9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Last night we had the pleasure of viewing some magnificent films of Australian industries and localities. I am informed that it is impossible for these films to be shown again in Australia. Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform me why it is impossible for films of this character to be publicly exhibited throughout out own country?
– I shall have the matter inquired into, and answer the honorable member’s question fully as soon as possible.
– Yesterday the Prime Minister considered that certain matters brought before this chamber were of so grave a nature that he stated that it was the intention of the Government to appoint a royal commission to inquire into them. Seeing that these matters affect the
Treasurer, will the Prime Minister suspend the Treasurer from his office until the inquiry is completed ?
– I am afraidI cannot accede to the honorable member’s request.
PUBLIC works COMMITTEE.
Mr. MACKAY brought up reports from the Public Works Committee, together with minutes of evidence, on the proposed establishment of automatic telephone exchanges at Unley and Norwood, South Australia.
Ordered to be printed.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 29 of 1924 - Commonwealth Public
Service Clerical Association.
No. 30 of 1924- Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association; Commonwealth Postmasters’ Association; Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association; Australian Letter Carriers’ Association; Australian Postal Assistants’ Union; Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association; Commonwealth Telephone Officers’ Association; General Division Officers’ Union, Trade and Customs Department; and Australian Postal Linesmen’s Union. No. 31 of 1924 - Australian Letter Carriers’ Association. Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands - Report with special reference to Biology and Physical Features by Surgeon-Lieutenant W. E. J. Paradice, R.A.N. repatriation.
War Service Homes Adjustments Board.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for “Works and Railways,upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: - 1 and 2. The Adjustments Boards submitted approximately600 reports, and these almost exclusively covered the cases of individual applicants. The dates of the reports cannot be ascertained without a scrutiny of the files, which would entail expenses not considered justifiable in the circumstances.
FOREST PRODUCTS laboratory.
asked the Prime Minister,’ upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr.WEST asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he has received the following communication from the Lord Mayor of Sydney - “ A meeting of very influential citizens of Sydney and surrounding municipalities was held in the Sydney Town Hall on Thursday last, to devise means to secure to the people the area now occupied by the ruins of the P.F.A. building on the north side of the harbour, at Milson’s Point.
This block of land of 2 acres, which adjoins Admiralty House, the home of the Governor-General, has been purchased by a syndicate.
We hope you will he able to secure it before it is too late, and add it to the Admiralty House grounds so as to prevent it being alienated for all time from the people.”?
If so, will the Prime Minister give it favorable consideration?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
If the recommendations have been considered, what has been the decision of Cabinet with regard to the following recommendations: -
– -I desire to direct the honorable member’s attention to my reply yesterday to his question, without . notice.
Classification - Postal Sorters’ Increments
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. No instruction hae been issued as to withholding of increments from members of tho Postal Sorters’ Union. All increments accruing up to date of approval of classification will be paid even although this involves over-payment beyond classification scales.
Mr. MACKAY (for Mr. J.. FRANCIS’ asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Gover.nment will favorably consider financially assisting the maize growers of Queensland, so as to -establish modern handling methods by the erection of grain silos on similar lines to the proposals that were forwarded by the late Government in regard to the handling and storage of wheat in Western Australia and South Australia?
If so, on what terms?
– The suggestion of the honorable member will receive consideration.
– Yesterday, in reply to the honorable member for ‘Corio (Mr. Lister), I gave the information available in the department regarding the importation of German pianos. Further information came to hand this morning, which shows that per steamship Hamburg 46 German pianos have arrived in Adelaide, 42 have been landed in Melbourne, 38 are for Sydney, and 13 are consigned to Queensland, making a total of 139. The values of this shipment will be thoroughly inquired into with a view to properly protecting the Australian piano-making industry.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That leave ‘be given to bring in a bill for an act to approve the agreement made between His Majesty’s Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee of Supply:
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That there be granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the services of the year 1924-25, a sum not exceeding f2,9’78,57-o.
.- I want’ an explanation before then. I am a member of a royal commission, and my experience of it supports the view I have held for many years, that, for the most part, such bodies cause the waste of time and of public money. A government that desires to get information can get it in a more rapid and economical way than by appointing royal commissions. The results of their labours are usually nil. If a government really desires to do anything, it does it without reference to a royal commission. If it does not desire to do anything, it ignores any recommendation by a royal commission. Two or three more royal commissions are contemplated by the Government, and one was mentioned last evening, when certain statements were made that I propose to traverse.
I direct attention to a statement, made by a member of the Opposition, about the administration’ of a department presided over by the Treasurer, and to the answers to it given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), and the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page). The Prime Minister distinctly said last night that it was not the practice to interfere with the Commissioner for Taxation, but the Commissioner, in his report, distinctly states that he has been repeatedly interfered with in the performance, of his duties by the political head of his department. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) asked for some information about public matters, and the Treasurer answered that it was not the practice to supply it. Let us consider that statement. I have in my hand a parliamentary document, dated 1918. It is a return that was called for by an honorable member, and the Treasurer of that day supplied the information. It was then considered” to be quite within the province of -a member of Parliament to ask for that information, and it was regarded as the duty of the responsible Minister to supply it. The document deals with the payment of land tax. Information was sought regarding a certain company. As the actions of that company are not now in question, there is no need for me to mention its name. The document states all the details relating to the land tax paid by that company - the years for which the tax was levied, the assessed value of the land, and the amount of tax imposed and paid each year. On the 11th July, 1923, an honorable member asked whether a certain company had paid all the taxes assessed under the Land Tax Act. The Treasurer answered “No.” He did not then say that it was not usual to supply the information, but he gave it in accordance with the common, practice of his predecessoi-3. A second question was asked, “ What is the amount of the arrears outstanding, and what are the years to which they apply? “ He did not say, “It is not the practice to supply such information,” and he did supply it. His answer was, “ £3,188 - part of the tax for the financial year 1922-3.” A third question was, “ Have legal proceedings been instituted to recover same? “ and the answer was, “ No. The company has been granted an extension of time to a future date.” On the 19th July the following questions were asked by me and answered : -
Question. - What extension of time has been granted to the Midland Railways Company to pay the arrears?
Answer. - One hundred and two days.
Question. - At what date must the arrears be paid ?
Answer. - 30th September’, 1923.
About the same date the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) asked the Treasurer whether he would supply certain information. He said he would. Later the honorable member for Yarra repeated the question, and the Treasurer replied, “ It will , take some time to compile it,’ but I can assure the honorable member that the’ information will be supplied.” Not at any stage did he deny the right of honorable members to demand such information, or say that it was not his place to supply it. Had he consulted the report of the Taxation Commissioner, he would have discovered that the information was regarded as public property. The Commissioner clearly and distinctly states that no secrecy is observed in regard to land taxation. In his- report of 1920 he drew the attention of the Government of the day to the distinction existing between land taxation and income taxation, and stated that particulars regarding land taxation were made public. The Treasurer is now asked to supply certain information regarding several individuals, including Sir Sidney Kidman and Mr. Jowett, but he refuses to do what his predecessors would have done readily. Seeing that the Treasurer cannot give the information I shall give it. I have in my hand a copy of a document which is in, the possession of the department, and was compiled by Mr. Chenoweth, the Deputy Commissioner. I do not know whether I am right or not, but I am under the impression that the information it contains was supplied to the Treasurer. ‘
– That is not so.
-Well, I shall read it to him. It shows the amount of taxation assessed on Crown leaseholds held by Mr. Edmund Jowett and others, and the amount of tax paid. Since the Treasurer cannot supply this information, he will be glad to have it. In 1914-5 Mfr. Edmund Jowett owed £11,828 in taxation on his Crown leaseholds, and he paid £199. In 1915-6 he owed £11,348 and paid £26 1 . The figures for 1 9 1 6-7 wereamount owing £10,819, amount paid nil; 1917-8, amount owing £8,944, amount paid nil. He owed £10,291 in the next year, and thought he would pay a little, so he paid £149. . In 1919-20 he owed £S,484, and in the next year £8,434, and paid nothing in either year. There has been no assessment made since then. There is a minute on this document which reads as follows: -
It should be noted that departmental valuations have not been applied for the last two years in connexion with the Jowett case, but when applied the amount suspended should be in consonance with the previous year’s total - probably about £8,500.
– Do those figures deal with Crown leaseholds?
– Yes. The value of Sir Sidney Kidman’s holdings, according to this document, was £257,689 in 1914-5, and the taxation due on them was £9,179, of which £4,500 has been paid. Since that amount was paid, Sir Sidney Kidman has paid nothing, and has refused to pay. Does the Treasurer know that?
– I shall tell you later.
– An officer of the department was sent up to Sir Sidney Kidman’s Kapunda estate, and spent two months there, explaining to him the way to compile his returns. If the Treasurer desires to know the name of the officer, and is not able to ascertain it, I am quite prepared to give it to him. As the result of that visit, the valuation of Sir Sidney Kidman’s estates was reduced by thousands of pounds, though, I understand that the ordinary duty of the inrvestigation officers of the Taxation Department is to discover under-payments of taxation. I have been informed that Sir Sidney Kidman lodged his taxation return only last night. Is that true?
– I do not know anything about it.
– Well, let us see what else Mir. Chenoweth has to say in the minute from which I have alreadyquoted . Apparently the minute was prepared for his superior officer, and not for the Treasurer, who says that he knows nothing about it. It seems that he does not ask his officers for information. At any rate, the minute, which is dated the 21st August, 1923, was prepared for somebody’s information. It reads as follows: -
With regard to Sir Sidney Kidman, only the one assessment on Crown lands has been made. Assessments for subsequent years have not yet been made, owing to incomplete information supplied by taxpayer and Iris agent, but it is expected that there would be at least a commensurate amount each year, which would total for the nine years to date about £80,000. However, the holdings and areas returned have been found to be so very incomplete that additions must be made which will make the total very much exceed this £80,000.
Who is Sir Sidney Kidman’s agent? In case the Treasurer has no information on that point, I shall tell him. The gentleman’s name is Mr. John Jolly. He was one of the gentlemen appointed by the Government to inquire into the operation of the land taxation. We could expect from this gentleman, who has already defied the department, a most impartial judgment - just about as impartial as that on the operation of the Navigation Act given by the honorable members opposite who sat with me on the Navigation Commission. The minute was written at a most significant time. It will be remembered that this subject was first brought under the notice of the Government by the honorable member for Yarra in the form of a question on the 13th August, 1923. Four days later, he returned to the attack. At that time the Treasurer said that he would supply the information that was desired. It is most peculiar that while to-day the Treasurer affirms that he has no knowledge of the document from which I am quoting, it was really being prepared by the officers of the department in order to ascertain whether the allegations made by the honorable member for Yarra could be refuted. The fact that no information was ever given to us is strong evidence that the honorable member’s statements were correct. It was because these departmental documents supported his statements that they were never made public. The Government now comes along, and says that it proposes- to refer the whole matter to a judge, who will sit as a royal commissioner. Will the commissioner sit in public or in private? If he sits in public the document from which I have just given the Treasurer some information, and documents similar to it, will be produced; but there need not be the delay which the appointment . of a royal commission will necessitate, for the documents could be submitted directly to Parliament.
Last night, a question arose as to the amounts of taxation outstanding, not only on Crown leaseholds, but also on freeholds. Whatever contentions may be put forward by the Government in regard to the difficulty of assessing and collecting taxation on Crown leaseholds, it will hardly be suggested that similar difficulties must be faced in dealing with freeholds. Yet we are met with the fact that there are vast accumulations of unpaid taxation on freehold property. Sir Sidney Kidman, for instance, owes over £20,000 in taxation on his freehold properties, so that not only has he been allowed to default in his taxation on Crown leaseholds, but he has not even been pressed to pay his taxes on his freeholds.
In seeking last year to secure legal endorsement of the remission of unpaid taxes on Crown leaseholds, the Treasurer informed honorable members that the amount outstanding was £1,300,000. We are now told that that was not the full amount.. The Treasurer stated last year that an amount of £1,330,000 was owing upon leasehold properties held in the Commonwealth, and he also stated - as is shown in the budget papers - that the total amount of taxation owing was, £1,902,000, and that there was owing upon freehold property £672,000. This year, the arrears have increased by £190,000, but of this amount we do not know how much relates to leasehold lands and how much to freehold lands. There is, however, at least £672,000 owing on freeholds. Last night the Treasurer amended his statement.. He said, “When I gave the amount owing as £1,330,000, that was right as far as I knew, but the assessments have been readjusted, and the amount now owing on leaseholds is £1,649,000.” If we accept the latter amount and deduct it from the total arrears at the end of 1923, namely, £2,115,000, the difference is £466,000, which, with an additional £190,000 for this year, makes over half a million pounds. Although the Government have this information at their disposal, they have refused to supply it. Information required has for years been freely supplied, but this Government have refused to give any information whatever. I move -
That the amount be reduced by £1, in order to direct the attention of the Government to the maladministration of the Taxation Department in -
Last night the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) referred to the excitement of members., on this side of the chamber, andI therefore determined that in speaking this afternoon ‘ I would at least, appear to,’ be as cool as a codfish in Arctic waters. I have endeavoured, I do not know with what success, to emulate the calm and sedate manner of the Prime Minister..
– You have. been most successful.
– The Opposition say that there is no need to waste timeon a royal commission. The subterfuge adopted is discreditable to the Parliament and to the Government.
– The question before the committee is that the amount be reduced by £1.
.- I second- the amendment.. This is one of many instances . of the extraordinary action on the part of the Government in discriminating between individual taxpayers.. During the past two years the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has repeatedly endeavoured to secure information from the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page)- in regard! to taxation matters. For some reason or another - I think that reason was exposed by the honorable member for Yarra the other day - theGovernment and the Treasurer have repeatedly refused to disclose the amount of taxation owing by certain wealthy individuals in the Commonwealth. While information is quite freely given - as a, matter of fact, too freely- with respect, to small men on the land, when wealthy men, who are in a position to sway political opinion, and replenish the partycoffers, are involved, the whole machinery of the Commonwealth is silenced and deadened. There- is no excuse for the action of the Government or the Treasurer in refusing to supply the honorable member for Yarra with the information he desires. While hundreds of names of taxpayers in the. Northern Territory, who owe from 2s. 6d. upwards, are published’, those of the high and mighty in this community, whose taxation is yet unpaid, must not be disclosed. During the last two- years the honorable member for- Yarra has delved into this; question, in an endeavour to expose the maladministration of the Taxation Department, and no matter how the. Prime Minister or the Treasurer may endeavour to get his statements accepted as. a charge against Mr. Ewing, or how they may endeavour to side-track the issue, the Government stands indicted on one of the most serious charges it is possible to level against an Administration.
– It is the most serious charge that could be levelled against any Government.
– It is the most serious charge made against any Government since I have been a member of Parliament. The seriousness of it is to be found in the fact that certain wealthy men in the community possess privileges which are not enjoyed by other taxpayers. The Prime Minister now says, “ You have attacked Mr. Ewing, and we shall appoint a royal com mission in order that you may substantiate your charges against him.” The Prime Minister cannot put words into the mouths of honorable members of this party. The fighting ground is not to be selected by the. Prime Minister,, but by this party.
– It must be in this House.
– Yes. Whether the Prime Minister appoints a royal commission or not, the Government must accept the responsibility of placing before the House the information which it intends to place before the royal commission. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) has, on behalf of the Labour party,’ informed the committee that we refuse to accept a royal commission. There are, I think, very good reasons for. so doing, particularly when a taxation agent, who cannot give an unbiased or unprejudiced judgment concerning some of his clients, is appointed a commissioner. Anything could be expected from a Government which would make such an appointment. Why did not the Government propose a bona fide investigation ? Judging by the Treasurer’s constant refusal during the last three years to give information which should ba available to the representatives of the people, the Government does not desire a complete investigation. The name of the proposed royal commissioner has not yet been announced. When we know his name we shall be better able to judge of his qualification to investigate this serious charge. For the time being, I am not prepared to accept any appointment made by a government whose life, is at stake, and which has tried to keep from the people the truth in regard to land taxation. The investigation is not to be made by a tribunal representative of all parties in this House. The Government should at least appoint a royal commission so constituted that the representatives of the Labour party would have access to departmental information. That it cannot possibly have if the inquiry is to be such as the Prime Minister has promised. The royal commission will meet in secret, confidential documents will be secretly examined, and the only information the people will get will be the report of the commissioner. So we regard the proposed commission with contempt and suspicion. That is strong language, but when persons whose political opinions are well known can be allowed to owe £100,000 in taxation, some of the liabilities dating back for eight years, we cannot be expected to accept an inquiry, the purpose of which will be to whitewash the Government and protect those wealthy persons who have been defrauding the Commonwealth of taxation. After probably 30 requests, the Treasurer tardily produced yesterday the annual report of the Commissioner of Taxation. The docu-ment is incomplete; it does not give the information that it. should give. Some returns for 1922 are entirely missing, and we are told by the Commissioner that because of the work he has been required to do it has been impossible for him in the time at his disposal to prepare that information for this Parliament. That statement is an indictment of the Treasurer, because if the Commissioner has been taken away from his work the Treasurer should have made other arrangements for that work to be done. There is not the slightest doubt that but for the ‘persistency of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) and other honorable members on this side, the Commissioner’s report would not have been produced last night. Even then it came to us only in the form of an unbound printer’s proof. The law requires that the Commissioner shall submit a report annually, and only very extraordinary circumstances would justify the Commissioner in ignoring that obligation. Apparently it did not suit the Government to let the people have certain information, and so the Commissioner has resorted to the expedient of omitting from the report facts which should have been stated. The royal commission which the Prime Minister has promised to appoint will not satisfy honorable members on this side of the House, and I am certain it will not satisfy the people. No royal commission appointed to cover up acts of maladministration can be accepted by us, especially in view of what has taken place during the last two or three years.
