10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Prime Minister been notified of the decision of the graziers of Australia to permit the Meat Council to pass out of existence at the end of July because of the refusal of some of the States to pass legislation which would enable the council to function ? As the Meat Council is the only medium by which the opinion of the meat interests can be expressed in a national way, and as it has negotiated important contracts with the Imperial Government, will the right honorable gentleman take steps, before effect is given to the decision of the graziers, to continue, if possible, the operations of this great organization?
– Full information with regard to the present position of the Australian Meat Council has reached me, but the facts are not as stated by the honorable member. The decision to disband the council is not due to the failure of some of the States to pass enabling legislation. Such legislation was passed in Queensland and New South Wales and the Victorian Government was ready to submit it to Parliament. Moneys had actually been raised by levy ; but by a recent poll the graziers of New South Wales pronounced overwhelmingly against the continuance of the council, and, as there were indications of a similar opinion in Queensland, the council came to the conclusion that it had no alternative but to wind up its affairs. Representatives of the meat industry have interviewed me on several occasions, and sections of them have represented that the Government should take some action to organize the industry, I told them, as I have told all sections of producers, that the Government will not take steps to organize them, but will give every assistance if they will organize themselves. I agree with the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) that it is very desirable that an effort should be made to form an organization to take the place of that which will shortly go out of existence.
– Will the Minister for Defence say whether it is a fact that recruiting for the boys’ training ship Tingira will cease at the end of this month; if so, will the boys who join before that date receive a complete twelve months’ training?
– Recruiting for the training ship Tingira will cease at the end of this month, but every boy will undergo a full course of training before he passes on to the next station.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories yet in a position to make a statement in connexion with the mail contract for the Pacific Islands ?
– The Government is now considering the matter, and I hope to be able to make a definite announcement in the course of the next few days.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. Yesterday I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs a question, without notice regarding the vital matter of compelling deep-sea ships to be equipped with wireless in order that the lives of the crew might be saved in the event of disaster overtaking a vessel. When I asked that question I had no idea that the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) had made a similar interrogation about a fortnight ago, when I was absent from the House on account of illness. I have no desire to trespass upon any subject that is in the capable hands of the honorable member, so I shall not pursue the matter further. I hope, however, that the Minister for Trade and Customs will make a statement regarding it at his earliest convenience.
– In accordance with the promise I made to the honorable member for Brisbane, the State Governments have been communicated with, but replies from them have not yet reached me. I shall endeavour to expedite the correspondence.
Appeals Against Classification
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
When is it anticipated that decisions in regard to appeals lodged against classification by officers of the Defence Department, following on such classification being published in September last, will be notified in the Gazette?
– It is anticipated by the Public Service Board that the first instalment of determinations on Defence officers’ appeals will be gazetted within the next month.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Use of Spirit in Aviation.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– I regret that the information is not yet available.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon, notice -
Is it a fact that the present printing equipment of the Stamp-printing Department could produce a high class of surface printed stamps if designs of a loss crowded character were adopted, and that the present equipment could produce all requirements of engraved stamps from1s. value upwards?
– The answers to. the honorable member’s questions are: -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Transfer of Public Servants
asked the Prime Min ister, upon notice -
– No promise in the terms suggested by the honorable member has been made by me, but, as has been announced by me on previous occasions, steps are being taken with a view to protecting public servants fromfinancialloss in certain specific respects. For instance, the Government has formulated a scheme for the purchase of the Melbourne homes of officers who will be transferred to Canberra in 1927, and the Public Service Board has been requested to take into consideration the question of a cost of living allowance for those officers.
Regarding the question of the prices at which homes will be available at Canberra for rent or purchase, the Public Service Board, to whom the matter was referred by the Government, has appointed a committee which is at present inquiring as to the differences, if any, which exist between the costs of construction of houses in Melbourne andCanberra respectively. Upon receipt of the committee’s report, the matter will be. considered by the Public Service Board.
Surrender of Life Assurance Policies
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Imperial Force Canteens Funds Act - Sixth Annual Report by the Trustees, 1st July, 1925, to 30th June, 1926 (including the Sir Samuel McCaughey Bequest for the Technical Education of Soldiers’ Children).
Defence - Australian Military Forces - Report for the Inspector-General, by Lieut.General Sir H. G. Chauvel, G.C.M.G., K.C.B. (Chief of the General Staff), Part I., 31st May, 1926.
Ordered to be printed.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Dalley asked me whether I would make available the report of the Public Accounts Committee regarding the contract let by the Sydney City Council to the Commonwealth Shipping Board for the construction at Cockatoo Island Dockyard of some electric turbo-alternating plant. As the committee is still engaged upon its inquiry into the affairs of the Commonwealth Shipping Board it is not considered desirable that a report on a particular phase of the matter should be made available at the present time.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the loth July (vide page 4130), on motion by Dr. Earle Page -
That the first item in the Estimates, under Division 1 - the Parliament - namely, “The President, £1,300 “ be agreed to.
– In my experience of Parliament, extending over many years, I do not remember more candid criticism having been directed against the budget than has been directed against the proposals of the present Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) by Government supporters. The criticism offered by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) was telling and destructive, but the criticism by Ministerialists was equally so. If we can find any honorable member, other than a member of the Ministry, who has a good word to say for this budget, we ought to have his photograph taken and pasted on the walls of this chamber as a curiosity. The Treasurer’s statement reminds me of one of those emaciated and friendless poodles that one sometimes sees looking for a home. The remarkable feature about it is that it comes from a Treasurer who, in his days as a private member, belonged to a group which described themselves as watch-dogs, who were credited with doing the rather peculiar- thing of “ switching on the light.” Most honorable members were surprised to hear the criticism that came from the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) last evening. That honorable member, as a rule, is a loyal follower of the Government. He referred to its financial proposals as showing signs of the “ Page blight.”- What I shall say about them will not be more severe than that. The people of Australia have become very familiar with what is known as the “ Kidman blight,” and the present Treasurer has done more than any previous Treasurer to extend it. He has been in such close association with Sir Sidney Kidman that he has naturally contracted the malady.
– I have not been in close association with him.
– The Minister has had a good deal to do with him and others who have spread the blight of land monopoly in Australia. It is noi surprising, therefore, that we had the outburst heard last night from the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), who waved his arms about in an unusual manner, and worked himself into a fury regarding the charges that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) made concerning the failure to collect taxation on Crown leaseholds.
– It was a legal gentleman on’ the other side who became ‘ so furious.
– I think not. The Attorney-General is usually a mild member; but he had a bad case, and, having to represent it, he thought that by violent gesticulations he would be able to “ get away with “ what was contrary to fact.
– He “ put it across “ the Opposition.
– From what I know of the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott), he would not accept a statement if it could be proved to be grossly unfair and misleading. Last night the Attorney-General attempted to mislead the committee.
– That is not so.
– He is incapable of doing that.
– The matter of the charges by the honorable member for Yarra was referred to Judge Edwards, and the Attorney-General proceeded to read a list of seventeen questions, which, he said, had been submitted to the judge.
– I said there were seventeen “ allegations.”
– That is so. The Minister was immediately challenged by honorable members on this side to substantiate his statement, but he failed to do so. The fact is that all that was submitted for the judge to answer was the eight questions set out on the first page of the report, and these consisted of distortions of the honorable member’s speech, torn from their context.
– The actual words of the speech were submitted to the judge.
– That is not so. One of the questions was -
Whether the amounts of land tax outstanding, as shown in the budget, are owing exclusively by large taxpayers; and, if that is not so, what are the facts?
The word “ extensively “ as set forth, appears nowhere in the speeches of the honorable member.
– Read the whole of the reference.
– The AttorneyGeneral again says that the exact words were submitted to the judge. When he was speaking last night he became very indignant because he was not allowed to have his “ fling,” He said last night, “ Here are the seventeen questions that were submitted.”
– I called them the seventeencharges.
– I shall not quibble over words. The facts are that they were not submitted to the judge. The Minister quoted the fourth charge set out in the schedule, containing the following words by the honorable member for Yarra: -
Page 3253 - For several years the administration of the taxation office has been unsatisfactory to the people. It has been carried on in defiance of the law under which the taxes are raised; in fact, the Commissioner and his officers and the Treasurer, who is the ministerial head of the Department, are annually breaking the law of the country.
