many cases, a man has made a profit by clearing his land of blackwood and selling the timber, yet that clearing, under this amendment, would be an improvement, and would, be treated as if no return had been obtained. Then, again, houses, buildings, and fences are to be regarded as improvements. Such improvements deteriorate, although our Australian timber is so durable that it is not easy to say when they cease to be of any value. D ams and excavations for holding water, as well as wells and bores, are also included in the amendment ; yet dams or excavations might, or might not, be silted up, and the tubing in a bore might be pretty well exhausted. I come now to the question of ring-barking, and have no hesitation in saying that it is most puzzling to ascertain the value of such work. Ringbarking might have been carried out at the wrong time of the year, with the result that suckers have grown up, or might have been carried out by a previous owner, and no record kept of the cost. I was on a Select Committee appointed by the Parliament of New South Wales some years ago, which had to deal with the valuation of land that had been ring-barked, and there was a great conflict of evidence on the point. It was easy to arrive at the original cost, but we found that in some cases the expenditure within a few years had ceased to be of any value. Under this amendment, however, the owner of a property where such work had ceased to be of any value would nevertheless deduct the cost.
– He would have to prove his case in a Court of law if he were challenged.
– We do not desire to involve men in litigation. The taxable value is the unimproved value, and it would be well if we could ignore improvements. I was astonished at the statements made by the honorable member for Wimmera as to the way in which he would arrive at the unimproved value of a piece of land, and, to my mind, his proposition would not work out correctly. The honorable member for Richmond would also treat as improvements - clearing from timber or scrub or stone or any noxious weed or plant or shrub and laying down in grass or pasture.
How could any one arrive at the cost or the value of the removal of noxious weeds ?
– In Western Australia, contracts are let for that kind of work.
– A great deal of it is done by land-owners themselves, and no record of the cost is kept. In some cases, land has been cleared of stone, which has been sold at a profit, and in others some return has been obtained, although not sufficient to cover the cost. My objection is that the amendment is not in keeping with the intention of the Bill; that it is unnecessary and cumbrous, would lead to endless disputes, and would mislead landowners in determining the unimproved value of their land. I do not think we need fear that land-owners will overvalue their holdings, nor that the Commissioner will eventually do so, for the purposes of taxation. This amendment would lead, however, to considerable undervaluing, and I hope that the Government will have nothing to do with it. It would be better to leave the definition as it stands. The honorable member for Angas has pointed out very forcibly the danger of dealing with improvements, and this amendment shows the difficulties that surround the whole question. I am confident that, if adopted, it would lead to endless complexities and trouble.
– The honorable member for Darling seems to have completely missed the point iii this discussion. He has spoken as if there were a conflict of opinion as to what should be included in the term “ improvement.” That is not the case. The Attorney-General has displayed already a very liberal opinion as to what should be comprehended by the word ; and I am inclined to think that if he had the determination of the question which will ultimately be submitted to the Commissioner, he would put upon the words “improvement” and “unimproved value “ as liberal an interpretation as would any honorable member of the Opposition. But there is involved a more far-reaching - an underlying consideration, which the honorable member for Darling does not seem to have touched. I represent a Sydney suburban constituency which is not immediately concerned in this question; but I have followed the debate carefully, and it seems to me that the difference of opinion between the AttorneyGeneral and the Opposition is not a very large one. The taxpayer, under this Bill, is placed in an extraordinary and almost unprecedented position. He is called upon, not to admit a valuer to his land to make an assessment, but to make an assessment himself, and the Government have taken very wide powers with regard to his property if he should be unfortunate enough to largely undervalue it. I quite agree with the honorable member for Maribyrnong that it would be absurd to attempt to enumerate all improvements in a sort of catalogue; but, in view of the serious consequences that might result from the taxpayer overvaluing his improvements through not understanding the actual position, I feel that we should do our utmost to help him by guidance and to prevent litigation. Therefore, without enumerating the myriad forms of improvement that ma)’ be made to land, Ave ought, if possible, to give the Commissioner a fairly clear direction as to how he should adjudicate. It is generally admitted that improvements may consist of two classes. They may consist of additions, in the form of water conservation, fencing, buildings, and wire-netting - -which, under the definition that we have already adopted, would be classed as “ actual “ improvements - or they may consist of something in the nature of a removal from the land that is not “ actual “ in the sense of being- extant. For instance, water might be removed by drains, or timber and stone might be removed, so as to make the land capable of being devoted to agriculture. One has not to travel far out of Melbourne on the WaY to Sydney to see land so entirely covered by stone that it would be impossible to cultivate it, although the soil, I believe, is excellent. The great danger is that these improvements which consist of removals are liable to be omitted when a man is considering the actual improvements of which there is evidence on the ground. I think that the Committee is agreed that Ave should regard as improvements, not only those which are added to the ground, but those in the nature of removals - such as the removal of water by drainage or the clearing of land from stones or timber.
– How would the honorable member deal with a dry bore which a man had put down, and on which. perhaps, he had spent thousands without any result?
– I should leave that to the Commissioner. The honorable member does not understand the position I am taking up. I am not suggesting that there should be a catalogue of improvements set forth in this Bill. What I am suggesting is that the Commissioner should have some clearer direction as to the principle than he has in the clause as it stands. Under the definition as it stands at present, he has merely to show the difference between the improved and the unimproved value of the land. Quite apart from the adoption of catalogue such as the honorable member for Richmond has proposed, the adoption r»f the suggestion of the honorable member for Angas, that we should say what “ improvement “ includes, instead of what it means, would be beneficial, and it would be a still greater advantage to in- corporate, by inserting after the word “ value,” a direction to this effect, “ resulting either from the addition of conveniences thereto, or the removal of hindrances therefrom, having the effect of increasing its uses for industrial purposes.” In view of the serious consequences to a taxpayer which may follow from not understanding the Bill, we should not hesitate to make the directions to the Commissioner as clear as possible^ giving him principles to act on, without necessarily enumerating the improvements to be allowed for. Unless that is done in the Bill, if a difficulty arises the Government will have to make regulations to deal with it, as they may do under the last clause of the Bill ; and that power is liable to abuse. I do not think that we should leave it to any Minister to supplement a Bill by means of regulations. The Attorney-General might now take a middle course between attempting the enumeration of all forms of improvement and making none, by adopting some addition to the regulations, making it clear that it is intended that the Commissioner shall take into consideration, not only actual additions to the land, but also the work involved in the removal of hindrances to its use.
– The Government is desirous of meeting the views of honorable members, but my experience has not been such as to encourage me in making attempts to do so. The honorable member for Parkes suggests a direction, the terms of which would enable the taxpayer to more easily furnish a valuation making the deductions which the Bill entitles him to make. Our desire is to save the taxpayer all unnecessary trouble. We do not wish to compel him to employ assistance in the making of his assessment if he does not wish to do so. We desire to assist him ; but we must not mislead him by encouraging him to make deductions which he is not entitled to make. “ Unimproved value” is clearly enough denned. As to the “ value of improvements,” that can be found in this way : The whole value of a property is estimated. From that is deducted the unimproved value, which is a clearly denned thing, and the result is _ the value of the improvements. Tn spite of the clearest direction to the contrary, some taxpayers may think that they have a right to deduct from the total value of their property, not the value, but the cost, of the improvements. This is the definition of “ improvements “ in the New Zealand Act of 1908 -
Improvements on land means all work actually done or material used thereon by the expenditure of capital or labour by any owner or occupier of the land ; nevertheless in so far only as the effect of such work or material used is to increase the value of the land, and the benefit thereof is unexhausted at the time of valuation.
– That is practically the same as the amendment.
– It is very different. According to that definition, an improvement is something upon which labour and capital have been expended. The proposal which the honorable member for Richmond asks me to accept is, not a general definition of improvements, but a category of improvements. The New Zealand Act says that every improvement of land as the result of the expenditure of labour and capital by the owner or his predecessor, the benefit of which is not exhausted at the time of the making of the assessment, is to be counted as an improvement. The Bill says that the value of improvements which a man is entitled to deduct is the added value which they give to the land at the date of valuation, irrespective of the cost. The New Zealand Act says that an improvement is something upon which labour and ca.pital have been expended : but I ask, “Can there be any value, which is not unimproved value, upon which labour and capital have not been expended?” We say that an improvement is something which adds to the value of the land, made by, or the result of, the owner’s efforts. Practically the two definitions are the same.
– Does the AttorneyGeneral intend to accept the New Zealand definition ?
– No ; because, in my opinion, it is unnecessary. If the Committee says that it is not clear that value is something which can be given only by the expenditure of labour and capital, or of labour or capital, I am willing to add the New Zealand definition; but I cannot conceive that that view will be taken.
– Does the AttorneyGeneral think that the ordinary farmer will understand the definition in the Bill ?
– So far as that is possible, we should make the measure understandable by every farmer; but, no doubt, the millennium must arrive before every Bill will be understood by all the people, and the definitions of unimproved value and improved value are at least as clear as any provision in any Statute. The farmer who cannot tell what he is entitled to deduct is hardly likely to be helped by the proposal of the honorable member for Richmond. The effect of adopting a list of the improvements which might be deducted, would be to set up the presumption that other improvements might not be deducted. Reference has been made to clearing. On the soil in its virgin state, trees may be growing, which have to be cut down and grubbed out to make the land fit for the plough. It is contended that the improvements are not on the land, but off it, so to speak ; in fact, that they are not there. I submit that to the practical valuer or practical farmer, there can be no confusion, for the simple reason that cleared land in 999 cases out of 1,000 is more valuable than land with scrub on it. There may be a case where good timber has been cleared off the land, and the land was worth more with the timber on than with the timber off, but in almost every case clearing does the land good. In Queensland, large areas of land are let on condition that they are cleared of a pest, such as prickly pear. My point is that nothing in the honorable member’s amendment can help the definition of “unimproved value,” and that the amendment will not help the honorable and learned member for Flinders in his contention that some improvements are neither “ thereon nor appertaining thereto.” If they are not “ thereon or appertaining thereto,” the mere setting of them down in a list will not entitle them to be deducted. I submit that they are entitled to be deducted, that the Bill is perfectly clear, and that we are practically in agreement all round the Committee as to what we want to do, but the only effect of accepting the honorable member’s amendment would be to add to the confusion, and make nothing clear.
Mr. GREENE (Richmond) T>57] My object in moving the amendment was to make perfectly clear what the owner of the land was entitled to deduct - in short, what was an improvement. I admit that the definition of “unimproved value” is perfectly clear. “Unimproved value” is the difference between what the land would sell for to-day, and the value of the improvements, but the question that we have to determine is what those improvements, if any, consist in. Is it not right that we should clearly lay down the intention of the Legislature in passing this measure, as to what can be included under “ improvements “ ? What led me to move the amendment was my practical experience of the Local Government Act in New South Wales. As president of the shire in which I was located for some time, I had to go through the Appeal Court, where a great number of these cases were dealt with. In the first year that the valuations were made, I think we had some 300 odd appeals, and we found the very definition which we are now debating of the greatest assistance in determining them, because by its means we were able to clearly define what the unimproved value of the land was. The greater part of the district which I represent was at one time covered with dense scrub from one end to the other; now you can scarcely see a stump or stick, or tree, standing over thousands of acres. But it has cost an enormous amount of money to bring the land into that state. I think it should be clearly stated that the owners are entitled to include amongst improvements the clearing of the land from timber, and bringing it into that state. There is no question that such clearing is an improvement. The whole point is whether this Bill entitles the owner of the land to include it as an improvement in calculating the unimproved value of his land. I think we all agree that the owner ought to be entitled to regard it as an improvement, and to deduct it for all time, because once value is given to land by work of that description, that value exists so long as the land is worth anything. But will this Bill allow such a deduction to be made? The legal members on this side of the chamber have said that they doubt whether clearing is included in the Bill as an improvement, and I contend that the point should be made perfectly clear.
– Suppose that a considerable quantity of timber were sold off the land?