– To-day we are witnessing the second act of the farce or tragedy which honorable members opposite are staging in this Chamber. For the last eighteen months they have ‘been manufacturing poison gases and liberating them against this Government. Hitherto they have relied on general charges, and everything that the Government has done in pursuance of a policy which had been frankly expounded in this House and the country and known for years past has been represented to be the result of powerful and sinister influences behind the Government. But this week the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) came down with a specific charge against the Government of maladministration and preferential treatment of taxpayers, practically amounting to corruption. He also attacked a highly-placed public servant, whose work has always been most conscientious and irreproachable. On Tuesday night, the honorable member demanded an investigation of his charges; he would be satisfied with nothing less. And when the investigation was granted by the Prime Minister yesterday, we saw the spectacle of a crowd of disappointed and angry men on the Opposition benches. They were annoyed and embarrassed because the Government indicated that it was prepared to examine these charges in the minutest detail. Immediately, they tried to draw a red herring across the trail. They said they had attacked, not the administration of the Commissioner of Taxation, but the Ministry, and especially myself. I listened carefully to the speech made by the honorable member for Yarra, and I also read the report of it in Hansard, and I have no doubt that he made a definite and specific attack ‘on the Commissioners administration. Last night the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) charged the Government, and me especi-ally, with having ordered that preferential treatment should be accorded to several big squatters and companies who were named. That preference, they said, dated back for eight years. In other words, it commenced three years before I entered this Parliament, and six and a half years before I became a Minister. For seven or eight years, he alleges, certain taxes have not been paid, and honorable members opposite say that the explanation is that the Government, and I especially, have brought influence to bear on the Commissioner of .Taxation. The Acting Leader of the Opposition said last night that I should be impeached for my corrupt administration. In the circumstances it must have been by telepathy or some such means - if I did so at all - that I brought pressure to bear and interfered with the Taxation Commissioner in the proper discharge of his duty, seven or eight years ago. What are the facts in this matter ? If honorable members will look at page 21 of the budgetpapers they will see that tax and fines have been outstanding each year since the 30th June, 1915. In 1915 and 1916 the Labour party were in power. Members of the party at present in opposition then formed the Government in this House, and yet in 1914-15 tax and fines outstanding amounted to £119,000, and in 1915-16 to £221,000. If the Prime Minister and I have been guilty of corruption during the time we have been in charge at the Treasury, and have permitted preferential treatment of certain landholders, what must be *said of those who eight or nine years ago .allowed an exactly similar state of affairs, to exist? .1 have said that in 1915-16 the tax and fines outstanding amounted io £221,000, which is £32,000 more than the amount outstanding on the same account last year. A greater amount was permitted to remain outstanding by these sea-green incorruptibles of the Labour party than remained outstanding last year under the present Government. When this Government came into office the officials of the Taxation Department were practically the same as those in charge when a Labour Government was in power, but because we did not collect land tax and fines to the amount of £198,000 we - according , to honorable members opposite - are corrupt, “and have brought pressure to bear on the officials. Of course, a Labour Government would not dream of bringing pressure to bear in that way! I most indignantly deny any direction by myself or interference with the administration of the Land Tax Assessment Act by the Taxation Commissioner. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) and other honorable members opposite contend that because certain results have followed the administration of the law there must have been pressure. There might have been pressure by a Labour Government; I do not know that there was, and I do not suggest it, but there has been no pressure of any kind brought to bear by myself, nor have I made any suggestions to the officers of the Taxation Department. I say quite frankly that the memorandum quoted by the honorable member for Bourke to-day was never put before me at any time. The first intimation I had of its existence was when the honorable member quoted from it.
– Did not the honorable gentleman ask for any report?
– I asked for full information. I do not believe that there has been corruption in the administration of this department at any time either by a Labour . Government or any other government. The results complained of are due, not to the administration, but to the inexorable difficulties associated with the collection of land tax, especially on leaseholds. Although I hold very strongly that the private affairs of individuals in connexion with land and income taxation should not be disclosed, either in this Parliament or through the press, and that such information should not be broadcasted throughout this country, yet because of what has been said, and because of the fact that Sir Sidney Kidman has had definite charges made against him of evading taxation, I secured this morning from the Commissioner of Taxation certain information concerning action - taken in the case of Sir Sidney Kidman, and I propose to give a brief outline showing what was done in his case in the various years under review, and the way in which his assessments have been dealt with. It will be seen that the Commissioner of Taxation during the whole of the time has been most assiduous in his endeavours to secure that this taxpayer should fulfil all his obligations, and succeeded in having his land tax paid up to 1921 ; the balance outstanding, being last year’s assessment and a super-assessment issued in February of this year. It will also, be seen that the various Deputy Commissioners in charge in the central office were on numerous occasions in constant touch with the taxpayer, and with his agent, Mr. John Jolly, in endeavouring to obtain from the taxpayer returns under the act in order that he might be properly assessed for land tax. The Taxation Commissioner informs me that in July, 1922, he first became aware of the fact that Sir Sidney Kidman had not complied with the law. He immediately called upon the Deputy Commissioner in the central office for a report. It was apparent to. the Commissioner from this report, and because of advice from the Crown Law Department, that in this and similar cases the department could not prosecute the taxpayer for failure to lodge returns for past years, that immediate action must be taken to secure outstanding returns and to assess the tax payable. Honorable members will see from the record of what took place that the prosecution of the taxpayer upon one assessment was ordered in South Australia by the then Deputy Chief Commissi oner and failed. In connexion with this taxpayer’s last assessment legal proceedings are actually in progress.
-What period is covered by the last assessment?
– I shall give honorable members the whole of the information supplied to me. The position with regard to Sir Sidney Kidman is that the returns for 1914-15, 1915-16, and 1916-17, were submitted by himself and the taxes assessed on these returns were paid. Subsequently, largely because of difficulties in connexion with Crown leaseholds, he had difficulty in supplying the whole of the particulars required to be included in the returns, and when returns were not made for 1917-18, 1918-19, and 1920-21, the department issued default assessments and collected the whole of the money so assessed. All left outstanding is the tax on the subsequent assessment in the succeeding year, and in addition a super assessment on the past years of “a certain amount which the department came to the conclusion should be made. The total amount that Sir Sidney Kidman owes at the present time is one year’s assessment, and the super assessment which, as the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) has said, was made in February or March of this year.
– Forhow much?
– For £20,000 as the honorable member for Bourke has already mentioned. I should like to insert inHansard, so that the facts may be known to every one, a record of the action taken by the. department, which shows conclusively that it has done its utmost to secure returns from Sir Sidney Kidman, and where it has failed to do so has carried out its proper duty. The following is a brief summary of the action taken on Sir Sidney Kidman’s file to obtain outstanding information : - 18.8.1919. - Letter issued asking for -
In addition to the extensions set out in the statement, Records Branch state that they, have a record’ of extensionsbeing granted to the following dates’:- 31.12.1921, 15.1.1922, 31.1.1922, 20.2.1922, 28.2.1922, 25.3.1922, 30.4.1922, and 15.5.1922.
As seen, further extension was granted prior to or on the date of the termination of the prior extension; this amounted to a continuous extension during the first half of the present year.
In noinstance has either Sir Sidney Kidman or Mr. Jolly ignored the department’s requests, but they have always come forward with reasonable explanations of their inability to furnish the required returns owing to . the absence of essential particulars, which Mr. Jolly and his staff were specially deputed by Sir Sidney Kidman to obtain and collate. One reason why Mr. Jolly asked for extensions on these occasions was that for practically the whole of the year 1921 he was acting as a member of the Royal Commission on Taxation, ‘and, being a servant of the Commonwealth, was not able to handle his own business as he would have done in ordinary circumstances. Those axe the facts regarding the assessments that have been paid.
– When were they paid?
– Some time ago. I shall now show what happened to the balance of the assessments, for that is the question really at issue. On the 7th August, 1922, the Commissioner informed Sir Sidney Kidman that the position regarding his outstanding returns was most unsatisfactory, and asked that arrangements should be made without further delay for the immediate lodging of outstanding returns. Sir Sidney replied that Mr. Jolly, his agent, had told him that matters were well in hand. On the 23rd August the Commissioner informed Sir Sidney Kidman that if returns were lodged by the 30th September, 1922, no proceedings would be taken. On the 2nd March, 1923, the Assistant Commissioner informed Sir Sidney that as no returns had been received there was no alternative but to institute proceedings. On the 19th March the Deputy Commissioner at the central office was instructed to take proceedings. On the . 16th April the Deputy Commissioner at the central office asked- the Deputy
Commissioner in South Australia to, insti-tuta* proceedings to. compel. Sir- Sidney Kidman to comply with the.- requirements of the law. On the 1st August Mr. Jolly interviewed the Assistant Commissioner, and an extension of time to the 15th September, 1923, was granted for the lodgment of the returns.
– Was not Mr. Jolly an officer of the Taxation Department?
– No. He was a taxation expert and a member- of the royal commission that was dealing with taxation at that time. Om the 25th September Mr. Jolly wrote that the necessary data had not been transmitted to him by the taxpayer, and on the 12th October, in response to representations made to him, the Assistant Commissioner advised Mr. J oily that an extension of time to tie 31s.t of October had been approved. On the 12th November the Assistant Commissioner directed that unless the require^ ments of the department were satisfactorily met not later than the 30th Novembar, it would he necessary to issue .default assessments. Mr.. Jolly was advised .accordingly. .Seven days later Mr. .Jolly informed the Department that Sir Sidney Kidman’s staff had , been ill, and the preparation of the returns hampered, .hut he stated that he hoped to complete .them within a few weeks. .On ,the .2;Lst November the Deputy .Commissioner (at the central office was instructed to issue default summonses. On £he 13th Feb.ruary, 1924;, the Deputy Commissioner at the central .office advised -that default assessments had .been .prepared. It was proposed <to tissue assess* ments with a letter saying that £2;500 in respect .of .each of the -years :i.915r6 -to 1922t3 inclusive should be paid on -.the dates -specified in &e notices, an,d that the balance -might ‘Stand over pending lodgment of complete returns and >the finaliza-tien .of . une basic values upon which leasehold estate -in Crown leases was to be .calculated,. In Maseeh of this year amended assessments were -issued by the Deputy Commissioner at the central office. In May, Sir Sidney Kidman replied that Mr. John Jolly had had the matter in hand for some time, and had been given all .details f or the necessary schedules, and tha* Mr. Jolly had been asked to put the -returns in at the earliest, possible moment. On the 13th June, Sir Sidney
Kidman was informed that if payment of. tax- assessed, w.as not made by the. 28th June, there would be no alternative but. to institute- legal proceedings for recovery. On the 14th. July the Deputy Commissioner at the central office asked whether legal proceedings for the recovery of the tax should be instituted, and on the 30th July the Deputy Commissioner was asked for a report regarding’ the statement of Mr. Jolly that the objections were lodged within the specified period. The Deputy Commissioner replied that the objections were lodged one day late, and as a result the Commissioner took action. Sir Sidney Kidman has paid all his tax on freehold land except that for last year, with the exception of the super-assessment issued last March. I am given to understand that the tax on his .Crown leaseholds ha,s never been pai.d, and ,that the position w.as the same When the Labour Government .was in .office .as is to-day. The assessments have always been .disputed, ,and payment has been withheld pending a new .basis of valuation. In this matter the (Commissioner, acting entirely on -his own initiative, has been within the da.w and within his own administrative powers. Until to-day I was ignorant ,of .any of ,the facts regarding. Sir Sidney Kidman’s taxation, and the -first information I -had .regarding Mr. Jowett was when the Acting Leader .of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) read some statements this afternoon. These facts dispose of the charges made by the honorable member ‘for Yarra. The Commissioner has not been subjected ‘to any political pressure. I gathered ‘from what the honorable member for Yarra said the other day that he received ‘his information from ex-officers of the department. I have not been privileged to receive information in that way, nor do I think it part of my duty as Treasurer to inquire into the private affairs of taxpayers. I should be very loath to create a precedent by holding such an inquisition. Parliament has authorized a special officer, has vested him with special powers, and has placed him in a special position to do the work
While I am on this subject I should like to refer to a further charge made by the honorable member for Yarra of “ preferential treatment “ in favour of the big man. As evidence in support of that charge, he produced a list of names published in the Northern Territory Gazette, and tried to create the impression that the cases listed were identical with those of Sir Sidney Kidman and Mr. Jowett, although he admitted that they were under a different act. As the department had published the names of these little men, he contended that it should also have published the names of the big men that had defaulted. The circumstances and the acts are quite different in the two cases. The Gazette notice referred to defaulters under the Northern Territory Land Act, which bears the same relation to the Commonwealth Land Act as any state Land Act bears to it. It was administered until recently by the Home and Territories Department as a territorial act. Lists of defaulters under the Commonwealth act are not published. The Commonwealth administration publishes only the names of individual taxpayers who are prosecuted and fined. Those are the names that, as required by section 9 of the act, appear in the report. The lists in the Northern Territory were published by a former Deputy Commissioner at Darwin, unknown to the Commissioner. He has verbally explained to the Commissioner that the publication of these lists was a practice established when the taxes were collected by the Department for Home and Territories by a former Deputy Commissioner for the Northern Territory. Mr. Ewing’s name appeared at the end of the list read by the honorable member for Yarra because the Taxation Department has now taken over the business of collecting taxes in the Northern Territory. The Commissioner did not know of the publication of the list until it was brought under- his notice by the honorable member for Yarra. The former Deputy Commissioner thought he was acting properly in publishing the list; but it appears that, notwithstanding the publication, no land has been sold in Darwin to recoup outstanding land tax. The Commissioner has telegraphed to the Deputy Commissioner instructing him to refrain from publishing further lists or taking action in connexion with the lists already published. He has been informed by the Deputy Commissioner that all Northern Territory land tax payable by Sir Sidney . Kidman has been paid.
It is worth while to look briefly at the facts as they affect the Government.
The honorable member for- Yarra has directed attention to page 21 of the budget papers, where figures are published showing that considerable amounts of land tax have been outstanding at the end of every year since the financial year 1914-5. If honorable members will look into the figures they will see that even when a Labour Government was in office it was difficult to collect a certain portion of the tax each year. This needs to be borne in mind by honorable members when they are considering the attitude adopted by the lately-converted political purists of the Labour party. In 1914-5 and 1915-6, when the Crown Leaseholds Act was being administered by a Labour . Government, the collection of taxes on certain holdings was as difficult as it was found to be under subsequent Governments. Although that Labour Government failed to collect the’ tax, it was not charged with corruption, for its difficulties were frankly recognized. I have always maintained that the act was passed without due deliberation, and that the Commissioner was set an impossible task in administering it. Two royal commissions have already investigated the problem and have tried to find a basis for the collection of the tax. A royal commission is now sitting, and the evidence given before it is very divergent and conflicting.
Mr.Fenton. - A royal commission unanimously recommended that the defaulters should be made to pay.