The Attorney-General said that that charge was submitted to Judge Edwards, and the honorable member for Yarra challenged him to prove it. I propose to show that it was not submitted. Mr. MacFarlane, who was the counsel assisting the commission, said -
I tender a copy of the recent report of the Hardships Board under section 66 of the Land Tax Act, and I ask for a ruling as to whether it comes within the scope of the commission.
The judge replied -
The point is that the questions limit my jurisdiction.
Mr. Cussen then remarked ;
The people who drew up the commission emasculated the charges for political purposes.
The judge then observed -
Supposing that to be so, how does it affect my position as Commissioner? I am not going to answer questions outside the scope of my commission.
In spite of that the Attorney-General stated last night that these extracts went before the judge ; but the judge said that he was limited by the terms of his commission, and that he could not answer anything contained in the extracts unless it was also in the questions. The judge went on to say -
I do not think that I will need to answer that question because I would say that it would be answered in Parliament. According to theHansard report the Treasurer said : “ You are quite right; it has not been done, and I am sorry; but we have no explanation to give.”
– Had the judge been allowed to answer the question he would have found the Treasurer guilty.
– In the light of these facts, why does not the AttorneyGeneral admit that he made a mistake last night? For the sake of his good name, he should do so. The fact is, that the Treasurer put certain statements into his mouth and led him into a cul de sac.
– But it was the reference ?
– Read the reference.
– After the judge made the remarks that I have just quoted, Mr. Cussen said -
Then why was the extract put on the back of the commission?
– Read the commission.
– The Honorary Minister (Mr. Marr) would be well advised to keep out of this discussion.
He does not know a single thing about the matter, but evidently thinks that by repeating interjections that fall from the lips of Ministers, he may at last get what he has been expecting for so long. He is like a little swallow in a nest, waiting for the mother-bird to come along and drop something into his mouth. I hope he will keep quiet for a little while,or that you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, will direct him not to interrupt me. You took a firm stand in somewhat similar circumstances last night. The Attorney-General quite clearly made a serious error in discussing this matter. In reply to Mr. Cussen’s statement, the judge said -
I did not draw up the commission.
Mr. Menzies, counsel for the Taxation Department, then observed -
One man copied the extracts and another drew up the commission.
On that the judge said -
I will not admit the report.
In my opinion that is a complete answer to the statements made last night by the Attorney-General. The actual speech of the honorable member for Yarra clearly was not before the judge, and no finding was made upon it. The AttorneyGeneral was badly briefed last night ; and if he instructs any of his colleagues to reply to the remarks that I am making, I hope he will make quite certain that he is au fait with the subject. If I am spending a considerable time on this matter, it is because I consider it to be extremely important. We have not yet finished with it. The extracts that I have given from the minutes of the proceedings before the judge are a complete answer to the statements of the Attorney-General. I suppose the honorable gentleman will not deny that three-quarters of the outstanding taxation referred to by the honorable member for Yarra was owed by large lease-holders such as Sir Sidney Kidman.
– I do not accept that statement, for the judge found to the contrary.
– I hardly anticipated that denial from the AttorneyGeneral.
– Let the honorable member read the findings of the judge at the foot of page 7 of his report.
– The main charge was that the tax on leaseholds was not collected for several years.
That was the gravest of all the charges that the honorable member for Yarra levelled against the Treasurer.
– The honorable member for Yarra said that he approved of the suspension of payment authorized by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) when he was Treasurer.
– Temporarily, but not for seven years.
– The Attorney-General did not raise this question last night so I thought that he was satisfied that it did not go before the Commissioner. If he has any doubt on the matter, I must remove it from his mind by quoting some further extracts from the minutes -
Mr. Cussen proceeded to examine Mr. Ewing on extracts from the report to the Treasury which showed that he (Mr. Ewing) was strongly in favour of going on with the test case (Dunumbrel), and also showed the present Government’s actions regarding the holding up of leasehold taxation.
– Why not read the report?
– I propose to do so in due course. The AttorneyGeneral should not get excited, now that he finds he was not justified in issuing the challenge .
– The Attorney-General, as a matter of fact, was given very imperfect instructions by his advisors.
– Is this a post mortem?
– If the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) were fully acquainted with the facts he would agree with me that the findings of the judge were anything but the complete refutation of the charges of the honorable member for Yarra that the Attorney-General suggested they were. If the charges that the honorable member laid were justified -
– And they were.
– They were the most serious that have ever been laid at the door of a Government in this country. The honorable member said that three-quarters of the amount of land tax outstanding was owing by Crown lessees.
– That is what the judge did not find.
– The trouble with the Attorney-General is that he will not understand plain English. On the last extract that I read the judge asked : -
To which question that I have to answer is this relevant?
At that point the proceedings were suspended for the day, but the next morning the judge asked Mr. Cussen -
Have you considered the matter that we were discussing yesterday, Mr. Cussen?
In reply, Mr. Cussen said: -
I have considered your commission very carefully. Although it is clear that a great part of Mr. Scullin’s speech in the House was directed to the land tax on Crown leaseholds, and what was outstanding, as you say, it is not within the questions put to you. I have said before, and I say again, that it is. amazing.
The Attorney-General undoubtedly dc? sires to deny the meaning of plain English.
– I say that the judge reported on that matter.
– He did not report on the reason that the money was not collected, and the Attorney-General should not repeat a statement that is not in accordance with the facts.
– The judge said “ I suppose that my function is to do what I am told.” Was there ever such a travesty of justice? Mr. Cussen said—
I agree with you. I had it in my head that the matter was a large part of Mr. Scullin’s speech, and, yesterday afternoon, I thought very strongly that you were interpreting your commission too narrowly. I have now considered the question calmly, and I must say that I think you are perfectly correct, and that the inquiry must be limited in the way you suggest.
Let me quote the final word’s of the judge, which may penetrate the mind of the Attorney-General -
I am very glad to hear you say that. Of course, I do not wish to prevent any inquiries being made.
Mr. Cussen then said, “ I know that, but I thought yesterday the point was within the scope of your inquiry.” If the Attorney-General supports that kind of thing I cannot excuse him. He was in a hurry when he spoke last evening, but if, after reflection, he adheres to his statement, he will disappoint many persons who know him. He has not done such a thing before, and he will only do it now because he feels impelled to adopt a wrong atti tude in association with the Government. I hope that he will have the courage to admit that he has made a mistake. I have never known a graver charge to be levelled against a Government. Most of the charge related to the failure of wealthy land-owners to furnish returns and pay taxation. During the election campaign it was stated all over the country that Mr. Scullin’s charges had been “levelled to the ground.” The Government made capital out of that statement on the hustings, because the issue was clouded by the British seamen’s strike, the causes of which had nothing to do with the people of this country. The charge was not resurrected for the first time in this chamber yesterday, as the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has said. As soon as the terms of the commission were made known, and it was disclosed that the speech of the honorable member for Yarra would be placed before the judge in a mutilated form, the Acting Leader of the Opposition moved the adjournment of the House, and many bitter complaints were made.
– Has the honorable member ever heard of another case, iu which the charges were framed and the court selected by the accused I
– -Never, and it was to protest against those things that the adjournment of the House was moved. The Treasurer cut out of the speech of the honorable member for Yarra everything that the Government wished to avoid an inquiry into. The charge was framed by the persons indicted. The AttorneyGeneral said last night that the commission had completely vindicated the persons charged; but in the case of Sir Sidney Kidman the judge said -
In that case, the officer who prepared the lists cautiously states, “ Papers with the Royal Commission.” The’ fact is that the taxpayer had, at 30th June, 1924, not sent in any returns for a period of seven years.
The judge could not say why Sir Sidney Kidman did not send in returns; he said he was only stating the fact.
– On page 12 of the document from which the honorable member is reading the judge states why the returns were not furnished.
– I am reading from page 12, and the judge does not on that page state -why the returns were not furnished. Let me quote the judge’s finding, which I feel sure the Attorney-General - I give him so much credit - has not read -
I feel clear that Sir Sidney Kidman should have been prosecuted for failing to send in returns.
– Will the honorable member read the first part of that sentence ?
– I have read the finding, and it does not matter what else the judge said.