– Of what value is that compared with the actual cost of clearing the land ?
– In some places they are getting more for the timber than it costs to clear the land, if there are mills handy.
– In most cases, if an owner buys land with timber which has a marketable value, he pays for the timber, or he pays royalty to the Crown on it. After all, you still have the stump to take out, and the head to clear away, and it is only a comparatively small portion of the trunk that you can sell, so that the actual value of the timber that you take off the land is neither here nor there in relation to the total cost ofclearing the land.
– It depends entirely on the class of timber.
– I admit that; but in the case of blackwoods in Tasmania, and other valuable timbers in my own State, you do not get very many trees to the acre. I do not see why there should be any hesitation on the part of the Government in accepting some amendment - I am not wedded to the form of words that I have proposed - that will make perfectly clear what owners are entitled to deduct and what they are not. It has been objected that this amendment is an enumeration, but it is nothing of the sort. It is simply an illustration, and nothing more. It defines an improvement, and, by way of illustration, states what was in our mind at the time we passed it.
– It is a limitation.
– I have consulted several legal gentlemen, and the amendment was drawn in deference to their opinion. They state that the latter part does not in any way restrict or limit the definition itself. We must admit that we cannot deduct the full cost of improvements from the improved value in arriving at the unimproved value. We must take the value of the improvements at the time of valuation, but there does not seem to be any reasonable difficulty in arriving at the value of the improvements as nearly as possible. The only difficulty is as to what are, and what are not, improvements. The AttorneyGeneral referred to the New Zealand Act. There are two definitions in the New Zealand Act, following one after the other; the first definition defines improvements, as the Attorney-General read it, and the next is as to the value of improvements. This is given, in an amendment circulated by the honorable member for Wimmera, as follows : - “ Value “ of improvements means the sum by which the improvements on an owner’s land increase its value, including all buildings, fences, planting, draining, private roads, and waterraces, clearing, permanent grassing, and other work of a permanent nature effected upon land.
That is substantially the same enumeration as I have given. The Government, in their definition of the value of improvements, have not enumerated anything. All that we have done is to tack on to what is substantially the New Zealand definition of improvements an enumeration which shows clearly what the New Zealand Act aims at. The same thing is working in New South Wales, and my experience there leads me to believe that it is a decided assistance to the Court in arriving at a valuation, and also to the taxpayers. It facilitates matters all round, and does not confuse the issue as honorable members opposite seem to think it will. The Government might well accept the amendment, which, I feel sure, will be found to be beneficial in the general working of the measure.
.- I do not think the Attorney-General can claim that we are spending too much time on this clause, because this is the clause which lays the foundation for the whole system of taxation. If we once settle the principles in it, the rest of the measure is, for the main part, machinery.
– Then we shall very soon get through it?
– If the honorable member shows a little reason, it is quite possible that we shall. It is most important to know exactly how the unimproved value is arrived at, because that is what is really taxed. The first definition that we are met with is that of ‘ ‘ improved value, ‘ ‘ which, we are told, in relation to land, means the capital sum which the fee-simple of the land might be expected to realize if offered for sale on such reasonable terms and conditions as a bond fide seller would require. Most of the land to which the tax will apply is improved land, and the problem is to ascertain the unimproved value. What will be the method of valuation? Will it be as stated by Mr. Justice Walker, as set out in New South Wales Law Reports, vol. xix., page 363 -
In arriving at the value of land containing improvements you value the land as it stands with the improvements on it, and then you deduct the value of the improvements, and that gives you the unimproved value.
The Chief Justice of that State said -
Some expert valuers might be able to arrive at the value of the land by considering that the improvements had never existed, but others would take the value of the land as it exists with the improvements on it, and then would value the improvements, and by deducting the latter from the former would arrive at the value of the land without the improvements on it. I confess it seems to me almost impossible to arrive with any degree of certainty at the unimproved value of improved land.
What the Committee are anxious to know is the method by which the value is to be ascertained. First there is the selling value with all the improvements’, and then there has to be an inquiry as to the improvements oh the land, or “appertaining thereto”; and it is just at this point that we are in a difficulty. According to the clause, the improvements to be considered are “ actual improvements.” The words in the definition of ‘ ‘ unimproved value ‘ ‘ are -
Assuming that the actual improvements thereon (if any) had not been made.
– - Does the honorable member use the word “ actual “ as if it means something tangible?
– That is where the trouble arises. What is the meaning of “actual improvements”? The whole discussion has turned on that point. The Attorney-General has told us that “every farmer knows what an actual improvement is”; but the real question is what is the meaning of the words as used in the Bill. The honorable member for Flinders asked whether the words mean improvements which must leave behind tome visible result; and the illustration he gave was that of clearing away of stones and timber, which, in his opinion, might not be held to be improvements under the Bill. The honorable member for Richmond now suggests that, in order to make the definition clear, it should be set out that “ actual improvements” do not necessarily mean improvements that are tangible. I suggest that the mere fact that doubt arises in the mind of a man like the honorable member for Flinders shows that it is advisable, at least, to remove any ambiguity. We are all pretty well agreed, I think, as to what is desired to be included in “ improvements,” but I think the definition ought to be made absolutely clear.
– It strikes me as possible to effect an improvement in the clause by recommitting the “ unimproved value “ definition and striking out the word “ actual.” In the New Zealand Act I see that the word “ improvements “ is used without any qualification; and “ actual “ is quite unnecessary, because “improvements” must be tangible, not in the sense of something to be touched, but of something that has value, something that can have arisen only by the expenditure of labour and money. In view of the fact that in the next paragraph we proceed to define “ improvements “ in general, and not “ actual improvements,” it might be held that “ actual improvements “ and “ improvements “ were two different things, while they mean the same. If we remove the word “ actual,” I think there will be very little room for doubt.
.- In view of the arguments which have been pressed from the other side on behalf of the land- owners of Australia, I remind, the AttorneyGeneral that he has supporters on this side who desire to see the Bill- carried through in an unmistakable manner on the lines laid down. It seems to me that the concern expressed by honorable members opposite amounts to airy nothingness, because the tendency of the taxpayer will undoubtedly be to so enlarge on his improvements as to necessitate some modification. I quite agree with the Attorney-General that, if we attempt to enumerate the improvements, we shall simply confound the taxpayer, and give him some real reason for complaint. For instance, if we specify the clearing pf timber as an improvement, what is to be done in the case of a man who, in clearing his land, has sold the timber at a profit? I know of such cases, particularly on the north coast of New South Wales, and they are not so exceptional as has been stated.
– And what about clearing stones?
– I have also known stones cleared at an advantage.
– Such clearing would cost nothing, and would, therefore, not be allowed for.
– The whole discussion shows the necessity of leaving this matter of improvements to the discretion of the Commissioner and other authorities, for in no other way can we reach finality. The honorable member for Flinders admits that we could not allow for the cost of the first clearing of the Melbourne streets; and in regard to agricultural lands, it is too much to suggest that there should be an hereditary right to a deduction for the original cost of. clearing. These and similar improvements have recouped the owners of the land time and again.
– Can this be regarded as community-added value?
– To some extent, because the justification for the improvements became greater as time went on. However, T contend that it is impossible to go back in every case to original improvements such as clearing ; and it must be a matter of discretion. No Act of Parliament comprehends every possible circumstance that may arise under it ; and the attempt to hedge this clause round with particulars simply springs from a kind of class prejudice, which, unconsciously no doubt, is existent in honorable members opposite who are out to protect the rights of property.
.- The amendment of the honorable member for Richmond having been negatived, I desire to know whether the Attorney-General intends to strike out the word “ actual “ ?
– The honorable member is asking whether some word in a portion of the clause already passed and approved of is going to be struck out; and I submit that, under the circumstances, he is scarcely in order.
– The honorable member for Angas would not be in order in discussing the previous portion of the clause.
– My intention is to omit the word “ actual “ when the Bill is recommitted.
– I am referring to the matter now, because the word 1 ‘ improvements,” without the qualification “ actual,” is used in a subsequent clause; and hence, if it were not the intention of the Government to strike out the word “ actual “ here, it would be necessary to insert it in the subsequent clause. I am not quite sure why the word “ guardian “ is used in the definition of “ trustee. ‘ ‘ I can quite understand a committee, say, in a lunatic’s estate, or a receiver, or a liquidator, becoming an owner of land under this Bill, but not how a guardian could be placed in such a position.
– It may be that a person can appoint a guardian in the terms of the Bill; but, in any case, a guardian is included in the generic term of “trustee,” which is not limited by these definitions, and, I suppose, will apply in some equitable, and, possibly, in some legal estates.
I cannot think of any particular case in which the word would apply, but I do not think that its retention will do any harm.
. -I presume that the intention as regards bodies or associations, corporate or unincorporate, is that, as in the case of the New South Wales Act, the Bill shall not apply to any trading partnerships?
– It will not apply. 1 assume that partners will come under the heading of joint tenants.
.- My attention has been drawn to the limited definition of the word “mortgage,” and which, I am informed, will not meet the case of building societies who generally take an absolute transfer of titles. They are registered as absolute proprietors, and accompanying that registration is a deed of defeasance, which, being an equity of redemption, is not registered. It is suggested that this might not be regarded as a “ charge “ within the meaning of the definition, because it is not registered on the face of the document ; and it is suggested that the definition of “ mortgage “ should be so amended as to read that it “ includes any conveyance or transfer of, or any charge,” and so forth. If the definition were amended as I suggest, it would cover the case of building societies which are mortgagees by virtue of two documents instead of one. I ask the AttorneyGeneral to agree to the suggested amendment.
– I must ask the honorable and learned member to allow me to look into the question. It may be that it is necessary to meet the special class of cases to which he refers. The principle of this Bill is that the mortgagor, and not the mortgagee, shall be taxed; and the question arises whether a conveyance which differs in principle from some kinds of mortgages should be, in some circumstances, treated as a mortgage. I promise the honorable and learned member to look into the question, and if the position be as he says it is, to make the amendment when the Bill is recommitted.
.- To avoid any misapprehension on the point, I should like to mention that some of the banks take, not only a deposit of deeds, but an absolute conveyance, and that there is, of course, an equity of redemption attaching to, although not expressed in, the deed. That fact may emphasize the statement of the honorable member for Bendigo as to the necessity for including in the definition of the word “ mortgage” the words “conveyance or transfer.”
– I will look into the matter.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 (Commissioner).
– - We have now reached an important part of the Bill, raising the whole scheme of its administration. Clause 4 provides for the appointment of a Commissioner, but no provision is made for any one to act in his stead in case of his suspension, absence, or illness. Can the Attorney-General say if there is any other provision to meet the case? Instances have occurred where the administration of an Act has been suspended owing to a Commissioner being ill and unable to carry out his duties.
– But the Commissioner, under this Bill, may delegate his duties.
– He can delegate some functions, but he cannot delegate the whole administration of the measure to some one else.
– Under clause 8 he may delegate “ all or any of his powers.”
– He may delegate subordinate acts, but he would not appoint some one to carry out the whole administration of the Bill. For instance, the whole of the assessment is to be carried out by one Commissioner.
– Does not clause 8 cover the position?
– No. The assessments must be made by the Commissioner, and there is to be an appeal from his decision, and it may be open to question whether there is an appeal from that of any person to whom he has delegated his powers and functions. .
– If a man acts under his delegated power he is at the time the Commissioner.
