7th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Does the Government propose to sell by public auction, or by secret sale, the thousands of shares in Australian companies heldby Germans, including the 15,000 shares in the Broken Hill Company, held . by the Deutsche Bank?
– By auction, I assume.
– Has the right honorable gentleman instructed the Public Trustee to sell these shares by auction ?
– I gave instructions months ago that the shares were to be sold, and I am a little astonished that they have not been sold. But the Public Trustee is an officer appointed under an Act of this Parliament, possessing wide statutory powers, and, for anything I know to the contrary, the sale of these shares may be at his discretion. Honororable members who have held office may, be able to find, if not an excuse for, an explanation of, the delay.
– Will the right honorable gentleman be good enough to lay on the table a copy of the instructions which he gave to the Public. Trustee in regard to the selling of these shares?
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the statement which he made last night that Ger man-held shares were to be sold in a day or two is correct? If so, what notice will be given to the public that the shares are to be sold by auction?
– The ComptrollerGeneral of Customs has informed me that he is going to dispose of these shares at the earliest possible date.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the predominant influence in the Zinc Producers Association is exercised by Broken Hill proprietors and persons interested in Broken Hill shares?
– I believe so. I propose to lay on the table the papers relating to the matter.
– Following on the question asked yesterday by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs if, when the question is being considered by the Government, he will direct attention to the desirability of offering a bounty for the production of tin plates?
– I. shall be pleased to put the question before Cabinet.
– As the price of money is a very important factor in the cost of living, will the Prime Minister add to the list of subjects to be investigated by the Inter-State Commission the rate of interest?
– What qualifications have the Inter-State Commissioners for inquiring into that question ? They might as well be asked to determine the properties of oxygen or the duration of human life.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the widely-circulated statement that the Commonwealth Arbitration Act is ineffectual for the purpose of dealing with the present grave industrial trouble? Is he not also aware that the only reason for which the Commonwealth Arbitration Act is ineffectual for that purpose is the refusal of the party which has the support of the right honorable gentleman to invoke its aid?
– I must disallow the question. I followed the honorable member closely. Instead of asking a question, he was giving, not seeking, information.
– Will the Prime Minister ask the Bureau of Science and Industry, which is inquiring into the tick pest and the cause of nodules in beef, to investigate the causes of tuberculosis in cattle?
– Has the instruction been issued by the Shipping Department that all freight which can be obtained by bringing vessels to Australia must be put through the Government agents, or may a private citizen, who is able to command freight to bring vessels here and get cargoes taken away by them, do so without putting the vessels through Messrs. Elder, Smith and Co. or Messrs. Gibbs, Bright and Co.?
– The whole of the oversea freight arrangements pass through the Government Shipping Board. No freights can be arranged for otherwise.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Bourke asked the reason for the cancellation of a prohibition against trading with certain firms in Japan and in the United States of America. In addition to what I said then about the cancellation of the prohibition affecting certain firms doing business in Japan, I wish to add that the Imperial Government, being notified of the fact that Japan had legislated in regard to the matter, requested us to act as we have done. The removal of the names of American firms from the prohibited list was also undertaken at the instance of the Imperial Government, in consequence of the Government of the United States having adopted satisfactory measures to prevent trading with or for the benefit of the enemy.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it the intention of the Government to discontinue the press cable subsidy; and, if so, why? .
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Defence Department has supplied the following information : -
asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice - 1.Whether he will supply details of the proposed expenditure of £334,500 on Naval Bases, works, and establishments, showing the proposed nature of the works, locations, &c. ?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the total estimated cost of the work of remodelling the Adelaide Post Office, for which an amount of £2,500 towards the cost is provided on this year’s Estimates?
– According to latest advices, the total estimated cost is about £79,000. This information was inadvertently omitted from the- Estimates.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The following information has been supplied by the Navy Department: - 1.(a) £71,254; (b) and (c) £247,877. Total £319,131, wholly expended from revenue.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he lay on the library table the papers relating to the formation of the Zinc Producers Association and the Government’s connexion therewith ?
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice-
– The Advisory Council has, I understand, been making some investigations into the matter. ‘ No official recommendation has been made by them, but, if such recommendation is made, I shall consider it in the light of the honorable member’s statements.
Debate resumed from 15th August (vide page 1105)”, on motion by Sir John Forrest -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Tudor had moved -
That after the word “ That,’”’ the following words be inserted : “ in the opinion of this House the Bill is utterly inadequate, and signally fails ‘to place upon wealth its due share of the expenses of the. war’”
.- It is hard to imagine, in view of what we hear in the course of this discussion that there is really an amendment before the House.; indeed, I do not think that any amendment could have carried so little weight. The war ought to be prosecuted with as small a load of taxation as it is possible to place upon the taxpayer. According to the Treasurer, in his Budget statement, he has a reserve of something like £17,000,000 in hand for the purpose of meeting the expenses of the war; but the honorable members opposite are always urging the Government to extract the utmost farthing from the pockets of the taxpayers, although this must mean the disorganization of trade and business generally. Only last week I was speaking to an ex-member for Illawarra, who expressed the opinion that the Commonwealth Government ought ito accumulate something like £20,000,000 for this purpose. I think the Treasurer is showing his wisdom in raising the money as it is required, and not endeavouring to accumulate it to the disturbance of trade.
The other day the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) contended that the Treasurer ought to adopt the Act passed by the British Parliament, which placed the standard rate of interest at G per cent, on private individuals, and 7 per cent, in the case of companies. It has to be pointed out, however, that in the Old Country the rate of interest is very much lower than it is here. In Australia, if we. require to borrow money for the purposes of our businesses, we have to pay a much higher rate for the accommodation. Apart from that. I find that, only last June, at the instance of Mr.- Bonar Law, an amendment was made in the British Act, which raised ithe standard rate of interest from 6 per cent, to 9 per cent, for individuals, and 10 per cent, for companies, and this I regard as a very high compliment to our own Treasurer.
I agree to a certain extent with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) in his contention that taxation on profits made owing to the war can be passed on to the consumer. There is no doubt that if a business man has to pay 50 per cent.’ in the way of extra taxation, it is a very easy matter to himto add a small and almost imperceptible amount to his prices, so that, in the case of a big turnover, the purchaser may be made to pay the imposition. But the honorable member has shown us no remedy for this state of things, which he knows has prevailed from the time of Adam. He condemns the present Government, but ignores the fact that the previous Government, of which he was a supporter, did not deal with this octopus. Then, again, the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) has had a lot to say on the subject of Broken Hill : but, he, too, has failed to support his charges against the Government by any proposals for a remedy.
– What do you suggest ?
– I make no suggestion at all.
– Of course you do not !
– The only persons who caunot pass on the tax are those I principally represent, namely, farmers and graziers.
– I think I mentioned that.
– If so, I am very glad to hear it; but I suggest that those who criticise the Government ought to be able to present some concrete scheme to prevent the passing on of taxation.
– You have been told that the Government could not do better than adopt the Labour party’s Bill.
– The honorable member last night told us how certain bullocks had been sold at £65 at Broken Hill, and the Leader of the Opposition, speaking of the high cost of ‘living, mentioned lambs that had been sold . at 37s. 6d. I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition has any pet lamb running about his garden, but it would appear as though some had been sent to him.
– I gave the average, price for the whole of Australia, as supplied by Mr. Knibbs.
– You took the top price.
– No; I took the average price, as sent to me.
– If in a saleyard six lambs are sold at 37s. 6d., and 2,000 are sold at 28s., the former figure does not represent the average price. I am in the pastoral business, and last year, at Homebush, I received 30s. 6d. for thirty lambs, and for the balance not more than 26s. ; and in this I was lucky. I can assure honorable members that I can obtain a better price for my store sheep at the present time than I could if I sent them down as fats. Taking the statement of the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) as correct’, I should be very pleased to send a consignment of bullocks to Broken Hill, where, according to him, they would return £65.
– I gave fhe average price at £25, and said that a bullock had . realized . £65.
– The Leader of the Opposition quoted some figures prepared for Sir Alexander Peacock, showing thepro- fits for the war ‘years, earned in. some 112 cases. In one case no profits were shown for the first year, £700 for the second year, and £7,000 for the third year; but there is really nothing in these figures, because we are not told the nature of the businesses carried on. I could tell the honorable member of a station in Queensland - Avondale - which has been occupied for the last thirty years, and which for the first twenty-seven years,- showed no profits. This was because the owners were debarred from moving their stock, owing to drought and other difficulties. Only three years ago did this station start to show profits; and this fact was due to the good seasons, and to it being possible to move the stock to the nearest market.
– Did that station suffer from drought for twenty-seven years?
– At any rate, according to the books, there were no profits for that time.
– That is different - “ according to the books “ ! ‘
– The Taxation Commissioner, under the Act which the honorable member helped to pass, has a right to inspect all books.
– The Leader pf the Opposition suggests that every primary producer “ fakes “ his books.
– No, I do not; but I do’ know that some importers have done so. I had the pleasure of gaoling one importer, and I am sorry I could not gaol others.
– The Leader of the Opposition is interested in ‘an importing business.
– That is a deliberate lie!
– I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw that statement.
– When a man says that I am connected with an importing business, he is saying something which is absolutely untrue.
– The honorable member must not qualify the withdrawal.
– I withdraw the statement, but I say that the honorable member’s statement has absolutely no foundation in fact. It was a miserable, low-down way of saying a thing.
– Order! I am sorry to have to intervene again, but I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that statement also.
– I withdraw it. Last week I asked to be allowed to make the full facts of the case known.
-Order! I ask the honorable member simply to withdraw his statement, and not qualify the withdrawal.
– I withdraw it.
Several honorable members interjecting
-Order ! The honorable member for Maribyrnong’ is out of order.
– I generally am, it seems.
-Order! I propose to name the next honorable member who, in defiance of the Chair’s call to order, interjects.