– The honorable member is misrepresenting that sentence. The. sentence is : “ Although in the light of later events I feel clear- “
– Will you protect me, Mr. Deputy Chairman, from the Attorney-General, who seems to have lost his balance since last evening ? He is usually a mild gentleman, who will “ roar you as gently as any sucking dove ;” but this morning he is wrathful because he has been led into a blind alley. He should avenge himself not on me, but on the Treasurer, who led him into the difficulty. It does not matter if a thousand other things were said by the judge; I have quoted his conclusion. If the Attorney-General was placed in the dock to-morrow, what the judge said in beating about the bush would not mat£er; it would be the sentence that would count. After all the ‘ beating about the bush, the judge said, “ I feel dear that Sir Sidney Kidman should have been prosecuted for failing to send in returns.”
– He did not say that. I ask the honorable member to read the whole of the sentence.
– The whole of the sentence is: -
Thus, although, in the light of later events, I feel clear that Sir Sidney Kidman should have been prosecuted for failure to send in returns - for he, of course, must accept responsibility for his agent’s defaults - 1 am fully satisfied that the Commissioner of Taxation was not guilty of any impropriety in failing to prosecute that gentleman.
No charge was made by the honorable member for Yarra against the Commissioner of Taxation, who had to take instructions, as he pointed out on many occasions, from the Government.
– And the judge found that no instructions were given to him.
– The judge found that Sir Sidney Kidman ought to have been prosecuted years ago, and that the Commissioner of Taxation was not guilty for not prosecuting him. The charge of the honorable member for Yarra was made against the Government, and the judge did not exonerate the Government, but clearly indicated that some one, not the Commissioner, wa3 responsible for not prosecuting Sir Sidney Kidman. The question submitted to the Commission was, “ Was the Commissioner of Taxation guilty?” not “ Was the Government guilty?” The AttorneyGeneral should find little consolation- in that fact. He accepted a definite challenge last night, and every word’ he then said has been disproved this morning. He will have to hand his brief to some one else, because he cannot afford, if he has any regard for his reputation, to retain it longer. One can criticize the budget effectively by considering the point of view of the Treasurer when he was a private member in the corner.
No more serious criticism could; be made of the budget than the speech of the Treasurer when he was a private member in 1922. At that time he said -
In Canada and England we And the Governments getting back to pre-war conditions as far as the cost of government is concerned, but we are simply “letting things Elide,” and increasing the ordinary cost of government.
In view of those statements by the Treasurer it is remarkable that, according to the budget, taxation and expenditure, are increasing by leaps and bounds, and no attempt is being made by him to get back to pre-war conditions. He also stated in 1922-
This is only rendered possible by permitting what was passed as a protective tariff to become a revenue tariff. We were told that the tariff was to be definitely protective but the Treasurer is actually budgeting to secure more revenue from the tariff this year than last.
When the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) said last night that a proper tariff should produce less revenue each year, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and others sitting in the Corner laughed. They forgot that their Leader held the same views when he was criticizing the budget of 1922. He then said -
If a protective tariff fulfils its function, the revenue must become ‘ens and less as industries are established. This shows of what little value the protective tariff of this Government is.
The Treasurer, when a private member, criticized the tariff policy of the then Government, because he said that the revenue was increasing year by year. What is the position to-day? In 1922 the Customs receipts were £17,000,000, but to-day they are £27,000,000. The indictment that the Treasurer made of the budget of 1922 must stand to-day as a greater indictment of his own budget. His views of 1922 were similar to those expressed by the honorable member for Yarra last night. He said that the Treasurer had covered up under an itemof new works from loan, a sum to assist the passages of migrants. The Treasurer in 1922 said -
We find that notwithstanding the assurance of the Treasurer’s well-meaning words, he has taken £250,000 out of loan for the relief of unemployment in the States. I shall never vote again for handing over any money to the States in this way.
Yet this year in an item for new works he has inserted an amount for the payment of passages of migrants to relieve unemployment abroad. The same principle is involved. The amount voted for this purpose in 1925-26 was £262,000, and the estimate for this year is £348,000. Yet the Treasurer said in 1922 that he would never vote again for such a thing. He is now not only voting for it, but sponsoring the budget providing for it. The Treasurer, when sitting in the Corner in 1922, said-
The effect of the policy of the Government, as expressed in the whole of their financial acts, is to be seen in a perusal of the census figures for the last ten years. Although our population during the decade has increased by 900,000, the actual number of producers has declined, and important country towns have either lost population or are stagnant.
I wonder whether the Treasurer was in the chamber when the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) complained that the great cities were growing at the expense of the country. In 1922 the Treasurer also stated: -
In Victoria there has been- an increase of 120,000 in the electors of Melbourne, and only 4,000 in the rest of the State.
To-day the position is greatly aggravated. Men are leaving the country to-day in greater numbers than before.
– The State Government is also responsible.
– If the sole responsibility rested on the States, the Treasurer, in 1922, would not have kept repeating the charge that he made against the Federal Government. The honorable member for Gwydir quoted figures to show the decline amongst the land-holders. He showed that in New South Wales the number of land-holders in 1915-16 was 93,983, and in 1921-22, 72,059; in Victoria the number of land-holders in 1912 was 66,811, and in 1919, 72,679. In 1915-16 there were 213,081 land-holders in Australia, and at the end of 1922 only 200,655. Those figures show a decline from year to year. The honorable member gave other figures relating to the decline in the holders of the Crown leases. Those figures were taken from the official Year-Book, and, therefore, must be accurate. They stand to-day in worse form as an indictment of this Government, in the same way as the Treasurer’s speech of 1922 was an indictment of the Government of the day. At that time the Treasurer said -
In Canada 60 per cent. of the population are in the country. In Australia 50 per cent. are in the cities, owing to the policy of first looking to secondary instead of to primary industries.
To-day the position is even worse. The population of Sydney borders on 1,100,000. It is remarkable that nomember of the country party, with the exception of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who was candid in hi3 criticism of the budget last night, attempts to criticize the budget in the same way as they did in 1922. What are the members of the Nationalist party now doing, who, in 1922, came under the lash of the criticism of the present Treasurer? At that time they had a great deal to say, but what are they saying to-day? They are silent. Senator Greene was a Nationalist member of this House in 1922, and, in reply to the present Treasurer’s criticism, he said -
Ninety-nine per cent. of what the honorable member said is incorrect. I have a newspaper cutting containing a report of the speech pf the honorable member. There are 31/2 inches of it, and it contains seventeen lies.
– He was never able to prove that.
- Mr. Massy Green is a very able critic, and seldom speaks without knowing the facts When a private member, the Treasurer condemned the then Government for the increases of expenditure, heavy taxation, and high Customs revenue. If those were faults then, they are faults to-day; the need for criticism is none the less because the Treasurer has shifted from the Country party corner to the Ministerial bench, and there should be members of the Ministerial party conscientious enough to candidly tell the Treasurer that the evils of which he complained- in 1922 are being continued in an aggravated form under his stewardship.
There is something very sinister about the proposal of the Government to abolish the “per capita payments to the States, and to hand over to them, entirely, the field of land taxation. The Treasurer has always shown a remarkable and unwarranted sympathy with the great land monopolists. I have never represented any but a country constituency, and I know that the opinion is general amongst the sons of farmers, that the opportunities for obtaining land were greatly increased when the Federal land tax was imposed by a Labour Government in 1910. I am reminded of a statement made by the Treasurer during the recent election campaign. When he was accused of undue sympathy with the squatters, he said that no previous government had collected land taxation from them in respect of Crown leases. The honorable gentleman must have known that he was making a misstatement, and that in the first three years of the operation of the tax, it returned to the Treasury £690,000.
– I said that this was the only Government that had collected land tax from Sir Sidney Kidman. That is absolutely true.
– I know what the Treasurer said, because I had occasion to refute his statements in my electorate. He definitely said that the Labour Government had never collected any taxation’ upon Crown leaseholds, whereas, in the years between 1914 and 1917, £690,000 was collected. When the Labour party went out of office there was a remarkable falling off in the receipts from that impost. This Government is discredited by its record in regard to the administration of this tax, and now it is proposing to surrender to the States the whole field of land taxation, knowing very well that it is giving away something that will not be worth twopence in those States where the Legislative Councils can prevent the imposition of any tax that will penalize the big landed interests.