– -It may be questioned whether it can be for the purposes of the assessment. Clause 8 enables the Commissioner to appoint persons to exercise delegated functions from time to time. We need to have in this part of the Bill a provision, such as appears in the New South Wales Act, declaring that during the illness, suspension, or absence of the Commissioner a deputy may act for him and that every such deputy shall have all the powers and authority of the Commissioner. My attention has been drawn to the fact by the honorable member for
Angas that the appointment of a deputy is covered by the Acts Interpretation Act. I should also like the AttorneyGeneral to state who is to carry out the valuations throughout Australia. The Victorian Bill made provision for the appointment of certain persons by the Governor in Council, and gave a definition of the requisite qualifications. Under this Bill every land-owner will, in the first place, make a valuation of his property, and the Commissioner may accept his valuation, or may, under clause 16, cause a valuation of the land to be made. It will, therefore, be necessary .to appoint persons throughout Australia to make such valuations, and T wish to know what method of administration is to be pursued. Who are to be appointed ? The Bill makes no provision for the appointment of specific officers. “Under other measures for their administration, necessitating specific appointments, the officers have been appointed under the Public Service Act, and are responsible to the Public Service Commissioner. There is no provision in this Bill for the special appointment of valuers, and I wish to know whether, during the first year, a number of land agents are to be appointed to make the valuations. The Commissioner cannot in every case accept the valuations made under State Acts, because they are made for different purposes. In Queensland we have valuations for municipal purposes under an Act very different from this. In South Australia there is in operation a Land Tax Act, the valuations under which may be of some assistance to us ; and we have in force in New South Wales an Act providing for the municipal taxation of unimproved land values.
– If the valuations of other States resemble the municipal valuations in Victoria they will be no .guide to us.
– The honorable member is right. This Bill will have a uniform application all over Australia, and, in orde; that it may be equitable, we must have uniform principles of interpretation. There Ls on the Estimates an item providing for an expenditure of about ^30,000 in the administration of this measure, and that obviously implies that some one is to be appointed. We desire to know whether temporary or permanent officers are to be appointed in the different States, and generally what is to be the method of assessment
As this Bill will come into operation air most immediately, it is highly desirable if public officers are to be appointed, that we should know who they are, what are their qualifications, and what is to be the organization of the Department in which they are to be placed. Are we to have a Deputy Commissioner in each State?
– There may be as many as are required.
– And are we to have permanent officers appointed, under the deputies, to make valuations, or are land agents to do the work?.
– The matters referred te are of the utmost importance ; but it needs to be emphasized that the measure comes into operation almost immediately; and a vast amount of organization must be done by those to whom its administration is intrusted. At the head, of the administration will be the Commissioner, and ‘to. assist him there will be as many- Deputy Commissioners as may be neede’d. The honorable member for Darling Downs wishes to know what the functions of the Deputy Commissioners are to be. It is clear that there must be some one. who can undertake the duties of the Commissioner should he, from any cause, be unable to perform them himself, and I shall be glad if the honorable member will show me that the Bill makes that impossible.
– If the Commissioner were to be suspended, he could not delegate his functions to any one.
– No j but, under clause 5, the functions of a Deputy Commissioner are to be as prescribed, or as the Commissioner may direct. Of. course, we could not arrange for a series of persons to take up the work of the Commissioner, but we” might have one or two in readiness. The Executive would have power to appoint any person to do his work, and to appoint some one to relieve the Deputy Commissioner, should he, in his turn, be suspended, or fall ill, or become incapacitated in any way.
– The clause does not give power to appoint a Deputy Commissioner to act fully as the Commissioner.
– It may be the duty of a Deputy Commissioner to act as Commissioner if so required. Under the New Zealand Act, the administration is in the hands of a Commissioner of Taxes and a Deputy Commissioner, both of whom hold office during the Governor’s, pleasure, while the
Deputy, under the. control of the Commissioner,, performs such general- duties as he may be called- upon to perform-, under the Act or by the Commissioner. We do not attempt to define the duties of the Deputy Commissioners, but they will have to act as deputies to control the administration in the various States, and to do such work as may be necessary to assist the Commissioner, say, in the head office. The Commissioner will, subject to the control of the Minister, have the administration of the Act, and I am inclined to think that the Deputy Commissioners will be able to do anything that may be prescribed or that the Commissioner may direct. Under the New Zealand Act, the sphere within which the deputy moves is narrower than that within which our deputies will move. They -.may do anything that the law does not forbid them to do. A deputy could not administer while the Commissioner for Taxes was able to do so; but, when he is not, a deputy may be appointed temporarily to perform all the duties which the Commissioner is authorized to perform.
– I would point out that there is no power to appoint an Acting Commissioner to administer the Act during the temporary absence or suspension of the Commissioner.
– That is to be found in the Acts Interpretation Act.
– What is to be the tenure of office of the Commissioner?
– Will appointments be made upon the recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner, or will they be Ministerial appointments?
– I know of no reason why the appointments other than that of the Commissioner should not be made on the recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner.
– I think that they should.
– The New Zealand Act allows the Commissioner to hold office during the Governor’s pleasure. It seems to me preferable that our Commissioner should be appointed for a term, though the matter will have to be considered, and might be very well left over until the recommittal of the Bill.
– As to the point raised by the honorable member for Swan, I would point out that the Commissioner will have to be a highlypaid officer. In regard to previous appointments such as this, the procedure has been to cause advertisements for applications to be published, and to submit the applications to the Public Service Commissioner for an independent report.
– But the appointments are made before the advertisements are published.
– This appointment should be made in the same way as the appointment of a Justice of the High Court is made.
– In considering the matter it must be remembered that the salary will be a high one, and, therefore, regard must be had to the classification of the office under the Public Service Act, that permits of a maximum salary of only .£600 being paid to an officer of the Clerical Division.
– Regard will be had to the matters mentioned by the honorable member for Darling Downs. The appointment of subordinate officers will, of course, be subject to the recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner.
– I should like the AttorneyGeneral to inform the Committee at a later stage whether persons outside the Public Service are to be intrusted with the preparation of evidence and valuations for the information of the Commissioner. The Victorian Bill provided that assessors should, as far as practicable, be persons having local knowledge of the value of land and improvements, and should exercise their functions in certain districts. The Bill gives those who are appointed to this work the right to inspect, to examine books, and so forth, and therefore they should be persons over whom the Commonwealth will have substantial control, to provide for fair and proper administration.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 -
Penalty : One hundred pounds.
Penalty for breach of this sub-section : Two years’ imprisonment.
– - I move -
That the words ,! and secrecy,” line 4, be left out.
I shall subsequently move the excision of sub-clause 2. We are dealing now with land values, and the value of a man’s land is not, like a man’s income, a matter which concerns only himself, and which ought not to be made public. The value of land concerns the community. It is most desirable that there should be a means whereby there could be a general or public supervision, if necessary, over attempts at under-valuation. The registers of births, deaths, and marriages, deeds, conveyances, mortgages, and so on, are open to the inspection of any person on payment of a small fee. The Doomsday Book, or the register on which will be inscribed the value of all lands in this country, ought to be open to the public in the same way. There is no secrecy about the matter at all. It is not a question of the amount of a man’s mortgage, or of his position or status in business. I see no reason why there should be any secrecy so far as regards the value, and especially the unimproved value of a man’s landed estate. We are dealing potentially in this measure with the whole of the land-owners of the country, because it will be obviously impossible to ask for a return only from’ those land-owners who possess land of the unimproved value of ,£5,000, and over. It is for the Commissioner to decide who is to be taxed, subject to the Act, and while it may be, and very likely will be, unnecessary to demand a return from every small land-owner, it is apparent that those near the margin will be called upon to make a return. It is very desirable,, for many reasons, that those returns, subject to the necessary official restrictions, should be public property.
.- When reading the notice of amendment in this regard, I was struck by one of the reasons given by the Attorney-General. Although an oath of secrecy is imposed in connexion with the South Australian Act, it is primarily in relation to income tax. The Commissioner there has thought his duty so imperative as regards secrecy that he has actually refused, without a subpoena, to produce the returns of income tax, and in one case, I believe, he would not allow the taxpayer himself to look at his own return. In that State, however, the land tax returns are all open, and provision is made in the Act by which any one may make a search on payment of a fee of, I think, is. Clause 60, however, deals with some information that the Commissioner may obtain outside the mere land tax return. In that regard, there is necessity for secrecy, but even in such a case I do not think there is sufficient necessity for preserving the word in this clause, because if a man breaks the obligation of secrecy prescribed by clause 6, that will be an offence under the Public Service Act, and I presume he will be liable to dismissal. I scarcely think it is necessary to declare that he is a criminal if he breaks his oath. The Attorney-General proposes to strike out sub-clause 2, leaving the correction of any breach of secrecy under clause 6 to be dealt with under the power of dismissal given in the Public Service Act.
.- If the persons referred to in sub-clause 2 are appointed or employed under the Public Service Act, there is a control over them, and power to impose a punishment, but they may be only temporarily appointed, and not under the Public Service Act. They may get an opportunity of obtaining the information which has been referred to under clause 60, and I would draw the attention of the Attorney-General to the necessity of some provision for dealing with them, in the case. of a breach by them of these provisions.
– The point taken by the honorable member for Darling Downs is a very proper one. Clauses 6 and 7 may cover a number of persons taken on temporarily, who may acquire information as to much of the private business of a taxpayer other than the unimproved value of his land. Such persons should, of course, not divulge anything of that nature, and that should be a condition of their employment. The Commissioner, however, will be an administrative officer, who will be appointed by the Executive, and, therefore, it is necessary that he should take the oath of fidelity, and not divulge anything except that which, under the Act, he is permitted to divulge. All that my amendment does is to show that the roll of valuations shall not be. secret information, but shall be available in exactly the same way as are registers of births, deaths, marriages, and deeds in general,
. - I think the amendment ought to be allowed, but the Attorney-General must have had some good reason for putting those words in when the clause was drafted. He simply asks us now to strike them out, but he ought to tell us why they were put in.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to-
That sub-clause 2 be left out.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 8 (Delegations by Commissioner).
.- Is it intended under this clause to delegate the final power of assessing land values to the respective Deputy Commissioners, or will the different assessments made up by the deputies come back to the Commissioner, and will his decision be the final assessment upon which the notices of assessment are .issued ? It is most important to know this, because the question of uniformity is involved, as also that of appeal. The clause says that all powers may be delegated.
– I take it that this is a genera] power of delegation, which the Commissioner may exercise, and which he could not exercise if it were not for this clause. It is a delegation, if desired, of the whole of the Commissioner’s powers in any particular part of the whole sphere of his duties. It might extend to the point mentioned by the honorable and learned member, so that the decision of a Deputy Commissioner upon a question of assessment might be final to the same extent as a decision by the Commissioner himself. It is very desirable in certain cases that this should be so, especially in relation to appeals. The honorable member for Darling Downs, on the second reading, spoke of the necessity of appointing Appeal Courts, where disputes might be shortly decided in summary fashion in the neighbourhood of where they arose, and it is desirable .that, as far as possible, the Deputy Commissioners should perform these duties without too much red-tape and circumlocution. While the matter is entirely in the hands of the Commissioner, I take it that, under this clause, the intention is to clothe him with authority to delegate these powers to his deputies.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 agreed to.
Clause to - (1.) Land tax shall be payable by the owner of land upon the taxable value of all the land owned by him, and not exempt from taxation under this Act. (2.) The taxable value of all the land owned by a person is -
– I move -
That the word “all,” line 8, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ each parcel of.”
This is a method of assessing the unimproved value applied to absentees as well as to residents, although this amendment deals with absentees only. The object and intention is to arrive at the true unimproved value as distinguished from the value added by improvements made on adjacent and neighbouring allotments. It is a very necessary amendment, because, in estimating the unimproved value of one particular piece of land consideration must be given to the value that has been added by improvements on adjacent lands and in the district generally. There are cases in this country where a man owns a whole township ; indeed, I believe, though I am not quite certain, that Silvertown is thus owned. At any rate, there are cases where a considerable portion of all the lands of a town or district are owned by one person; and the case frequently occurs in making subdivisions. If we take the whole aggregated holding, and estimate the unimproved value thereof, all the value of particular blocks which is due to Improvements on every other block will be added to the improved value of each block, and there will be deducted from the whole value of such holding very much more than there would be, say,if 100 men owned this land amongst them. In the latter case, the unimproved value of the next lot would not be attached; but if the man owns a whole township or subdivision, then the unimproved value of every other block is merged in the whole value, and the community loses that which is, after all, a communal improvement. The object is, as is very necessary, to place the small land-holder in exactly the same position as the large landowner ; and to that end it is proposed to deal with each parcel of land separately. A man who owns £5,000 worth of land in one parcel will be in exactly the same position as a man who owns £100,000 worth of land in twenty parcels. Each parcel of land of £5,000 will be treated as if it were the only parcel he held ; whether they happen to be continuous lots or not. The effect of this will be that none of the value given to any block by improvements on any other block will be deducted. It is perfectly fair and proper, and is, in short, drawing that distinction between improved value and unimproved value which we are discussing.