– During the twentyseven years prior to the war a sum of £80,000 was invested in the Avondale Station, but it showed no profits, which fact can be Tevealed by an examination of the ‘station books. Since the outbreak of the war, however, £60,000 has been earned. If pastoralists are brought within the provisions of the War Time Profits Bill the pre-war standard in. the case of this property will be fixed at £8,000, and anything exceeding that £8,000 will be taxed. This struggling concern, which has been carrying on operations in the back blocks, in a drought-stricken area, and in a part of Australia that we are anxious to populate, will be victimized by the tax. I was pleased to hear the remarks of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Manifold) upon the question of cattle. As the result of a drought, the whole of the stock on a station may be completely wiped out. In any case, half the stock will be lost. Let us take the ease of a station in Central Queensland. If they commenced with 4,000. cows, they would probably have 3,000 calves in 1915. As soon as these calves were branded they had to be set down as valued at £6 per head under the Commonwealth income tax provisions, and at SA per head under the Queensland income tax provisions. For the purpose’ of our calculations, let us take the value at the Queensland rate. This would give the property an income of £12,000 in 1915, the first year covered by the provisions of the Bill now before us. In the following year there would be another 3,000 calves at £4 per head, equalling £12,000. In 1917 there would be a similar increase. In three years the station would have a total increase of 9,000 calves, heifers, or young bullocks, of a total value of £36,000. Should an “ old-man “ drought come along, half these cattle would probably die, and the result would be that the station-owner would have no more than £18,000 worth of cattle, although he had paid 50 per cent, and 75 per cent, taxation upon £36,000 worth of cattle, less 10 per cent, on the pre-war standard. Such a position would be manifestly absurd, and I am sure the Treasurer will be sympathetic in his attitude towards the pastoralists.
In regard to the losses sustained by pastoralists, I recollect the case of one station property in the Calare district, where there were valuable flocks of sheep. They managed to save 60,000 ewes during the 1902 drought, but it cost them about £1S0,000 to do it. Thus the ewes cost the owners £3 per head. The price of hay and fodder is generally very high during times of drought, and it frequently costs pastoralists from ’20s. to 25s. a head to keep their stock alive. Our opponents are always twitting pastoralists with having made big profits, but I venture to say that with all the profits they have made they have not yet got their own back. Many pastoralists are still heavily involved with the banks, and I hope that a succession of good seasons will put them in a flourishing condition. At any rate, I hope that. the Treasurer will consider their position from the point of view that I have put forward.
Every honorable member prefers a war profits tax to a war-time profits tax. We cannot have a real war-time profits tax with exemptions. On the other hand, a war profits tax should have many exemptions. Any person who is not making a profit as the result of the war should be exempted, and the tax should be so arranged that it will hit hard any man who is exploiting the public and taking advantage of the war for his own ends. In my opinion, the Bill before us exempts some people who should ‘not be exempted and taxes others who should not be taxed. It is full of sins of commission and sins of omission. Gold mines are exempted because gold has a standard value. There may be something in that argument. I have gone very carefully through Knibbs, and I find that the Australian flocks of sheep and herds of cattle are 25 per cent, less than they were during the pre-war years. The decrease is due to the drought of a few years ago. I agree that pastoralists should he called upon to pay on any profits made as the result of the war. As a matter of fact, an effort should be made to see that- every business, whether it is that of a pastoralist or that of a merchant, should pay taxation on the proportion of profit that has been made as the result of the war; but I suggest that pastoralists should have the opportunity of bringing their position before the Inter-State Commission. If that Commission as the result of an inquiry should say that a pastoralist has derived so much profit because of the war, the pastoralist should pay accordingly. If the Commission should say that the profit has been 25 per cent., the tax should be imposed on 25 per cent. If the Commission should say that the profit has been no more than 10 per cent, let that be the percentage taxed.
There are in operation four methods of taxing profits, the British, the French, the Canadian, and the New Zealand, though I understand that the New Zealand Act has been repealed. I prefer the Canadian system. It would be better for the Treasurer to remove all exemptions, fix a pre-war standard of 10 per cent., and take 25 per cent, or 30 per cent, on everything above that. He would get a bigger revenue, instead of the £950,000 that he estimates to receive as the taxation on two years’ profits. Such a method would not press heavily on any one individual. All taxation should be borne equally by those who can pay it. Many people still continue to make the big profits that they were making before the war, but because those, profits do not exceed what were made before the war they are to escape taxation under this Bill. On the other hand, people who were not making onetenth of the profits of others are to be penalized by this Bill. I wish to show how the Canadian and New Zealand schemes work out in comparison with the scheme proposed in our Bill. Let us suppose that a certain person has a capital of £20,000, and makes a profit of £3,000 per annum. Allowing 10 per cent. on the capital value as the pre-war standard, the Australian system leaves a taxable balance of £1,000, and the Government collect 50 per cent, or £500 in the first year, and 75 per cent, or £750 in the succeeding years, or £2,000 in all for three years. The Canadian system is to exempt 7 per cent, on the capital and tax the balance at the rate of 25 per cent.. Thus 7 per cent, on £20,000 is £1,400. De-‘ ducting £1,400 from £3,000 leaves £1,600, and 25 per cent, on £1,600 gives a revenue of £400. This amount is collected each year, giving a total of £1,200 as against £2,000 proposed to be collected under our Bill. The taxation on the individual is little more than half of what is proposed in Australia, yet Canada secures a revenue of £2,500,000, as against our estimated revenue of under £1,000,000. In New Zealand the, exemption is 74 per cent, on the capital. On a capital of £20,000 and a profit of £3,000 the taxable balance is £1,500. The rate of the tax being 45 per cent., the revenue derived is £675 per annum, or a total of £2,025 for three years. The result in New Zealand is practically the same as that proposed here. As I have already said, I prefer the Canadian method, because it makes every one pay, whilst at the same time the rate is not so excessive.
I cannot see why professional men should be exempted. Some of the wealthiest men in Australia are professional men, and I do not think that they are anxious to dodge this taxation. Most of them are loyal, and would be pleased to pay. their share. Then, again, I think that soldiers, and nurses serving with the Australian Imperial Force ought to be excluded from the operation of this tax for the same reason as they are exempt from several of the State taxes. A man who risks his life for the Empire’s cause should not come home to find that in his absence his property has been exploited by the tax collector,- T would give to all soldiers and nurses, without exception, the exemption to which I think they are entitled. I am sorry that the Treasurer has not included in this measure clause 10 of the previous Bill which allowed a person to offset against the profits of this year the losses of another year.
– The pastoral industry of Australia could not be sustained if you did not set ofl the losses of one year >against the profits of another.
– That is so. In profitable years the pastoralist sets aside a certain amount of money as a reserve in anticipation of had years that must inevitably follow. I suggest to the Treasurer that the proposed Board of Referees should include either a grazier or a farmer. As the men on the land will pay a big proportion of the tax .they should have representation on that Board ; and instead of having a Board sitting only in Melbourne there should be a Board to deal with appeals in each State. Why should a taxpayer in Queensland or Western Australia be obliged to travel thousands of miles to bring his case before a Board in Melbourne? There is altogether too much centralization in our taxation administration. In addition to Federal and State income taxes, and graduated land taxes the taxpayer . should be allowed to deduct all forms of taxes, including those paid to shires, municipalities, Pastoral Protection Boards, and Rabbit Boards.
– All rates and taxes are deducted.
– I did not understand that to be the effect of the clause. I remind the Treasurer that the Federal income tax did not operate until 1915. Taxpayers in making up their returns will require in some cases to cover a period of six years before the war in order to arrive at the pre-war standard, and I suggest that they be allowed to use for the purpose the returns prepared for the State taxation authorities. The Bill provides for appeals to be heard before a High Court Judge, but the Commissioner may in his discretion allow a case to be heard before a Supreme Court Judge or a District Court Judge. I suggest now, as I have suggested in connexion with other taxation Bills, that the taxpayer should be given the right of choosing the tribunal before which his case shall be heard. If the amount in dispute between a small taxpayer and the Department does not exceed £20 or £30, let him have the right to bring his case before an ordinary stipendiary magistrate at the local Court nearest to the district in which he resides. Justice should be taken to the doors of the people; it is absurd to drag .an appellant and his witnesses from the bush to Melbourne to fight a case involving only £30.
A further improvement could be made in the Bill by giving the taxpayers a right to make their payments in quarterly instalments. The Commissioner has discretionary power to accept the tax in instalments, but the taxpayer should have the absolute right to make such payments. That alteration would avoid a considerable dislocation of the finances of the country. When all taxpayers are obliged to pay their taxes at about the same time, there must be a very great strain on the resources of the banks. Money is taken from the Associated Banks to pay the Commissioner of Taxation, and is then paid into the Commonwealth Bank, which establishes big credits at the expense of the private institutions. The result is that the money market is tightened, and those in need of accommodation for the carrying on of their businesses find themselves hard pressed. The difficulty might be overcome by the Treasurer opening accounts in each of the private banks instead of doing the whole of his business with the Commonwealth Bank, and thereby the finances of the country would be considerably improved. For instance, I do my business with the Commercial Bank, and- I suggest ‘that when my cheque for the wartime profits tax is drawn on that institution, the Commissioner should pay it back into his account with that bank. Thus the bank’s balance would not be interfered with in any way.
Another desirable alteration is the insertion of a provision allowing pastoralists to deduct expenditure on rabbit destruction, and the cutting of suckers, and the digging out of seedlings. These expenses are not allowed in connexion with the Federal income tax. A concrete case is that of Mr. Fagan, of “ Sunnyridge,” who has a property of about 14,000 acres. At about the time of the outbreak of the war he purchased a lot of wire netting with which he subdivided the property; he burnt off all harbor for rabbits, dug out the vermin, and generally improved the place, with the result that to-day it is carrying 50 per cent.- more sheep, and the quality of the sheep is 20 per cent, better. In other words, his profits have increased since the war by about 70 per cent., and because of his expenditure on improvements the Commissioner of Taxation will claim a share- of that increase as a wartime profit,. My view is that an allowance should be made for that expenditure; otherwise, what advantage does the pastoralist derive by taking steps to exterminate the vermin and buying netting at £50 or £70 per mile, which before the war was costing not more than £24 per mile?