– Such a tax will not be passed by the Legislative Council in South Australia.
– No, and the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) declared last night that for many years successive governments have tried, without success, to get an effective land tax passed by the Legislative Council of Victoria. This Government knows that it is discredited, but as a precaution against the time when it will inevitably be put out of office, it proposes to give sanctuary to its wealthy friends, the wealthy landholders behind the ramparts of the Legislative Councils. When the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) was drawing attention to the increase in Commonwealth expenditure, the Treasurer said that it was due to increased payments for old-age and invalid pensions. The inference was that the pensions were wholly responsible for the increase, and therefore it will be well to set out the facts. The pension payments increased from £5,424,000 in 1922-23, to £8,252,000 in 1925-26. The total increase of £2,800,000 included many new pensions. As against that increase, the total expenditure by this Government has increased by £6,600,000, namely, from £45,758,000 in 1922-23, to £52,384,000 last year. Even if the amount of £2,800,000 had been an increase wholly due to the increase of the rate of pension, there would still remain a further increase of nearly £4,000,000 in other expenditure generally.
I have stated my opinion of the detrimental effect of the Government’s legislation on country interests, and I am glad to have my statement corroborated by information from sources that cannot be regarded a3 politically opposed to the Treasurer, and the parties with which be is associated. On the 19th February of this year the conference of the Victorian Farmers Union was held at Ballarat. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) refers to that organization as the “ V.F.U., or Very Funny Union,” and he has established a rival organization of the large number of farmers who are dissatisfied with the policy of the Commonwealth Government, and the composite Government in Victoria. The Federal Ministry is accused of incapacity and of responsibility for the continued exodus from the land, and to prove that that charge does not emanate only from the Labour Opposition, I shall quote a few extracts from the minority report of the delegates to the Farmers Conference -
It must be generally acknowledged that all is not well with the movement. The enthusiasm with which members once attended meetings of the branches is not in evidence to-day. The decline in numerical strength of the Victorian Farmers Union is serious, and few realize the extent of the drift.
Reasons for this are furnished, and I ask honorable members to compare them with the criticism of the Government from this side of the chamber -
The number of branches and members has fallen practically 50 per cent, from their highest points . . . curiously and as a remarkable paradox, while our Country party parliamentary representatives now occupy the highest Ministerial positions in the history of the movement, the enthusiasm, membership, and finance are at their lowest ebb.
Was ever a more damning indictment directed against any party? Although members of the Country party occupy the high offices in the council of the country, the enthusiasm, membership and finance of the organization to which they owe allegiance are at their lowest ebb. The report goes on to account for this state of affairs -
We have no hesitation in saying that the real cause of this deplorable state of affairs, both in regard to membership and finance, is due to-
The failure of the Parliamentary parties to endeavour to have carried into effect the progressive measures advocated by the movement, notably the compulsory organized marketing of our primary products, a reduction in the excessive tariff duties, establishment of a rural bank, and the failure to even attempt to grapple with the growing evils of centralization.
– Why not quote the majority report?
– The honorable member may do that. I prefer to quote the minority report, because I understand that the so-called minority section of the Farmers Union claims to represent a majority of its members. No one was more loud in his denunciation of the evil of centralization than was the Treasurer before he took office. The report proceeds -
I could utter no stronger indictment of the Government than that of their own “ break-away “ party, which says that their membership has decreased, their financial position has weakened, and their enthusiasm has waned, because those who were supposed to represent them in the Composite Government have not done what was expected of them. That is the minority report of the body that the honorable member for Wimmera calls the “Very Funny Union.”
One of the matters referred to in that report was the “failure of the Government to establish a system of rural credits for the benefit of the primary producers.” The Treasurer knows that, although a so-called rural credits branch of the Commonwealth Bank has been formed, it is doing nothing to assist men who are struggling on the land.
– That is not correct.
– It is one of the complaints of the Treasurer’s own organization. If the statement is incorrect, he should take the matter up with a large section of his own party. As a representative of a farming constituency, I do not know that I could point to one working farmer who has derived any benefit from this so-called rural credits branch. Of what use can it be unless it enables farmers to obtain money at reasonable rates ? In my electorate, where we are comparatively fortunate in having two branches of the Commonwealth Bank, scores of representations have been made for an extension of the rural credits branch to country districts. The honorable memberfor Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) has complained that one of the factors responsible for drivingmen off the land is their inability to secure financial accommodation at reasonable rates. The present Government has a golden opportunity to remove that difficulty through the medium of the Commonwealth Bank. Before a farmer can obtain money at a reasonable rate from the rural credits branch he must enlist the services Qf the private banks. When the Treasurer visited my electorate he told the people that the Government had arranged to provide cheap money for the farmers; but I pointed out that, so far as I was aware, the cheap money had been obtained by the private banks. The Treasurer remarked that the reason why £15,000,000 of notes had been made available to those banks was the unsatisfactory position overseas “in regard to wheat and wool. In his budget statement, however, he admitted that the money was provided for the private banks at Bank of England rates. I repeat that I know of no farmer who has obtained money at such a favorable rate as that at which those notes were made available to the private banks. The Treasurer did not deny that they had been made available ; he evaded that point, and stated that only £2,800,000 of the notes had been taken. But that made the position worse. If the private banks had lifted the whole £15,000,000 of notes, they would have had to pay 4-J per cent, on them - a rate of interest at which no producer was able to obtain money; but merely on their right to the notes, if they needed them, the private banks were able to issue credits and rake off high rates of interest. They issued credits against that right, although they were paying no interest - a common form of banking practice.
– This was a temporary right, for six or nine months only.
– The Treasurer now admits much more than he did previously; but he tried to camouflage the position by saying that the banks did not lift the whole of the notes; but I did not say they did. I adhere to my accusation that, while the primary producers could not obtain money at the low rate at which it was offered to the private banks, the latter, according to their own records, could issue credits against their right to lift the notes to such an extent that they could have given credits to the amount of £60,000,000.
– What was done was of great assistance to the wool market.
– It stabilized wool.
– But the Commonwealth Bank should have reaped the exclusive benefit of the transaction. The credit that belonged to the people, through the Commonwealth Bank, was made available to the private financial institutions. The Treasurer was guilty of the offence that he accused his predecessor, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) of committing. The Commonwealth Bank should have been used as a great instrument to prevent one of the many things that the Treasurer used to deplore - the drift from the country to the cities. Evidently the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, judging by their complacent smiles, are satisfied with their political marriage, and are prepared to share one another’s joys and sorrows. They have taken one another “ for better or for worse”; but, while the present alliance is better for them., it is worse for the great bulk of the people. The things that are done under this composite government pass my comprehension. The six charges that the present Treasurer laid against the Treasurer of 1922 (Mr. Bruce), have since been laid against him. I cannot remember a budget being so scathingly criticized by a supporter of the Government responsible for it, as this budget was criticized by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). He said that he would not hesitate to break away from the Government if it persisted with- some of its financial proposals. The right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), and the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) were also severe critics of it; and I doubt very much whether one member on the Ministerial side of the chamber will sincerely say a good word for it.
– I had no intention of participating in the debate again at this early stage, until the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) made his concluding remarks last night, and the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) spoke this morning. It was observed by the right honorable member for Balaclava last ‘ night that the proposals in this budget for the separation of Commonwealth and State finances are probably the most important that have been before honorable members since the consummation of federation, and for that reason I desired honorable members to debate them fully and submit any constructive criticism before I replied. The herring that the honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for Hume have dragged across the trail was dead and decently buried, in the opinion of most honorable members, and I regret that an attempt has been made to resurrect it; but I shall conduct a post mortem that will resolve all doubt on the matter, and lay its ghost for the future. For my purpose, I shall rely on conclusive impartial statements from the reports of the royal commissions which have investigated the matter. The honorable member for Yarra was granted every assistance that the Crown could give him to substantiate the charges he made in 1924, in respect to the taxation administration, but, as the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) pointed out last evening, he completely failed to justify them. It will be remembered that two royal commissions considered this problem in 1924, one of which dealt exclusively with the honorable member’s charges, and the other with the subject of valuation. I shall be able, by quoting extracts from the reports that they made, and also from the recent High Court decision on the matter, to justify every act of the Government. The Government’s proposal to repeal taxation on Crown leaseholds was introduced in 1923, on two grounds; the first, that the tax conflicted with State land settlement policies, and, secondly, that it was practically impossible to collect it. The House accepted the proposal that the tax should be repealed from 1923, but decided that an attempt should be made to collect the arrears owing prior to that year. The honorable member for Yarra has claimed that, in bringing this matter before the public he rendered a public service, and stimulated the Taxation Department to greater efforts in collecting the arrears. He certainly rendered a service, but it was to the Government more than to the public, for it gave the Government an opportunity, to clarify the situation. The two royal commissions that have investigated this matter, and the High Court decision that was delivered three or four weeks ago, have placed the position beyond dispute, and unravelled the very tangled skein.