– We are all unanimous that they should pay, but the difficulty is to find an equitable basis on which they can be made to pay. Surely if the honorable member’s contention, that the Commissioner has given preferential treatment to certain taxpayers, can be seriously entertained, blame must rest on previous Labour Governments which . permitted the same kind of treatment. This Government has made no attempt to influence the Commissioner in any way. On the other hand, it has done everything possible to expedite the collection of these outstanding taxes. I do not know whether in past years Labour Governments influenced the Commissioner, but I say emphatically that this Government has not interfered with him or any of the Deputy Commissioners. Since Parliament decided that these taxes should be collected, the Government has urged expedition in their collection, and Mr. Ewing will have an opportunity to corroborate this statement before the royal commission that is to be appointed, and he will, also be able to show the invidious position in which he has been placed. So far as I can gather nobody accused the Labour Government of maladministration in 1915-16 because the full amount of land tax assessed was not collected. The difficulties of the situation were recognized, and the Commissioner of Taxation was given credit for doing his best to collect the money that was owing.
The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) said earlier in this debate that it was quite customary for Treasurers to interfere with the Commissioner of Taxation iri the discharge of his duties, and to give him directions as to which amounts should be collected, and which should be allowed to stand. It is interesting to note, however, that the one case that has been quoted in which a Treasurer took such action was given great publicity, and mentioned in two budget speeches. At the very time when Mr. Watt, our present Speaker, issued the instruction that the collection of taxes on Crown leaseholds should be suspended, he promised that the matter would be investigated by a royal commission. The evidence which is now being given before the royal commission that is sitting to investigate it shows clearly that Parliament set the Commissioner an impossible task in requesting him to collect the” money. Honorable members of the Opposition are angry that the Government has decided to appoint a royal commission, for they know that their statements cannot be proved, but will be completely refuted when light is thrown on the situation. Sworn evidence before a judge or a judicial tribunal will completely disabuse the minds of the public as to the truth of their contentions.
Honorable members are surely aware of the way in which the present position arose. In. 1918 representations were made to the then Treasurer that if the high assessments which had been made on Crown leaseholds were enforced the leaseholders would be ruined. The Treasurer of - the day. recommended to the Government that a royal commission should be appointed to inquire into the matter. That was done. The royal commission recommended in favour of the continuation of the taxation on these leaseholds with certain important modifications of the existing law. One of the members of that Commission, Mr. Currie, who probably, knows as much about the wide open spaces of Australia as any man, was emphatically opposed to that recommendation. Successive governments considered the position, but nothing definite was done until the present Government acted la3t year. The members of this Government took the stand that they were opposed to the retention on the statute-book of an act which was not being administered. They realized that unless the act was administered they would ultimately be charged, and properly so, with not paying due regard to the law. I made a statement in my budget speech, in July of last year, to that effect, and as soon afterwards as possible I introduced a bill to repeal the measure which provided for the imposition of this taxation. Prior to that, the Commissioner of Taxation had made many attempts to formulate an equitable basis for assessing the taxation on these leaseholds, but had not been able to do so. Soon after the recommendations of the royal commission were made, he found that it was essential that its proposals should be modified, but no satisfactory basis of valuation could be arrived at. This chamber subsequently resolved that the arrears to that date should be collected, and I informed the Commissioner of Taxation of the decision, and urged him to do everything possible to expedite compliance with it. He concentrated the whole of his land tax valuation staff on the work of making assessments on the revised basis. But even after that, further revision was necessary in consequence of a decision by the ‘ Supreme Court of South Australia. The Commissioner . reported these difficulties to the Government, but I said to’ him, “It seems to me that Parliament desires that the arrears shall be cleared up on the original basis on which they were levied.” Immediately after his interview with me, I made a statement in this House giving the reasons which had actuated him in revising the valuations, and I said that the Government had decided to appoint a commission to investigate the matter. That commission is now sitting. There has been no avoidable delay on the part of the Government. Everything possible to expedite the collection of these taxes has been done. Despite the charge made last night, that I attempted to shirk my responsibilities, and despite the insulting amendment that has been proposed this afternoon, I do not think that it can be truly said of me that I lack courage. I may be guilty of a sort of foolhardiness in attempting to straighten out this tangle, for I am the first Treasurer who has made any effort to solve the problem, in order that the_ Government may know exactly where it stands. But the position should be cleared up. We should not have an act on the statute-book which it is impossible to administer.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has attacked the Commissioner for Taxation on account Of the delays that have occurred in the presentation of his annual reports. He spoke very strongly on Tuesday about the failure of the Commissioner to present a report since the one that was tabled on the 25th May, 1921.’ The Commissioner has given his reasons for this delay, and it is interesting to note that his report, covering the operations of the last three years, was tabled just at the time when the honorable member for Yarra was criticizing him.
– It is a remarkable coincidence !
– It really is, for such a report takes many weeks to prepare and print. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) complained that even now we only have it in printer’s proof, but he knows as well as I do that it takes many weeks to set type for a document which contains so many, complicated tables as this one does. The Commissioner has given very good reasons for the delay that has occurred. The departmental officers had to work under extraordinary pressure in order to compile the information that was required by the royal commission on taxation. The preparation of the Commissioner’s eighth annual report was, he assures me, commenced immediately after the seventh annual report was tabled, but it was not completed until two or three months ago. Delay has been occasioned by the introduction to this House of various taxation measures, which altered the prevailing practices and forms. When the present Prime Minister waa Treasurer, in 1922, he introduced a measure to consolidate the law in relation to income taxation, and the work which that measure caused to the officers of the department was very great, and required the personal superintendence of the Commissioner. The personal attention of the Commissioner was also required in preparing information to submit to the State Governments in connexion with the attempt that was made last year to delimit the Commonwealth’s sphere of taxation. It will be. remembered that the conference of Premiers, which discussed that matter, desired to have, complete figures for the year 1922-23. Their compilation made a tremendous amount of additional work for the Commissioner of Taxation and his staff. It was felt subsequently that it was due to the members of this Parliament that the figures should be brought up to date for presentation to them in this report, and that caused a little . more delay. Every one will agree that it is better for us to have the fullest and most accurate information, before us when we are dealing with financial matters than to have . figures compiled on a basis which might prove misleading to us. Although it is three years since the last report by the Commissioner was tabled, the interests of the public have been well safeguarded, for during eighteen months of that time the royal commission on taxation was making an exhaustive investigation into the incidence and effect of out various taxation laws. In allthese circumstances it must be agreed -that the Commissioner had very good reasons for the delay that occurred in the presentation of his report.
I am satisfied that the explanation that I have given completely refutes the charges that he has been subjected to improper influences, and that he has not dealt equitably with every class and condition of taxpayer. His treatment of the taxpayers has been equitable in every way.
.- The Treasurer began his speech by saying that the members of the Opposition were angry because an investigation was to be made into the charges that they have made against the Government. That is an absolute misrepresentation of our position. We are glad that at last the Treasurer has seen fit to investigate the defaults of at least one taxpayer. We are also glad to know that, because of the allegations that we have made, the revenues of this country will be considerably augmented in the next few weeks. We have done our duty to the people who elected us to membership of this Parliament. We >are not angry because, an investigation! is to be made by a royal commission, but we axe rightly annoyed because a cowardly attempt is being made .by the Government to shelter behind a public servant on a charge made against them on the floor of this House. I have searched the records and I cannot find another instance in which., when am attack has been made against a Government, Ministers have allowed the shots to be fired at a. public officer instead of at them. I said last night, and I repeat it now, that I refuse to pillory a public servant when the members of the Government should answer the charge. Is the Treasurer in charge of the Taxation Department or is he not ? Is he a rubber stamp or a live Minister? If he is a Minister worthy of the name, as he is in charge of the Treasury and of the ‘Taxation Department, it is his duty to study the figures presented to him from time to time to ascertain what moneys are outstanding and whether certain people should not be prosecuted. The Treasurer is’ in the position of a chairman of directors of a company, representing the shareholders, whose duty it is to see that the management is properly conducted. He has miserably failed to answer the indictment. If there is to be /an investigation let it be into the evidence placed on record, including that submitted by the Treasurer on this and on previous occasions, and a full investigation into the whole administration of the Taxation Department. On page 21 of the budget, figures are given far 1914-15, and 1915-16, when the Treasurer said a Labour Government was in office, and there were certain taxation amounts outstanding. He compared the amounts outstanding during those years with the amounts outstanding during 1923-24, and mentioned the sum of £189,957. He did not tell the committee, however, that for the last financial year mentioned taxation” upon Crown leaseholds had been abolished, and if a comparison is to be instituted it is only fair to make i* between years when there was no taxation of Crown leaseholds. When there was similar taxation, the amount -outstanding under Labour rule was in one year £172, in another £252, and in another £543.
– That was at the beginning.
– But for last year, when there wa3 no taxation on Crown leaseholds and nothing but freehold land to assess., the amount outstanding for the year was £189,000. It is true that there were outstanding amounts when Labour was in power, but these can be accounted for by three very important facts. The first year was one following the biggest drought Australia has ever known, when undoubtedly an extension of time was justifiably granted by the Labour Government to nearly every pastoralist in the country. Then, at the commencement of the imposition of taxation on Crown leaseholds, there were all the difficulties of making out assessments and obtaining valuations, which took something like two years. During these two years also we were in the worst period of the war, which is often put forward, when necessity arises, as an excuse for the shortcomings of the pre*sent Government. If amounts are. outstanding for one or two years the administration is not necessarily blameworthy, but when these outstanding amounts accumulate year after year until they reach the colossal sum of over £2,000,000, and there is not even a word in the budget speech on the subject nor any attempt to explain the position - and on the Treasurer’s own admission to-day he did not ask one question of the Commissioner in regard to any sums outstanding - it is necessary that immediate action be taken. What an awful indictment the Treasurer has made against himself this afternoon! What a charge he has levelled against his administration. My charge is mild in comparison with that of the Treasurer to-day. He came to the department .as the leader of a “ sweep- clean” party, and one which was going to “ switch on the light.” Notwithstanding his previous attitude, these arrears have been accumulating, and he now has the audacity to say to this committee that this is the first information he has had of sums being due by any taxpayer.
– I said it was the first information I had received concerning any individual taxpayer.
– Of course it was. Surely it was the Treasurer’s duty to inquire individually and collectively into the whole position, particularly when charged with the duty of administering an act of this Parliament. What a miserable excuse it is! The Treasurer has said in effect, “ Please, sir, I did not know anything about it.” At least £690,000 was collected on Crown leaseholds during the first three years, which proves conclusively that the money can be collected. That amount was obtained principally on the owners’ own valuations. We listened to-day to the record of Sir Sidney Kidman from a land tax point of view, and I trust that in Hansard it will be read by every one who can possibly obtain a copy. As one case has now been investigated, I hope that others will be similarly dealt with, that the Government will do their duty, and that there will be no need for- me or any one else to say anything further on the subject of land taxation outstanding on leasehold or freehold properties. In regard to the apologia concerning leasehold lands, it cannot be said that there was interference from me. The first act of the Treasurer was to interfere in such a way that he abolished all future taxation on properties held by the biggest land-holders in the country, men who control 968,000,000 acres, or practically onehalf of the area of the Commonwealth. With one sweep of his pen this great Treasurer abolished all future taxation upon leasehold land, and since he has been in office, he has proved by his actions that he is representing the big men in this country.
– Parliament did it, not the Treasurer.
-Yes, and how was it done? The Prime Minister will be well advised if he remains silent and does not recall the incident, particularly when we remember how he was jumping up like a cork in the ocean, and endeavouring to move an amendment to leave out one clause in the bill which really meant going back on his own measure.’ When the Government found that they could not flog their followers into supporting the iniquitous proposal they proceeded upstairs, and arrived at a compromise whereby the retrospective provision of the measure was withdrawn. Parliament passed the bill, as the Prime Minister suggests, but the measure is not a credit to this Parliament, because the masses are still burdened with taxation while a handful of people are allowed to go scot- free. We are informed by Mr. Edmund Jowett that he possesses land that he would be willing to dispose of, as it is of no use to him. Has that gentleman, who is practically a millionaire, amassed wealth by being in possession of valueless land? 1 was unable to take a complete note of the statements in the document, which the Treasurer read so rapidly concerning Sir Sidney Kidman. ‘ We were told, I believe, by the Treasurer that the Commissioner was most assiduous in his attention to that gentleman. I do not know if I am correct in saying that the Treasurer stated that the Commissioner did not know until July, 1922, that Sir Sidney Kidman was not complying with the ]aw. If that is the case some one has ‘ blundered. We are also told that Sir Sidney Kidman sent in returns prepared by him for the years 1914-15, 1915-16, and 1916-17. That is the one bright patch in the record of this gentleman.
Mr.Fenton. - Labour was then inpower.
– Yes, for most of the time. I am not making a- charge concerning what was done prior to 1917. That no complete return was furnished to the department to enable land to be taxed for seven years is borne out by the document presented to this committee by the Treasurer. He said that Sir Sidney Kidman found it difficult to compile his returns. There were many others so placed when Labour was not in office. There was a period after the split in the Labour party when these people respected even the remnant of the Labour party in regard to the taxation of Crown leaseholds. But as soon as the Nationalist “Win the War “ party was formed these pastoralists began to discover all sorts of difficulties in the way of making up their returns. We find that for the years 1917 to 1921 the department had to issue default assessments to Sir Sidney Kidman. That means that he had failed to furnish any returns upon which assessments could be made, and for four years the department issued default assessments. But there is . no record of Kidman having been prosecuted and fined for having failed to send in a return. The Treasurer has admitted those facts. I draw the attention of honorable members to’ the report of the Commissioner tabled yesterday, in which appears a list of persons fined for apparently the same offence during the years when Kidman was refusing to submit any returns. I again remind the committee of one man who was prosecuted in three successive years because his returns were not furnished. I do not criticize the department for its action in his case, but I contrast it’ with the leniency displayed towards Sir Sidney Kidman. The Treasurer has submitted to-day a sort of diary of the department’s dealings with Kidman. In August, 1919, he was asked for his returns for the years 1917 to 1919, and he was allowed a month in which to supply them. On the 25th September the department was informed that the returns would be furnished at the earliest possible date. On the 1st October an agent named John Jolly wrote to the department stating reasons why complete returns could not be furnished on the due date. He said that further information would be obtained and the balance of the rer turns would be compiled. In November, 1919, further requests for information were made by the department. In January, 1920, “ a final demand “ was made upon Jolly for the outstanding information. At the end of that month he was asked for the 1919-20 return, and was allowed an extension to the 31st March. In April, 1920, the department again asked for the 1917-18 and 1918-19 returns, and received a- letter saying that the returns would be submitted at the earliest possible moment. Then the department was advised that the information would not be available until Sir Sidney Kidman returned to Australia. A second “ final demand “ was made in July, and a third “final demand” on the 15th November. In April, 1921, another demand was made.
– Those demands were for different returns.
– The department was advised that the information was not available. In July, 1922, the department issued a “ final demand “ for the 1921-22 return. The Deputy Commissioner, in Adelaide, recommended that Kidman should be prosecuted, but some technical difficulties, which have not been mentioned, were discovered. The department complained that its notices had been ignored, but the taxpayer has given “ a reasonable explanation.” One of the explanations was that Jolly, the agent, who had put the department to great trouble because it could not get any returns from him, had been appointed a member of the royal commission on taxation. He was a member of the “ impartial tribunal “ which was to investigate the taxation system. On the 31st August a balance of assessments was due. On the 2nd March, 1923, proceedings against Kidman were threatened. On the 19th March the department said it would compel Kidman to furnish his returns! . Then he was granted an extension until September. On the 28th October he obtained a further extension. In November default assessments were issued by the department, and on the 30th November he was threatened with legal action. Finally, on the 30th February, 1924, the department issued an assessment of £2,500 per annum in respect of Kidman’s freehold property. That was for the preceding eight years. In other words, he owed £20,000 of taxation on his freehold property, and, according to a report of the Deputy Taxation Commissioner, he owes more than £80,000 in respect of Crown leaseholds. Having regard to those figures, was I wrong in saying that this man owes the department £100,000? The Treasurer waxed virtuous and protested that I had obtained information from an ex-officer of the department. I did. The ex-officer came to me and said, “Ex-officers are using their brains and inside knowledge to reduce the assessments of taxpayers. Many of them are doing it honestly and legitimately. But if that knowledge can be used to draw attention to overpayments, what about underpayments? I am sure there are many of them.’ Ask the department to explain those outstanding amounts.” Accordingly, ‘I asked the Treasurer and the Prime Minister to do their duty to the country by ascertaining why £2,000,000 worth of taxation was outstanding, including £750,000 in respect of freehold property.
– That is not so. The amount is about £400,000.
– I think the figure mentioned by the Treasurer was £460,000.