In many parts of the western district of New South Wales, and particularly the West Bogan country, which has been settled for something . like thirty years, the pastoralists, every second year, have to cut down the suckers on their holdings. The country, because of that work, does not carry any more stock than it did thirty years ago. It is in practically the same state as it was then, but if graziers and others neglected to cut down these seedlings every second year, the carrying capacity of their holdings would be reduced. I contend that these landholders should be allowed to charge, as against expenses, the amount paid for that particular work.
I suggest to the Treasurer that at the end of clause 11 the following new subclause should be inserted: -
Where capital has been invested in Australian Commonwealth war loans, the difference between the rate of interest received and the percentage standard may be used for the purposes of establishing this standard.
I may briefly explain the object to be served by such an amendment. The man who invests, say, £120,000 in a business established since the war, will naturally be anxious to establish a high pre-war standard rate of profits, so that he may take advantage of the percentage standard, for which this Bill provides. If he puts only £100,000 into his business, and invests the ‘ remaining £20,000 in war loans, he will be allowed an exemption of £12,000 in the one case, and of only £10,000 in the other. It will thus be seen that under the Bill as it stands there is no inducement to invest in war loans. The difference between the 4½ per cent, which a man receives from his investment in war loans, and the 10 per cent, which he is allowed to make in his business, without being liable to taxation under this Bill, namely, 5½ per cent., should be allowed in respect of war loan investments, to enable “him to establish the standard of profit before the war.
There is another point which, I hope, will receive the serious consideration of the Treasurer, since it is vital to the inter ests of graziers and land holders generally. Clause 16 provides that -
The amount of the capital of a business shall be taken’ to be the amount of its capital paid up by the owner in money or in kind…..
This “method of defining capital is absolutely wrong. By way of illustration I would point out that in the Cowra district of New South Wales, which I know very well, there is a lot of land held by pioneers, who selectedit forty years ago for £1 per acre. If a man buys a property adjoining one of those selections at £8 per acre he is allowed an exemption to the extent of 10 per cent, on that £8 per acre, whereas the man who selected at £1 per acre will be allowed an exemption to the extent of only 10 per cent, on that £1 per acre. Thus in the case of a holding of 5,000 acres, the man who had selected at £1 per acre would be allowed an exemption of only £500, whereas his neighbour, who had purchased 5,000 acres at £8 per acre, would be allowed an exemption of £4,000, or an exemption eight times greater than that secured by the pioneer who has helped so much to make the district what it is today.
– What does the honorable member -suggest should be taken as the basis of capital? If we adopted the honorable member’s suggestion, then, in the event of a property purchased for £10,000 depreciating to £5,000, the exemption would come down accordingly. His scheme would have to cut both ways.
– I suggest that capital should be taken to be the amount by which the value of the assets of a business exceeds the amount of the liabilities thereof. .
– But that does not touch the point which the honorable Minister has raised. Would the honorable member, in regard to this matter, adopt the improved value, as is done under the Land Tax Act?
– Certainly. The Commissioner for Taxation compels us to adopt the improved value.’
– And he revises the valuations periodically.
– Quite so. Where the unimproved^ value is the basis adopted, the Commissioner for Taxation sends along his check valuers, and in some cases the. unimproved value of land originally fixed at £1 per acre is raised to £4 and £5 per acre. In other words, under the Land Tax Act the value might he put up to £5 per acre, since it would suit the purposes of the Commissioner to do so, whereas under the War-time Profits Act it might be put down to £1, because the reduced valuation would mean a bigger return of revenue. I contend that we should have the one level of taxation values, and that these should apply all round. A gentleman named Gordon, whom I know, has land the unimproved value of which was fixed by him at 38s. per acre. The shire valuer later on fixed it at 40s. per acre, and the Commonwealth Land Tax valuer fixed it at 65s. per acre. There were thus three different values given to the one ^articular section of land. It is time the Government adopted the splendid example of New Zealand, which has provided, in its Land Valuation Act, for uniform valuations.
– But New Zealand is a very small country compared with Australia.
– Even so, we could apply that system to Australia.
– There are no States in New Zealand. They have there a unified form of government.
– A sovereign has only one value. Why should four different values be given to an acre of land for taxation purposes 1
– I have said that we are trying to alter that matter, but the honorable member must recognise that we have to deal with the lands of six different States.
– I recognise that. Much has been said by honorable members of the Opposition as to exploitation of .the public by the pastoralists of Australia. I propose to show my honorable friends that if there is one thing with which the graziers of the Commonwealth have nothing to do, it is the fixing of prices. The pastoralist sends his sheep and cattle to market, where he sells them to the .highest bidder. He has to put up with the competition of the whole Commonwealth. Sheep and cattle are being produced in all parts of the Commonwealth, and are sold in the open market. If there is one section of the community- in Australia that has nothing to do with food exploitation, it is that of the pastoralists and graziers in the back-blocks. They send their stock to market, and are glad to get whatever the market price may be. In order to dis prove the assertions made by the Opposition, I propose to quote the latest figures compiled on the subject by the Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Knibbs. At page 27 of the Commonwealth Statistician’s Bulletin for May, 1917, it is shown that in 1913-14 we exported greasy wool to the value of £21,479,682, and scoured wool to the value of £4,797,280, making a total of £26,276,962. In 1916-17 the value of greasy wool exported was £20,140,990, and the value of scoured wool £6,525,031, making a total of £26,666,021. The increased return in 1916-17, as compared with the figures for 1913-14, was thus only £389,059. That amount has to be spread over the whole of the pastoralists of Australia. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) said a few days ago that the pastoralists had doubled their wool returns. As a matter of fact, Mr. Knibbss shows that there is no appreciable difference between the wool returns for the year immediately preceding the war and those of the present time. How, then, can it be asserted that the pastoralists are making tremendous profits?
– But has it not been said by the supporters of the Government that, as a result of the last drought, many thousands of sheep were lost?
– I was about to refer to those losses. Mr. Knibbs shows that in 1913 there were 85,057,402 sheep in Aus-‘ tralia, while in 1916 - and these are the latest figures I could obtain from Mr. Knibbs - there were only 72,779,969 sheep, showing a reduction of 13,277,433. The population of Australia has somewhat increased since 1913.
– But the honorable member has just shown that, although in 1916 we had over 13,000,000 less than we had in 1913, the wool returns are greater.
– If the honorable member will divide this loss of 13,277,433 sheep by the total population of Australia, he will see that it represents a loss of two and a-half sheep per head of the population. The drought and the butcher cannot both have the sheep. If we spread over the graziers of Australia the increase of £389,059 in the wool returns for 1916- 17, as compared with those for 1913-14, we find that the pastoralists are practically no better off than they were before the war.
– They are not so well off, as a matter of fact.
– That is so. I come.now to the figures as to the effect of the drought ou our cattle herds. In 1913 Australia had 11,483,882 cattle, and in 1916 we had only 9,907,742, showing a falling-off of 1,576,140.
In the course of this debate, it has been suggested by the Leader of the Opposition and other honorable members of the Labour party that in this legislation we should follow as closely as possible the example set by the Imperial Act. A noteworthy feature of that Act is that under it farmers and pastoralists are exempt from this form of taxation. That being so, the Labour party, if they are consistent, will advocate the exemption of the pastoralists, at all events, from the provisions of this Bill. I was very pleased wilh the speech of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. . Boyd), except for his statement that farmers should be included in this taxation, although I stated in my opening remarks that, if we were to have a war-time profits tax, it should apply to every one.. Some little time ago I stated in this chamber that it cost the farmer 3s. 10d. to produce a bushel of wheat. I based that conclusion on calculations made by 120 different farmers, and it is substantiated by the following letter which appeared in a recent issue of the Melbourne Age -
I append the actual cost of wheat production. It will be seen how close to the starvation point the production of grain brings the producer. I would also like to correct the statement that the farmer gets 4s. 9d. per bushel. For the 1915-16 wheat he has obtained 3s. Hid.: - “ Two hundred acres, .yielding six bags peracre, at 4s. per bushel, £720; less seed wheat, 1 bushel per acre, 200 bushels, at 8s., £80; less manures, 60 lbs. per acre, at £4 7s. 6d. per ton, £23 7s. 6d.; less 1,200 bags, at 10s. per dozen, £50; less chaff, 10 tons, at £12, £120; less carriage on manure, £2; less ploughman, ten weeks, at 30s. per week, £15;- less board for ploughman, at las., £7 10s.; less wear, tear, renewals, shoeing, blacksmith’s work, 10 per cent, on £500, £50; bluestone, £1 : oil, £2 10s.; twine, 12s. 6d. ; harvest man, forty days, at 10s., £20; cartage of grain to station, at 6d. per bag,1- £30: land tax, £2; shire rates, £3; insurance, £1; rent of land cropping, at 8s. per acre; £80; grass land for grazing horses rest of year, 120 acres, at 5s., £30; board for harvest man, seven weeks, at 15s., £5 5s. Total, £523 5s.”
This leaves a balance of £196 15s. No charge has been made for the farmer’s own labour. In addition, a mortgage is very likely on’ the property. These figures are unchallengeable. They make no provision for a lean year. The figures relate to the 1915-16 season, which was a record season as regards yield. I have given a large average yield; no losses are put down for loss of horses, &c, and yet the cereal producer does not get more than a mechanic receives for his labour, with double the risk of loss. i William Alexander.