.- The AttorneyGeneral has supplied some words on which a test can be made, if it be desired, whether each separate parcel shall be regarded as of separate ownership for the purposes of the tax; in other words, as if each distinct parcel were regarded as owned by a different person. The effect of this would be to induce subdivision with a vengeance. The policy of this legislation was proclaimed to be subdivision; and If we desire to induce subdivision, a good way, though not the most perfect from the point of view of taxation, would be to say that for each separate parcel of land a man shall have a separate assessment, and be regarded as a distinct owner. This is the most perfect way in which, possibly, we could accomplish the Government policy of subdivision ; and, as some honorable members desire that a test shall Be made on this point, I call attention to the fact that an opportunity now arises. For instance, we might make sub-clause 2 read, “ the taxable value of each,” as if it were the only parcel of land owned by the taxpayer. What the amendment will do if it stands by itself is, of course, to subject to the higher rate the several parcels of land which have been made parcels by subdivision by a single owner. Instead of treating the whole as one estate, the AttorneyGeneral desires to treat each parcel as of separate ownership for the purpose of assessing its unimproved value, but not for the purpose of determining under what rate it shall come.I am pointing out that there is a method by amending the amendment of going further than the Attorney-General proposes.
– If the honorable member desires to give effect to his idea, the amendment should be moved where the word “ all “ first occurs.
– No doubt that would be the proper place to make the amendment, though I do not urge the matter myself, merely pointing out that there is now an opportunity presented to test the question.
We understand that the object of the AttorneyGeneral is to get the higher unimproved value by providing that the buildings, and so forth, may be taken into account by the Commissioner ; and I presume that he has in his mind a case that was decided in New South Wales’. Is it quite clear that the word “ parcel “ is the proper one to use? The word in conveyancing, we know, means a distinct piece of land, though not land geographically distinct. It has just been pointed out to me that in the next amendment to be moved by the Attor ney-General it is provided -
Every part of a holding which is separately held by any occupier, tenant, lessee, or owner shall be deemed to be a separate parcel.
That accomplishes the end from the Government point of view; and I shall say no more on the point.
– The Committee ought to know the exact effect of this amendment; and if they refer to the case of John Cooper v. The Commissioners of Taxation, reported in the New South Wales Law Reports, Vol. xix., they will get the information. The statement of the case tells us -
On the 28th December, 1896, the appellant made a return of the said lands pursuant to the Act, wherein Thrupp’s grant was returned as one estate or parcel, and the unimproved value thereof was stated at £84,450 and Cleveland Estate was returned as one other estate or parcel, and the unimproved value thereof was stated at £11,000.
By an assessment notice the Commissioners gave notice to the appellant that they had regarded and treated Thrupp’s grant for the purposes of assessment as an aggregation of 422 separate and divided estates or parcels, and not as one estate or parcel, and had fixed the unimproved value of the whole at £220,000, and had regarded and treated Cleveland Estate as being divided into separate estates or parcels, and not as one whole estate or parcel, and had assessed each of the estates or parcels separately from the others, and had fixed the aggregate of the unimproved value of all the estates or parcels at £20,697.
The statement goes on to show how the Commissioners proceeded to value the land. For instance, they took four allotments, A, B, C, and D, and A plot was treated as improved by B, C, and D ; C plot as improved by A. B, and D ; and so on right round. By this method the estate became considerably enhanced in value; and that is the method the Government now propose to adopt. This New South Wales case went to the. Full Court, which decided upon the words of the New South Wales, section -
The word “ parcel “ means “ a part or portion or piece,” as a certain piece of land is part and parcel of another “piece.” (Vide Webster’s Dictionary.) We must give a meaning to the word “ parcel,” distinct from “ estate.” They are not synonymous. . . Each parcel would, in my view, come within the term “such land” in the interpretation clause- as to the meaning of “ unimproved value.” The word “ such “ has reference to the previous word “ land,” and that is, in my opinion, each parcel into which the land may be fairly said to have been divided, the value of which was increased by improvements upon other parcels of the whole estate.
– Why was this number of blocks taken, and no more?
– The estate appears to have been so subdivided by, the owners, and the Commissioners adopted the subdivision.
– I direct the attention of the Committee- to the further amendment which we propose to insert as a new subclause, providing that -
Every part of a holding which is separately held by any occupier, tenant, lessee, or owner shall be deemed to be a separate parcel.
Therefore, whatever a “ parcel “ may mean elsewhere, its meaning under this Bill will be as here defined. The amendment I have just read will clear up any ambiguity.
– But an “occupier” might be an occupier for only a month or three months.
– Take the row of books on the table before us as representing, separate lots. If they are held in separate lots then, clearly, they .are separate parcels, if held by the same person, within the meaning of this clause.
– If alternate blocks were held by the one owner, they would be treated as separate parcels.
– The mere act of the owner in “ peacocking “ the land would make the alternate blocks separate blocks, on which the owner would be entitled only to the same deduction as he would be if this were the only block that he owned.
– The point has been overlooked that this would create a difficulty in the way of a very common and useful form of subdivision. Suppose a man has in his occupation an estate which is taxable. The taxable value of that estate is estimated by giving him credit for the full value of all improvements upon it, including the mutual or interchangeable value of those improvements. That is to say, the improvements in one part of the estate are added to the improvements in another part, so that as long as he holds the estate in his own hands and works it himself, notwithstanding that it may be suitable for subdivision, he will get the full benefit of what we may call, for the sake of brevity, the mutual value of his improvements. But suppose he wishes to adopt a very common form of subdivision, and says, “ I will let out my estate to tenants, giving them the option of purchase, for a certain number of years.” From the moment that his tenants go in the taxation will be increased by 30 or 40 per cent.
– This is in conformity with the principle which confines the liability of a lessee to that particular tax which would have been paid on a particular piece of land if the lessee were the owner of it, and of no other.
– I understand that the Attorney-General really desires that this clause should operate to encourage subdivisions, and one of the most useful and practical forms of subdivision is that under which, in the first place, tenants are created with the option of purchase. That is a form of subdivision that ought to be encouraged rather than discouraged, but the effect of this provision would be, in such a case, to increase the taxation by 40 per cent. That would be a very serious bar to what, in some cases, is the only practical method of subdivision.
.- I understood that the Attorney-General proposed to introduce his amendment at a later part of the clause. I have a prior amendment, providing for the omission of the words “all the” in line 2, and the insertion in lieu thereof of the words “ each as if it were the only parcel of.”
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to8 p.m.
– With the consent of the Committee, I will temporarily withdraw my amendment, in order that the honorable member may move that to which he has referred.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I move -
That the words, “ all the,” line 2, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ each as if it were the only parcel of.”
The clause, if amended as proposed by me, will provide that -
Land tax shall be payable by the owner of land upon the taxable value of each as if it were the only parcel of land owned by him. . . .
Cases of great hardship will arise if every parcel of land owned by one individual or company is aggregated for the purposes of taxation. The Attorney-General has already made some concessions to mortgagees, but they will not meet the position of. unfortunate mortgagees whose loans have matured, and who have become the actual proprietors of certain properties. Let me cite a few cases. In the first case, an absentee company has been the owner for some time of several properties. If the first of these, the unimproved value of which is £22,000, were separately dealt with, the company would pay, by way of taxation upon it, £25011s.1d. ; and a resident owner , £158 17s. 9d. In the next case, the tax on a property of the unimproved value of , £36,000, if separately dealt with, would be £412 12s. 9d. in the case of an absentee owner, and £262 12s. 9d. in the case of a resident owner. My third illustration relates to a property in Melbourne of the unimproved value of . £26,000, the tax on which, if it were separately dealt with, would be £31011s.1d. in the case of an absentee owner, and , £204 4. 5d. if the owner were a residentof the Commonwealth. Then, I have before me details of a property of the unimproved value of £19,000 on which, if it were separately dealt with, an absentee owner would pay £208 9s. 5d., and a resident owner £129 6s.1d. If we add up the several amounts, the tax payable by an absentee company on these properties, separately dealt with, is . £1,182 4s. 4d. ; but if the properties are aggregated, the tax is no less than , £2,097 18s. 4d.
– That would not be the case if the company were exempt from the absentee provisions.
– The shareholders in the company owning these properties are resident abroad. If they were resident owners, then the tax on the properties aggregated would amount to £1,668 15s. ; but, since they are absentees, the tax upon the properties, when aggregated, is nearly double what it would be if they were separately dealt with. I do not think it was the intention of honorable members opposite that absentees should have to pay, not only an additional tax of1d. in the £1, but nearly double what the taxation would be if the properties held by them were dealt with separately. In the case of this unfortunate company, there is an increase amounting to 3d. in the £1. I will now bring under the notice of the AttorneyGeneral a property of the unimproved value of £16,000, the tax on which, if separately dealt with, would be £62 12s. in the case of a resident owner ; but, as it is owned by an English company possessing other properties, the taxation upon it will amount to £407. Separately dealt with, it would be taxable to the extent of £62 12s., at the rate of 6d. in the £1, if held by a resident owner ; but, aggregated with other properties, and owned by an absentee company, it is taxable at 7d. in the £1, and the tax totals £407. Take the case of another property of the unimproved value of £40,000, and situate in Collins-street, Melbourne. The owner is a resident of the Commonwealth, and if it were separately dealt with, the tax upon it would be £316 ; but, as the owner possesses land all over Australia, and the several properties are aggregated, the tax upon this particular property will amount to no less than £1,166. That seems a most extraordinary increase. The last case to which I desire to refer is that of a property of the unimproved value of £57,000, the tax upon which, if separately dealt with, would be £688 15s. But the owner is a bank having property scattered all over Australia, and the tax on this property, since it is aggregated with others, will amount to £1,427. I am sure that honorable members do not desire that properties should be aggregated and also subjected to a progressive rate of taxation. The system is very like that illustrated by the story of the man who agreed to pay so much per nail for having his horse shod, the price per nail to be increased by the square. The total in that case reached a fabulous sum, and the result of this method of taxation is practically the same.
– Is it intended that each parcel of land belonging to a person or company possessing a number of parcels shall be treated as if it were the only piece held ?
– Yes. I hope that the Minister will take into consideration the exceedingly hard cases which will be created if the Bill becomes law as it stands. If a worker becomes insolvent, his tools of trade are exempted, and the buildings of the banks, with the land on which they stand, may be regarded as the company’s tools of trade. It is not as if these institutions were holding land to block settlement ; the land which they hold could not be subdivided, and by lending money to others for the carrying out of improvements, they are greatly encouraging settlement. T do not press for the acceptance of the exact words whose insertion I have proposed, but I ask the Minister to see if justice cannot be done to institutions which have greatly benefited the country. The Prime Minister said that he would do his hest to put right any provision which affected injuriously a single individual, and I am sure that honorable members opposite do not wish injustice to be done. The object of the measure is to compel the subdivision of large estates, with a view tn the encouragement of settlement, but it will needlessly penalize banking and other companies, whose operations compel them to have branches all over the Commonwealth, if the small parcels of land which they hold are treated as one estate, and made taxable accordingly.