The difficulties in regard to the matter began as soon as the Labour Government of 1914 imposed this tax without providing any practical and equitable means for collecting it. Since that time, three royal commissions have endeavoured to fix an equitable basis for it, and each has suggested something different. Two cases ‘ have been argued before the High Court, one in South Australia and one recently in Queensland, and the learned judges have also differed in their suggestions; and the Taxation Department has employed every conceivable means to overcome the difficulties, but the complexities of the position have so far defied solution. In all the circumstances, one would have, thought that honorable members generally would agree that the Government acted wisely in suggesting the repeal of the tax. The reason given by the honorable member for Yarra for reverting, at this late day,’ to the findings of the commission that investigated his charges in 1924, is that this is the first opportunity that he has had to do so; but I point out that,- in the 1925 session, after the report of the commission was published, the matter could have been debated on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, the motion for supply, or on the budget itself, though I admit that the discussion of the budget was not concluded that year. If the honorable member thought that any good purpose could be served by re-introducing the matter, he could have done it early this year on the Address-in-Reply motion, or during the debate we had on last year’s budget, or on one of the supply motions, but he has neglected to do it until now. His excuse for introducing it now is that the Government proposes to repeal the land tax. Prior to the debate on the 1924 budget, honorable members opposite had levelled a number of general charges of corruption and maladministration against the department, but on the 7th of August of that year the honorable member for Yarra made the mistake of making a specific charge, and the Government, immediately seized the opportunity so afforded it of having an impartial investigation made into the whole matter. When its decision to appoint a royal commission of inquiry was announced, the chagrin and anger that honorable members opposite displayed was astonishing, notwithstanding that they had got exactly what they demanded. The honorable member for
Yarra, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey), in particular, complained that the scope of the reference was not broad enough, so the Government obligingly widened it to the broadest possible limit; but even that did not satisfy the Opposition, for the honorable member for Yarra and his deputy leader, made further charges, and attempted to discredit the commission before it began its work. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, as a matter of fact, said that the Labour party would absolutely ignore the reference of the matter to the judge, but the honorable member for Yarra did not pursue that course. Since the findings have been published, however, no opportunity has been lost to try to misrepresent them. This morning, the honorable member for Hume read portions of the extracts from the reference that was made to the commission, but, so that there shall not be any misunderstanding on the matter, I propose to read the complete reference.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), as reported on page 2977 of Hansard of 7th August, 1924, made this statement -
I make this charge to the Treasurer across’ the table to-night, that his department, either on his instructions, or in spite of them, is allowing the big land-owners of this country - not only the holders of Crown leaseholds, but also the owners of freeholds - to defy the department by not sending in returns and not paying their taxes. I challenge him to disprove that statement, and to appoint a commission to inquire into it.
The Government was glad to accept that challenge, and that night there was a remarkable display of anger and chagrin by those who had demanded the appointment of the commission. The honorable member objects to the terms of reference to the commission as not being wide enough. Those terms of reference are printed at the front of the royal commission’s report, which was issued on 10th June, 1925. I wish to place them on record, because they entirely disprove the statements made by the honorable member for Yarra, and the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) last night and this morning. They read - Greeting :
Enow ye that We do by these Our Letters Patent, issued in Our name by Our Deputy of Our Governor-General of Our Commonwealth of Australia, acting with the advice of Our Federal Executive Council, and in pur suance of the Constitution of Our said Commonwealth, the Royal Commissions Act 3902- 1912, and all other powers him thereunto enabling, appoint you to be a Commissioner to inquire into the matters referred to in the extracts from Parliamentary Debates which are contained in the accompanying schedule, and to report in relation to those matters.
Then follow a series of eight references, after which the following appears -
And we require you with as little delay as possible to report to Our Governor-General of Our said Commonwealth the result of your inquiries into the matters entrusted to you by these Our Letters Patent.
Although the extracts furnished to the commission from ‘the speeches of the honorable member for Yarra contained all the charges made by him, he and others who support him persist in saying that the scope of the commission was not sufficiently wide.
– Members of the opposi- are not even here now to listen to the reply to their charges.
– They have run away from my reply, just as they ran away from presenting their case before the royal commission. They have said that the references to the commission did not include Crown leaseholds. The first reference to the commission was -
As that reference includes “ the big pastoralist,” it cannot be said that it excludes Crown leaseholds. The second reference was -
There can be no question but that Crown leaseholds are included in that reference, as they are also in the following one -
The other ‘references to the commission were -
It is contended that no attempt was made in the terms of reference to include freeholders and leaseholders, but both are covered by almost every reference.
– Is not all this ancient history 1
– Yes; but I wish to place it on record in Ronsard, so that members of the Opposition will not be able to hold another -post mortem examination in this chamber of a corpse that should have been decently buried eighteen months ago when the royal commission exonerated the Government from blame on the charges made by the honorable member for Yarra. My object is to prove conclusively that all the charges of the honorable member for Yarra, except one, which had been already dealt with in the House, were examined by the Royal Commissioner.
– The question of the collection of taxation on leaseholds did not go before the royal commission.
– I have just read six references to the commission, which related to Crown leaseholds. The honorable member must think that other honorable members cannot read what is written in black and white. The schedule attached to the terms of reference contains seventeen extracts from the original and additional speech which the honorable member for Yarra made on this subject.
– Why did the Government not allow the honorable member for Yarra to formulate the charges?
– He did formulate the charges. The extracts submitted to the royal commission contained the gist of his speeches -
Extract No. 1, pages 2976-7.- Against that we have £189,957 outstanding for last year. The Treasurer gave not a word of explanation of that. He smoothed it over and smothered it. It is one of the first things that he ought to have explained in the budget speech. The excuse cannot be that the collecting of taxes on Crown leaseholds is intricate and difficult, because they are not included in the last year’s assessment. Who owes this money? There is plenty of evidence that the Government relentlessly pursues the small man when he owes anything.
Extract No. 2, page 2977.- The arrears shown in the budget are not owing by the small man. I make this charge to the Treasurer across the table to-night, that his department, either on his instructions, or in spite of them, is allowing the big land-owners of this country - not only the holders of Crown leaseholds, but also the owners of freeholds - to defy the department by not sending in returns and not paying their taxes.
Extract No. 3, page 2977. - On the other hand, Kidman and Jowett, and others who owe over a million between them are not prosecuted, and for seven years have been allowed to defy the Government of this country.
Extract No. 4, page 3253. - For several years the administration of the taxation office has been unsatisfactory to the people. It has been carried on in defiance of the law under which the taxes are raised; in fact, the Commissioner and his officers and the Treasurer, who is the ministerial head of the department, are annually breaking the law of the country.
Extract No. 5, page 3254. - Nevertheless, there appears to be about £800,000 due on other lands, presumably freehold properties mainly. Who owes that money?
Extract No. 6, page 3254. - Yet a sum of £800,000 is outstanding, in addition to the £1,330,000 due on leaseholds, and not one word of explanation has been given to Parliament.
Extract No. 7, page 3254. - What, then, is the explanation of the amount of £189,000 outstanding for the last financial year?
Extract No. 8, page 3254.- Who owes the money, and why is it not collected ?
Extract No. 9, page 3254. - The Treasurer^ who professes to have come into this Parliament to represent the struggling farmer and the small land-owner, has no compunction about pilloring them when they are in arrears with their taxation, although at the same time he shields the big pastoralist.
Extract No. 10, page 3254. - The names of the small taxpayers are published broadcast, but when we ask for similar information respecting the large land-holders, we are told that their names cannot be disclosed, as it is not the practice to give such information.