– No Bill of this character could be framed to give universal satisfaction, because many persons in the community wish to avoid taxation. But we must have revenue, and it is the business of Parliament to provide for the raising of that, revenue as justly as possible. We shall be right in taxing specially the man who has made profits out of the war. and in afterwards imposing an equitable income tax. The Treasurer tells us that he is proposing now only the taxation necessary to meet present requirements, and that in the future our taxation must be heavier. When the time comes, the money must be ‘found. The Nationalist party is pledged to the imposition of a war-time profits tax, and I do not think that any one should try to prevent the passing of a Bill to impose taxation on those who have made money .out of the war. It would be idle to say that money has not been made out of the war, because many persons have made large war profits. In my opinion, it would be wrong to set against these profits losses incurred independently of the war, which would have to be’ borne if no war profits had been made. Certainly the profits made by the war should be taxed. On these grounds, I cannot agree with some of the remarks made by honorable members sitting on this side of the’ chamber. In regard to the objection that a profit of 10 per cent, is an excessive exemption, I ask honorable members to consider that the Bill deals with all classes of the community, including the mercantile class, ‘ which, I suppose, pays more to the revenue than any other. At the present time, ……….-…. have to purchase goods from manufacturers in other parts of the world at f.o.b. prices, and do not know the . price they will be charged, or what freights will be charged for the conveyance of those .goods to Australia. When the war ceases - the sooner the better for all of us - the shipping that, is now being used for the conveyance of troops and munitions will be diverted to the carrying of food for’ Great Britain and the allied nations. A large number of vessels will be sent to Australia to take from here the produce already purchased by the Imperial Government, and the owners of those vessels will be tumbling over one another to get outward freight, even for ballast. Consequently, there will be a great slump in freights, and also a great reduction in insurance. It must be remembered that war insurance affects not only freights, but also shipping itself. For these reasons it is not unfair to allow merchants to make 10 per cent, profit free from taxation.
– A considerable period must elapse after the war ceases before there will be shipping to spare.
– There will be extra shipping space available almost immediately after the war ceases. Look at the number of vessels entering the ports of Great Britain and of France every week, thousands of which will be used for the transport of what is required most, namely, the foodstuffs already paid for. Those traders who have stocks on the water, or in their warehouses, are bound to suffer, and are prepared to suffer so long as they get even-handed justice. There is, however, another section of the cbmmunity with large stocks, more particularly in the drapery business. These stocks were contracted for before the war, to be delivered, probably, within twelve months, and enormous profits have been made, prices in many cases having increased as much as 400 per cent. These merchants have had their goods protected by the navies of Australia and Great Britain, and they ought to be called upon to bear a large proportion of the cost of prosecuting ‘the war, for no one will deny that, but for the war, these profits would’ never have been made. Surely these people oughtto be taxed before any impost is placed on the ordinary business man,, who is earning only ordinary or pre-war profits.
I was astonished to hear the criticism of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) in face of the ‘expression of opinion by the Chairman of Commerce in Brisbane that the principle of this Bill is a just one. I am pleased that the Treasurer has the moral courage to insist on the passing of the measure, while he is prepared to accept any amendments for which good, sound reason can be shown, and personally, I expect to see very considerable alteration made in Committee by the Treasurer, who, I believe, desires to obtain only that revenue which is absolutely essential, and to obtain it in the most equitable way possible.
– What do you say is the principle of the Bill ?
– It is to tax those who, in consequence of the war, have made profits that otherwise they would not have made.
– That is not the basis of the Bill.
– But that is what the Treasurer is trying to arrive at.
– He cannot do it.
– He will do the best he can. I have taken an active part in the public affairs of Australia since the “ seventies,” andIhave never yet known a taxing measure to give universal satisfaction.
I am glad to see that agriculturalists are exempted from the operation of the Bill, for there are not many who ever make more than 10 per cent., and to subject them to taxation of this kind would be very cruel under circumstances of drought, and other causes well known to the House. I have only to refer to the sugar industry to show how fair this exemption is. In 1915-16, owing to drought, only about 50 per cent, of the crop was realized, not sufficient, in most instances, to pay working expenses. In 1916-17, in many cases, no crop was harvested on account of the Dickson award ; and now, when a better crop than ever before is expected, to take 50 per cent, of the profits would be downright robbery.
– Tax the other fellow!
– If the profits were distributed over the three years, I think it would be found that the sugar growers have not made 10 per cent., or anything like it, on the average; indeed, they have had to borrow ‘money over two years, in the hope of redeeming themselves in the third year.
The suggestion has been made that a remedy for the present state of affairs might be found in- fixing prices, but that isa most dangerous, and, very often, inequitable policy to follow. Only a few days ago, at a meeting of the Queensland Farmers’ Union, the president, Mr. J. H. Cecil Roberts, said that a request has been made to the Prime Minister that’ certain produce should be reduced in price to pre-war values. “ We will accept such prices,” said Mr. Roberts,, “when the people making these requests are prepared to accept pre-war rates of wages.” If employers are called upon to pay higher wages, they must be paid more for their produce. In one Department, viz., the Railways, in Queensland, during the last two months, no less than 16 per cent, has been added to wages, and this addition, in itself, represents £250,000. If, for instance, railway charges are increased the extra charge must be passed on; and I contend that just as much consideration should be shown to primary producers, who work the longest hours, and under the worst conditions, as is shown to men who, with no responsibility or fear of drought, work for wages and. live comfortably in the cities.
When I was a member of the State Parliament of Queensland, and. an attempt was made to fix prices, the Price Fixing Board made some very unjust awards, based on the cost at which one firm could land goods. The Board had the right to inspect books; and it was found that, in the case of one firm, goods were imported from, and wool and other produce exported to, Great Britain. The firm was able to save exchange both ways, and did not insure at the then price of 10 per cent., but took the risk themselves. The consequence was that they were enabled to land their goods in Queensland at a very low price. There were other firms which had no such arrangement for exportation from Queensland, and they had to pay both exchange and insurance. These firms purchased goods probably at the same price as didthe other firm, but they had to find a certain percentage of the cash in London, with the balance to be paid by deferred payments; and the banks which negotiated the drafts took care to see that the . goods were insured at the prevailing rates. The insurance and the exchange had to be added to the cost; and honorable members will see how unjust the position became. Many firms refused to sell goods at less than cost price, -as they were asked to do by the Price Fixing Board; and the result was that, while some country storekeepers could not get goods, others had to face the difficulty of paying absolute net cash, and also to impose cash conditions on primary producers to whom they had been , accustomed to give credit between crops.
The Leader of the Opposition and other honorable members have, at some length, produced figures showing the profits made by companies trading in Australia during the last three years. It is to be noted, however, that we are not informed whether additional capital has been put into these businesses, or whether two businesses have been combined, when “ naturally larger profits would be shown. Such figures as have been produced, instead of assisting the House, are only misleading. We should have been informed of the capital invested in the various businesses, and what percentage the profits bear to that capital. All these figures put into Hansard mean nothing to the business man, but the outside community, many of whom know nothing of financial affairs, imagine that unreasonable profits are being made. If the truth were known it might be seen that the firms have not received even the 10 per cent, exempted under the Bill, and, in many instances, not 5 per cent.
I suggest to the Treasurer that the limit of thirty days, in which payment has to be made, is very short, and that it would avoid inconvenience if it were extended to three or four months. Although firms have made profits, it does not follow that they have received those profits in cash. A large proportion would naturally be in their books, and it would take some time to collect it and distribute the profits shown as having been made in war time.
– Take the profit indicated by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Manifold), where it consisted of stock born but not sold.
– That is another very grave reason why the Treasurer should alter the provision. It will be very inconvenient to many ‘ people to find the ready cash to- pay into the Treasury within thirty days. - If they have to look to their financial institutions for assistance, many will be asking for assistance at the same time, and the effect on the finances of the Commonwealth might be so serious as to check enterprise. This might occur just at a time when we should be increasing our enterprises, with a view to enabling those who are in Australia to make a reasonable living, and so that after the war our returned soldiers and others may be encouraged to settle on our lands and work in manufacturing industries. At the same time, we should take any unreasonable profits made as a result of -the war, and if the money so raised is not adequate we can make provision in other ways, so that each, individual bears his share of taxation. We understand from the Treasurer that the Bill touches principally those people who have been making war-time profits.
– That is not correct.
– Every Bill does some injustice ; but, generally speaking, the Bill before us will reach those people who have made war profits, profits which they would not have made if there had been no war. It may be said that the losses sustained prior to the war should be set off against the profits which may have been made during the war, but if it is a profit that would not have been made if there had been no war, the person called upon to pay cannot feel hurt.
– Last year the increment of profit was due rather to the disturbance caused by drought than to the war.
– We know that such has been the case in some instances, but profits have been made through the war, and it is these that the Treasurer has in view. I know that large companies, such as the Mount Morgan and Mount Lyell Companies, have enjoyed large profits for years, and continue . to enjoy them, and that this Bill will not touch them ; but, as the Treasurer has said, we will need more money, and they will be touched after we have reached those who have made money purely out of the war.
– -There is no provision in the Bill for that. The Treasurer catches the man who is making a struggling recovery from the drought, and lets the man who has been complacently drawing a big income all the time escape.
– I would like the honorable member to distinguish between profits made during the period following the drought, in the pre-war sense, and profits made after the drought owing to the outbreak of the war. It is the latter that we wish to reach.
– I asked for a recuperative period of two years after the drought for the pastoral and farming interests.
– The Treasurer is meeting many of the cases that the honorable member has mentioned. It is a matter that should be discussed in Committee. I believe there will be a considerable number of amendments introduced by the Treasurer before the Bill gets’ out of Committee. ‘ I do not intend to detain the House longer at this stage. I hope to have something to say on the measure when we are in Committee.
– Hear, hear ! Wipe it out.
– No.. Any man who attemps to wipe out the Bill is not doing his duty to the country, and is not endeavouring to raise the taxation that should be collected from the proper people.
– Does not the honorable member think that some of the exemptions should be wiped out ?
– I hope to see some of the exemptions wiped out and others put in, but we are not dealing with the exemptions at this stage. We might remove the exemption as applied to medical men.
– And sugar.