Apparently the- Treasurer increased the amount said to lie owing for the taxation of Crown leaseholds in. order to lessen the outstanding amounts; in respect, to freeholds. Last year, when the Government proposed to wipe out ail arrears: of taxation on Crown leaseholds, the Government said that the amount owing was £1,330,000. T’o-day we are told that the amount is £1,.649;000. Because I criticized those figures, am I to be charged with having attacked, a public servant? The Treasurer gave the figures to Parliament, and if he insists that I am criticizing a public servant because I comment upon them, I am. bound to conclude that he is not. only a rubber stamp in the department but also a mere gramophone record in this chamber. I am glad that,, as the result: of this discussion, we have received at least one.- explanation of these taxation mysteries. I hope there is truth in the statement made by the honorable member for Bourke (MrAnstey), this afternoon, that Kidman furnished, his return last night, - and that some finality is likely to be- reached in respect of that man’s liability to the. department. The other accounts:,, too, should1 be cleared up. There should be none of these huge amounts outstanding.
-. - Kidman has furnished his returns, but he has. not paid any money.’.
– The Treasurer said that he holds no inquisition into the accounts of individual taxpayers. I,. too, do not believe in prying into people’s prir vate accounts,, but a tax imposed by the law of the country should be paid, and when the smaller men are made to pay, the big’ men certainly should not be allowed to escape their’ liabilities.
-. - What about the 20 small taxpayers who were- gaoled”?
-I challenge the Treasurer to produce the file of one small land-holder- who has received as many “ final notices “’ and extensions as: Kidman has received1. I guarantee that the Treasurer- cannot, do it. T come now to his reply to my charge of preferential’ treatment. The- Prime Minister- endeavoured last night to make- it appear that I had” levelled that charge against the Commissioner. My charge” of pre* ferential treatment and partiality was directed’ against the Treasurer, and it was: based upon; his reply to. a question I asked in this House regarding the amount- of taxation owed by Kidman, Jowett, A. T. Creswick, Thomas Norton and Company,, and six big’ pastoral companies that wield’ great influence in this country. I was told that I could not have the information- because- it was not the practice- of the department to disclose details of the accounts of individual1 taxpayers. I- replied to that statement: by producing a copy of the Northern Territory Gazette, in which was published a list of 2.00 small taxpayers who owed amounts ranging from 2s. . 6d. up to- £7. Because their taxation payments were two years in arrears- they were gazetted as de- faulters,’ but though an assessment has been- issued; to Kidman: for eight years’ taxation, totalling £20,000, the department, hides his default from the public gaze-.. The- excuse oifffered is. the one I anticipated, namely> that the NorthernTerritory gazettals are under an. act. different from that under which Kidmani is liable. How can that difference affect the principle at stake?’ In any case* that answer- fails m the face of the information given to. the committee to-day by the Acting’ Leader of the Opposition. Only last year, when the same Treasurer was in office, a question was asked regarding the amount owed by a certain taxpayer, and- the informa’fcion was supplied^ not under the act of 1884, but under the act of 19l0, although I was refused’ similar information in regard to Kidman and Jowett.
– The honoraibl’e member has reached his time- limit, but with the consent of the committee he may continue his remarks- by taking his- second half-hour now. - -
– The Treasurer made another apology fb,r what happened in regard to the Crown leaseholds. That . is the gravamen of our charge against the Government. With regard to the tax on freeholds, I said that the amount outstanding was £750,000. According to the amended figure given, by the Treasurer it is £500;000. I said, “ Look up Sir SidneyKidman’s, file and see what he owes.” I made the statement that he owes £25,000. We are assured to-day by the Treasurer that he owes only £20;000 on freeholds: But he owes . more than £80,000 on leaseholds. A year ago Parliament. ordered the collection of this money, and the Treasurer claims that he has been the only Treasurer w.ho has had the courage to straighten out tike matter. How did he. straighten it? By coming down with a bill to. wipe it all out, not only for the future, but even for- the past Complete absolution from debt was to be* given to these land-owners. He told us on one occasion that he was cutting the tangled skein. I venture to say that there are many tangled skeins in the Taxation Department, but if the Treasurer were to cut them all in the same way there would be very little revenue collected. I believe it was Micawber who used to pay his debts by tearing up his accounts- as he received them and then saying, “ Thank God that is paid.” Tha* is- the way the Treasurer straightens out tangled skeins. No doubt wonderful credit is due to the honorable gentleman for having straightened out this tangled skein, by abolishing the tax. He trie’d- to do it for the past as well as for the future, but failed because honorable members on his own. side would not stand for the remission of past taxation, and Parliament ordered; that this money was to be collected. Did the Treasurer collect it ? Did he go to the Taxation Commissioner and tell him to see that it was collected? Let honorable members read the Commissioner’s report and’ see what he has to say on the matter. He points out that its collection was suspended by direction of the Treasurer; that it was to be re-enacted ox re-animated by another Treasurer; and that the Treasurer had promised that he would accept the royal commission’s report and would make a slight amendment in. the method of calculation. The Taxa-tion Commissioner is still awaiting the amendment of the law to permit him to carry out his duty. It is true that the present Treasurer has been in charge of the department, for less than two years, but his colleague, the- Prime Minister, was there before, him. !For three year* these- two honorable gentlemen have controlled! the Treasury, and for those yearsduring which Hie Treasury has been wilder- the control of these reformers, outstanding laud tes has increased by £586,000: I suggest that- the Governmeat will: be unable to misrepresent this as, a charge against a public servant. Let Ministers place themselves! in the . position of defendants-, and the charges will, be made against them. Let them shelter themselves behind a public servant, and they, will receive from the public of this country the obloquy which such action deserves.. The Treasurer referred to. the “annual”’ reports of the Taxation Commissioner, the reports that were not annual. He- said that I made am attack upon the Commissioner in this connexion. I said that the Treasurer, his- commissioner, and his other officers were all breaking the law of this country in failing to submit annual reports. Does the Treasurer dispute that statement? What is the law on the subject? Section 9 of the Land Tax Assessment Act says that the Treasurer shall place before the Parliament annual reports, and section 8 of the Income Tax Assessment Act also makes provision for annual reports. Until, yesterday the last, report we had received was for 1920. I made my charge against the Treasurer because- the law distinctly says that the Treasurer shall, present an annual report to Parliament. He is to go to his department and get an annual report and then present it to Parliament. He says that the Commissioner has given good reasons for his- failure to submit an annual report. No doubt from his point of view the Commissioner’s reasons are good, and exonerate him from blarney but they are a stinging- indictment of the Treasurer himself. The Commissioner of Taxation says,, in effect, that the delay in the submission of the report was due to the very great pressure of work, imposed on him by the- political hoad of his department. If the Trea-surer imposes, such a pressure of special work upon an officer,, and does not provide him with sufficient assistance to carry itout, in addition to his ordinary work, the Treasurer alone is, responsible for- thebreach, of the law in the failure to submit: annual reports to. this: House.. On. that point the Treasurer has. failed to pin me- to, an attack upon a public servant. I. have, finished with the statements of theTreasurer,. I have examined! them aswell as possible in the short time at my disposal, and- on the brief notes which- I. was able to- take of his speech. I venture to say that a-, public- service, has been-, done to- this country by tike exposure of” this matter in this-, chamber. At long last; the information we demanded about Sir Sidney Kidman has been placed before us - if it has all been submitted. Even what has been put before us in the prepared document read by the! Treasurer will make interesting reading for the public, who will be satisfied that I did not discover a mare’s nest, but that my charges were based on a sound foundation. I now ask the Treasurer and the Prime Minister whether the Government intends to profit by its experience, and will make a start to collect the moneys due to the people of this country? We are not annoyed to learn that there is going to be an investigation. On the contrary, if the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will make themselves the subjects of the investigation, and will not continue to hide themselves behind a public servant, charges will be made, against them.
– I do not propose to delay honorable members for long in dealing with this matter, which has already been fully discussed. There are one or two matters, however, with which I desire to deal, because I want to make quite clear where the Government stands and what its attitude is. I first of all would like to say a few words on the old subject upon which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) is gradually managing to educate a few other honorable members opposite, and that is the taxation of Crown leaseholds. The story of the matter is simple and short, and the Government accepts all responsibility for its own actions in regard to it. The tax was imposed in 1914. There was a suspension of the tax after a certain time, because it was found impracticable to collect it. Two royal commissions tried to lay down a basis upon which the tax could be collected. They failed to arrive at any basis upon which it was considered possible to collect the tax with equity and justice to the holders of Crown leases. That was the stage reached when the present Government came into office. It went into the question again. I had a considerable knowledge of it, because I had been Treasurer in the previous Government. This Government came to the conclusion that it was impracticable to collect the arrears of tax on Crown leases. We came to this House and proposed to wipe out the arrears. We have no desire to shirk any responsibility for that proposal. We said, “ These arrears had better be wiped out.” Honorable members opposite saw in that a great opportunity to make political capital. They had little knowledge of the question at issue; but they saw that it would be a very goodthing from their point of view to be able to say that they had prevented the remission of taxation owing by the big men. Irrespective of any question of justice or right, they made up their minds to oppose the proposal. These arrears were not wiped out. The Government was given instructions by this House that it must collect them. It then proceeded to see whether this could be done. The Taxation Commissioner, whose duty it was, went into the matter. He came to the Government, and said the position was really impossible. As soon as he did so the Treasurer came to this House, and made a full statement. He told honorable members what the Commissioner’s views were, and announced that a royal commission was to be appointed to advise how the deliberate decision of this Parliament that the tax must be collected could be given effect. The commission will report on the matter. If the method it suggests for the collection of the tax is a practicable one, it will be the duty of the Government and the Commissioner to proceed with its collection. That is the whole history of the matter. It was debated in this House, when the Government brought down its proposal, and on innumerable occasions since. I am prepared to say that we shall have further debate on the question on innumerable occasions in tb.9 future. It does not matter in the very least how convincing the arguments put before honorable members opposite are, because in their view this is first class political propaganda.. There is a certain number of honorable members opposite who must get up and make speeches about it. They must let their constituents know what they have said, and show how abominable the present Government is, and how they are protecting the interests of those whom they represent. But the .taxation of Crown leaseholds is not at all the issue that is being raised at the present time. The matter was referred to’ incidentally in the speech of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), because he must refer to it in . any speech he makes. He said that taxation on freeholds as . well as on leaseholds is in arrears, and that the Government is showing an unfair discrimination in favour of the big men whom they are not pressing for the tax, whilst at the same time they are pressing the small men and making them pay up at once. The honorable member will not deny, that that is what he said. He went on to say that the Land Tax Department was not being administered properly. Since making that charge he has thought upon the subject a little more, and has discovered that he was attacking, not the Government, but the Commissioner of Taxation. He has tried to avoid the issue so raised, but gets farther into difficulties. With every speech he plunges deeper into the mire. He makes it plain that it is the Commissioner he is attacking all the time. The charges made by the honorable member for Yarra are simple and clear. He says that the Land Tax Act has not been properly administered. He says there are large arrears of taxation outstanding, owing by the “big man,” to whom undue preference has been given. There are only two ways, as I have already tried to bring home to him, in which that could happen. If the Government has sympathy -with the big man, and has determined that he shall be protected - that no action shall be taken against him if he neglects to make returns or to pay his tax - it can give effect to this nefarious scheme only by inducing the Commissioner of Taxation, whose duty it is to take action if taxpayers are recalcitrant or neglect to make returns or refuse to pay their taxes, to forget the oath that he took to administer the law and to commit a deliberate and direct dereliction of duty. When such an accusation is made against an officer, he should not be allowed to suffer under it without being given an opportunity to prove his innocence of the charge. Moreover, if this course were not taken, the members of the Opposition would continually use the case of Sir Sidney Kidman and others to attack- the Government, and everything the Commissioner had done would be spoken of as wrong, because the only way in which they could strike the Government would be by striking him. To achieve their political pur pose, they would have no hesitation in doing that. The Commissioner can be given a fair opportunity to vindicate himself only by the holding of an impartial and judicial inquiry. The other way in which this alleged preference could have been obtained by the “big man” is by direct influence being exerted on the Commissioner by persons outside Parliament. In either case, the charge against the Commissioner is serious beyond words, and, whether honorable members opposite like it or not, the Government will give him a fair opportunity to prove that itis . unfounded, and that he has administered the act as Parliament intended, impartially and with absolute justice to all concerned. I ask the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) to consider the facts. A large amount of land tax is outstanding, and it must be ascertained, in view of the charges that have been made, whether it is justifiable that that amount should be outstanding. That involves the consideration of the grounds upon which the Commissioner has allowed land-holders extra time for the payment of their . -taxes. It will have to be ascertained whether he acted properly in not taking proceedings against certain individuals. Honorable members know that there are enormous complexities in many land tax cases, and the Commissioner has to make his decision after he has weighed all the facts. . He is the. authority who decides whether taxation must be paid within a specified time. I am certain that he has exercised with absolute justice and impartiality the discretion he possesses. When Treasurer I was closely in touch with the Commissioner, and I found him on all occasions a man with the greatest possible sense of justice. He regarded his duties very seriously, and considered that he waa under an obligation to collect taxation in accordance with the legislation passed by the Parliament. I discussed many cases with him, in which he interpreted the law in the most rigid manner. Every Treasurer receives from honorable members, on behalf of their constituents, the complaint that a very strained interpretation is being placed upon the law. I discussed many of those representations with Mr. Ewing, and I always found that he was adamant on questions of interpretation. I remind the House that the Treasurer has no power to influence or direct the Commissioner, and lie always applied the strict interpretation of the law. But when I was about to introduce a Consolidating Income Tax Bill, for every suggestion from outside for securing a larger measure of justice to the taxpayers I received two .at least from the Commissioner. When it was a matter of giving effect to the legislation of Parliament, Mr. Ewing was always determined to administer the law rigidly in accordance with its exact terms. It is suggested that the Commissioner has been guilty of something sinister and improper in not prosecuting those who have failed to pay certain outstanding land taxation. The Commissioner, having been charged with partiality .and dereliction of duty, the only course open to the Government is to arrange for a judicial inquiry. Therefore a royal commission will be appointed. But, irrespective of the charges made against the Commissioner himself, the Government takes full responsibility for its .administration, and will at all times meet and refute the attacks made by honorable members opposite. They have not made any new attack, other than the suggestion- that the Land Tax Act is not being fairly and impartially administered. All the other accusations and charges are old. Members opposite have said many times that the moment the Government got into .office it decided to help its friends, and its refusal to collect, arrears of taxation -on Crown leaseholds is alleged in support of the statement.
-Repeated attacks are considered good military tactics.