– The honorable member for Fawkner proposes to treat each property belonging to a person or company owning several properties as if it were the only property owned, and to allow exemptions accordingly ; but that would perhaps reduce the rate of tax, in many cases, from 4d. or 3&d. to r£d., and in addition to being a violation of the underlying principle of the measure, would prevent the realization of the Treasurer’s estimate of the revenue to be received from it. . According to the honorable member for Fawkner, the Treasurer’s estimate is too low, and the tax will really return about £3,000,000; but the Treasurer’s estimate would certainly be much too high were the exemptions which the honorable member proposes allowed. The New Zealand Act has been amended no fewer than nine times. The people of the Dominion have, during a number of years, been feeling their way to an effective system of graduated land-value taxation, and we must assume that they have now got a practicable measure which, although its incidence at some points is heavier than that of our tax will be. has not driven capital out of the country, nor stricken the place as with a plague ; in fact, the country seems to be doing very well under it. The New Zealand A,:1 says that the ordinary tax on land shall, in the case of each owner, be assessed and levied on the total unimproved value of all land other than mortgages. Unless inconsistent with the context, “ land” does not include “mortgages,” and every person is liable to pay in each year commencing with the year ending on the 31st March, 1909, a graduated tax upon all land of which he was the owner at noon on the 31st March of the preceding year, and the unimproved value of which is £5,000 or more. That is substantially our proposal. The Victorian Bill, which was rejected by the Legislative Council by a majority of four, says that the tax shall be assessed, charged, levied, and collected by the Commissioner in the case of each owner on the total unimproved value of all lands, which means whether held in one block or in a thousand blocks. To depart from the principle of the measure would be to impair it, and would so seriously militate against its effectiveness as to make the Bill worthless. For these reasons I cannot accept the amendment.
– Looking at the position from the party point of view, it would be best to allow the Bill to pass with all its imperfections, and a great many think that the wisest course for the members of the Opposition to adopt would be not to press for amendments. But my belief is that, notwithstanding party considerations, we should, in the performance of our public duties, point out what seem to be injustices, wrongs, and evils, likely to be effected, even though, if these are not removed, they may lead to the repeal of the measure at no very remote period.
– I ask the honorable member not to discuss the general question.
– When amendment after amendment, honestly proposed to make what we think a thoroughly bad Bill workable, is met by the passive resistance of the phalanx of Ministerial supporters, our arguments being replied to by the Attorney-General only with statements which often do not affect what has been said, it is difficult not to do so. I do not wish to import unnecessary heat into the discussion.
– The honorable member cannot expect us not to reply to the last statement.
– I hope that we shall have a reply. My complaint is that honorable members opposite have no reply to make. The only argument advanced against the proposal of the honorable member for Fawkner is that it is opposed to the mode of taxation adopted by two of the
States and the Dominion of New Zealand. As to the States concerned, their taxation is so extremely small that it cannot fairly be compared with that proposed, while as to the New Zealand tax, although it is heavy, its incidence is not so heavy as that of this tax. By making a comparison by means of the tables prepared by the authority of the Government, I found that the New Zealand rates are only from two-thirds to three-fourths of our rates.
– Without allowing for existing State taxation.
– Yes. The honorable member for Wakefield has told me, and I believe it to be true, although I have not had an opportunity of examining the New Zealand Act, that a further fact exists there which deprives this of any possible reasonable analogy at all - that the whole of the tax on income from land is deducted from the land tax.
– Not in the case of companies ; only with regard to individuals.
– We are not dealing at present with companies. The AttorneyGeneral said the amendment is opposed to the principle of the Bill. This Bill seems to stand on two legs ; one is revenue, and the other is the splitting up of estates. When we bring forward arguments to meet the Government position 011 one leg, they promptly lift that from the ground and stand on the other. When we attempt to show that a measure of this sort is not calculated to achieve one of the ends in view, they say, “ Oh, we are going for the other.” No matter what honorable members may say, one of the main objects, and morally the only object that can possibly justify a tax of this kind, is the necessity for breaking up some big estates. This tax is brought in now on what one may call war rates - rates which so far transcend the ordinary methods of taxation-
– The honorable member is proceeding away from the clause before us.
– It is impossible to discuss the amendment without referring to the character of the rates of which it proposes a reduction. My remarks are strictly in reply to the Attorney-General’s statement that this clause is required for purposes of revenue. He said that one reason why he objected to the amendment was that it would so diminish the revenue that it would not come up to the Treasurer’s estimate.
– I say it would not be effective tor either purpose.
– That observation clearly rests upon the rates which it is proposed to impose. I understood that throughout the discussion’ of this Bill we were to have the opportunity of dealing with it in relation to the proposed rates. It is impossible to deal with it otherwise. Nothing would justify a Bill of this kind at this time but an extraordinary emergency. The honorable member talks about New Zealand, but not “only are the rates there not so high, but the New Zealand Act, with all the incidence to which the Attorney-General referred, was brought in as’ a necessary financial measure at a time of extreme stress. It was coupled, also, with taxation in other directions, and with reductions of expenditure and of grants of money in all directions, in order to meet pressing financial needs. Here we are imposing this kind of taxation at a moment of profound peace. The Attorney-General says the amendment is entirely opposed to the principle of the Bill. Does he mean the principle of getting money? Every reduction is opposed to the principle of getting money ; but that is not what the honorable member refers to. It must be the other- principle of the Bill, and, therefore, the Attorney-General says the amendment is opposed to the bursting up of large estates. The honorable member must see that the amendment is entirely in accord with the breaking up of big estates. It enables that object,’ if that be the object of this legislation, to be effected in a way that will involve less hardship and less injustice. If a man happens to be possessed in different parts of the country, or in different States, of certain landed interests, not one of which, tinder the policy of this legislation, would the Government ask this House to break up, but all of which are put to their best use, why should that man, because he has invested his hard-earned money in that particular form, be subjected to this enormous taxation? Turning from country to city properties, the absurdity becomes still more marked; but the only answer which we get to all the ordinary appeals of reason which we make to honorable members on the other side is this : “ It is not done in New Zealand; it is not done in New South Wales; it is not done in South Australia.”
– That brutal majority !
– I do not complain of the brutal majority. The ma jority on this occasion shows only the silence of the brute, not its stupidity. Is there any reason, in justice or principle, why we should impose the heavier rates of tax, which are only justifiable for the purpose of breaking up estates that ought to be broken up, upon estates which no man on either side of this chamber conceives that it is necessary to break up ? So much for the statement of the Attorney-General that the amendment is opposed to the principle of the measure. For my part, I am, getting tired of attempting to impose’ reasonable restrictions on its operation. I warn honorable members opposite that the’ current does not always flow in the same, direction. If they want to get on to the statute-book the principle of land taxation, which, within reasonable limits, and under proper restrictions, is one to which many of us on this side give their adherence, they are adopting the very worst way by hampering it with ‘ extreme and drastic provisions of this kind.
– The principle the Government have in view, and that this Bill embodies, is to discourage the drifting of land into the hands of the few. The Bill has been drafted to effect that purpose. The amendment suggested by the honorable member would defeat it. We are going, not the worst way to do what we want, but the best way, and we. believe that our way is the best way for the people of this country at large. For that reason we shall stand’ by the Bill.
.- The’ argument of the honorable member for Flinders seems to be that while a single individual may not hold in one .compact block an area of large value, the same individual may hold a series of small areas in various parts of the continent.
– That does not seem to be in accordance with the policy of the Government, nor would it work out in the interests of the community. The object we ought to have in view is that the land shall be distributed as widely as possible, and held by as many people as possible. Therefore, while anxious to do that justice for which the honorable member appealed, and which I think we axe all desirous of doing, I must disagree with him in the view that he has expressed, lt is not in the interests or to the advantage of this country ‘ that one man should be enabled to hold, untaxed, large areas throughout the Commonwealth.
– Untaxed by whom?
– Untaxed for the benefit of the country.
– By this Parliament?
– Certainly; we are not talking of any other Parliament just now.
– The honorable member knows that they are taxed by other Parliaments.
– It is quite irrelevant at this stage to consider the taxation of other Parliaments. While I agree with many of the views of the honorable member for Flinders, I certainly disagree with him in that regard. Monopoly is not to the interests of the people, nor to the interests of the individual himself, because how is it possible for one man to properly supervise the working of detached areas in various parts of die Commonwealth?”
– They may be held by hundreds of shareholders.
– That is so in the case of a company, but I understood that the honorable member for Flinders was speaking of. individuals.
– The question of companies is not before the Chair.
– The clause speaks of an owner, but not of a company.
– A company can be an owner.
– I admit that in the case of a company with a large number of shareholders the position taken up by the honorable member for Flinders is very much stronger.
– Take a bank, for instance.
– I recognise that in many cases banks and building societies do not hold lands because they wish to, but simply because they have drifted into their hands owing to the holders not being able to meet their liabilities. I doubt whether the Committee ought to consider for a moment the plea of the Attorney-General that the amendment would reduce the anticipated revenue. If that is the only thing that stands between us and doing justice, it ought -to be disregarded at once. I think that we shall probably get under this Bill a very large amount of revenue, but if it should so happen that the results prove disappointing, the Government will have an opportunity next session of giving the screw another turn.
– They will not prove disappointing.
– I do not know. I have in my hand now the memorandum which was attached to the Land Taxation Bill brought down by the previous Fisher Government. I see nothing about revenue in that. The memorandum precisely expressed the views of the party and of the Prime Minister at the time the appeal to the country was made that returned a majority of Labour members to this Parliament, and all I see in it is the expression of a desire that large areas of land should be broken up. It is stated regarding the proposed tax that -
This will operate as a substantial check on the unproductive and speculative holding of large areas and will vastly increase the land available for settlement by our own people and by the immigrants whom we wish to encourage, and whom we must have if we are to develop our resources and maintain our position.
It is clear, therefore, that this anxiety about revenue is quite an afterthought, the primary object being to burst up big estates and promote closer settlement. At any rate, where we are imposing very heavy rates we should remember that high rates are only resorted to in exceptional cases, It might be argued that these rates are so heavy that only a time of great national emergency would justify them. I have a good deal of sympathy with the views expressed on thi other side with regard to this matter, and v. here a company is holding these lands - and that is a point that ought to be further emphasized - a company comprised, perhaps, of hundreds of shareholders who, taken individually, would not be taxed upon the land they hold - an effort might well be made by the Government to meet the views of the honorable member for Fawkner. On this side, we have a desire only to do justice, and not to impose hardship on the people of this country, if it can be avoided. The aim of this measure, and of honorable members on this side, is to open up those large areas which are now blocking settlement, and to make room for the expanding population of this country, and for the people whom we are bringing from oversea to Australia.
– It was very .gratifying to hear from the honorable member for Coolgardie that he was as desirous as any one to do justice to all sections of the community, because nothing more than justice is sought by those who are contending for amendments. The Attorney-General has told us that the design and object of the Bill is to discourage the drifting of large areas of land into the hands of the few ; and, if that is the sole object I venture to say that the Bill utterly fails; or perhaps I should rather say that if the Bill succeeds it is at the expense of an injustice to large sections of the people. The honorable gentleman refers to the New Zealand laws when these suit his own purpose, but he fails to refer to them when concessions are sought in connexion with the more rigid proposals before us. I could quite understand a measure which had for its object the breaking up of large areas suitable for agriculture, an idea that proved very attractive to a vast number of voters at the last election. But in New Zealand there is a low rate so far as business premises are concerned. I have in my mind a case where a man, starting business in the ordinary way, extended it by means of branches throughout the States. That was a perfectly legitimate thing to do, and the extension arose through his own business enterprise. I ask the Attorney-General whether his object is to burst up that man’s business by the penal clauses of the Bill? The mere fact that a man owns these necessary branches can hardly mean the drifting of areas into the hands of one particular man. In this case there is an attempt made to apply to town areas principles which might be justifiably applied to large areas suitable for agricultural purposes. If the design and object of the Bill be as stated, why are business premises not taxed at a lower rate?
– I point out’ that there is no proposal for the exemption of business premises before the Chair. The proposal is to omit certain words, with a view to insert other words.