– If any honorable member can prove that those sugar-growers who were robbed of two years’ returns for their exertions should be taxed to the extent of 50 per, cent, on the return received in the third year, then let them be taxed ; but it is impossible for any honorable member to make a truthful assertion that such an impost upon these people would be justified in the circumstances over which they had no control, and under which they had to carry on during the last two years. As a matter of fact, the drought and other circumstances of recent years have made it very difficult for the Treasurer to arrive at what is an equitable tax, though we all agree that the taxation proposed is absolutely essential for the purpose of carrying on the war.
Sitting suspended from 1 till 2.15p.m.
– I do not intend to delay the House at this late hour by speaking very lengthily on a subject with which I, like the average layman, cannot claim to be too well acquainted. It seems to me that the Billis a gun, the range of which nobody can exactly tell. It has not been tested yet, and whilst doubtless there is an honest desire on all sides that the measure shall realize at least some- of the hopes expressed in regard to it by people outside Parliament, yet we find that some of the best legal authorities in the House are dubious about its results. “We all know that, evidently on account of the wealth and high standards of comfort which have been enjoyed ever since the beginning of the war, scarcely any section of the community gives outward evidence of pinch on account of the war itself. My opinion is that the hopes of the people who believe that it is possible to take from the profits made by various individuals and companies since the war began a share of what may be termed illegitimate profits, that is to say, the profits made during the war over and above normal profits in pre-war times, will not be realized. Notwithstanding the honesty of effort represented in the long-deferred submission of this measure in accordance with a promise made months ago, it is impossible to get hold of much of the profit that has been already consumed in increased standards of comfort and living without entrenching, in many instances, upon the means by which increasing businesses may be successfully carried on. It would have been infinitely better if the Government of which I was a supporter when the war broke out had taken definite steps to prevent the possible accumulation or derivation of profits during the war. However much people may differ with regard to the evils of governmental control, or State interference with industry by price fixing, or by any other methods, yet all must agree that those are the only means that any of the allied Governments in the Old World has found practicable for conserving the interests of the people and preventing exploitation and starvation. The .Government in power when the war broke out would have been well advised had they taken definite action .to fix prices for the manufacturer and retailer on their invoices, allowing a reasonable percentage over and above normal profits, rather than that we should have allowed to develop that state of affairs which renders a measure of this kind necessary, and which, I believe, will make it largely ineffective, however good the intentions of its author’s may be.
As an instance of what I mean, I was informed the other day that some firms engaged in making agricultural machinery in Australia had a three years’1 supply of steel purchased at pre-war rates. Even if those firms were making big profits before the war by turning out a huge quantity of machinery, they are able now by merely reducing their output to escape this proposed tax, by reason of the advantageous, position in which they stand in regard to several of the raw materials for their manufactures. I believe that firms which were making 60 per cent, or 70 per. cent, profit before the war, even if their profits are no greater now, though they have changed the. character of their business and are engaged in enterprises from which they derive actual war profits, will escape the tax. Again, there are big solid concerns which, whilst making large profits, capitalized the greater part of those profits and declared dividends of only 6 per cent, to 8 per cent.. Operating from that safe vantage ground, they are allowed by this Bill to make an additional 2 per cent, to 4k per cent, profit before they exceed the 10 per cent, exemption, without paying a shilling of additional taxation. That state of affairs would be possible in connexion with large companies engaged in mining metals used for munitions. The Bill takes no cognisance of the prices charged for those products before and after the war. If the companies producing those metals merely reduce their output, they are able to derive the same or a greater profit without paying taxation, notwithstanding that the percentages have risen so high. I find that metals have increased in price as follows : -
It is very clear that if we. are to reach the real profit derived by companies engaged in these operations in which these tremendous increases in price have taken place, there must be some means of fixing the profit upon the output, even after allowing for the extra cost of production that may have been caused by the war.
At the outbreak of the war a man might have started in a small way of business with a capital of perhaps £1,000 which he had saved up during a period in which he had been engaged as a servant in business or in production. Although his capital was small, he might be of .that class of man who is worth £1,000 per annum in any industry upon which he embarks on his own account. He may make £2,000 or £3,000 profit, and, as he had no prewar standard of profits, and his capital being infinitesimal, this Bill will deprive him practically of all the fruits of his industry or his opportunities. Personally, I do not think that in a War-time Profits Bill there is the slightest justification for any exemptions as exemptions. But exemptions may possibly be justified for the reason that it is utterly impossible to fix a standard of comparison that will enable certain industries to be included without manifest injustice. Take the farming class, for instance. As a farmer myself, I see no reason why those of us who combine grazing and grain-growing should be exempt from the operations of this tax. Doubtless it would be easy to show that the average share-farmer, pr small wheat farmer, after allowing interest at the rate of 10 per cent, on the amount of capital invested in his enterprise in prewar years, and deducting labour and other charges, would show no profit at all. But if it can be shown that farmers have made a profit, there is no reason why they should be exempt.
What I am particularly interested in is the point raised by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) in regard to the basic principle upon which we are to get the exemption of 10 per cent. Clause 16, in defining “ Capital,” says, “ The amount of the capital of a business shall be taken to be the amount of its capital paid up by the owner in money or in kind.” That definition would have the effect of bringing about a result which, perhaps, I can best express by mentioning a concrete1 example. Suppose that A, with his family, is the original holder of 5,000 acres of land acquired from the Crown at £1 per acre, held, perhaps, for the last thirty or forty years, and having on it improvements in buildings, fencing, ring-barking, clearing, &c, worth another £1 per acre. If I correctly interpret clause 16, such a man would be allowed only £10,000 as the capital upon which to base his claim for a 10 per cent, exemption. Even if stock had been bred on the property, as is usually - the case, there is no provision, that I can see, for including the value of that stock. Ten thousand pounds would be the basis upon which the exemption would be calculated. On the other hand, a settler who purchased on a walk-in walk-out basis a similar holding, stocked in the same way, for £20,000, would be entitled to 10 per cent, on that £20,000. If the £200 exemption added to the 10 per cent, basis were allowed and the 50 per cent, profit to be taken under this Bill for the 1915-16 quota, then the original holder, who had selected at £1 per acre, would pay about £250 - I am assuming a £2,000 profit in the year 1915-16 - and on the same basis the man who had purchased on the walk-in walkout basis at £4 per acre, would not have to pay one penny until he could show a profit of £2,500. I am confident that the Treasurer will avoid any uncertainty in this matter by inserting definite provisions in the Bill itself. It is all very well to leave definitions to officers administering the Act. but we know from experience that even the capable and disinterested men administering the Federal Income Tax Act are bound bv the law as they interpret it. Under the Income Tax Act, in the case of a man on the land, the value of his stock is set down as the price at which he purchased it, but he must credit in his account sales the actual prices realized for that stock. Apart from the deduction allowed in respect of moneys borrowed on the property itself no deduction can be made in respect of the1 capital invested in the grass and water which enabled the increased value to be put into his stock from the time that . they were purchased or dropped until he disposed of them. These are principles which, to my mind, need to be very carefully defined, and in view of his long and varied experience in public life, I feel confident that the Treasurer will see that they are.
Coming to the question of exemptions, if this is to be a war-time profits measure I fail to see why professional men and others should be exempt where it can be clearly shown that their increased returns since the war are due to the war or to circumstances which have developed in consequence of it.- I do not think that the provisions of this Bill could be fairly applied to members of Parliament. The suggestion . made some time ago by the honorable member for- Hunter (Mr. Charlton) that an all-round deduction from incomes should be made would be a much better way of taxing, so to speak, the salaries of honorable members. By doing something in that direction we should give hostages to our sincerity in this matter.
– I do not think that an honorable member makes much out of his £600 a year.
– My experience is that he makes nothing out of it; but it would not do to introduce the card system with the object, of finding, out what we are all doing. It seems to me that while a few honorable members, as Ministers, are almost worked to death, others are doing their best to see that they are properly crushed.With the- outbreak of war many of us thought that some such action as I have suggested would be taken. It was then that the honorable ‘ member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) suggested that neither members of Parliament nor any one else in the community should be allowed an income of more than £200 a year - that all earnings in excess of that amount should go to the State. After all, he was merely voicing a suggestion made by a gentleman in New South Wales who is not usually associated with very advanced forms of thought. I” refer to Mr. Abbott, of Wingen, who suggested that all salaries be reduced to £200. T could not support such a proposition, because I believe that if the incomes of those who enjoy £10,000 a year were reduced to £200 per annum, we should have thrown on our hands hosts of people who in some way or other derive a living from the extravagances or the expenditures of such men. Even at this, the eleventh hour, however, we should take some determined action to prevent men, whether they he. engaged in commercial or manufacturing pursuits or in primary industries, making huge profits. I admit that there are many difficulties in the way, but it would be better to make the effort rather than to attempt the impossible, ‘ as the Government are now doing. We should exact the payment of a fair proportional amount on the part of every individual who, wittingly or unwittingly, has profited on ac- count of the war or during war time. .
Attempts have been made to show that there is no foundation for the complaints ve hear on every hand as to the profiteering that is going on. As. a man who makes his living by growing wheat, meat, and wool, I say distinctly that the consumers of Australia are not being fairly treated. Our systems lend themselves to wholesale robbery. Notwithstanding that we live in a country filled with the primary necessities of every-day existence, conditions are developing that make it harder and harder for the people to gain sustenance. Whether he be producing on a large or a small scale, I have no sympathy with the man who insists that, even in these abnormal times, he should not be called upon to make any sacrifice, and that his every effort shall be paid for according “to the highest standards.- Such a man gives us one of the worst exhibitions of the goslow or don’t-go-at-all policy. Nor have I any sympathy with the man who thinks he can better his position by refusing to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
It is essential that the community should do for individuals what they cannot do for themselves. While I hold that it is impossible, by a measure of this kind, to stop profiteering, I realize at the- same time that the Government are bound to give effect to their pledge to the people. When the Bill shall have been ultimately passed, I hope that it will afford some measure of relief, and do something to assist in developing in Australia the truly patriotic spirit which is best expressed by people in every walk of life making sacrifices, foregoing profits, and so assisting in every way to tide the Commonwealth over the disastrous times through which we are passing.