– When .against an impregnable position no one .but a lunatic continues the same form of ‘attack. If he does .so he only gets cut to .pieces. As the honorable member has introduced a military comparison, I suggest to him that the intrenchment he is attacking is quite impregnable, .and that .he must at least adopt a new ;f arm of” attack if be wishes for success in the future. I shall not elaborate .all the points which have ‘been fully explained toy the Treasurer. This discussion has become purely political. All .desire for justice to the taxpayer appears to be fading. I ‘suggest tha* -we have had nearly enough .of these political speeches. . The public will begin to ‘think that both the ‘Opposition land the Government should nave ‘something better to do than to spend all their time in making the same attack and giving the same repulse. The Government will proceed with the appointment of the royal commission, because it believes that honorable members -opposite, having made charges, should be given an .opportunity to substantiate them. It also feels that the country is entitled to a full inquiry so that it may be satisfied that the charges are unfounded. I hope the commission will sit .at the earliest possible date., and that it . will report in the near future, so that the public may be assured that there is no truth in the .suggestions of improper and sinister conduct that have been so recklessly flung about by honorable members opposite.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has spoken at some length and has left the matter so lucid and clear that he has decided that a royal commission must meet at an early date to throw tether light on it. The -speeches of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer this afternoon have served at least one useful purpose. I have looked with that sympathetic eye, for which I am more or less famous, at the terms of these speeches for the purpose of discovering whether they contain any real merit. I find that they contain this merit, at all events, that they prove beyond doubt that this party was well justified in initiating and pursuing the hectic debate - so called by the Prime Minister - that was carried on in this chamber last night. I .am quite satisfied that the fever temperature which we reached last evening affected the members of the Government during the night, and that, after spending a very restless time, they decided to seek relief in making speeches to-day, which might have been more -properly made yesterday, before they decided to appoint a royal commission to deal with this matter. More or less unwillingly, I pay the Prime Minister the compliment of saying that I agree with him that this matter has been sufficiently debated. I really think that by the time the honorable member for Bourke and the honorable member for Yarra had concluded their speeches this afternoon, little more remained to be done, except, perhaps, the somewhat formal duty of passing .sentence upon the culprits who, partly on their own confessions, have been found .guilty. My only object in rising at this stage is to elaborate the views that I .submitted to the committee last night as to the method of dealing with this question, and as to whether the depart.mental officers -or the members of the ‘Government should be regarded :as the responsible party. Although there is something tragic i/n -the circumstances in which we find ourselves, a considerable amount of .humour emerges from the situation. The gentlemen against whom we are making the charges - -and making them in the proper place, namely, .this Parliament - decline to be regarded as accused, although <they are in the .dock facing .the .judge, jury, and prosecutor. Although they entirely .agree that the changes that have been made arc of the gravest character, they say that they are «rt really ‘the persons who should be accused. I have a dawning hope -that I may be able >to use that (objection iia another sphere. When I see, let us say, poor Jones, ill-clad and down at heel, standing in the dock behind the spikes, facing a serious accusation, I shall tell him thai his best hope is to declare that whole he agrees -that ‘tie charge made .against kim is grave awl that the evidence iis somewhat overpowering, it really relates, not to him, but to Smith, who is outside of the dock and the court -altogether. I shall tell him that if he can only satisfy the judge, jury, awd the general public, that it is not he but another man who should be accused, lie may “be allowed to depart in peace, and the investigation maj- be conducted in connexion -with his absent friend. That is the position taken up by this ^Government. It says; ‘” We decline to be made the defendants in this case. Facing the accusation made by .the “honorable member for Yarra with that eloquence of which he is a past master., and hearing the evidence directed against us with such force, we almost feel as though we .are the defendants, but it is not really so. Some other fellow should be here. We insist upon a royal commission to investigate these charges which .are said to be made against us, but which are not made against us, but against some other person whom we must defend, since any one is easier to defend than ourselves.” They leave the ‘matter in that, to them, perfectly satisfactory position. But we shall not leave it there. Evidence of considerable substance has been given in this debate proving conclu sively that this -Government should be charged, whether it is willing or not. It would be a sorry day for this country if members of this Parliament indicted individual members of the Public Service for the improper administration of the affairs of the country, without regard to .the .ministerial heads of the departments concerned, .upon whom the. responsibility should really rest. It may be necessary at times to make -charges against individual members of the Public Service. I have had some experience of that lately. But in an important matter of departmental administration., where there is clear evidence of governmental interest and interference, fixing governmental responsibility, as there is in the complicated case before us, the members >of the Government should be indicted -and not individual members of the Public ‘Service., however ‘highly placed they may be. The evidence before us ‘shows that an amount of, .approximately, £2,114,000 of land tax has not been paid. ‘The country would be very much surprised to learn, and so should I, that it was riot the responsibility of the Treasurer to investigate the sources of revenue of the country, and also ‘the reasons for the failure to collect taxation that has been .justly levied upon certain .people. When a large sum of money which should be paid is outstanding .-in any public department, it becomes the .duty of the Treasurer, employing his Auditor-General, to investigate the matter. They are the instruments of government whose business is to ascertain the reasons for such a state of affairs, and to acquaint the Parliament why the money is not available ‘for expenditure in the public interests. The Treasurer must inevitably be charged with responsibility in this matter. On pressing ‘our investigation we find that political interference has been responsible for the .non-collection of this money. That is .proved by the oftquoted paragraph from the Seventh Annual -Report of the Commissioner of Taxation. I quote the following passage from the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Taxation : -
The Commissioner of Taxation, .in his Seventh Annual Report, states .that the tax has remained outstanding under a verbal direction to me by the Eight Honorable W. A. Watt, P.C., when .Commonwealth Treasurer, pending an investigation by a Royal Commission into the Taxation of Lessees’ ‘Estates in Crown ‘Leaseholds. .The Commissioner of Taxation has recently (August, 1922), informed us that the Treasurer’s direction has not since been varied, and that the amount of tax outstanding in respect of lessees’ interests in Crown leaseholds is now considerably in excess of £1,000,000.
In the face of that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have refused to accept responsibility. The gravamen of our charge is that theirs is the responsibility. It belongs to nobody else. Last year a debate was initiated in this chamber by the honorable member for Yarra for the purpose of securing the collection of the arrears in these taxes. That also was a pretty hectic debate, in which feeling ran fairly high. In consequence of the efforts, of honorable members on this side of the chamber, assisted by a few honorable members opposite, it was ‘resolved that these taxes should be collected. I remind the Treasurer that the principles on which the assessment was levied were not at issue in that debate. An accrued debt was under consideration. The assessment had been made. The amount owing had been ascertained. The position was clear. It was resolved that the money should be collected. But the Treasurer, as he remarked this afternoon, took his courage in both hands, and attempted to tackle a difficult problem. He proposed to face it by a rapid major operation, but the only accessory ‘which he intended to employ was a sponge. In short, he introduced a bill, the object of which was to remit the whole of the arrears of taxation owing by these leaseholders. I say without any hesitation that, although honorable members on this side of the ‘chamber, in consequence of the strong case that they made out, were able to obtain some tardy support from a few honorable members opposite, and so defeat the object of the Government, no honest thinker can do other than admit that it was our vigilance which switched the light on to this public scandal, and that but for our action the whole of the money due by these men would have been lost to the country. I am not at all sure that it is not lost now.
– At least, it has not been found.
– But we may congratulate ourselves upon having done our part to recover it. “Who does his best can do no more.” Although the debate on that occasion turned the searchlight of public attention on the attitude of the Government towards these leaseholders, no action was taken to collect the money. The failure to collect it is due mainly - and this is the declaration of the Commissioner of Taxation - to the neglect of the Government to provide the necessary machinery. When this matter was revived in Parliament this year, showing further, not only the responsibility, but the immediate responsibility of the Government for everything wrongly done and left undone in connexion with this matter, we were informed by Ministers that the Commissioner had set out to make new assessments for the purpose, of levying the taxation in respect of which assessments had already been made and the amounts ascertained. What is the remedy proposed? It is the familiar one. The Government desire to employ in respect of this charge against them a royal commission to inquire into assessments on leaseholds. It is not the first commission which has been appointed for that purpose. The subject has already been investigated twice, as shown by speeches made in this chamber. Further, it is the Treasurer’s responsibility to see that the reports of the Commissioner due to this Parliament are laid on the table of the House. It is his department. The Land Tax Commissioner, a highly-placed officer, is still an official of the Government and an officer of the Treasury. As I pointed out last night, we have machinery to make him responsible to this Parliament for misconduct, with which he can be removed from office if the occasion should arise. It would be a serious matter for the country if Parliament should ever surrender its control of any public department. However great the responsibility - and, indeed, the greater the responsibilitiy the more urgent the need for Government control - -.that control must be exercised.
– Especially in connexion with matters associated with the Treasury.
– Exactly. The Commissioner has explained why his reports have not been furnished, and curiously enough he indicts the Treasurer, in his own way, by pointing out that the staff is overworked and undermanned. He has shown that officers who should have been available for this particular class of work were’ withdrawn from the Treasury to render other public service. . The Prime
Minister and the Treasurer have complained because we have accused them of having withheld certain names from publication. It is useless for the Treasurer to indignantly resent this accusation, because facts speak for themselves. His elaborate explanation this afternoon as to why lists of defaulting taxpayers’ have been published in several instances and not in others does not convince any one, in the light of the disclosure that certain men of known influence with the Government and of large landed interests in the Commonwealth - it is not too much to suggest that they are also financial supporters of the Government - -have been overlooked. The fact remains that their names have not been published, and that their cash has not been available to the Commonwealth. I do not wish to repeat the terms in which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) held the Treasurer and his friend, Sir Sidney Kidman, up to public ridicule concerning the latter’s delay, excuses, extensions, and oftrepeated threats against him, and the final notices served in connexion with his land tax. It is not likely, from my experience of public departments, that one-half as much would have been wasted in postage, ink, or typing upon a person less highly placed than this distinguished gentleman. The possession of broad acres is apparently a great lever in influencing a public department. Large cattle stations can be made to serve a very useful purpose in influencing a sympathetic Government. I suggest that that has been done in this instance. I do not waste words in alleging corruption, as the Prime Minister seems anxious that we should do. The right honorable gentleman can apply his own terms to the facts we have elicited in connexion with this case. He can name the results as he chooses; we are satisfied with the facts. I rose this afternoon principally to drive home the point already made, that we are concerned with this purely as a political matter, as a matter of governmental administration in one of our most .important departments. ‘We have sheeted home the responsibility to the Government, and every further investigation discloses instances of suppression in connexion with the taxation of Crown leaseholds. It is for those reasons that we have made this a charge against the Government. The Prime Minister stated this afternoon that the matter had been sufficiently debated, asked us to pas3 on to other matters, and concluded by saying that the Government were determined to .appoint a royal commission. It is a habit of the right honorable gentleman. He has grown accustomed tq living in the atmosphere of royal commissions appointed by his Government. If this plaything is necessary to his peace of mind and perfect happiness, let him have it. But it is useless to attempt to make a royal commission;, either in this House or elsewhere, a means of escaping the charge, because the whole matter will be decided before a tribunal of intelligent electors. The people who read the debate will learn that for a series of years the Treasurer has failed in his trusteeship in regard to public funds, and the employment of public officers to see that the country is not defrauded. They will see that the amendment of the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) is justified, and that the statements made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) are unchallengeable. With the honorable member for Yarra, I believe that in future the procedure will be different. There will be a determination on the part of the responsible officers to keep in touch with their ministerial head, and to see that Parliament is informed if their public duties are not discharged in a proper way. If reasons for failure are given, they will be examined by Parliament and approved or disapproved. We shall not have these scandals extending over a series of years, money which should have been collected remaining in the hands of wealthy taxpayers, who thus enjoy privileges not extended to uninfluential people. I am pleased that the debate has been carried on in this spirit. Future action rests not with us, but with the people who will ultimately have to pronounce judgment. We have no control over this Government for the moment,, but we leave the matter in the confident belief that in this debate we have piled up facts, the substance of which will assist the discerning public to determine whether the dissolving pact is a proper body to. control the destinies of the country.
Mr. PARKER MOLONEY (Hume)
T5.30]. - I can understand the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) wishing to dispose of this subject, which is to him a most painful one, as early as possible.
Hia discomfiture is revealed by bis face. The Treasurer and the Government supporters are all uneasy. I. do not understand why the Prime Minister considered it necessary to< repeat to-day what he said at least twenty times last night, that a charge has ‘been levelled against a reputable public servant. It is regrettable that the Government should endeavour to shelter themselves behind a public official. The Prime Minister, in seeking to excuse himself and the Treasurer for the non-collection of these arrears of taxation on Grown leaseholds, stated that theme was a difficult problem to sol we. That, he said, was. proved by the fact that two royal commissions which were appointed had failed- to recommend an equi table basis on. which the tax could be collected. That was the only portion of his speech which touched upon the real subject-matter of the debate. The whole situation is false on. the face of it, and the Prime Minister and the Treasurer know it The Prime Minister, having stated that two commissions were unable to arrive at an equitable basis- on which to collect taxation on Grown leaseholds, must now stand up to his utterances. What are the facts? Two royal commissions were appointed to investigate the matter, and the almost unanimous decision was that an equitable basis of taxation had been adopted, and that the tax should be collected forthwith. Notwithstanding those decisions, the Prime Minister has stated’ that these tribunal’s f ailed to arrive at an equitable basis. It was a serious statement for the Leader of the Government to make-, and it was a wilful fabrication. One of the charges made by the honorable member for Yarra is that from that day to this the present Government has not made the slightest attempt to give effect to the finding, of those .two royal _ commissions.. Except for that statement, the Prime Minister did not touch the real charge against the Government, and must have felt himself in the position, of counsel rising to defend an accused person who had already pleaded guilty. Last night, when the Treasurer was asked whether i t was. a fact that Kidman owed this large amount of taxation, he replied that he could not be expected to carry departmental details in his mind. To-day he admitted that Kidman owes £20,000 for arrears of taxation on freehold property, . and £80^000 in respect of taxation upon Crown leaseholds. When the Acting Leader of the Opposition mentioned that the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation had issued returns showing the amounts owed by Kidman and Jowett, the Treasurer replied, “ This, is the first time I have heard of it.” Does the. Treasurer realize the seriousness of that statement? Why does he hold office if it is not to control the department of which he is the ministerial head? Otherwise, why not allow the department to function without any ministerial supervision ? The Treasurer, who. should, he shouldering his responsibility, instead of crouching behind a public servant, ought to- have been ashamed to confess, that he knew nothing about the amounts owing by Kidman and Jowett. Can anything he said to excuse the Treasurer’s ignorance-?’. My mind reverts to a speech which the honorable gentleman made in Sydney recently. He was- speaking, about the endeavours of the Prime Minister and himself to keep the pact together, and the difficulties he then mentioned probably explain, why he knows nothing of what is being done in his department. He said -
The leader of the Nationalist party (Mr. Bruce) and myself came to an agreement with regard to the conduct of the nest - elections. . . At, once the object we. had in tow was lost sight of, and critics-
No doubt, meaning his- late colleague, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) - fastened on the- petty details of die plan to criticize them; and. thus, instead of being free in our minds to attend to the hig national problems of Australia, to . put the national finances in a good position, and face the whole’ question of a direct and economic marketing: system both at home and abroad, most of our nervous energy has been spent in fighting political battles on the most trivial points that ever swayed political parties. Whether the Nationalists have a few more seats- than the. Country party, or vice versa, is not of the slightest significance, because of’ the manner in which the Government is constituted.
The honorable gentleman admitted that most of his time was occupied in fighting political battles within- the- ministerial ranks* in order to maintain the pact, and that is probably why he knew nothing about the facts which were disclosed to the House to-day:
– The honorable member for Wimmera, characterized statements of that kind’ as a conspiracy.
– The precious pact, which was so much more important to the Treasurer than the work of the Taxation Department, was characterized by the honorable member for Wimmera in these terms -
The pact is an attempt at political conspiracy, which, if agreed to, would violate every principle upon which the Farmers Union is built, and upon which the Victorian Farmers Union federal members were elected.
– Happily for the honorable member for Hume, there is no internal strife in the Labour party, and he does not know what it means!
– Whatever internal battles members of the Labour party may have to fight, we are not prevented from doing our duty as representatives of the people. Hut evidently the internal strife in the Ministerial party is so serious as to prevent the Treasurer from knowing what is taking place in his own department. There is another matter connected with Kidman, of which I shall make brief mention. The Prime Minister said last night that honorable members on this side are constantly engaged in political drives against the Government, but I am not springing any fresh surprise on Ministers this afternoon. For years the Government has had a claim against Kidman, and in respect of it Ministers cannot shelter themselves behind any public servant. The Government cannot be ignorant of the fact that, the same person, who owes the Commonwealth £100,000 for arrears of land taxation, also owes £76,000 in accordance with the finding of a royal commission, and no attempt has been made by the Government to bring the claim to finality.
– Is the honorable member referring to the Kidman-Mayoh shipbuilding contract?
– Something new!
– Apparently the honorable member for Macquarie is of opinion that because this money has been owing for a number of years, the debt is automatically cancelled. The fact that the debt is not new makes the indictment of the Government more serious.
– The honorable member knows that that claim is the subject of litigation.
– I do not propose to deal with the merits or demerits of the case. I shall simply disclose the wilful delay of the Government .in recovering the amount that is due.
– If ‘the matter is sub judice, the honorable member should not discuss it*
– The honorable member will have a right to’ rule on such questions when he is Chairman. I can understand that he does not like this matter being mentioned, but it is the duty of public men to call attention to facts of this kind. Why is it that a man like Kidman, who is very wealthy, can snap his fingers at a -royal commission which has returned a verdict against him>? These, briefly, aase the facts of this case: Kidman .and Mayoh Brothers contracted to build wooden ships for the Government during the war. After one ship had been completed and another partially built, the firm asked to be relieved of its contract. The Government referred the matter to the Public Works Committee for investigation, and the committee recommended that the contractors should not be relieved, and that the amount of £114,000 paid to them by the ‘Government should be refunded. In July, 1921, I asked the then Treasurer what “steps the Government was taking to give effect to the recommendations of the Public Works Committee, and the answer given by the then Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) was -
The Government have refused to take over the ships, and the contractors have been asked to refund the money advanced to them. The matter is now in ‘the hands of the lawyers.
The Prime Minister puts forward this afternoon the same excuse - the matter is in the hands of the lawyers; it is sub judice. I give the right honorable gentleman fair warning that this matter will not be allowed to rest where it is. For the last twelve months the Government has done nothing to press its claim against Kidman and Mayoh.
– The honorable member should know that the case is now awaiting the reserved judgment of the High Court.
– I was told that twelve months ago. In September, 1921, I again sought information regarding the Government’s intention, and the then Minister for Homo and Territories (Mr. Poynton) said -
The matter has been in the hands of the Crown Law authorities for some time past, and I do not at present know how it stands.