Extract No. 11, page 3255. - I have no quarrel with these ex-officers who use their brains to recover overpayments of taxation, but some of these men are talking to their friends and others about underpayments of taxation, and this subject might also be inquired into by the royal commission.
Extract No. 12, page 3255. - We should know the names of the big men who are defying this Parliament.
Extract No. 13, page 3255. - I make the charge now that Sir Sidney Kidman has not sent in any land tax returns for freehold or leasehold on his properties for seven or eight years.
Extract No. 14, page 3255. - Why free from taxation the big men who control thousands of square miles of this country at a peppercorn rental ?
Extract No. 15, page 3256. - I say that for years some men have not sent in taxation returns, and that, under the Land Tax Act, they should be prosecuted.
Extract No. 16, page 3256. - I make the deliberate charge that the Land Tax Department is not carrying out the Land Tax Act, and that large land-holders are not sending in their returns, and are not being prosecuted under the law.
Extract No. 17, page 3257.- It is declared by other ex-officers that there are more cases of underpayment than there are of overpayment, and that some individuals have defied the department, and have not paid their land tax.
I shall now state the commissioner’s finding. I know that honorable members opposite refuse to accept the verdict. Their charges have been disproved, and they now want to go through the country and say, “ After all, we were right.” They will do that, although there was not a scintilla of truth in their allegations. The first charge was that the Government had not acted on the direction of Parliament and collected the taxation immediately, and the second charge was that the Treasurer, or the Government, had improperly directed the commissioner to discriminate between large and small taxpayers. The royal commissioner is very definite on that point -
Immediately after the refusal of Parliament to make a retrospective repeal of the legislation relating to the tax on Crown leaseholds, the Treasurer directed the Commissioner of Taxation to proceed with the collection of such tax, but difficulties were experienced as to the method of assessment of the taxable value of such leaseholds.
In addition to Judge Edwards, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Warren Kerr, who inquired into the valuation of Crown leaseholds, also pointed out in October, 1923, two months after the debate in this House, that instructions had been issued to the commissioner to proceed with the collection, and that in December of that year the work of collection had commenced. In answer to the first reference to him the royal commissioner says -
It is not correct to say that the present Government relentlessly pursues persons who owe small amounts of land tax and is less strict in collecting land tax from those who are assessed for large sums. The big pastoralists have no advantage in this regard as compared with the struggling farmer and the small landholder.
Seeing that the only persons’ liable to pay land tax are those who hold land of an unimproved value of £5,000, I feel some difficulty in drawing a line between the big pastoralist on the one hand and the struggling farmer and small land-holder on the other hand. A per son who holds land of an unimproved value of £5,000 has, I should think, considerably more land than the average land-holder-; there are about 17,000 taxpayers, and although I do not know the number of .land-holders in Australia, I should imagine that the payers of land tax are in a very considerable minority. However this may be, there is no warrant for any suggestion that any discrimination is made by the Government between large and small taxpayers. The Government has on no occasion interfered in any way in respect to the enforcement or otherwise of land tax in the case of any particular person. Some comment was made before me upon the fact that certain small taxpayers were prosecuted for not sending in returns, while others who owed larger amounts were not similarly treated. During the regime of the present Government, between the dates 9th February, 1923, and 30th June, 1924, the total number of persons prosecuted for not sending in returns was very small, there being not more than thirteen or fourteen such prosecutions in the whole of Australia. In three or four of such cases the land-owner was found, upon perusal of his return, not to be taxable; in the other cases the amount of tax payable under default assessment varied from a few pounds up to nearly £500. During the same period various persons were sued for non-payment of the tax imposed upon them. The total number of such actions in Australia was about 130, the amounts due varying from a few shillings to some thousands of pounds, and in some cases being the accumulation of several years.
I can see nothing in these figures, or in any facts put before me, to warrant any suggestion that discrimination was made between large and small taxpayers, and I emphasize the fact that the Government in no way interfered with the Commissioner of Taxation in respect of any of these matters.
The honorable member for Yarra ran away from his charge against the Taxation Commissioner, and said, “ I blame the Treasurer.” How can a treasurer discriminate between large and small taxpayers except through the Taxation Department? The judge says that the commissioner did not discriminate, and, in fact, no one else could. The judge proceeds to discuss the Northern Territory prosecutions -
Seeing that the tax is on a basis quite different from the Federal land tax and is imposed by an Act giving different powers, that the total amounts involved are so small, and that the officer in question quite rightly followed an existing practice and did so without consulting his superior officers, I see no reason for using this evidence to support the allegation that the Government differentiated between large and small taxpayers. The Government gave no instructions or directions of any kind in reference to the matter.
Another matter which was commented upon in this connexion was the fact that in. many cases the Commissioner of Taxation and his deputies granted extensions of time to taxpayers to send in returns and to make payments of tax. I deal more fully with this matter later on. So far as the present question is concerned I need only say that the Government in no way interfered in connexion with the granting of such extensions.
Mr. Scullin put before me a list of 24 taxpayers, mostly Crown lessees, who between them owed about £1,125,250 of tax. I have already pointed out that this amount is due only if the commissioner’s valuations are correct; the lessees claim that a very much lower valuation is the correct one, and until that question is settled - the report of the royal commission inquiring into this matter is not yet made - I am unable to say how much, if any, of this money is really due.
The royal commissioner said, “ I am unable to say how much, if any, of this money is really due.” He was referring to the mythical sum which honorable members opposite say is owed by Crown lessees. The commissioner then said -
I have already stated that I see no reason whatever for suggesting that the Governnent is, or has been, administering the act in favour of large debtors as against small debtors, or in favour of small debtors as against large debtors. Crown lessees and other taxpayersunder the act are treated alike without discrimination. The question whether a past Government was right or wrong in suspending the tax on. Crown leaseholds is, to my mind, a matter of politics, as to which it is beyond my (unctions to offer any criticism’. For the same reason I offer no criticism on the question whether the Government was right or wrong in further delaying the collection of this tax by appointing a royal commission to inquire into the .proper basis of assessment thereof.
Still dealing with the second reference, the royal commissioner said -
The position is that the debtors to the Commissioner of Taxation at 30th June, 1924, numbered 4,746, of whom 3,767 each owe less than £100. The following is a summary of such indebtedness: -
Although £1,675,000 is represented as Crown leasehold tax, the basis of valuation which was suggested by Mr. Duffy, the secretary of the Trades Hall, Melbourne, and Mr. Warren Kerr has reduced it to such an extent that it seems likely that the total amount of tax outstanding will be £300,000, or £400,000 at the outside. For instance, the other day the court decided in Mr. Jowett’s case that, although his tax had been originally assessed at £85,000, and reduced to £.17,000 by the application of the new basis, .no Crown leasehold tax was payable at all on certain of his properties. The royal commissioner further stated -
It is, therefore, clear that the amounts of land tax outstanding are not owing exclusively by large taxpayers. The facts are as above stated, and prove that more than three-fourths of the debtors are persons who owe less than £100 each.
The next reference to the royal commissioner was -
Yet the honorable member for Yarra says that there was no reference to the royal commissioner respecting Crown leaseholds. The royal commissioner replied -
That nothing was put before me to show that any big land-owner is, or has been, defying the department.
– Read the last portion of the report relating to the case of Sir Sidney Kidman.
– I shall read the whole text of that case to show that the honorable member this morning tried to mislead the House. The royal commissioner examined the whole case, and he said -
No suggestion of defiance on the part of any other big land-owner was made before me, and I do not think that the true facts show that Sir Sidney Kidman defied the department.
Certain big land-owners have not sent in returns. This matter is dealt with in my answer to question (7). I take it that this question, in view of the latter part of it, refers only to returns in respect of freehold.
Certain big land-owners are not-paying their taxes. In my answer to question (4) 1 deal more fully with this matter, so far as freeholders are concerned. The persons who are not paying their taxes are mainly the Crown lessees. I have already explained that many of those lessees claim that, on a proper valuation, no taxes ure .payable by them; and, in any case, the question of their liability and the extent of their liability (if any) are held in abeyance pending the report of the royal commission appointed on the 12th day of July, 1924. I do not deal further with the question Of Crown lessees who . are not paying their taxes, because the latter part of this question seems to restrict the question to non-payment by freeholders.