However much this effort to bring about such a situation may fall short of its object, if it only does something in that direction it will meet with the approval of the people. I do not agree with those who say that the Bill should be dropped, and that an increased income tax should be levied. There are in Australia to-day numberless people who are deriving pretty fair incomes, which are already coming under the heavier proportional rates of taxation. They are paying such taxation notwithstanding that they are not securing any increased emoluments in consequence of or during the war. On the contrary, their expenses owing to the increase in the cost of living have gone up. An era of extravagance has come upon the people. We are like children revelling in to-day, utterly regardless of what the morrow may bring forth. .
By the adoption of some of tlie suggestions which have been made in the course of the debate, this Bill may be so improved by amendment as to tend towards the realization of our ideals. I hope, however, that the Government will take more vigorous and drastic steps to do what the Labour Government ought to have done when the war broke out in 1914. I trust they will grasp the nettle firmly. As I understand there are several honorable members who desire to speak this afternoon, I shall say no more at this stage, but there are several matters with which I shall deal when the Bill goes into Committee. I shall content myself with the expression of the pious hope that too many of our aspirations will not be shattered by this measure.
.- I do not know that I have ever approached the consideration of a Bill with less confidence than I do in this case, although I realize that to frame a measure which will achieve what the Government desire, while at the same time applying equitably to every section of the community, is one of the most difficult tasks that could confront a Parliament. I am rather surprised at the amendment brought forward by the Leader’ of the Opposition . (Mr. Tudor), having regard to the War-profits Bill introduced by the Government, of which he was a prominent member. Comparing it with the Bill now before us, I can find but little change other than that which must have been induced by serious thought. The first Bill introduced by the Labour Government was a hotch-potch measure, the provisions of which were taken almost entirely from the British Act. The statement made by the then Treasurer (Mr. Higgs), that in the second year of its operation it was proposed to take 100 per cent, of the profits of the community, showed how lightly the Government of the day had grasped the economics of this country.
– And was not that Bill to be retrospective - extending over the last three years?
– No; that is what the. Leader of the Opposition now says should be done. His statement only goes to show how the views of some honorable members alter when they are relieved of the responsibilities of office. The honorable member’s desire appears to be to kill the Bill. He speaks of it as totally inadequate for the raising of the revenue re quired, and yet he admits that he does no,t know whether it will ‘or will not produce more revenue than would be produced by what I may term the Higgs measure. His is not a fair attitude to assume towards the Bill. I do not like the idea of retrospective legislation, but the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) gave the people of Australia a clear intimation that legislation of the kind now under consideration would be introduced, and this Government made a ^similar announcement, so that the trading community has had warning of, and should be to some extent prepared for, the proposed taxation. It would, however, be preposterous to go back another year, and I cannot understand the object of the Leader of the Opposition in proposing so to do, seeing that he was a member of the Ministry which was responsible for the the Bill of the honorable member for Capricornia. The Leader of the Opposition complains also of the delay in imposing this taxation, but the blame for that is to be laid at the door of the Government of which he was a member. It was seen almost immediately after the outbreak of war that legislation of this kind was desirable, yet when Mr. Fisher left Australia, in January, 1916, eighteen months after the outbreak of war, no Bill had been brought in. I do not like this Bill, but I feel that a special effort must be made to raise revenue at this time, and that those whose profits have been increased by the war should be made to disgorge the greater portion of their war gains. The difficulty is to determine what is a war profit and what is merely a wartime profit. I would say that the immense profits made by shipping companies, due to the increase in freights, are war profits, as are also “the profits which are being made bv the increase in the price of wool and the extraordinary increases in the prices of metal.. The country has had to undertake so large an expenditure because of the war, and to make such big sacrifices, that we are justified in asking those who have made great profits out of the war to pay a large share of the excess to the State.
– Some persons have made huge profits, with which the war has had nothing to_do, but they are to be left untouched, and only those whose pro- fits are due to the war are to be taxed.
– For that reason, I think that the tax must be made a wartime profits tax. If I thought that the suggestion of the honorable member for Flinders (Sir William Irvine) could be carried into effect, I would be strongly inclined to support the giving to the Commissioner power to deal with every case at his discretion by determining whether the profits made were or were not war profits’.
– Could not the InterState Commission deal with that matter?
– There is to be a Board of Referees, but I do not- care who they may be. It would be monstrous if those who are interested in our big emporiums, which at the outbreak of the war had huge stocks, of which in some cases they were able to increase the prices by 600 or 700 per cent., escaped taxation. If in Committee the honorable member for Flinders (Sir William Irvine) can convince us that the Commissioner or a Board of Referees may safely be given power to determine what profits shall be taxed, the Bill can be simplified considerably, and with advantage to the trading community. But we must walk with extreme caution in this matter. It behoves us to be careful not to do anything that may destroy industry, because it is necessary that our production should be increased as much as possible. We must also take care not to drive capital out of the country. Capital is a shy bird, which is easily frightened away; but almost every other country that is at war has imposed taxation similar to this.
I do not agree with those who propose that we should take away all excess profits. In my opinion, the Bill will provide more revenue than is estimated by the Treasurer. The Treasury estimates of the effect of the new methods of taxation- have not been up to date, and I feel satisfied, from what I have read of the way in which large companies are putting aside money to meet this taxation, that the Bill will produce much more than the Treasurer’s estimate. The return presented to the State Parliament by the Premier of Victoria, to which reference was made by the Leader of the Opposition, is of little value in this regard. Although it shows that many firms earned larger profits in 1915 and 1916 than in 1914, it must not be forgotten that 1914 was a disastrous year throughout. Australia, and to obtain a proper pre-war standard it would be necessary to go back at least a couple of years more.
I understand that a great many amendments are to be moved in Committee, and I suggest therefore that the Government should have the Bill reprinted with the amendments incorporated, so that we may know their effect.
– I shall submit the. suggestion to. the Treasurer, and I am sure that if it be practicable he will meet the honorable member in regard to it. I hope that honorable members will have their amendments circulated early for the convenience of the Treasurer.
– There are so many amendments to be proposed that the Law Department will have difficulty in preventing the measure from being made a mere hotch-potch.
I have no intention of dealing with the details of the Bill at this stage, but I wish to refer to the exemption relating to pastoralists who have taken up land since the war began. I think that it should go further, and relate to all areas the occupation of which has not shown a profit prior to the war. Those in the Never Never country deserve more consideration than they have ever received . from Parliament. The way in which they are treated by the Postal Department is disgraceful. They have to face- hardships which are almost superhuman. Not many members would care to confront their difficulties. A man taking up new country has to fence it and to provide water to increase its carrying capacity, and the price of fencing wire and materials has increased appallingly, while labour costs much more than it did. While we wish to get at profiteers, wa ought not to do any injustice to others. I have had letters from men who have been in the back country of Western Australia for seven or eight years, who have hitherto had to borrow on their improvements or on their stock. Only during the last year or two have they made any profits on their transactions. These men should not be . treated unjustly. The Bill provides that in determining profits the Commissioner may adopt the principle of the income taxation. The value of the stock on a station may increase from £1000 to £3,000 or more, and under this provision the Commissioner will be able to declare the difference as so much profit earned, although the rise in value may never be realized, and the stock may be destroyed by ‘drought or disease. If we are not careful, we shall compel men to borrow large sums to pay taxation on excess war profits, of which they have not received a penny, and may never do so. However, that is a matter to be dealt with in Committee. Care must be taken to see that an individual is not compelled to pay taxation on a mere book profit.
I do not think that it is the intention of any honorable member to urge the inclusion of the gold-mining industry. The previous Administration, although it did not exempt the industry, gave a very sympathetic reply to a circular that had that object; and, at any rate, if gold mining is included, the present system of allocation would prove an utterly absurd one. If we had a pre-war standard, such as provided in the Bill, a mine like the Great Boulder, which for, fifteen or twenty years has been paying £25,000 or £27,000 per month, or over a quarter of a million a year, would not be asked to pay a single sixpence, whereas another mine which became a producer this year, or in the two previous years, would only be able to take advantage of the 10 per cent.’
– I do not suppose that the Great Boulder pays much more than 10 per cent., considering the price of the shares.
– The question is the capital invested. I do not know how the Commissioner would compute the value if he took the 1,500,000 shares at lis. 6d., which is about the present market price. Certainly we should require a staff of mining experts to judge what is the wasting value of an ordinary mine. It would be all right1 in the case of a well-developed mine, .but, in the case of an ordinary mine, where the developments are usually just ahead of the battery, there would be considerable difficulty.
I notice that, according to the Bill, the tax is payable within thirty days after the notice of assessment, and I fancy there will be many applications for relief. There may be instances in which the payments will range from £5,000 to £2*0,000, and it may be necessary to borrow money to pay the tax. Of course, there is an appeal to the Court, but, under the Bill, the money has first to be found.
I suggest that the Treasurer provide for payments in quarterly instalments, for the present provision would prove very harsh, especially in view of the fact that,if the tax is not paid within the stipulated time, an extra 10 per cent, is charged.
While many of us take an active interest in the measure, and desire that it shall be amended the Treasurer can rest assured that every effort will be. made to enable the Government to obtain a large proportion of excessive war profits. Our only object is to prevent injustice to many who have to meet the privations and difficulties incidental to certain industries.
.- I do not desire to take up the time of the House in discussing the Bill at any length. Of course, I do not claim any intimate knowledge of finance; most of my trouble, like that of the generality of workers in regard to finance, has been in separating the silver coins from the copper. I have been struck with the anxiety displayed by honorable members opposite to show which particular section of their own supporters shall bear this taxation. The other evening the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Manifold) expressed the belief that huge profits had been made, not by the primary producers, but by the manufacturers. Then we have representatives of pastoral and farming constituencies assuring us that there is absolutely no foundation for the statement that excessive profits have been made in these industries. So far as the working classes of Australia are concerned, it does not matter a “ continental “ whether the Bill is carried or not. The great mass of the workers will still go on working for the same old wages, and the people who live on the workers will still obtain the usual return for their capital. Therefore, I say that what happens to this measure does not interest the working classes in the slightest.