Like the Treasurer, he did not know what was going on in his department. In October, 1921, I asked the same question, and received a similar reply -
As I said when the matter was mentioned lost, it is in the hands of the Crown Law authorities. I have spoken to them about it, and they have told me that they will be able to furnish a reply at an early date.
On eight occasions I repeated the question, andthen the Government, in order to provide’ another excuse for delay, appointed Sir Mark Sheldon a royal commissioner to investigate and report upon the contract- with Kidman and Mayoh, and the claims arising out of it. After a secret inquiry, Sir Mark Sheldon found against Kidman and Mayoh for the amount of £75,665. That was in August, 1922, and on the 30th August of that year I asked the present AttorneyGeneral (Sir Littleton Groom) whether the Government had taken any steps to give effect to the award, and he said -
Yes, the usual demand has been made in pursuance of the award.
In answer to a similar question on the 20th September, 1922, the AttorneyGeneral said -
A demand has been made for payment. No time limit was mentioned, the demand being for payment forthwith. A further instruction for a renewal of the demand, has since been issued.
On the 23rd August, 1923, I asked the Attorney-General what the Government was doing to bring the claim to finality, and he said -
The matter is now in the list of cases to be heard by the court in New South Wales, and is merely awaiting its turn to be dealt with.
That was twelve months ago, and we have received no further information from the Government.
– The honorable member could have obtained further information.
– Twelve months ago the case’ was awaiting its turn to be dealt with by the court, and we are told that it is still sub judice. For three years this money has been owing. The firm were paid £114,000 by the Government, and interest should be added to that amount. I suggest to the Prime Minister that, if the persons concerned in this matter were poor citizens of this country, and not men with the influence and affluence of Sir Sidney Kidman, they would very shortly be brought before the courts of the country and pilloried.
– Sir Sidney Kidman has been before the court, and is before thecourt now. .
– How many poor citizens of this country would be given three years in which to pay money they owed? When the verdict in. another shipping case went against the Commonwealth, the matter was finalized inside of a fortnight. The people-, had to pay up at once. Now that the verdict is that money is owing to the Commonwealth, the influence of Sir Sidney Kidman has led to a settlement being delayed. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer say that they know nothing about it.
– I know all about it, and I have been telling honorable members about it.
– Will the Prime Minister say that after all this time the matter to which I refer should not be finalized?
– I agree that it should be finalized.
– The only reason we can suggest for the fact that it has not yet been finalized is that’ the gentleman concerned is Sir Sidney Kidman, one of the wealthiest citizens of this country.
– The nonsense is with the Government that permits this kind of thing. This matter is on- all-fours with that which was the subject of debate here last night and this afternoon.
– Does the honorable member suggest ministerial influence in this matter?
– I suggest that the honorable member is sitting, behind a Government that wilfully neglects to do its duty in regard to this man because he is one of the wealthy citizens of the country.
– Does the honorable’ member suggest that ministerial influence is- being used to cause the courts to delay the settlement of the matter?
– I stand by what I said. The honorable member is supporting a Government that wilfully neglects to do its duty because a wealthy company is concerned in the matter. Honorable members opposite will have to answer to their constituents at the next election for supporting a government that gives the very poor no quarter whilst wealthy citizens of this country are allowed to do practically what they like, and to snap their fingers at the Government.
– The honorable member knows that Sir Sidney Kidman has taken advantage of every possible opportunity to delay the settlement of this matter by the court.
– I know that we have only to give the Assistant Minister rope enough and he will hang himself. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) is angry with me because of what I have said, and yet now a member of the Ministry admits that Sir Sidney Kidman has been wilfully hanging up the matter to which I refer, whilst the Government has been merely looking on.
– Does the honorable member think that the Government should interfere with the courts?
– The matter should never have gone into the courts. It was decided by arbitration long ago.
– I may tell honorable members that Kidman and Mayoh signed an agreement to abide by the decision of the Public Works Committee, but, when the Public Works Committee found against them, they violated their agreement. Does the honorable member for Macquarie stand for that? Would he stand for it if that were the action taken by one of the poorer citizens of this country? In this case the Government appointed an arbitrator after many previous inquiries had been held. The arbitrator gave his verdict oVer two years ago, and yet the Government has never even raised a little finger to see that the money owing is paid into the public purse. This proves that wealthy citizens - are able to do what they like with this Government. If the Prime Minister knows anything of the facts of this case I hope he will, even by interjection, say whether the Government proposes to get right down to business in connexion with the withholding of this money from the public of this country, not to speak of interest owing on the amount. The Government need not suppose that in- the course of time this matter will be forgotten. We shall see to it that these persons shall not escape their responsibility.
– A former Treasurer said that Sir Sidney Kidman should have been tried before a criminal court.
– If the honorable member really wants to know what the present position of the matter is, it is that the High Court has deferred its judgment on a claim by Sir Sidney Kidman to be allowed to appeal to the Privy Council, which claim the Government resisted.
– I have a recollection of the Government resisting another claim. They resisted a claim of £137,000 by the British Government for wool. The Prime Minister said that he did not think it right and he resisted it, but the Government paid it. In connexion with the Kidman and Mayoh contract, the Prime Minister is resisting the action of Sir Sidney Kidman, but Kidman goes on smiling. He knows what the Prime Minister’s resistance means. The point is that he has not paid money which has been long overdue. It is up to the Government to do something definite in order to secure the payment of this money. This matter is as serious as that which we have recently been discussing, and the Prime Minister’s answers in reply to the charges made in connexion with it are just as unsatisfactory as are the answers given by the Government in reply to the charges made by the honorable member for Yarra.
.- If there is one thing about which honorable members on both sides are agreed, it is that every person who ought to pay income tax should be compelled to pay it. It has been a source of annoyance to me for many years to know that honorable persons, who stand up to their obligations in this matter, are compelled to pay a very much higher rate of taxation than would be necessary if every one who should pay this taxation did so. There are certain persons who cannot avoid making fair and honest returns, and they are very often those who can least afford to. pay taxation. Persons, in receipt of moderate salaries up to £5100 or £60.0. a year must make honest returns, and are taxed to. the full extent to which they are liable. Unfortunately,, there is a number of persons who do not make honest returns. Many years ago, before I had any idea of entering politics, a friend said to me, “ It is wonderful how income disappears in the face of taxation.” I say quite unreservedly, that if it is pos<sible to tighten up our legislation in such a way as to enable the Commissioner of Taxation to collect the- taxation which is due to the Government, this Blouse should give every assistance to bring that about. I have seen super-taxes paid, and taxes- raised again and. again, and I know that people who should be paying these taxes evade their payment. None of us has any sympathy with a person who does not pay the taxation which, ke is> justly entitled” to, pay. The honorable member for Yama made one of lis characteristic attacks on the Government in connexion with this matter.. I say it was a. characteristic attack, because we> are becoming used to such attacks by tie. honorable member.. If this kind of thingis to continue,, and the: atmosphere of this, chamber is- bo be vitiated’ by political poison, gas, members of this House will be compelled to wear gas helmets. Only a little while ago, the honorable, member for Gwydir (Mr; Cunningham), in a. voice that could be heard all round the chamber, interjected^ “ The reason why these things, are going on is: because a boodleier’s government is in power.” I know that honorable members opposite would not make, broadcast statements to. their friends and acquaintances to the effect that the Government is* a government, of boodleiers,, and is- guilty of corruption and swindling. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) is entitled to his> designation “ honorable.” Probably no member of this House has given up more, to take part ia the political life of the ‘country.. He has given. up. thousands a year which he wight- earn in the practice of the profession which he- loves. After his return, from the wast he again offered his services to the country, and yet, if the accusations made by honorable members opposite are to be taken seriously, the honorable gentleman is fit only to associate with criminals.
If honorable members opposite had been satisfied with charging him with lax administration that would have been different. They were not satisfied with that, but accused him of bringing influence to. bear upon an. officer of the Public Service with a view to inducing him to commit a dereliction of duty.
– That statement is the creation of the honorable member’s imagination. No one said it.
– No disinterested per- son could sit in this chamber and attach any other meaning to the speeches that have been made. If the Commissioner of Taxation, had allowed himself to be influenced in the- way suggested he would, not be fit to hold his position. The PrimeMinister very effectively summed up the changes- when he said that they resolved themselves into one of two contentions, - either the Government had been guilty of bringing pressure to bean om the Commissioner of Taxation to make him show partiality and leniency to men. who, owed large amounts of taxation, without extending the same leniency, to small taxpayers, or the Commissioner of Taxation was so corrupt’ that he had been overpersuaded to give wealthy taxpayers undue preference. No Government worthy of holding office for an hour could refrain from giving the Commissioner an opportunity to disprove those charges. If the Treasurer had so dominated the Commissioner that he had induced him to give exceptional treatment to wealthy taxpayers neither of them should be allowed to continue in office an hour after the charge is proved. If the Commissioner had allowed himself to be so influenced by wealthy taxpayers that he had not given the same treatment to poor as to rich taxpayers he should be deprived of his position. No honorable and straightforward person would deny the Commissioner a chance to prove his innocence. Time after time members of the Opposition have thrown charges of corruption and’ ‘’ boodling “ against members of the Ministry. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said he would not like to take the responsibility of sittingbehind a Government that had: done these things. Although I am willing tor sit behind such men as are on the treasury bench to-day, I would not like to sit with members opposite behind me; there would be a chance of being stabbed in the back.
Some of them are not fit to be members of this chamber. Why do they throwbroadcast charges of corruption and collusion? There can be only two reasons. When thinking the matter over last night, I remembered that when I was young I used to participate in a popular competition among young people who were gathered together for an evening’s amusement. Each person was required to name the perfumes in. a number of unlabelled bottles, and the one who judged the greatest number correctly received the prize. There was, however, a trick often practised. Garlic, or some other liquid with a strong,, objectionable odour, was placed in the first bottle, so that after one had smelt “ it, to smell anything else for the rest of the evening was impossible. Honorable members opposite live in a political atmosphere that is. pungent with the odours of corruption, that come from ballot-boxes with sliding panels, faked balance-sheets and ballot-papers, and forged badges. It is only natural that when such people get into the atmosphere of this chamber they can smell nothing but corruption. That is probably the reason why they are so ready to impute corruption to every one. Any man who acted in his private life as they act in their public lives would be ostracized. No decent member of society wants to be seen with men who indiscriminately charge other people with roguery and. corruption. There is another explanation that I am loath to accept, and that is that honorable members opposite know what they themselves would do if they werein a position to do- it. For the benefit of the honorable member for Batman, I quote a few words of
– Kipling is a militarist. I cannot stand it.
– Kipling says-
It is no reproach amongst swine, d’you see, To be a bit of a swine..
In. deciding to appoint a royal, commission, the Government has. left honorable members . of the Opposition without a feather tofly with. They have been given an opportunity to prove their charges, and if they cannot do that, they will have to admit that they spoke recklessly. Since that position has- been, forced upon them, they have been trying to create a smokescreen to cover their retreat.
.- Ever since the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) spent those pleasant evenings smelling bottles of’ onions, his olf actory nerves have been out of gear, and he is not ablenow to detect a bad smell when there is one. The- actions of the Government are so rank that they smell to high Heaven, so that we on this side have to use eau-de-cologne as a counter agent. It is obvious from the honorable member’s smile that he spoke with his. tonguein his cheek. He did not mean what he said, and thus his insincerity is proved. Honorable members on this side do mean what they say, and can prove all their statements. It is unusual for a. member of the rank and file on the other side to be provoked, to speech. I have been in. parliament a little more than fourteen years, but I have never seem followers . of- a Government so abject as honorable members opposite. We onthis side have kept Labour Governments up all night, and have spoken our minds against their proposals. Followers of the present Government are dumb, even when they disapprove of. its actions. One of the meekest and most subservient of them is the honorable member who has just spoken. I assert that the Government has interfered with the Land Tax Commissioner. Wealthy people were in arrears with the payment of their taxes, and the Government interfered with the Commissioner in the exercise of the powers conferred upon him by an act of Parliament. Two royal commissions have sat and reported, and a third is at work.. While those commissions were sitting,, theCommissioner could not enforce the provisions of the ‘ act, and so the Government interfered unjustifiably for the purpose of benefiting its wealthy supporters. It was tantamount to committing a fraud upon the people of this country when the Government sought to remit to wealthy people £1,300,000 of taxation. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), and possibly another honorable member opposite, opposed that proposal here and in the caucus room. The honorable member ‘ for Fawkner, by - his vigorous stand, strengthened the weak knees of some of the flabby supporters of the Government. Was not the proposal of the Government an attempt to interfere with the
Land Tax Commissioner? It was a deliberately dishonest act.Why should wealthy men be told that they can go free when poor men who cannot pay are hauled before the police courts? A second proposal was to remove taxation from leaseholds. The Government, with the assistance of its supporters, proposed to remove the taxation on leaseholds, although the law had stood the test of actions in the courts. When a Labour Government first placed a tax en leaseholds, objections were raised by the State Governments and the leaseholders. They fought the case in the High Court, and a decision was given in favour of the Government. On £30,000 the,- taxation would be£625, but on £20,000 it would be only £250, or 3d. in the £1. Thus the land-holder would be given quite a nice present. By this means the Government would make presents totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds to the wealthy men of the community. It is, as a matter of fact, “ playing up “ to the wealthy men, and doing everything possible to crush the poor men. The Treasurer told us, thisafternoon, the number of occasions on which Mr. Jolly had secured postponements of the payment of Sir Sidney Kidman’s taxation. Notwithstanding that he is the agent for one of the wealthiest land-holders in Australia, Ministers appointed him one of the royal commissioners to make recommendations as to who shall pay taxation on the Crown leaseholds, and what amount they shall pay; and yet they talk about honesty of government. Any unbiased man would say that that was a dishonest act. What right had that man to be a member of this commission? The Government should take immediate steps to request him to retire, for he is an interested party. He is an unsuitable person to determine whether Sir Sidney Kidman and others of his ilk shall pay the taxes that they owe.The Treasurer says that the appointment of the royal commission on taxation hindered the Commissioner of Taxation in collecting this money. He apparently forgets that the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was a member of the Government which appointed that commission.
– He was not; Sir Joseph Cook was Treasurer when it was appointed.
– I am astonished that a man like Sir Sidney Kidman should resist for so long the attempts that have been made to collect the taxes which he owes, but I suppose that he thinks it worth while when his own agent is a member of the royal commission which is to inquire into the best method of. collecting them. Mr. Jolly has neither legal nor moral right to be on the commission, and the general public will not tolerate such appointments. When the Treasurer was leading the Corner party not so very long ago he took every- opportunity to switch the light into all the dark corners of the Government’s administration.
– That is what I am still doing.
– The Treasurer is doing nothing of the kind. He. is now tarred with the same brush as the gentlemen whom he formerly criticized. He has touched the pitch, and some of it has stuck to him. Earlier in his political career he- might have been heard nearly any night that Parliament was sitting denouncing the Administration for various misdoings; but now he seems to have lost all interest in the welfare of the people. The speeches of the honorable member as the Leader of the Country party and as Treasurer of the Commonwealth will later be published in parallel columns and distributed throughout the country. The honorable member will then find out what the people think of him and of his changed attitude. No member of this chamber within recent years has delivered so many contradictory speeches’.
– If the honorable member studies the Country party platform, and compares it with my speeches, he will see the reasonableness of my conduct.
– The planks of the Country party platform have turned out to be very rotten, and the Leader of that party has been completely discredited. Every one who knew him as the private member, and who listens to him now as the Treasurer, will admit that. He has been guilty of political sins ever since he . joined -the Composite Government.
– Would the honorable member compare him with Mr. Theodore?
– I shall not accept the suggestion of a political pigmy to compare him with one of. the strong men in Australian politics.
– Has the honorable member read this morning’s newspapers? We do not pay public money to boost us.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs is apparently prepared to accept as accurate a newspaper statement which has not been substantiated in any way. I am afraid that we have listened to. the last of the admirable speeches that he has been accustomed to make from the corner.
– I ask honorable members not to indulge in conversation across the chamber.
– I desire to adhere to the Standing Orders, sir, but I am trying to do so in the face of great provocation. At certain times in this chamber one finds it very difficult to express himself adequately in moderate AngloSaxon. Strong circumstances need strong language - much stronger than I should be allowed to use. The members of this Government, and other Governments which held similar political views, have interfered in ‘ an unjustifiable way with the operations of the Commissioner of Taxation. The appointment of Mr. Jolly to a position on the royal commission which is now considering the taxation of Crown leaseholds was most improper, and the Government deserves severe criticism for having made it.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to8 p.m.