– I am dealing with the aggregation clause and its effects, the idea of the Attorney-General being to break up estates into small parcels, and thus obtain a certain assessment; and I am pointing out that, while the aggregation clause might be applicable to country areas, it cannot be legitimately made applicable to town areas, especially in view of the avowal that the object is to discourage the drifting of large areas of land into the hands of the few.
Under the circumstances, I urge that where lands are legitimately occupied separately, the real object of the Bill is achieved. Of course, it may be desirable to say that these lands shall be a certain distance apart, for that would be a reasonable manner of dealing with the question ; but to say that, where they are separately occupied and dealt with separately in every respect, they are not entitled to separate consideration, is an unreasonable view. The Attorney-General has told us that the amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner would seriously interfere with the revenue as estimated by- the Treasurer; but, as the honorable member for Coolgardie has pointed out, that view can scarcely be entertained if it be shown that the Bill is going to work an injustice.
– What I said was that the amendment would injuriously affect the Bill from both stand-points - both in regard to bursting up estates and to revenue.
– But theAttorneyGeneral does not desire to burst up town areas ; and the effect of this clause will be to burst up businesses and depreciate values. The honorable gentleman has had figures submitted to him, showing that the revenue will be largely in excess of the estimate made by the Treasurer. These figures are open to be tested ; and if it be stated on expert authority that the revenue will be three times the Treasurer’s estimate, surely it is a reasonable suggestion that some concession might be made in the aggregation clause, which, as indicated by the illustrations submitted, will prove so disastrous. If the principle of aggregation is maintained, there should, at least, be large reductions in the rates, but if, on the contrary, the penal clauses are to be adhered to, then it may be fairly and reasonably urged that very substantial concessions should be given in the aggregation clause. That is the design of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Fawkner. I again impress on the Attorney-General that, when he quotes the New Zealand Act, he must not always have regard to the more rigid sec tions while omitting the concessions therein provided, particularly those in regard to business premises. Another instance that strikes me is supplied in the case of building societies. In the case of one building society, if the properties are separately assessed, it will have to pay £56 per year, whereas, if the aggregation clause is applied, it will have to pay £1,800.
– In what way? Are they mortgagees in possession?
– Then the honorable member has not read the Bill.
– I saw that some concession had been made providing for a period of three years to elapse.
– Building societies are not strictly mortgagees in possession, but are actual owners.
– Building societies take an absolute transfer with a deed of defeasance, but the deed sets out all the terms of a mortgage, just as if it were a mortgage under the old law. The point is, however, that these building societies, under the Bill, are owners. We know that the borrowers from these societies are all working people, and the endeavour of the society is to “ nurse “ its borrowers as long as possible. If a man has the misfortune to be out of work, and unable to keep up his payments, the society, as I say, “ nurses “ him until the overdue payments almost reach the full value of the property, when they are forced to realize or probably lose by the transaction. In the case of the building society I have mentioned, who is going to pay the £1,800? Not the building society, out of profits, but the loss will be distributed over small properties. In many cases, at present, the borrowers have the opportunity of ultimately redeeming- their properties, but they will not be able to do so if the penal and aggregation clauses of the Bill operate. This is a very serious matter, affecting a large number of people whom it was never for one moment intended this land tax should hit. I am very hopeful that the Attorney-General may ultimately see his way to exempt building societies from the tax, but, at present, I can only deal with the Bill as I find it.
– Under cover of this clause, the honorable member is discussing something not before the Chair.
– I am discussing the effects of the aggregation clause.
– According to the honorable member, he may discuss anything under this clause.
– I dp not think T have departed from discussing the principle of the clause, the effect of which will be to seriously interfere with trading and the business of building societies, and, to go a step further, with legitimate banking. Banks, as we know, have their branches throughout the land, and the excessive payments under the aggregation clause will mean increased rates of interest to be paid by the small traders of the community. I earnestly urge the Attorney-General to modify the effect of the clause, realizing, as he must, the serious injustice it is calculated to work. I specially emphasize this point of view, bearing in mind the remote possibility of a reduction of the penal rates.
– I am really charmed with the remarks of the honorable member for Kooyong, especially when he speaks of the desire of honorable members opposite to make this a just Bill. There seems,- for a moment, to be a misunderstanding. It must be recognised that, so far as this clause is concerned, and, indeed, so far as the whole Bill is concerned, we on this side and honorable members on the other side are fundamentally opposed. The Opposition may think it an act of justice to refrain from imposing a tax in any form. They have not proposed a land tax, and they have no intention of proposing one ; whereas we believe it just to impose a progressive land-values tax, with an exemption of £5,000 worth of unimproved value. We are prepared to accept amendments of a justifiable character; but the Opposition, in giving effect to their (principles, and what they term their sense of justice, are submitting amendments, every one of which is in the direction of curtailing taxation or preventing its imposition.
– The honorable member must not deal with the general question.
– The amendment actually before us will tend to prevent the operation of the tax in certain directions, and, to such an extent, that each individual owner will be entitled to an exemption of £5,006 in respect of every parcel of land that he owns.
– That is not so. There is nc- intention of amending the other part of the clause.
– I do not know what are the intentions of honorable members, but “ actions speak louder than words.”. lt is very easy for honorable members opposite to say that they believe in the principle of land taxation, and that they are not suggesting anything unfair; but the fact remains that they have been invariably mixed up with parties that have never submitted a land tax, and have no intention of submitting such a proposal.
– That is not the question before the Chair.
– What the intention of the Opposition is, I do not know ; but, as I understand the amendment, it will enable every land-owner to claim an exemption up to £5,000 in respect of the unimproved value of each separate parcel of land that he owns.
– That is not the intention.
– The honorable member, at all events, will find it difficult to remove that impression from my mind. The reduction of revenue that will result from the adoption of this amendment may, perhaps, be alarming from the point of view of the Government. My view is that we need revenue in this direction. I did not prominently submit to my electors the imposition of this tax to break up large estates. That is the little bogy that the Opposition have raised against us.
– It is the bogy that the Government party raised.
– Apparently, I am putting the whip on a sore spot. As to the breaking up of large estates by this system of aggregation, it is very largely a man of straw that the Opposition are putting up, and to which they are continually applying a match. It is the little bogy they are holding up to the public, saying, “ Please look, at this horrible thing.” They brand it as if it were from this side, whereas they have constructed it out of their own imagination. If, in its incidence, this tax had the effect of destroying some of the existing monopoly of agricultural land, will honorable members opposite dare to say that that would not be beneficial to the country ? Every honorable member admits that it would. Even the last honorable member to speak said that there might be some justification for breaking ‘ up large estates in agricultural areas. “ But,” said he, “ we come now to the question of the city sites.” He knows full well that, under the Constitution, we are debarred from differentiating between States and parts of a State. I do not think the honorable member will say that, under the Constitution, we can differentiate in our form of taxation between city and country properties.
– Yes, he will.
– If he will, he will add force to the argument which he and others have submitted. According to him, we should be justified in breaking up certain properties; so that if, in its incidence, this tax will have that effect, then, for all practical purposes, the Committee is unanimous in the belief that the result will be beneficial. Let me offer a mild . reply to the charge of passive resistance which has been hurled at us. Honorable members opposite have said that they have been met by a solid phalanx. It is no part of our duty to waste the time of the Committee, if the Bill is going in the direction which we desire. On Friday last, when I took exception to an amendment, there was a howl of opposition from the other side.
– The honorable member must not refer to a matter that has already been dealt with.
– I have no desire to go outside the Standing Orders; but honorable members of the Opposition have been permitted to make assertions.
– I cannot prevent honorable members making assertions ; but it is my duty to prevent honorable members from replying to them; otherwise, we should not make any progress. I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the amendment before the Chair.
– Very well, sir. There has been submitted an amendment which will considerably reduce the revenue from this tax, and will be distinctly unfair in its incidence. It will destroy the principle embodied in this Bill. Honorable members opposite, however, can make assertions of every description, and we are to be prevented from replying to them because, if we did, we should occupy a certain amount of time. Honorable members on this side of the Committee have refrained from speaking in order to save time, but in reality we have had little or no opportunity to speak, because from four to seven members of the Opposition invariably rise as soon as one of their number sits down. On Friday last, no fewer than eight of their party rose on one occasion, and in the circumstances we should be lacking in courtesy if we attempted in any way to check their flow of oratory.
– I had a chat with the honorable member for Fawkner as to the form which his amendment should take, and I should like to explain what will be accomplished by it. If it is accepted, the exemption of £5,000 will be deducted from’ the aggregate. If there were any doubt upon the point, I am sure the Opposition would have no objection to an amendment that would make it absolutely clear. I made a suggestion as to the form of the amendment, and to prevent the possibility of the exemption of £5,000 not being taken from the aggregate, I proposed that it should be made in sub-clause 1. I did not know at the time that the Attorney-General was dealing with an amendment in a later part of the clause. The honorable gentleman very properly withdrew his amendment, and we have gone back to the first part. I would remind honorable members opposite that it is not proposed to alter in this way paragraph a or paragraph b, so that the deduction of £5,000 will only be made from the total. I had proposed to move an amendment providing that in the case of an owner not being an absentee a deduction should be made from the taxable value of the area, or areas, as the case might be, of £5,000, such deduction to be made in the case of an owner of more than one holding from the values of such areas fro rata, so that the £5,000 should be apportioned amongst the lot. If a man had several holdings of the total unimproved value of £50,000, we should deduct £5,000 from the total, leaving £45,000 worth still subject to taxation. That is quite different from a proposal to allow an exemption of £5,000 in the case of each separate holding, so that if a man had twenty properties of the total unimproved value of £50,000 he would escape altogether. Under this amendment such a man would escape only to the extent of the £5,000 which is deducted from the aggregate unimproved value. This means almost the full benefit of the penny rate. I am sure that the Opposition would be prepared to guard against any leakage as regards the penny rate by providing that there should be a tax of id. in the £1 on every one. If the exemption of £5,000 were deducted from the aggregate there would still be £45,000 to be taxed in the case of a property of the unimproved value of £50,000, but it would be taxed at a lower rate to be determined by the extent of the subdivision. What objection could there be to that? The policy of subdivision would immediately be brought into force. If we do not agree to the amendment, we shall acknowledge that the principle of this Bill is not merely to bring about subdivisions, but to tax the aggregate of a man’s wealth. It will be a wealth subdivision tax, and that wealth subdivisional tax will not apply to any extent in the country, because it seldom happens that pastoral areas are divided into twenty or thirty allotments. One geo graphical expanse would be the average of almost 90 per cent, of the total areas held. There is no reason why we should tax wealth in that case. We desire to tax only for the purposes of subdivision, and we shall carry out that desire by this amendment. It may be said that in the case of city properties we ought to tax the aggregate of £50.000 worth of unimproved values, and we shall do so if we do not take the exemption of £5,000 from the value of each parcel. If honorable members opposite wish to go beyond that, I am sure the Committee will facilitate effect being given to the principle of subdivision, coupled with the fair tax of id. in the £1, if honorable members like, or a much lower exemption. Therefore I fail to see why the Government should object to this amendment either from the point of view of securing fair revenue or fair subdivision. Under its operation, honorable members will secure subdivision and taxation, but not taxation that is disproportionate to a man’s wealth. They will secure taxation which is exactly proportioned to it. If we allow a man to deduct from a property of the unimproved value of £50,000, held, perhaps, in ten areas of the value of £5,000 each-
– But suppose they are in different States?
– That does not matter. If there are ten areas of the value of £50,000 in the aggregate, those ten areas will be taxed on the lower scale, and the only departure from the principle of perfect equity will be that we shall allow an exemption of £5,000 from the aggregate. In this way, we shall practically secure the two great principles which the Government have in view. We shall secure the principle of subdivision, and we shall almost secure equity by adopting the principle df taking only £5,000 from the aggregate.