– You will admit that this Bill will be a greater advantage to the working classes than, say, a tax on tea?
– Seeing that the working class pays for everything, it does not matter how we juggle with taxation : the only quarrel is between honorable members opposite - between the different sections of exploiters of the workers - as to how the spoil shall be divided.
– Clap-trap !
– The honorable member has been long enough with his present political friends to have forgotten all he knew when he was on this side.
– If all wealth comes from labour, why is the Labour party so particularly keen about taxing wealth ?
– I am not particularly keen about taxing wealth; because, as I say, . it does not matter a “continental “ to the working classes what becomes of the Bill.
– Then the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition is all fudge ?
– Possibly it is a little bit more pf that political dust which honorable members opposite are so prone to throw in the eyes of the people. The Bill, like other legislation carried by legislative assemblies of this character, is for the purpose of convincing the workers that there is really some interest for them in the question as to who shall bear the taxation In fact, the whole thing is stuff and nonsense; it does not matter who gets the profits. The Government represents the employing interests of Australia, and is carrying out the behests of those interests; and it does not matter what is done with the profits obtained from the men and women who produce the wealth of the country. All the particular class whom I represent has to do is to produce profits, and then these profits are divided amongst the friends of honorable members opposite.- To the working classes this Bill is merely a waste of time. ‘
.- I commiserate with the Leader of the Opposition on the speech we have just heard. It has been stated within the last few moments that it does not matter in the least what happens to the Bill, or how we tax profits, the condition of the workers will remain the same. The honor-, able member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) has described the amendment as “ throwing dust “ in the eyes of the public ; and I sympathize with the Leader of the Opposition, who moved it, even if I cannot understand his follower’s arguments.
.- Apart altogether from the principle of the Bill, it contains three very bad -faults, which would be enough to damn any ordinary measure. The first fault is that it is involved ; its verbiage is so constructed that it is very difficult for even the combined wisdom of honorable members to see what is meant.- The second great fault is that it places too much power in the hands of one man. The Commissioner has power to ruin a man or make his fortune.
– The Bill does not ‘do that.
– The Bill gives the Commissioner power to take from a business what he thinks will not interfere with its stability ; and that provision may be very widely interpreted.
– If a taxpayer is not satisfied, there is a Board of Referees.
– And who are the Board of Referees? Are they to be departmental officers, or business men with an ordinary knowledge of trade and commerce ?
– Not departmental officers.
– We know that once departmental officers are permitted to take part in affairs of this kind, there is, no matter, how well they start out, a gradual drifting to the Treasury or departmental point of view, which does not have for its main object justice to the , person concerned or the public. The third great fault of the Bill is that it is retrospective. I have heard honorable members say that war profits for 1914-15 will not be taxed, but I confess that, after reading the Bill. I cannot see that that is so,- because it provides for an accounting period ending 1st July, 1915. This, I take it, means that the profits for 1914 will be taxed. As a matter of fact, in moving the original Bill, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) distinctly said that the taxation would not be retrospective. He said that the taxation he- proposed would not cover the period of 1914-15, so that his Bill was fairer than the one now before us, and the honorable member should not object to this Bill being made retrospective to cover the year 1915-16. The argument he advanced fifteen- months ago against retrospective taxation should hold> good to-day. Honorable members have spoken as if this Bill was merely a taxation measure for 1915-16, but, so far as I can see, it taxes for the period 1914-15.
– We propose to amend that. I indicated so in my speech.
– This Bill proposes to relieve all the big public companies of
Australia who ‘have been making exorbitant sums out of the people for years from paying a penny of this taxation.
– Has the honorable member any particular industry in his mind?
– The Honorary Minister has heard of the monopolies of Australia.
– I have heard of them.
– The Honorary Minister knows of them. %
– “Would the honorable member prevent those people from making money, and thus stop the wheels of industry altogether?
– As a matter of fact, the Government have just handed £500,000 to one industry.
– The honorable member is on the wrong track in speaking of the sugar industry.
– Do the Government propose to take back’ 75 per cent, of that £500,000? That is one of the institutions to which I have referred.
If the definition of capital as presented in the Bill is adhered to, it will inflict a very great hardship on thousands of people, especially on small, struggling people, which it should be the aim of this Parliament to encourage. “What is the position of many small people who are endeavouring to accumulate a little capital, and establish big industries in this country? They have seldom more than a few thousand pounds, and I know hundreds of people who have started businesses with a capital of under £1,000. Ten per cent, on £1,000 would be of no use whatever to those men.
– “What percentage does the honorable member wish to. have?
– I am anxious to see all businesses with a capital of below £1,000 exempted.
– That can be done in Committee.
– Will the Treasurer agree to it?
– No; but the honorable member can propose it. He is aware that we propose to make amendments
– I did not hear that the Government proposed to make that particular amendment. There are many cases sn which these small men will be hit very heavily by this Bill. I would like to put before the Treasurer the case of certain men who have entered into a partnership, but have put no money into it. Under their deed of partnership they have lodged certain securities with a bank, and have obtained an overdraft of £20,000. Is that their capital?
– If they use it iri making their profits, yes.
– Then the overdraft of any business will be capital.
– If borrowed money is used in the business, and a profit is made, 10 per cent, will be allowed on it. But the Government will tell honorable members about all these things when we are in Committee. What we propose to allow is the difference between the interest paid and 10 per cent.
– That will not be much good. I know that these are details for consideration in Committee; but it is just as well to know where we stand before we reach the Committee stage.
– The honorable member cannot have the information now, but I will circulate it as soon as I can.
– I have no wish to criticise a Bill that is to be amended in the direction I desire, but there are one or two things which I would like to place before the Treasurer, so that we may know what we are doing. In the case of the men who secured this £20,000 from a bank, having no capital in the business, there would be no 10 per cent.” on anything, and they would have no pre-war standard. In fact, a large business, requiring a capital of £20,000, will amount to nothing under the Bill.
– That is because the capital has not been put up by the1 owners.
– If these men went into their banks, and lodged their private deeds, in order to secure individual overdrafts, and the money so raised were paid into the common fund, it would be capital; but the final result would be the same as in the case where they lodge their joint securities and secure a joint overdraft.
– According to the Treasurer, it is proposed to regard all borrowed money as capital.
– I did not understand the Treasurer to say so.
– I cannot be expected to tell the House what amendments will be moved in Committee, but I shall do so as soon as I can.
– It seems to me that the Bill will be still more involved be. fore we finish. While some people could make as big profits as they liked before the war, and can still continue to make them, those who have just begun to make a few profits will not be allowed to do so. Several industries have been started in Australia since the outbreak of the war.” The Commonwealth Government distinctly encouraged people to seize the opportunity of building up industries which did not exist in Australia before. The fact of Germany being out of the market gave them the opportunity for building up certain trades here, and dozens of industries have been established because the imports from Germany and other countries have been shut out. However, if the tax i3 to be imposed in the way the Bill indicates, all those ‘businesses will be shut up and ruined. Most of them have had to start with very small capital, and have had to build their factories and buy their machinery on terms extending over a number of years.
– Interest on that expenditure would be debited in their balancesheets.
– I am not sure of that. Each honorable member seems to be confident that the Bill will do something, hut the Treasurer is not so confident. In fact, he differs from everybody else in some particular. The amendment of the Leader of the Opposition declares that the Bill is inadequate, because it does not raise from wealth the money required for the war. It is certainly a good principle that the money required for a particular year should be raised in that year, and not some time ahead ; but I do not know what the honorable member expects to obtain by his .amendment. When he says that wealth is not bearing its due proportion of the expenses of the war, on the face of it he must be wrong.
I do not say that I shall vote against the Bill, but. at the same time, I view its effect with great foreboding. I believe that the effect will be to keep the big businesses going .and to ‘ keep small businesses small, and that in a few years’ time its iniquities will have to be reme died. Unless amendments in Committee will cure the particular evils I complain of, and if the measure is administered as I think it will be, from a departmental point of view, one effect will ‘be that hundreds of men will be put out of employment in the case of quite a number of industries to which I could point. I hope that the things I complain of will be altered in Committee, but I have very grave doubt as to the ultimate effect of the measure. It seems to me that it will not hit those people who are making big profits before the war, and are still continuing to make them.
.- It seems to me that both the amendment and a great deal of the criticism levelled at the Bill are altogether misplaced. The amendment states “ that in the opinion of this House the Bill is utterly inadequate, and signally fails to place upon wealth .its due share of the expenses of the war.” I could understand that amendment being moved on the Budget, but I cannot understand it being moved as an amendment on the second reading of this Bill, which never intended to place on wealth its due share of the expenses of this war. The principle of the measure is one to which both parties are’ pledged, and is the same as that in the measure’ introduced by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) when he was Treasurer in the first Hughes Government. That fact makes a lot of the criticism which has come from the Opposition side of the House very surprising to me. The Labour party adopted in Caucus the Bill which the honorable member for Capricornia produced in this House, and as the measure now before us is modelled on the plan of its predecessor, I am astonished that it should have met with such hostile criticism from honorable members opposite. Members on both sides pledged themselves on .the election platform to the principle of this tax, the primary object of which is to secure for the Treasury profits made by reason of the war. That was the original purpose of legislation of this kind, but it was found here, as it had been found in Great Britain, that it would be very difficult indeed to prove in every case exactly what profits had arisen from the war, and in order to overcome that difficulty, the measure was framed to tax profits made during wartime. Knowing that such a tax would operate unfairly in many cases, the framers of the Bill endeavoured to avoid unfairness, as much as possible, by inserting conditions and exemptions, and it is in dealing with them that so much of the trouble has arisen. If we approve of the principle of the Commonwealth acquiring as much of the war-time profits as it can, we should, instead of voting for the amendment, and so rejecting the Bill, try to get the measure into Committee, and- there amend it in such a way that it will achieve the object we have in view. Personally, I think that many of the exemptions should be struck out. If we could get hold of the actual war profits I would Have no hesitation in supporting a proposal that the Commonwealth should take the lot of them, but the difficulty consists in arriving at what are war profits. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Leckie) was a little unfair when he said that this Bill differed, as regards the beginning of the accounting period, from the Bill introduced by the honorable member for Capricornia. Looking at the memorandum showing the amendments which this Bill makes on the War-time Profits Tax Assessment Bill of 1916, I find that the first few lines of clause 7 are exactly the same, namely -
There shall be levied and paid on the amount by which the profits arising from any business to which this Act applies, in any accounting period ending after the thirtieth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and fifteen,
The honorable member also said that the honorable member for Capricornia had objected to retrospective legislation. This is what the former Treasurer said, and if his remarks were applicable to his own Bill they are much more applicable today
In the United Kingdom, the War Profits Bill was passed in 1915, and covered the first eleven months of the war. The Government do not propose to tax the profits accruing during that period, because the firms and companies have, probably, in all cases, distributed their profits, and it might cause a very great deal of irritation if we now demanded that they should make good those profits.