In any event, Crown lessees are not paying tax because they have not been asked to pay - this same concession being extended to all such lessees, whether large or small, until such time as a satisfactory basis of assessment is arrived at.
That is a conclusive answer to the charge made by the honorable member for Yarra. The next reference to the royal commissioner was -
The honorable member for Yarra in his speech dealt largely with freeholds. The royal commissioner examined the facts, and said -
It must be noted that these amounts are stated as outstanding on the 30th June, 1924. I have inquired - more for my information on other questions raised by this commission - into the reason for the non-collection of this amount. The reasons are various and may be summarized . as follow: -
In 1915, when the Labour party was in office, there was a bigger sum than that outstanding in respect of land tax. Yet nobody complained about any graft or corruption in connexion with arrears. Honorable members knew that for certain reasons it was impossible to collect that money in the time specified. It was accepted as right and proper that taxes which could be collected only under difficult conditions were, to some extent, necessarily in arrears. The next reference to the royal commissioner was -
The royal commissioner’s reply was. -
The true amount of land tax uncollected at the end of the. last financial year was £140,000. These figures, of course, do not include the tax on Crown leaseholds - there was no such tax for that year. The amount of £189,000 stated in the budget was incorrectly arrived at, because it was made up of figures supplied on 1st July, 1924, at which date the various branch offices of the Department of Taxation had not had placed before them the fact that certain persons had paid their tax on or before the 30th Juno, 1924, at some branch office other than that to which it ought properly to have been paid.
Although the amount of £140,060 is stated as outstanding on 30th June, 1924, the fact is that a considerable portion of it was not payable by that date.
The amount stated as unpaid is divided into the following headings: -
The royal commissioner further commented : -
In view of the foregoing facts, I have some diffidence in submitting the names of- and amounts owed by the several taxpayers who owed more than £20, but as I tun specially asked so to do, I append such list in appendix B to this my report. The number of persons each of whom owed £20 or more at 30th June, 1024, is 570, who, between them, owed £133,350. The balance of the outstanding tax (viz., £6,710) was owed bv 1,567 persons.
The next reference to the royal commissioner was -
The honorable member for Yarra claimed the right to refuse to disclose any names. The royal commissioner then called before him as many officers as he could, but all of them denied having given any information to the honorable member for Yarra. The honorable member did not put forward any evidence to enable the royal commissioner to deal with the matter.
– The Government were looking for a victim.
– The honorable member, as in previous cases, did not substantiate his charges. The commissioner was further asked -
The royal commissioner replied -
Lists of the names of persons who did not send in returns for the years 1922-1923 and 1923-1924 were put before me, as also were like lists (from all States except Western Australia) for the years 1920-1921 and 1021-1922. The returns relate only to freehold lands, and in each case an explanation was given why a prosecution was not instituted. I have examined such lists and explanation?, and I am satisfied that in no case has the Commissioner of Taxation improperly refrained from instituting a prosecution.
The honorable member for Yarra said that the royal commissioner had no power under the terms of reference to deal with Crown leaseholds, and yet fully two pages of the report deal with the case of Sir Sidney Kidman. Honorable members opposite have had the effrontery to try to persuade the committee that the facts are other than as set out in the royal commissioner’s finding. They have said that no reference was made to the royal commissioner respecting Crown leaseholds.
– No reason for the noncollection of the tax on Crown leaseholds was contained in the royal commissioner’s finding.
– I have stated the position. The honorable member has allowed too much water to run under the bridge. If he had any reason to doubt the royal commissioner’s report, he should have mentioned it eighteen months ago. He had plenty of opportunity to do so last year on the Address-in-Reply and the supply and budget debates, and this year on the Address-in-Reply and the budget debate. The honorable member kept as quiet as a lamb until the general repeal of the land tax was foreshadowed. To give no further opportunity to honorable members opposite to repeat their charges, I wish to place on record in Ilansard the royal commissioner’s finding respecting Sir Sidney Kidman, which the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) this morning put before the House in an abbreviated form. The royal commissioner, after examining the whole position, said -
Tims, although in the light of later events I feel clear that Sir Sidney Kidman should have been prosecuted for failure to send in returns - for he, of course, must accept responsibility for his agent’s defaults - I am fully satisfied that the Commissioner of Taxation was not guilty of any impropriety in failing to prosecute that gentleman. 1 may, perhaps, add that Sir Sidney Kidman has now (in September, 1924) sent in all returns for which he was liable, and has been prosecuted for those omissions, for which/ he was not protected by the twelve months’ limitation contained in the Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914.
It must be borne in mind that when Sir Sidney Kidman was brought before the court he was fined a nominal sum, and the scathing comment was made by the magistrate that the prosecution was absolutely unwarranted, .considering the effort made by Sir Sidney Kidman to place his returns, which applied to widely scattered areas, in the hands of the Taxation commission. The next question that the royal commissioner was asked to decide was -
Whether the act is administered by the commissioner without discrimination .’between large and small landholders -
The royal commissioner answered -
The commissioner administers the act- without discrimination between large and small landholders.
The honorable member for Yarra has disclaimed any attack upon Mr. Ewing; he said that he charged me with maladministration, and discrimination between large and small holders. How could I discriminate except through the commissioner? And if he permitted me to do so, he would be equally culpable.
– If the Treasurer will pause a moment, I shall answer.
– The honorable member has had full opportunity to state his case. How could I have discriminated when Mr. Justice Edwards said that the Commissioner of Taxation had always acted without discrimination ? In the whole’ of the proceedings relating to the non-collection of this tax, there is only one point that is questionable, and that was the suspension of collections in 1918. In this regard the honorable member for Yarra said, on the 20th of August, 1.924, .addressing himself to the then Speaker (Mr. Watt), who was Treasurer in 1918-
You directed him to suspend the taxation of Crown leaseholds, because there was some difficulty over the matter of assessment. For your attitude on that occasion I have no quarrel with you.
That suspension was the cause of all the trouble about unpaid taxes. If the then Treasurer had obtained parliamentary sanction for his suspension of collections, no difficulty would have, been experienced subsequently in justifying it. That is the only recorded occasion in which the Treasurer interfered in any way with the collection of the tax, and the honorable member for Yarra condoned that action. Mr. Justice Edwards stated, in half a dozen places in his report, that this Government has not interfered with the collection of the tax, and that instructions were given to the Commissioner of Taxation for the garnering of arrears as soon as the repeal act of 1923 was passed. The only respect in which there had been the slightest illegality was the failure of the Government in 1918 to obtain parliamentary sanction of the suspension of collections, and that illegality was quite accidental, because the budget of the following year showed that the Government proposed to act in accordance with the recommendation of the royal commission. But any irregularity in the action of the then Treasurer was condoned by the honorable member for Yarra.
– That is not correct.
– It is correct. L have quoted what the honorable member said as reported in Hansard, namely, “ For your attitude on that occasion I have no quarrel with you.”
– “ Pending an investigation.” Put in those words.
– I have read th« honorable member’s statement as it is printed in Hansard, and he cannot at this stage qualify it.
– The Treasurer does not know how to be fair.
– The honorable member made certain charges against the commissioner, and only when the Prime Minister announced the intention of the Government to appoint a royal commission to inquire into them did the honorable member qualify his remarks by declaring that he had no intention to reflect upon the commissioner. But the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) interjected that the Prime Minister was looking after his own pals. When the royal commissioner was appointed, the honorable member for Yarra said that he had no evidence to offer in regard to the charges against Mr. Ewing. He has also denied my statement that the Labour party, when in office, did not collect any land tax from Sir Sidney Kidman in respect of Crown leaseholds. That statement of mine is true. The first collection from Sir Sidney Kidman was; made by this Government in accordance; with instructions given by Parliament fu August, 1923. The royal commission on taxation, of which Mr. Warren Kerr, a prominent Melbourne business man, and Mr. Duffy, secretary of the Melbourne Trades Hall, were ‘[members, reported that the arrears of taxation on Crown leaseholds in the years in which Labour was in office were - 1914-15, £58,000; 1915-16, £157,000. In those years a Labour Government had complete control of the collection, but it found, as subsequent Governments have found, that it is impossible to arrive at a definite basis upon which this impost can be applied.
– And yet the Labour Government collected £690,000 in the first three years on the valuations of the owners.