- Mr. Chairman–
– I direct attention to the state of the committee. [Quorum formed.’]
– It is quite permissible to repeat a statement already made in another form in order to make it more convincing, and I therefore propose to quote for the information of honorable members the questions which were submitted to the royal commission which inquired into the question of taxing leasehold lands. The royal commission on taxation referred to was appointed in December, 1918, and the following were the ‘terms of reference -
Those were four definite points submitted to the commission for investigation . and report. Subject to certain variation in detail that commission, which consisted of three members, recommended that in general the taxation of Crown leaseholds should be continued. Another royal commission charged with practically the same duties arrived at similar conclusions, and the decisions reached ought to have been satisfactory to any government. A strong plea has been made for the exclusion of leaseholds from taxation by those who claim that they are of very little value. I am sure honorable members from Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, and New South Wales, will admit that there are wide areas of leasehold land held by wealthy persons who are also in possession of large tracts of freehold country. Many of these persons have become rich mainly in consequence of their occupancy of leasehold lands. To show thatthe commission considered this aspect of the question I refer honorable members to a paragraph on page 190 of the report, which reads - 667. Individual cases were cited in evidence in which it appeared that tax was being assessed upon Crown leaseholds which, for certain reasons, perhaps of a transitory character, had practically no taxable value. That there is, however, in the aggregate, a large margin between the Crown rents paid and the economic rent, seems sufficiently demonstrable from: -
That seems- to dispose of the contention of some honorable members and particularly the Treasurer, that these landholders should be relieved of the responsibility of taxation. Our powers in adversely criticizing an act already passed, by this Parliament are somewhat limited, but in this case I am certain that a great injustice has been done to a large number of taxpayers in the Commonwealth by excluding leasehold land from taxation, because in many cases properties are held either by wealthy men or big business corporations with ample capital. It has been emphasised by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) and the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) that even now when the leaseholds are exempt and taxation is collected only on freehold properties large sums still remain uncollected. In the last year under review it has been shown that no less than £189,000 is due in respect of taxation on freehold properties. A person holding £20,000 worth of freehold land, and £10;000 worth of leasehold land, would be taxed at 5d. in the £1, or £625 a year. Now that Parliament has exempted leasehold land from taxation, the value on which such a person is taxable is reduced from £30,000 to £20,000, and instead of paying5d. in the £1 on ‘£30,000 he pays only 3d. in the £1 on £20;000. That is a remarkable measure of relief particularly when we consider the position in which other taxpayers who are in receipt of salaries or wages are placed. As the taxation of wealthy men has been reduced by twothirds and there is still a large amount owing an assessments made on freehold land, we could not be surprised if there was a general strike of taxpayers throughout Australia. Why should honorable members for instance, who are on fixed salaries, and persons receiving salaries . and wages in other callings, continue to pay their taxes regularly, when certain individuals have not paid any land taxation for periods varying from seven to nine years ? The whole system is so unjust that I cannot conceive of a deliberative assembly consenting to its continuance. The Government appointed one commission, and because its . recommendations were not altogether satisfactory another tribunal was appointed. We are now informed that a third or a fourth commission is to be appointed to inquire into thesame question. When the true position is placed before the people I should not be surprised if sometaxpayers, asked to be allowed similar . privileges, or to be alto gether exempted from taxation. Is the Treasurer in a position to state whether interest is being collected on the large amount outstanding? Section 50 of the Land Tax Assessment Act provides -
Every . person who fails to pay the amount payable by him in respect of land tax before the expiration of thirty days after it has become due shall be liable by way of additional tax to a further amount of ten per centum on the amount of the tax. . ‘
Is interest at the rate of 10 per cent, being charged on £2,100,000 outstanding? Will the Treasurer give the information?
– It seems useless to ask the Minister.
– It is a reasonable question to ask. I know that it is provided in section 66 that the Commissioner shall have power to deal leniently with certain taxpayers who are in financial difficulties, or ‘primary producers who are faced with drought, but that section cannot be applied in this instance.
– The rate of interest which can be charged under the act is, I understand, 10 per cent.
– Yes, if the amount is not paid within 30 days of the due date. The land- owners concerned in this instance are in most cases wealthy men and so-called patriots who should be prepared to do their duty to their country. Surely men who have made vast sums of money in the Commonwealth should contribute to the taxing authority. The amount outstanding could be used in the construction of roads or railways, in the general development of the country, or in paying off a portion of the interest on large sums of borrowed money. Before the dinner adjournment the Treasurer with his usual audacity stated that . three of the Commissioners were members of a previous royal commission which, according to his own words, was asked to determine the basis of valuation. That is the crux of the whole matter. It is amazing to find that Mr. Jolly, who is I understand, a paid agent of Sir Sidney Kidman, and who has been in communication with the Treasurer and the department concerning that gentleman’s taxation, is one of the members of . the proposed tribunal. The Treasurer cannot shirk his responsibility in this respect, because he is aware of that fact. With its eyes open the Government in June of this year appointed the paid agent of Sir Sidney
Kidman to be a member of. a royal commission appointed to determine the basis upon which Kidman’s land taxation should be assessed.
– Mr. Ewing was not responsible for that.
– The Government iswholly responsible for that, and for the appointment of successive commissions, which have enabled the frequent postponement of the payment of these taxes and hampered the Taxation Department. The last annual report of the Commissioner includes a list of taxpayers, who, because they owed amounts varying from £1 8s. 4d. upwards, were haled before the court and forced to meet their liabilities, plus’ legal costs. Of about 200 names in the list, two only represent big landholders. The liability of one is shown as £9,000, and of the other, £5,380. It is only fair to. say that the £9,000 is owing in respect’ of an -estate, and it may be that there were difficulties in assessing and collecting that amount. The Government had no compunction about publishing the names of those 2.00 taxpayers, together with full particular’s, as to. the amounts they owe and the’ states in which they live. That information was circulated throughout Australia, but for eight years the present Government and preceding “ministries have screened some of the wealthiest men in the country, who are well able to meet their liabilities promptly.
– The honorable member has exhausted his time, but he may continue his remarks by taking the second instalment of his allowance now.
– Such unfair discrimination as the Government has shown excites curiosity and suspicion. When the large taxpayers should have paid the amount they owe to the department a royal commission was appointed, and that enabled the postponement of payment. After two or three decisions had been given that the taxation of Crown leaseholds was equitable, and that the amounts owing should be paid, the Government submitted to Parliament a bill which would remit arrears to the amount of £1,300,000. In effect, it was saying to Kidman, Jowett, and the wealthy stock and station agents, “You poor chaps who control vast areas in various states, and have made fortunes on the land, need not pay the £1,300,000 you owe.” Yet the Treasurer denies that the Government has shown discrimination in favour of the rich men. If a struggling business man, a wage-earner, or a small farmer does not pay his taxation promptly he is haled before the court, but to the Kidmans and Jowetts and the big pastoral companies the utmost consideration is shown. They are such splendid fellows that the Government was prepared to give them £1,300,000. This House baulked the Government in that endeavour, but the money has not yet been collected. Inquiry into the matter is still proceeding, and I hope that the interest bill is increasing all the while. The Government, succeeded in inducing Parliament to : discontinue the taxation of Crown leaseholds, and in that way taxation, which over a period of years will amount to millions of pounds, has been remitted to a wealthy section of the community. , Finally-M the Government appointed, a commission of the defaulters’ friends .to., report as to the amount they should pay. That was a scandalous proceeding, the responsibility for which cannot be shifted on to the head of the Taxation Department. Other Prime Ministers were “ artful ‘dodgers “ in many respects, but never previously have I known one to try to shelter himself behind an officer in his department. That is one of the most cowardly things that a Minister of the Crown can do.
– What would Andrew Fisher have done?
– I remember occasions when departmental officers were accused of certain things by honorable members then sitting in opposition, and Andrew Fisher was manly enough to stand up in the House and say, “I am responsible for the administration of the Commonwealth, and for anything my officers do wrong I shall answer.” The Treasurer, who eighteen months ago talked of switching on the light to expose the devious methods of his predecessors in office, is now arm and arm with one of the gentlemen whom he condemned - the Prime Minister, who would do anything to avoid bringing certain people to justice. Something has happened to damp the enthusiasm of the Treasurer; lie is a changed man. Evidently his political pulse is weak. The charges set out in the amendment are well founded. They are - that the Government be censured for the maladministration of the Tax Department in -
The budget papers set out the accumulated arrears of land taxation, and yet the Treasurer would have us believe that until last night he knew nothing of the amount owing by individual taxpayers. He had to be told by the Opposition of what was happening in his own department. He is a very careless custodian of the public purse if he does not know that the taxation payments of one wealthy individual are £100,000 in arrears. The law provides that certain reports shall be made to the Treasurer each year, and the honorable gentleman could not have been alive to his duties if he was not aware of the information that was in his department, including the fact that over £2,000,000 of taxation is owing. The third charge in the amendment is -
I have before me a long list of unfortunate persons who have been prosecuted for not paying their taxes.
– Do not the names of all defaulters appear in that list?
– They should.
– The names of Kidman, Jowett, Creswick, and’ other wealthy individuals are omitted.
– Why differentiate?
– That is the question we are asking. We accuse the Government of unfair discrimination, but both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer indignantly ask why these men, whose taxes are in arrears, should be pilloried? Why does the Government pillory the smaller men, and why were unfortunates in the Northern Territory sent to gaol ? It has no sympathy for the poorer men in the community whose circumstances would justify them in asking that their taxes be remitted or that they be allowed an extension of time in which to pay, but wealthy men may resist the payment of taxation for eight years. The fourth charge of the indictment is -
The Treasurer indignantly repudiated the suggestion that he should pillory any individual taxpayer by making public the particulars of his liabilities to the department, but eventually he disclosed a lot of information regarding Sir Sidney Kidman, and fully justified the charges which were made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). We should know also how much is owing by Edmund Jowett and the wealthy pastoral corporations. I suppose Kidman will object to the invidious distinction which has been bestowed upon him. The fifth charge reads-
Night after night when the Treasurer was sitting in the Ministerial corner, he declared, in stentorian tones, the need for a return to responsible government. He accused Ministers of the day of evading their responsibility, and threatened to switch the light on to dark places in order to show the devious methods of the Administration. To-day he eats out of the hand of the Prime Minister, whom he then condemned. He wears the coat of political deceit which he accused others of wearing before he became a Minister. The electors are taking notice of what is transpiring, and are becoming fully alive to the fact that the Government discriminates between rich and poor. Ministers are sworn by their oath of office to deal out even-handed justice, and yet they screen the rich and help them to evade taxation, whilst they lay the hand of the law upon the poor. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) appears to be angered by what I have said, but I trust that he will ‘not join the ranks of the docile followers of the Government. If he does he will have to justify his action to the electors of Richmond, and there will be nothing to stand between him and a tragic political death when he meets them. I wish I could say that I leave the matter now to. the sober and unbiased judgment of a- deliberative assembly. Unfortunately,
I have to leave it to a jury already packed by the cracking of the ministerial whip. When honorable members opposite do not show themselves amenable to the Government they are dealt with in an upstairs room. I do not say that they are there spread out on a triangle, but in some way they are induced to vary the attitude they have previously adopted in this House. However, the day of retribution will overtake them, and they will receive the punishment that is their due from an indignant electorate, that will consign the majority of them to the oblivion from which they never should have emerged.
– I regret that it is necessary that honorable members on this side have to adopt the method which they have adopted to direct public attention to the neglect’ of the Government in the control of public affairs. We have in power a number of men who do not recognize their responsibility as the elected representatives of the people. It would b9 well to remind ourselves of what the basic principles of parliamentary governmentare, because we should quite mistake the true position if we regarded the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer as representative of parliamentary government. Men are elected to Parliament by the electors, and from amongst them a government is formed, and as Ministers of the Crown members of that government are in charge of the public departments, and are responsible to the people for their administration. The present Government has refused information concerning the affairs of the country to those who have a right to demand it. Information has been given to the honorable member fo» Yarra (Mr. Scullin) with regard to one matter, but it had to be forced from the Government at the point of the bayonet. It is strange that the Leader of the Country party, that claims to represent the small men, “should be the one to shelter the big men. In a report which has been submitted, we are given the names of the small men who have defaulted in the payment of taxation. There is no outcry from honorable members opposite against the publication of the names of these small men. In the list I notice the name of a resident of my own electorate who has been prosecuted. The Leader of the Country party is responsible for the publication of that man’s name, whilst he shelters a big man like Sir Sidney Kidman. The Commissioner of Taxation is responsible to the Treasurer or he is not. The list to which I allude was issued by the Commissioner of Taxation in pursuance of his duty to Parliament. I go so far as to say that there has been grave dereliction of duty by the Commissioner of Taxation, otherwise why has Sir Sidney Kidman been permitted to evade the payment of his tax for eight years? In the Melbourne Age of the 29th April of this year, I find a paragraph under the heading, “ Land tax prosecution - Werribee farmer heavily fined.” Werribee is in the electorate of the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister), who, I think, should not endorse the action of the Treasurer in sheltering Sir Sidney Kidman. The paragraph to which I refer reads -
James Brown, a farmer, of Werribee, was charged at the City Court yesterday with having failed to lodge a land tax return for the year ended 30th June, 1923. A fine of £40 was imposed.
I understand that this man’s tax was assessed at £9. God help Kidman if he is fined in the same ratio to the amount of tax he owes. The paragraph continues -
It was stated in evidence that Brown had been fined four times previously for a similar offence.
Brown is fined £5 in eight years, whilst Kidman is not fined at all. I repeat that the Commissioner of Taxation has been guilty of grave dereliction of duty, and has shown partiality, otherwise how is it that for the same offence one man has been fined five times in eight years and another not at all? What ministerial control of departmental administration can there be when Sir Sidney Kidman can take the stand that he may do as he pleases. The Prime Minister said that honorable members on this side hurled abominable charges about. We have no need to make charges. In order to ventilate matters we have only to state facts, and let the public judge.
– “Ventilate” is the correct word, because, after all, it is only wind.
– Does the honorable member think that these things do not need ventilation, and that it is not necessary to let light and fresh air into the dark corners in which his leader would smother them up 1 He should not forget that the small farmers in his electorate have to pay their taxes regularly, whilst Sir Sidney Kidman, the wealthiest man in Australia, is allowed to go free. We are told that Sir Sidney Kidman has appealed against his assessment. That has nothing whatever to do with the payment of his tax. He might appeal twenty times, but the amount at which he has been assessed should be collected. That is provided for under section 45 of the act.
– That is what I had to do.
– But the honorable member is only one of the “ mug “ men ; he is not one of the “ heads.” He has to pay every time. Section 45 of the act provides that -
If an appeal is pending it shall not in the meantime interfere with or void the assessment appealed from, and land tax may be levied and recovered on the assessment as if no appeal were pending.
The section goes on to provide that if an assessment ia altered on appeal due adjustment is made. If the appellant is found to have paid tax in excess of what he should pay the amount is refunded, and if the amount of tax is short paid, the amount by which it is short may be recovered. No matter how unjust an assessment may be,’ the amount of tax assessed has, first of all, to be paid, and then the court may be appealed to if it is considered that the assessment is not just, when tax paid in excess is refunded, and tax paid short of a true assessment has to be made good. According to the figures given last year, leaseholds were assessed at £1,380,000. According to the amended figures supplied by the Treasurer to-day the amount should be £1,600,000. This shows that the Crown leaseholders have not been over assessed. It has been stated in excuse that there are difficulties in the way of collecting taxation on leaseholds, but there are no difficulties in the way of collecting tax on freeholds, and yet Sir Sidney Kidman has been allowed to evade the payment of £2,500 a year in tax on freeholds for eight years. He owes £20,000 in tax on freeholds. This calls for some explanation from the Treasurer and from the Commissioner of Taxation.
– The Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) has explained that he was assessed only about four months ago.