That is very sensible in not attempting to tax the profits for the year 1914, and I am all the more surprised that a member of the Government whose Treasurer enunciated that view should propose to make’ the Bill retrospective so as to tax the profits earned in 1914. I shall vote against the amendment and for the Bill, and I hope that in Committee it will be so amended as to achieve the object which we all desire.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Tudor’s amendment) - put. The House divided.
Majority . . 24
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of a message from the Senate requesting the concurrence of the House of Representatives in the following resolution: -
That the Senate expresses its unqualified appreciation and approval of the statement made on the. 31st January last by the Honorable the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Walter Long), which emphatically sets forth that none of the captured Colonial Possessions of the German Empire will, in any circumstances, be returned to that Power; and, furthermore, resolves that any proposal to restore the captured German territories in the vicinity of the- Australian Continent will be particularly distasteful to the people of the Commonwealth, and prejudicial to their interests, as well as to the future peace of the world.
The following paper was presented : -
Land Tax Assessment Act - Eeport of the Commissioner of Land Tax for 1914-15.
Ordered to be printed.
War-time Profits Tax Assessment Bill.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- During to-day’s sitting an honorable member asked for the amendments which the Treasurer proposes to make in the War-time Profits Tax Assessment Bill, and I pointed out that the Treasurer had said that he did not propose to circulate any amendments until he had heard what honorable members had to say on the second, reading. The Treasurer. then interjected that honorable members opposite have more independence than have honorable members on this side. That cannot be true, because when the Treasurer some time ago invited honorable members to inform him of their proposed amendments-
– Order! I remind the honorable member that he is now discussing something that took place on the second reading of the. Bill.
– I am not attempting to discuss the Bill.
– The honorable member is alluding to a debate that has already been concluded.
– I am doing so only as a preliminary to asking the Treasurer whether he adheres to his decision not to circulate any amendments until the Bill is in Committee.
– I will circulate them as soon as I have them ready.
– After all the months the Treasurer has been in office, he ought to know what amendments he proposes.
– I propose to circulate them when the Bill is in Committee, or before if I can.
– Why are they not ready ? Must the Treasurer submit them to the secret Caucus before they are circulated ? Where is his independence?
– I do not profess to know so much that I cannot listen to the views of any one else.
– What has become of the independence of the right honorable gentleman, who for so long shaped the destinies of Western Australia, and was known as the Emperor of the West.
– I regret to have to interrupt the honorable member, but I cannot allow the debate to continue along these lines. The honorable member is quite in order in asking that the amendments be circulated, but he may not proceed to reopen a concluded debate on a subject connected with the Bill itself.
– I was simply inquiring why these amendments were not forthcoming. If the Treasurer will circulate them on Monday or Tuesday he will greatly convenience honorable members.
– They will not be ready in time to permit that to be done. I hope to circulate them on Wednesday.
– If they were circulated on Monday or Tuesday the House would not be taken by surprise when we meet to resume the consideration of the Bill on Wednesday afternoon.
.- I wish to call attention to the fact at this the first opportunity since you left the chair on a previous occasion, Mr. Speaker, that on the question being put for the second reading of the War-time Profits Bill quite a number of honorable members of the Opposition called “ No.”
– That is quite true.
– I heard only the one voice call “No” after I, had announced what I believed to be the decision on the voices.
– A number of honorable members of the Opposition called “ No,” and, apparently, wished to vote against the second reading of the Bill. I was wondering, sir, whether you had been satisfied that those honorable members really did not desire a division.
– I heard only the one voice call “ No “ in challenge, otherwise I should have caused the bells to be rung for a division. I am sorry if there has been any misunderstanding or any misapprehension on my part, but while I would be perfectly willing, if honorable members . so desired, to put the question again, ‘the matter has proceeded too far to permit of that being done, since the Bill has already been read a second time.
.- I wish to ask the Leader of the House what will be the first business to be taken on Wednesday next?
– The War-time Profits Tax Assessment Bill.
-I should like to ask the Treasurer to make an effort to circulate early in the week the amendments which the Government propose, so that we may have time to consider them before we again meet.
– I shall do my best.
– We shall be asked when we meet on Wednesday to resume the consideration of a Bill which some honorable members opposite declare to be important, and which it is supposed will yield a revenue of £1,000,000
– But the honorable member is opposed to it.
– I am not opposed to it. I say at once that I shall vote to get anything I can, on behalf of the Commonwealth, from people who have gained huge profits at the expense of the workers.
– Order ! Here, again, we have an illustration of what happens when the Standing Orders are not properly observed. The Treasurer has been asked to circulate certain amendments by a certain time, and because an answer given is, apparently, not satisfactory to some honorable members, an attempt is made to urge reasons which, if permitted, would practically amount to re-opening the debate on a question which has already been dealt with.
– I think that I am expressing the opinion of the great majority of honorable members opposite, as well as those on this side of the House, in urging that the Government’s proposed amendments should be circulated before Wednesday next.
– But honorable members opposite will see them in their Caucus.
– I do not know whether they will or not.
– I shall do my best to meet the honorable member’s request.
– There are certain provisions in the Bill which I regard as vital.
– Why did the honorable member vote against it?
– I did not, and I have never said that I would vote against the Bill. The honorable member for Denison is deliberately putting into my mouth words never uttered by me.
– I ask that that statement be withdrawn. I did not put words into the honorable member’s mouth. I was merely seeking ‘information.
– I certainly thought that the honorable member’s interjection conveyed the meaning which the Leader of the Opposition has attached to it. These interjections must cease.
– The honorable member deliberately said that I had voted against the. Bill. That statement is absolutely untrue.
– The honorable member must withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it. I did not vote against the motion for the second reading, but I said, in speaking to the question, as I have said on other occasions, that there are in this country men who have robbed the people of at least £2,000,000, and even if it is only a “ fiver “ that the Treasury can get out of them, I am determined that it shall have it.
– Order ! I cannot allow the debate to proceed further on these lines. The honorable member is not in order in discussing the Bill at this stage.
– The rules of the House will not permit me to say . what I think of some honorable members opposite, but I still have my thoughts concerning their attitude, and I shall have very much pleasure in telling the people from the public platforms of the country how I view it.- I am not lacking the courage of my opinions, and when there has been before the House any measure of which I have disapproved I have always been ready to demand a division if I could obtain one honorable member to support me, as required by the Standing Orders in calling for a division. I hope that these amendments will be circulated as soon as possible, so that we may judge what will be their effect upon the Bill as a whole.
– I should like to support the attitude taken up by the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the conduct of public business. If we are compelled to deal with a number of proposed amendments of a rather complicated measure without haying time to consider them, and to make comparisons, I do not think we shall be able to do our duty. The Treasurer would meet the views of honorable members on both sides of the House by affording us such an opportunity. The Minister for the Navy has told us that the consideration of the Bill will be resumed on Wednesday, and I hope that we shall not be called upon to deal with the amendments for at least a day after they have been circulated.
.- The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly), with that perspicacity which distinguishes him from less learned people, was quite right when he indicated to you, Mr. Speaker, that members of the Opposition were divided on the question of the second reading of the Bill, and that some of us voted against the second reading. You, sir, as was not unnatural, failed to catch the fact that a number of us did call out “ No “ when the question was put, the truth being that some of us thought the Bill to be too utterly contemptible to be worthy of any support whatever-
– Order! This discussion is quite out of order.
– On the other hand, others were of opinion that there was a sufficient modicum of puny merit in the Bill -
– This discussion is wholly irregular, and I cannot permit it to continue, since it relates to a matter that has already been decided.
– Very well, sir.
Mr.Keilly. - Will the honorable member say how many of his party wished to vote against the Bill ?
– Order! The honorable member will be out of order in discussing that matter any further.
– Without in any way trenching upon your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I shall observe, if I may do so with propriety, that it is quite true that members of- the Opposition were divided in their attitude towards the Bill to that extent.
– I cannot permit any more references to a question that has already been disposed of.
– The Bill appears to be as thorny as a hedgehog.
– Will the Minister be in order in discussing the Bill at this stage?
– Certainly not.
– I am not going to discuss it. I have only to say that the Government will give honorable members some time for the consideration of the amendments after they have been circulated. I should like, also, to impress upon the House the necessity for getting on with public business. The Government hopes that it may be able to dispose of the Bill during next week. The measure has been very fully ventilated during the second-reading debate.
– It needed such ventilation.
– I- am afraid that most of our trouble is due to the fact that we had to do with the proposals of my honorable friend. However, we shall be wiser in the future. The Treasurer makes a fair claim when he says that he needs to review the debate and the multitudinous suggestions for amendments before finally shaping his own proposals.
– Yet the Minister for the Navy chides us with taking up time, and says that we must get on with business.
– I would not think of chiding the honorable member. I hope that we shall be able to make progress with this troublesome Bill, and get it out of the way, and I promise that the request for time for consideration of the amendments after their circulation will be complied with.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 August 1917, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1917/19170817_reps_7_82/>.