.- It is pleasing to hear of the degree of unanimity at which we are arriving. We are told that both sides now desire land taxation, and that the only question at stake relates to the amount of taxation to be levied. The statement made by the honorable member for Angas as to the .operation of the amendment seems to me to be very different from that which the mover of it indicated. The trouble appears to be contained wholly in the question as to the amount of taxation. If we adopt the amendment, there will be nothing to check the breeding of millionaires, to which I think no one is favorable. The only consideration worth mentioning is whether a discrimination should be made between city and country properties. Some of the companies referred to hold large country estates in addition to city properties. Banking institutions should confine their operations to banking, but often control other businesses.
– Because they cannot help doing so.
– I know that they often acquire properties under foreclosures ; but we should discourage the continuous holding by them of agricultural land, so that they may confine themselves more to their own proper business. In the case of a good many station properties, the control of a bank has meant failure. I do not desire to burst up big city firms ; but they should bear their share of taxation, and the sums which have been mentioned may not be unreasonable in some cases. The reasonableness of the tax in any particular instance cannot be determined without a full knowledge of all the circumstances. Before the Labour party got into power, it obtained valuations of a number of large city properties in the various capitals, in order to see how the proposed tax would operate, and it was discovered that it would not impose too heavy a burden.
– Why is it desired to tax city properties?
– For revenue purposes. The owners of such properties should bear their share of taxation.
– They are taxed heavily now.
– They get off very lightly. We should not encourage the creation of big business monopolies; the tax will be somewhat of a check on the growth of such monopolies. It is well known that some of our country towns are owned by two or three persons, a very undesirable state of things, and a distinct drawback to settlement. If an exemption were allowed in respect of every parcel of land, these persons would escape taxation.
– How many are there ?
– A good many in Australia. I know of one town almost the whole area of which is owned by two men. But, while I wish to strike a blow at the big monopolists, I do not desire that the tax shall press too heavily on companies or individuals. It has been stated that the banking companies of Australia own £5,000,000 worth of landed property; and it would be a good thing if our tax encouraged them to get rid of some of it.
– The banking companies have business premises all over the Commonwealth. .
– Only a few of them have branches in every State. When figures are given as to the amount of tax which any particular company will have to pay on the area of land which it holds, I should like to be told where its interests lie, and what they are. Some of the banks hold property which they should not be allowed to hold ; and, unless further evidence of injustice is given, 1 shall support the Bill as it stands. I do not wish to make the tax too heavy ; but it should be felt sufficiently to compel banking and finance companies to get rid of their country properties, and to confine their attention to the business which they are chartered to carry on.
.- The remarks of the honorable member for Darling seem to show that he still believes, as his party professed to believe before the elections, that the tax should be applied only to country properties, and, that being so, he should accept the amendment, or some similar amendment, which, while relieving companies doing business in the cities, will not appreciably affect the taxation on rural properties.
I contend that the proposal is a just one, despite the remarks of the honorable member for Adelaide that honorable members opposite do not agree with us as to what constitutes justice. The hangman always regards a reprieve as an injustice, but since it is backed by those who pay him, it has to be respected. The people of Australia do not wish us to tax city property in the manner proposed, because they see that to do so would affect them. A tax on the land on which the buildings of insurance companies stand would mean that the public would have to pay more for effecting insurances on its property. It was a principle of the Tariff that tools of trade should not be taxed, and city business premises may be regarded as tools of trade.
– The machinery used by farmers might also be regarded in that way.
– Yes, and I have always advocated that it should be admitted duty free. The farmers, as a class, are the only tradesmen whose tools of trade are taxed.
– The honorable member is not in order.
– We were told a short time, ago that no suggestion should be accepted from this side because members of the Opposition are fundamentally opposed to the Ministerialists. I know, from a careful survey of my honorable friends, that some of them are fundamentally opposed to the rest of the party in connexion with this matter, though, no doubt, the party will vote solidly when the time comes. .
The Attorney-General, having directed his microscope to the measure, has discovered that it contains a principle.
– The honorable member is not in order in talking about the principle of the measure now.
– I submit that I shall be in order in showing that the principle of the measure will not be invaded by the acceptance of the amendment, especially as you, sir, allowed the Attorney-General to speak for some time about nothing else. The only reason he gave for opposing the amendment was that it would violate the principle of the measure, which, as he laid’ it down, was the prevention of the aggregation of property in the hands of any individual or company. If the principle of the Bill is as now laid down by the Attorney-General, its object has been very successfully hidden. If that principle, which the Attorney-General has discovered somewhere, really applies, then the Bil! ought to declare that the holding of property in large amounts by any one individual is immoral, and against the public interest. But the Bill does nothing of the kind. For instance, a man may be bound under a legal settlement to continue to hold a large extent of property, and not subdivide, sell, or otherwise get rid of it, an yet, under this Bill, be compelled to pay the tax on it. Why not declare such settlements void?
– I submit that this is clearly out of order.
– It is pertinent, and, consequently, it may be out of order. But I appeal to the Attorney-General, if the principle which he has discovered is really the principle of the Bill, to put it in the Bill, and let the public of Australia know exactly how far they are to be indebted to him.
– Let us see it honestly stated.
– We cannot see it at present, because the Bill is like a Chinese puzzle. Some such amendment as that now moved might be accepted by the Government. Unless they do this, they are taxing the tools of trade of great industrial organizations, that will pass the tax on to the persons who will have to use their agencies, and those persons, when paying it, will not be pleased that the hangman has done what he conceives to be his duty. A number of honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for East Sydney, declared to their constituencies that the tax was only to be applied to the bursting up of country property. Let them show by voting for this amendment, which will free the town agencies from this penal taxation, that they had not their tongues in their cheeks when they spoke to their constituents, or that they have not since been forced to vote for something in which they do not believe.
.- The Committee is making progress with the Bill at a positively alarming rate. We are now tour lines further back than we were when we adjourned for dinner, and are listening to a number of admirable dissertations, not on the principles of the Bill, which are the principles held by the whole of the Government supporters, but on that variegated collection of substitutes for principles which the gentlemen on the other side will persist in putting forward. According to the honorable member for Fawkner, there is at the bottom of this measure an attempt to place on the shoulders of a comparative handful of this community a burden intolerable and not to be borne, viewed from the stand-point of either justice or equity. We have listened to the honorable member for Kooyong and the honorable member for Wentworth giving a dissertation of an entirely different kind, and arguing, not that the few were going to bear the tax, but that it will descend with crushing force upon the many. One honorable member delivered himself of an oration about building societies, the virtues of the thrifty, and the terrific impost that would fall upon them under this clause. We learn now that it is not the wealthy that are to pay this tax, but the unfortunate man down at the bottom who has been paying it from the beginning. If that is so, what is all the trouble about? The trouble so evidently is that it is not the man down below who is going to pay, that it is scarcely necessary to reply to the statement at all. These pathetic references to the members of building societies are beside the mark. The honorable member for Wentworth, in his. anxiety to discover a point on which he could hang his remarks, endeavoured to persuade the Committee that the acceptance of the amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner would assist the purposes that the Government have in view. The simplicity which he apparently predicates in respect to our character does not conform to our reputation as men who have had long dealings with the honorable gentleman. It is obvious that the intention of the honorable member for Fawkner is to defeat the purposes of die Bill in any way he can. He suggests that we should accept an amendment which would have the effect, as he admits, of reducing the revenue from one property from £ 1,166 to £316, and which would also have the effect of impairing the other purpose for which the Bill is introduced, namely, the bursting up of big estates. The honorable member’s amendment is not even effective for the purpose for which he ostensibly introduces it, because if you had an estate in which one man owned contiguous blocks, that man would not be entitled to the same exemption as a man who had alternate blocks all down the street. So that, if one man should own every alternate block all down the street, he would be entitled to a separate assessment for each block, whereas a man who owned twenty blocks together would have all his holdings treated as one, although the effect upon the community would be precisely the same in each case. The proposal is not even logical, from the stand-point from which the honorable member introduced it. I ask the Committee to come to some decision on the matter. It has been exhaustively argued, and, apparently, there is an irreconcilable difference between us. Let us, therefore, take a division, and determine the matter. A number of amendments of a very substantial kind have already been made, but I notice that they arc referred to and treated « mere matters of no concern j whereas, as a fact, they go to the very root of every concrete case that has been cited to-night. For instance, I would point out to the honorable member for Kooyong that there is not a building society which, as a building society, can possibly be taxed under this measure as proposed to be amended by the Government.
– After three years, yes - when they come into possession as mortgagees.
– The honorable member has not read the amendment. There have also been amendments prepared dealing with the aggregation of lands held by other institutions; banks, and so on, which place them in an infinitely better position than they were in before.. I submit that they are treated fairly. What we are asking for has been embodied in every other Bill, and we must ask the Committee to accept it as it stands.
.- I observe with some surprise that the AttorneyGeneral opposes the amendment on the ground that it is inconsistent with the principle of the Bill. The principle of the Bill, as expounded to the electors, was to burst up large landed properties.
– They have dropped that long ago.
– They have not dropped it. That was the position taken up in the country, and I challenge the AttorneyGeneral to show anything put before the electors which justifies the aggregation of all sorts of property all over this continent as one property to be burst up. He knows perfectly well that he and his party never contemplated such a thing, and never put it before the country. When he says that the amendment is opposed to the principle of the Bill, he is asking us to assent to a principle that has never been assented to by the people of the country. When they ask this Parliament to do what was never put before the country, and never even contemplated by the party who are now proposing it, honorable members opposite should be invited to look at the thing, not on the grounds of expediency or taxation,- but of justice. Is this a just proposition? The proposal, as the honorable member for Flinders points out, is one to deal with taxation. If it were only taxation, it would be a simple matter, but the major consideration is not taxation. It is to do what very many people in this country consider to be a desirable thing - to break up properties in the country districts suitable for settlement, and held in large aggregations. The two things are inconsistent to a considerable extent. I will give two cases. There is a corner block, less than one-eighth of an acre in extent, at the corner of Bourke-street, that was sold the other day for something like £50,000. Will the Attorney-General say, following the principle of bursting up properties, that if a man has 50,000 sovereigns, which he has probably earned in some business or taken out of the bowels of the earth, as the former owner, Mr. J.
– The miners earned it for him.
– He had the money, at any rate, and invested it. I do not think the honorable member is entitled to make that remark. I suppose the miners were paid, and paid well. At any rate, I know nothing about that.
– I do not think the honorable member does, or he would not say they were paid well.
– I always understood that one of Mr. Watson’s strong points was that he paid his men well, and got good results in consequence. At any rate, that money is invested in that corner block, less than one-eighth of an acre in extent, and worth £50,000. Another property of 25,000 acres, at £2 an acre, which it may be desirable to break up, is worth the same amount of money. Under the principle, socalled, of the Bill, we are entitled to treat both these properties in the same way. One property cannot be burst up, and is being utilized to the utmost of its capacity. Such a result is unjust, and, therefore, ought to form no part of the measure, especially as any idea of the kind was not placed before the country. The honorable member for Darling referred to properties held by banks; but I say that no properly conducted bank would hold a property one hour longer than it can help. No prudent banker would make any advance on a property if he had the slightest expectation that it would ever come into his hands : and if a property should come into his hands, his business is at once to turn it into money, and so have the advance repaid. The difficulty about the Bill is that it condemns the just in order to catch a few unjust persons ; and that is not wise. Apart altogether from properties which may fall into the hands of banks in the way suggested, many properties are otherwise held in the centres of population ; and I believe the honorable member for Darling is right when he places the values of such properties throughout Australia at £5,000,000. Is it not a necessity and a convenience to the public that the banks should possess these properties ? They generally take the form of handsome buildings. In my opinion, it .is not fair to tax banks in the way proposed, merely because there may be in the Riverina holdings of 50,000 acres which ought to be subdivided.
– It is purely a question of how much is the tax.
– I do not go as far as the honorable member for Angas ; but it is questionable whether such properties should be taxed as much as those which can be burst up. However, that is a question of general taxation. The honorable member for Darling, said something about monopolies, but banking is not a monopoly.
– I must ask the honorable member to confine himself to the question.