– Even so, for eight years he has failed to pay his tax, and he has never been prosecuted. The Treasurer this afternoon told us that in 1913-4, 1914-5, and 1915-6 Sir Sidney Kidman sent in returns, and that in 1916-7, 1917-8, and 1918-9 the’ department issued default assessments, but is made no prosecution. If Sir Sidney Kidman had been treated in the same way as the man Brown, to whom I have referred, he would have been prosecuted every year from 1916-7 to 1922-3, and he would have been fined about £500,000 by now. But, because a party that he supports is in power, he is allowed to defy the Government and the people of this country. While he was refusing to meet his just obligations, he and others in the same line of business were obtaining record prices for wool, and probably higher prices for beef than they had ever received before. When this country was at war and needed every penny it could raise, he refused to pay his just dues. And what was his reward? He was created a knight. Titles are conferred on a low plane when those who should be prosecuted are recommended to His Majesty for knighthood. I have a vivid recollection of the exmember for Grey. (Mr. Poynton) saying that the firm of Kidman and Mayoh should be prosecuted. I go so far as to say that they should be prosecuted for attempted murder in cold blood. They built ships with dummy bolts, and tried to force them on the Government. Lloyd’s surveyor said that if those ships went out of Sydney Harbour, they would not sail half a mile before they would sink, when’ there would not be one chance in a hundred of saving any one on board. Influences of the worst possible kind have been at work in the Government of this country since Labour went out of office.
– Sir Sidney Kidman no doubt contributed to the Nationalist party’s election funds.
– I have no doubt that the benefits he received were in return for his contributions to party funds and his services at election times. We have heard of the “ Kidman blight “ in the western districts of New South Wales. It appears to have spread to the Government and Parliament of this country, and has become a cancerous growth on the body politic. I guarantee that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten), who is one of the high panjandrums of the Nationalist party, was not relieved of the necessity of paying his taxation.
– Some members of the Labour party are not all they might be.
– When we find crooks in our party we kick them out, and they join up with honorable members opposite. I remember the wire pulling and bribery that went’ on before the last election. The ex-Prime. Minister (Mr. Hughes) found that Bendigo was too hot for him. The strings were pulled, and was not the secretary of the Nationalist party in New South Wales, Mr. Parkhill, bought out of North Sydney for £2,500?
– That is incorrect.
– The statement of the amount may be incorrect; but I suspect that it errs in being too small.
– The whole assumption is incorrect.
– Pressure was brought to bear on Mr. Parkhill to induce him to make way for the ex-Prime Minister, who was quickly executed when the election was over and he had brought the party a very doubtful victory. Men of the Kidman and Jowett type- have had a long innings. There is no argument against the facts.
– Then why argue?
– Because we have a wider field of operations outside. We know quite well that the numbers are against us here. They were against us in the last Parliament, and that is one reason why so many new faces have appeared among honorable members opposite. Six Ministers of the previous Government were rejected at the polls, and new men, not all of them Labour men, took their places. That was an expression of the people’s dissatisfaction with the slavish way in which members opposite had followed the Government. Can honorable members opposite, by any process of logic, justify Brown being fined, five times while Kidman ‘was not even prosecuted? If two men assault a policeman in the street, and one is prosecuted and fined £5, while the other is not even charged, is that fair? On the last occasion when Brown, of Werribee, was prosecuted his tax amounted to £9, and he was fined £40. Kidman has not only refused to pay his tax, but has refused to send in returns. Brown’s offence was the same as Kidman’s - not sending in a return. I remember how the Treasurer, when tha honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) asked for information, grinned and said, “It is not the practice of the department to make such information available.” The justification of the honorable member for Yarra has come to-day, wnen the Treasurer was forced by public opinion to give an explanation. The information he gave completely justified the honorable member for Yarra. 1 have no doubt that the terms of the royal commission will be so restricted that it will be hamstrung before it starts. The only sort of commission that would do any good would be one that would be open to the public, and would examine the departmental files in public. Ministers cannot complain that members of the Opposition have improperly made available to the public information supplied to them. I challenge members of the Ministry to show that any Labour man, and I believe I could say any honorable member, has made available information detrimental to a private individual. There is less danger of undue publicity if files are made available when they are asked for, and information is supplied privately when required.
We now know that the allegations made by the honorable member for Yarra were well founded. We know that Kidman did not furnish returns, that default summonses were issued, that no prosecutions took place, and that the tax is not yet paid. The Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) stated to-day that last night Sir Sidney Kidman furnished his returns for the past eight years. The honorable member for Yarra has achieved in two days what the Government and its officers could not do in eight years.
– How did the Acting Leader of the Opposition get that information ?
– By switching on the light. One honorable member opposite took exception to my expression that the Government is a “ boodleier’s “ Government. When a man like Brown, of Werribee, is fined £40, while Kidman, a millionaire, is not even prosecuted, we cannot call it a poor man’s Government.I maintain that I am justified in saying it is a “ boodleier’s “ Government, and as such it will go down to history.
– Brown was fined £40, while Kidman received a knighthood.
– Great shall be the reward of those who default! The Treasurer has been rushing hither and thither, rebuilding the fortifications knocked down by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse). He has had to defend his association with Flinders-lane. It is remarkable to find a so-called representative of the small man linking himself with the representatives of Flinders-lane. These natural enemies seem to work in perfect harmony when there are Ministerial positions to be filled, and paid jobs under the Government to be occupied. The Treasurer made the remarkable admission today that he did not know of the existence of certain reports. I gathered from his speech that when he was asked for information by. the honorable member for Yarra, he did not even trouble to get into touch with the Commissioner. He has had ample notice of these charges, for two years ago the honorable member asked questions on the subject. In these circumstances, the Treasurer should have requested the department to furnish a full report on the matter, but Dr. Earle Page did not do so. He has been too busy gallivanting about the country trying to keep the pact together. But, in spite of all his efforts and those of the Prime Minister, the Ministry cannot be kept together. When the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Sir Austin Chapman) retired, the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Pratten) filled his place, but the Ministry broke down in another place when the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) withdrew, and it was necessary to send a cablegram. 6,000 or 7,000 miles to bring some one else in. I have no doubt that a break will occur somewhere else within the next few days. We should be grateful to the Government for one thing : It has proved the impossibility of obtaining effective administration from a composite Ministry.
The Prime Minister made the astounding statement ‘this evening that tho royal commission which is at present inquiring into the taxation of Crown leaseholds is trying to find an equitable basis for the collection of the tax. That is absolutely inaccurate, for a former commission not only reported that the tax was justly imposed, but recommended a basis for its collection. It also recommended its collection forthwith. The Government has chosen to delay the matter, and I suppose it will continue to delay it as long as possible. Men like Sir “Sidney Kidman and Mr. Jowett are in no hurry for a decision to be reached’. Were this Government to remain in office until the last trump, it would still find reasons for not collecting the tax. It would be a queer basis for collection that would suit Mr. Jolly, the representative of Sir Sidney Kidman. The only thing that would suit him would be the wiping out of the tax. Although the long overdue report of the Commissioner of Taxation was tabled last night, it is im-. possible to ascertain from it which taxpayers have furnished returns and who are the country’s debtors. If this trouble had arisen when the Labour party was in power, it would have been just as culpable as is this Government. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has rendered a great public service in making these disclosures, and I trust that as a result other Ministers will learn something, and be more careful about their administration.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The taxation, of Crown leaseholds was the subject of an exhaustive debate in this chamber last year. Practically every speech that has been delivered on it in the last two or three days has been a repetition of the speeches made last year. Most people would imagine from these speeches that the men who hold these huge areas under leases from the Crown do not pay any taxes, but that is not so. Mention has been made of the fact that 900,000,000 acres of land is held by what have been called “land monopolists.” Although that seems to be a huge area, we still have 765.000,000 acres of unoccupied land in Australia, and any one who is envious of the present Crown lessees is quite at liberty to take up some of it.
Of the 900,000,000 acres that are held under Crown leases, 841,000,000 acres are in the sparsely-populated Northern Territory and the out-back districts of Western Australia, Queensland, and South Australia, and could only be held by big companies or moneyed men. The possession of large capital is essential to the profitable- occupation of land which is more than 100 miles from the railhead. A selector with even £15,000, or £20,000, could not make a success of a holding in some localities. If the moneyed man and big land companies abandoned- the land, it would soon become the haunt of the dingo, the rabbit, and the blackfellow. I submit that it is absolutely unjust for the Federal Government, to impose a land tax on these areas. Any revenue that is to be derived from them should go to the State Governments to which the land belongs. One thing is absolutely certain. If the present holders, abandoned the land it would soon be of no use to any one. The State Governments are the only authorities which should impose taxation, either direct or by way of rent, on their own lands. Some time ago the Queensland Government greatly increased the rents on Crown leaseholds in that state, acting, no doubt, on the assumption that the leaseholders were wealthy men. In a very short while it discovered its mistake, and reduced’ the rents so far as cattle holdings were concerned, although sheep men are still forced to pay, in some cases, as much as two and a half times the rents which prevailed prior to the passing of the so-called Repudiation Act. Vast areas of land in the north-west of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and in the far west of Queensland, are held by landed companies and moneyed men, and it would be a bad thing for Australia if they were forced to abandon the country. It is absolutely impossible to get small men to take it up. Our wealthy land-holders are performing a public service in opening up this country. ‘ Every seven years as railway facilities are pushed farther out, they are required to hand back portion of their holdings to the Government. It is unjust to impose a land tax on these people, but, if the money is to be taken from them, it should be done in the form of increased rents by the State Governments, to which the land belongs.
,. - I have listened to the whole, of this debate with an open mind, but I have reached the point when I must express my sympathy with the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that he desires to do the right thing, but the administration of the Government has been so tangled up by the incompetent Ministers with whom he has associated himself that half his time is occupied in making excuses. He is kept very busy apologizing for the failure of the Treasurer. I can quite understand how some honorable members opposite, who belong to the old Nationalist party, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster), for instance, feel about the discredit which the Country party has brought on them. If the honorable member for Wakefield did not feel bound to keep quiet, in loyalty to his party, I should- very much like to hear his opinion on the matters we are discussing.. Honorable members on this side of the committee have only one desire, and that is to place the facts of the case before, the public. Before the last election,. Dr. Earle Page, who is a fine fellow personally - a decent chap with a pleasant smile who puts the best side forward always - travelled through the country telling the people what great things the Country party would do when it came into its own. But the plain fact of ‘the case is that, although he is a good doctor, he is an absolute failure as Treasurer. If the Prime Minister had the support of his old colleagues he would not be in hi3 present unfortunate position. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) had to make room for an inexperienced Minister, and the honorable member for Warringah (Sir Granville Ryrie), who was in charge of the Defence Department, has been compelled to hand over his responsibilities to a man who may know something concerning the girl guide movement, but little in relation to defence matters. With the exception of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Prat-ten), whose faults the Prime Minister has not yet ascertained, he is responsible for the maladministration of his colleagues. Although the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has from time to time demanded information from the Government about the. taxation of leasehold properties, only evasive answers have been forthcoming. We can assume that there is some foundation for the allegations of the honorable member, otherwise the Government would not have agreed to the appointment of a royal commission. If a judge is to be a commissioner, one naturally wonders on what lines the inquiry is to be conducted. Does the Minister assume that representatives of this party will make charges against the Commissioner of Taxation? I can assure him that we do not intend to do anything of the kind. Do the Government intend to appoint a solicitor to look after his interests and to submit his case. It is not our duty to prosecute. If the Commissioner has to stand his trial a person must be appointed by the Government to watch his interests, because he is a Government officer. We do not suggest that the Commissioner is at fault. We look to the Treasurer to answer the charge which has been laid, not against the Commissioner, but concerning the administration of the Taxation Department. When information is sought on taxation matters, answers are always supplied by the ministerial head of the department, “ and it is the duty of the Treasurer in this instance to assume responsibility. , So far as I can. judge it will be a very one-sided investigation, because on the ‘one hand the Government will utilize the whole of the machinery at their disposal; on the other there will not be, any one to lay a charge. It has now been admitted by the Treasurer that Sir Sidney Badman owes taxation amounting to £20,000 on freehold property, and I believe a certain amount of income, tax. A person who will evade taxation in one direction will endeavour to escape his obligations in another. The honorable member for Maranoa ‘ (Mr. Hunter), in endeavouring to put the case for the large squatters, said that much of the land held by them is valueless. Notwithstanding this amazing statement, these persons are trying year after year to secure larger areas of this so-called valueless land. If it is of no use to them why do they not dispose of it? By perusing the public balance-sheets of- the pastoral companies which disclose the dividends paid, one can assess the values of the properties they are controlling. Many of them are gambling in station properties, and, notwithstanding their satisfactory financial position, the honorable member for Maranoa asserts that they should be taxed, not by the Commonwealth, but by the states. If we collect income tax from these people, why should we not also collect land tax.
– There is no analogy. The land belongs to the state and not to the squatters.
– The Commonwealth Government is responsible for the defence of the country, and the protection of the people, including those persons mentioned by the honorable member, and is therefore entitled to impose taxation. In view of the enormous annual interest bill which has to be met, it is scandalous that these men should evade their responsibilities in this respect.
– The Queensland Government reduced the rent of the cattle stations in that state.
– That may be so. We do not wish to treat them harshly, but when they are making substantial profits they should contribute in the form of taxation. . When the Treasurer was speaking last night he was asked if it was a fact that Sir Sidney Kidman owed the Government £100,000, and .he replied that he did not know. But a few hours later a report was submitted dis- ‘ closing the facts. Why did not the Treasurer instruct the officers in the Taxation Department to produce the files, and thus enable the position to be disclosed? If the Commissioner has misled the Treasurer by supplying inaccurate statements he is not fit to occupy his present position.
– Kidman’s return was handed in only last night.
– Yes, in consequence of the debate which ensued last night. It is regrettable that the Government should be associated with shady transactions of this character, from which Parliament has been particularly free for some time. It is only since the Composite Government has been in office that trouble has arisen in consequence of the establishment of pools and the introduction of wire-pulling generally. ThePostmasterGeneral (Mr. Gibson), who is supposed to be attending a postal conference, spent only one week at that gathering, and during the time which he has been wasting in London the country has lost £20,000. The latest information is to the effect that the Government is paying £15,000 without security to a board which is endeavouring to form an organizationof meat exporters to keepup the price of. meat escorted.. This amount is allegedly being spent to stabilize an industry, but the. effect of this organization’s operations will be to increase the price of meat to the community. As. anOppositewe have done our duty, and we now look to the public to record a verdict, which must undoubtedly be in our favour.
Question - That the amount be reduced by £1 (Mr. Anstey’s amendment) - put. Thecommittee divided.
Ayes … … … 17
Noes- … … … 28
Majority … … 11
Question so resolved in the negative’.
Original question resolved- in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted’.
Resolution- of Ways and Means- founded onresolutionof Supply reported and adopted.
That Dr. Earle- Page- and Mr.Bruce do prepareandbringinabill to carry out the foregoing, resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page, and react a first, time-..
.- I move -
That the bill benowreadasecondtime. The Supply which was granted at the beginning of this financial’ year to cover’, approximately, two months’ expenditure, is becoming exhausted. Additional moneys will be required next week to meet the ordinary expenditure of the departments. It therefore becomes necessary to askthe House to grant further Supply pending the’ passing of the Appropriation Bill. I am. accordingly submitting a second Supply Bill which, like its pre- decessor, will cover two months’ expenditure. The total of the schedule to the bill is £2,978,575,. as compared with the total of £4,076,175 of the first Supply Bill. The reduction is. almost wholly caused by the provision under the vote for Treasurer’s Advance. In the first bill, £1,000,000 was included- mainly, to provide for the continuation of works in progress at the- 30th June, pending the passing of the Loan Bill and the Appropriation (Worksand Buildings) Bill. The latter bill has now been assented to by the Governor-General, and it is hoped that the Loan Bill, which has been passed by this chamber, will be passed by the Senate this week. The necessity for financing these works out of Treasurer’s Advance has disappeared, and no provision is made under that vote in the present bill. Omitting Refunds of Revenue and Treasurer’s Advance, the total of the present bill compares with the first bill as follows : - Supply No.1, £2,826,175; Supply No. 2, £2,828,575; Increase in present bill, £2,400. Certain periodical payments’ will fall due in September, including the ocean mail subsidyand the interest on. the Northern Territory and Port Augusta Railway Loans. Allowing for those payments, which only recur quarterly or half-yearly, the provision in the present bill is. really less than that granted- in the first Supply
Bill. Omitting Refunds of Revenue and Treasurer’s Advance, the total of the two bills, which are to cover four months’ expenditure, is£5,654,750. One-third of the total estimated expenditure would be £5,698,715, so that the amount of the two Supply Bills is less than one-third of the Estimates by £43,965. Provision is made in the two bills for ten fortnightly pays, which is more than onethird of the total annual salaries. . The total amount of this excess is approximately £430,000, so that . the amounts previously granted and included in. this bill are really £473,000 less than onethird of the estimated expenditure. The provision made in this measure is wholly for the regularly recurring services of government, and does not include any service which Parliament has not already approved. All controversial items of expenditure are excluded from the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill returned . from the Senate without amendment.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
House adjourned at 9.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 August 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1924/19240821_reps_9_108/>.