– The honorable member for Darling pointed, out that it is desirable to curb monopolies; but whether that be so or not, to deal with them is quite apart from the principle of this Bill or this clause. There are businesses which “are large because the continent is large. There are warehousemen who have branches in five States, and they must have premises and employ an enormous number of people in each. There are other industrial concerns which cannot be carried on from one centre, but surely these cannot be described as monopolies, or as estates which ought to bc burst up.
– It is not easy to draw the line.
– But this .Committee ought to try to do what is just. It may be that we cannot meet every case, but we ought to lay down some broad principle that is defensible on the grounds of justic and fair play. The clause, in my opinion, is distinctly an infraction of the principle of fair play. The Attorney-General said that the amendment of the honorable member’ for Fawkner would affect the revenue ; but I showed, in my second- reading speech, that the tax will probably bring in three times as much as the Government expect, or profess to expect ; so that there is ample margin to do everything that is reasonable and proper. I do not hesitate to say that this taxation, if carried out on the principles laid clown in the Bill, will result in a revenue of close on £3,000,000. I submit that this clause ought to be amended in the direction proposed. I have heard honorable members suggest that we on this side are really opposed to the Bill, and we accept that position - or at least I do. The Government are quite entitled to introduce a measure for bursting up large estates, and we may not see eye to eye with them on the question, but when they say that we are opposing the measure simply because we are trying to amend it, and to bring it into accordance with ‘the Government’s own; policy, they are not treating us justly. We are only endeavouring to do our duty ; and if we are not listened to, the responsibility must rest with the Government and their supporters.
.- The honorable member for Darling said I had submitted a number of cases which had not been authenticated, or words to that effect.
– I desired to know how much of the property was in country districts.
– All the cases I brought forward were town cases, because I looked on this particular proposal as not so much affecting country properties, although it will touch them. The cases I mentioned have been laid before the Prime Minister, who has the fullest particulars. I should like to say that if a company or an individual owned three properties worth £10,000, £20,000, £30,000, or £60,000 in all, and the owner was taxed separately for each, he would pay £559 os. 6d. as an absentee, whereas, under the aggregation clauses, the taxation would come to £899 fis. id. Honorable members will see that under my suggestion a very substantial tax is left. The Attorney-General referred to the enormous difference in the case of one property I mentioned, namely, the difference between £316 and £1,166; but £316 is surely a very large tax on a building which die company has to use for its own business. If the company has to pay £1.166 it will mean absolute ruin. Is that justice? The building cannot be cut up, and it is used in the conduct of a business which is valuable to the community.
– What is it worth?
– Speaking from memory, I should say about £50,000.
– Cannot the owners afford to pay something?
– Does the honorable member not think that in addition to rates and taxes £316 a year is something?
– I should think they are getting off very lightly indeed.
– Dees the honorable member know that this will mean the whole revenue of the company ? It is simply confiscation.
– Will the honorable member state what company it is?
– I do not care to mention names here, but the Prime Minister has all particulars. In my opinion, the taxation under the aggregation clauses will, in this case, mean simple robbery.
.- I am very grateful to the honorable member for Angas for his further explanation of the amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner; and I frankly admit that I do not think it will have the effect of permitting separate exemptions from taxation. But it will have two other very serious effects ; first, it will permit the holding of vast values by any one owner, who will thus be able to escape the progressive principle of the tax ; and, secondly, it will mean that the progressive principle will be entirely eliminated. An individual owning land will be able to nominally split it up, so that, this principle will not affect him in any way. There is the third point that the amendment will reduce the anticipated revenue to such an extent as to make the Bill, from this point of view, a mere farce. In my opinion, the revenue, if the amendment be accepted, will be reduced by more than one-half. A man who owns property of the unimproved value of £50,000, will have an exemption of £5,000. There will thus be £45,000 of taxable value, cn which, under the Bill at present, he will pay £375 a year; but if the amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner is passed, the owner will be able to nominally split his estate up into three blocks, and, while still working it and receiving -the profits, be called upon to pay only £187 ros., or just one-half. As the values get higher the reduction in the revenue progresses in proportion.
– He may practically escape taxation altogether.
– I do not know that he could escape altogether; but tlie progressive principle might be so whittled away that there would not be £1 worth of value in Australia taxed at a higher rate than id., although an owner might hold £250,000 worth. All such an owner would have to do would be to get a separate title for each £15,000 worth; and that would, be a small matter for some men. Under the circumstances, the Government would be unwise to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner, seeing that it would be destructive of one of the leading principles of the Bill.
– What leading principle ?
– The progressive principle of taxation. The amendment permits of its being destroyed in toto. It approves, in addition, of the holding of areas of vast value, and does not necessitate any subdivision, if subdivision is being sought by honorable members opposite. Judging from their arguments, they have now thrown their country friends to the dogs, and see no objection to the breaking up of large areas, so long as we do not touch the valuable city blocks. The amendment would not have the effect of breaking up any estate, and, in addition, would lead to a reduction in the anticipated revenue too serious to be contemplated.
– In his concluding remarks, the honorable member foi Adelaide has shown the dual character of this Bill. He has demonstrated, in the most conclusive way, that it is not a tax on land alone, but a tax on the owner of land as well. His complaint is that blocks may be so subdivided as to escape the tax. In speaking to the motion for the second reading of the Bill, I showed that, in Tasmania, a man would be taxed twice over - £600, under the Tasmanian Act, on a property of the value of £100,000, and £1,500 under the Commonwealth Act. An honorable member - I believe it was the honorable member for Adelaide - then interjected that the owner could avoid all that taxation by subdividing his estate.
– I did not make that interjection.
– Then, someone on the Government side of the House did. Now, when it is urged that land which is held in small parcels and cannot be burst up to a greater extent - land which is being put to its best possible use - ought to have some remission of taxation, the honorable member says “ the revenue would be lost if we did that.” The purpose of this taxation is, I take it, to obliterate revenue from land once it has accomplished its object of bursting up large estates. I always understood that the main object of land taxation was not to tax the mere holding of land, but to tax land into its most profitable use, and derive a little of the value for the Government of the State. Will the honorable member say that properties in large cities could be put to any better use? Two arguments are used by the AttorneyGeneral in support of this taxation. When we are dealing with the position of large country estates, we are told that they ought to be burst up, in order to escape taxation ; but, in this clause, the honorable member completely subverts that proposition by the process of aggregation. He declares that a man may split up his land into 1,000 blocks ; but, if it aggregates a large taxable value, taxation shall be paid on the small areas, just as it would be if they comprised one large holding. We have, in this Bill, two contradictory principles which cannot be reconciled.
– They are reconciled.
– That is attempted ; but the Bill itself becomes a contradiction. Either this is a proposition to tax land into profitable use and occupation, or it is not. We have in our cities land which could not be put to a more profitable use; yet,, under this Bill, it will be taxed as if it were held out of use. The two points are not reconcilable. Either the Government depart from the principle of putting taxation on the land, or they do not.
– If one man held all Australia, he would rule the destinies of Australia ; and it 1,000 men held the whole of Australia, they would rule its destinies. We do not believe in that.
– Nor do I. But it matters little whether a man holds land in somewhat large or small areas, provided that he has put it to its best use. What difference does it make to the State if one man has put to its utmost use an area of 1,000 acres or ten men own 100 acres each? The man who owns the area of 1,000 acres may be doing more for the country by working it as a consolidated block than the other ten are in working it in isolated parts.
– If a man holds 1,000,000 acres, and 1,000 men hold 1,000 acres each
-I am not talking of abnormally large areas. Is the object of this Bill to multiply the ownership of land?
– Its object is to enable people to settle on the land and to obtain revenue for the purpose of defraying the cost, amongst other things, of defence.
– Will the honorable gentleman say how this tax as it affects city blocks will help more people to get on the land? How will he split up a corner block on which there is a huge building? The Government propose to tax owners of such blocks without giving them the option to escape any portion of the tax.
– They have no right to complain.
– If the main purpose of the Bill were the taxation of the people for the services of the government of the country, they would not, but the Government are not essaying to do that. They propose an exemption which applies to the unimproved value of large areas, but they evade that principle by adopting the system of aggregation, and taxing not only large areas, but, in addition, a number of small areas. In this way the Government, in some instances, are taking the tax off the land and putting it on “to the owner; by taxing city properties they are taxing the use and not the ownership of land. Either the Government ought so to arrange their tax as to cause it to rest on some sound principle of taxation, or they should say in effect that they are imposing a penal tax on the large land- holders of Australia. They are departing from every principle of land taxation advocated by any economist of whom I know. By this Bill they are going to do the double trick ; they are going to tax land that is held in large areas, and land that is in small areas, irrespective of the use to which they are put. That is _ a wrong principle, and will do an injustice to a great body of deserving people who are at present putting their land to its best use. The Government are going to encourage the holding of land in idleness, instead of putting it to its best use. Many a man owns city properties exceeding the unimproved value of £5,000, but they are in half-a-dozen different localities. Such a man, under the clause as it stands, will be taxed far more than a man who is holding a smaller taxable block in a city. Why should a small man who owns only £2,000 or £3,000 worth of land, as represented by shares in a company or bank, be taxed ?
– We are not dealing with companies. Notice has been given of an amendment relating to them.
– But not to the aggregation of land. The point we are discussing is that if a man has a number of blocks in the city he has to pay the tax on the whole. When we ask for relief for the owners of small blocks of land in different parts of the city, we are met with the statement that we shall get no revenue if we make such an exemption, while on the other hand, if we argue that a man is being unduly taxed on a large aggregation of land, we are told that he can avoid the tax by subdividing his property. And so the contradiction goes on. It is time that we laid down the principle that the tax shall rest either on the land or the owner. If it is to be on the man and not on the land then an income tax would be preferable. Under the clause as it stands it is proposed to tax both the land and the owner, so that we have two contradictory principles involved.
.- I hope that the Government will not accept the amendment. I challenge any one to say that the clause if amended as proposed would have its equal in any Land Tax Act save that in operation in Victoria, and which is recognised as the vilest example of land taxation in the world. The amendment would extend the system in force in Victoria, where a man may own twenty properties of the value of under £2,500 each, and, if they are more than 5 miles apart, is not called upon to pay a penny in the shape of land taxation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition would not advocate such a land tax.
– Certainly not. In that case we have a sound principle wrongly applied.
– The principle is rotten.
– Cook. - Not the principle but the application of it.
– Both the principle and the application of it are wrong.
– The honorable member must not discuss the Victorian land tax. That is not the question before the Chair.
– Under the amendment, if a man or a company owned ten properties in Collins-street, they would be taxed, not on their aggregate value, but separately, and an exemption allowed in respect to each. Such a proposal could come only from a Victorian imbued with the Conservative ideas of those who passed the infamous tax to which I have referred. We hear honorable members opposite pleading for those who own properties ‘ worth £5,000,£10,000, and even£100,000; why do they not plead for the men who have wives and families to keep on £2 a week ? Would any one of them dare to advocate before a public meeting that men possessing properties worth £100,000 should not pay a few pounds of taxation? The people who created this Parliament expect us to pass a land tax worthy of the name. The proposed tax will not be nearly as heavy as the English tax, but I hope that the Government will see that it is carried into effect.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause (Mr. Fairbairn’s amendment)- put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That the word “all,” line 8, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ each parcel of.”
Amendment (by Mr. Hedges) proposed -
That after the word “ land,” line9, the following words be inserted - “ in excess of the amount (actual or estimated) originally paid to the Crown, on grant in fee simple of the land.”
Motion (by Mr. Fisher) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Some time ago I drew attention to the late hours which the officers of the House and of Hansard were required to work. I understand that some relaxation has been made in regard to this portion of the staff, but that, in the case of the Library attendants, nothing has been done. I believe that the latter have to attend for the same number of hours, and to remain all night if either House continues to sit. I should imagine that they are entitled to as much consideration as are the members of the clerical and reporting staffs, whose claims have received the attention of the Speaker and the President.
– I shall inquire into the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.23 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 September 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1910/19100927_reps_4_57/>.