– Partly on departmental valuations and partly on owners’ valuations; and some will have to be adjusted. What is the explanation of the. difficulty in collecting this tax? It is furnished by a study of the conditions in Western Australia and Queensland. In Western Australia 267,000,000 acres were held on Crown lease, and in Queensland 317,000,000 acres; and the valuations in Western Australia were £1,800, and in Queensland £77,000. The reason why there was no difficulty in collecting the tax in Western Australia was that in most cases the local valuers recognized, as the people in South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland averred, that there was no freehold value in the leasehold land. It is worth while to examine the valuation of Crown leaseholds, in order better to understand the difficulties associated therewith, and the justification for the statement of this Government in 1923 that Parliament, in asking the department to collect this tax, had given it an almost impossible task. The royal commission’s report sets out, at page 15, the four bases of valuation employed up to that time -
Assessment made on different bases. - Assessments in respect of lessees’ estates in Crown lands seem to have been made upon -
the basis of one or other of the methods of valuation set out in the statement which constitutes Appendix 2 of this report;
the basis of taxpayers’ own valuation;
the basis at first laid down by the department (paragraph 14) ; and
the basis prescribed under G.O. 816 which apparently first took definite shape in1917.
Departmental Disabilities. - There is little doubt that the work of the department has suffered in continuity and effectiveness in respect both of valuation and assessment as they relate to Crown leases by -
As I said at that time, the Government had no intention of allowing to remain on the statute-book an act which could not be operated, and we sought from Parliament a direction as to what we should do. In another part of the report, the royal commission on taxation pointed out that the Government immediately attempted to translate into action the instructions given by Parliament for the collection of arrears of land taxation. It says, on page11 -
That on the 11th December, 1923, following on the decision of Parliament that the tax on Crown leases assessed for past years should bc collected, all deputy commissioners were instructed to demand outstanding tax due on Crown leases as soon as their value had been arrived at in accordance with the instruction of 29th October, 1923.
That shows conclusively that, following the passage of the act in August, 1923, the Government took definite action to collect arrears of taxation. Up to this time four different bases of valuation had been employed, and the royal commission, comprising men who could not be said to have any bias in favour of the Government or the pastoralists, after taking a lot of evidence, and carefully considering the matter, laid down a certain basis for the valuation of the freehold equities in leasehold lands. The Government adopted that basis for future valuation, but as soon as it was applied the department found that the enormous sums of money supposed to be owing to the Government, according to departmental valuations, began to disappear. For instance, one valuation of £85,000 was reduced to £17,000, and another of £150,000 was whittled down to £40,000. The effect of the application of a system of valuation suggested by a quite disinterested body was to cut the departmental assessments to pieces, and when it was tested before the High Court in Queensland recently the court declared even that unsatisfactory and excessive. According to a basis which the court laid down as just and equitable, there was practically no. freehold value in certain leasehold lands, whose tax had been originally assessed at £40,000, and subsequently reduced to £9,000. The Labour party in this Parliament has tried to make this land tax a stalking horse for abuse of the Government. It has suggested corruption by saying that we are giving away something to our wealthy friends. The fact is that, at the time when this tax was repealed the Labour Government of Queensland, acting with a thorough knowledge of the cattle industry, decided to re-assess all the cattle lands, which comprised the greater part of the Crown leases in that State, retrospectively to 1921, when the slump in the meat trade began. That Government regarded the leasehold rents it was receiving as excessive, and a burden on the meat industry, which would help to force it deeper into the bog of despair. If the Queensland Government thought that the rents it was receiving from the Crown lessees were in excess of the real value of the land, and reduced the rents in some cases by 50 per cent., there could be no freehold equity remaining for purposes of Commonwealth taxation when the higher rents were being paid. Indeed, when the suspension of the collection of this tax was first discussed in this House, Mr. Ryan declared that if there was any excess of value in Crown leaseholds above the rent paid to the State Government, it belonged to the State, and the lessee should pay a higher rent. The intrusion of the Commonwealth Government into this sphere was, he said, an interference with State policy. And that has been the effect of the Commonwealth taxation of Crown leaseholds. The honorable member for Yarra takes exception to the Government’s proposal to repeal the Federal land tax, and he and the honorable member for Hume declare that the State Parliament may not desire to re-impose the tax.
– I said that the Upper Houses would prevent its re-imposition.
– When did it become the function of the Commonwealth Parliament to determine the land, income, or any other taxation policy of the States? Surely that is a function for the State Parliaments themselves. The people of the States elect their own Parliaments, which should determine the taxes that are to be paid. If those Parliaments do not suit them, they should change their personnel.
– This Parliament has unlimited power to tax.
– Yes; but it is not the function of this Parliament to pass a law bringing into general operation a policy desired by the Government of a particular State simply because its own Parliament will not pass it. What this Parliament should ask itself, is whether the land tax is of such great value to the Commonwealth that it should not be handed over to the States. It is not for us to consider whether, if we hand it over, the State Governments will have difficulty in inducing their respective Parliaments to re-impose it. Land settlement must always be a function of the States, which provide railways and other facilities that the settlers need.
The honorable member for Yarra, referring to certain figures that appeared in the memorandum issued in connexion with the speech on the States Grants Bill, objected to the average over three years being put down at £2,111,000, and pointed out that in 1922-23 and 1923-24, the amount collected was less than that. He did not quote the assessment figures of 1922-23, which, after the reduction of 20 per cent. in the rates had been made, was £2,143,000. Although the tax may be assessed at a certain figure, the Government cannot always collectit in one year. In 1924-25, and in 1925-26, the total collection reached well over £2,500,000, which, it is true, includes some Crown leasehold collections, but the increases, compared with 1923-24, were not wholly due to such collections. It will be found that the estimates made by the Government are absolutely correct. I shall deal with the other matters referred to by the honorable member at the conclusion of the budget debate.
– I am sure that the criticism by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), have been completely answered by the Treasurer. Those honorable members went to the trouble of resurrecting a body from the grave, and they have brought it into this chamber for a post mortem. I think that the Treasurer has proved that it is a corpse, which should be decently bullied and allowed to remain undisturbed. I hope, however, that party politics have not sunk so low that I am unable to give credit where it is due. The speech of the honorable member for Yarra i3 one of the best I have ever listened to, either in this chamber or in any other parliament. Whenever he takes part in the debates, his remarks are worth hearing, although one may not subscribe to all his views. I venture to predict that at no very distant date, it will be necessary for him to join the supporters of the present Government. Since he is a deep thinker, he will eventually find that course inevitable. He will be in the same position as Senator Ogden, who declared that “ as soon as a man began to think for himself, he found that there was ria scope for him in the Labour party.”
– Whilst I appreciate the kindliness of the honorable member’s criticism of my speech, I do not appreciate his suggestion that I am ever likely to change my political views.
– I have heard that declaration before .from Labour men, who have subsequently” changed over. Having regard to the attitude of _the Australian Labour party, and the fact that the honorable member has had the courage to think for himself in regard to the referendum proposals, it is possible that he will not be consulted as to whether or not he shall leave the Labour party.
– I am adhering to the platform of the Labour party in that matter.
– It is a question for that body to decide. I mean my remarks to be most complimentary, because I have never listened to a member of Parliament who has given closer attention to every subject on which he speaks. I shall look forward with pleasure to giving the honorable member a welcome to the Nationalist party. I also compliment the Treasurer upon the budget speech. The complaint has often been heard that the Treasurer’s statements are brought down too late in the year. To-day, however, the criticism is offered that the budget has been introduced too soon, and that some of the particulars usually furnished have not been supplied. It is impossible to include all the facts and figures if the budget is to be presented at the beginning of July; but it is far better to have an early budget with a few figures omitted than a late one that would . cause incon venience to all concerned. I notice that the absence of certain figures has not curtailed discussion to any serious extent, and that there is no danger of the country suffering through lack of criticism of the budget.
I regret the remarks of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), who alluded to the exodus from rural life in New South Wales. He referred to figures quoted by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) ; but surely he does not intend to place all the blame on the shoulders of the Federal Government for the fact that people are leaving the land in New South Wales. There, the people are blessed with a Labour Government, that recently passed a Rural Accommodation Act. That measure could have no other tendency than to drive men off the land. That Labour Government- has also passed a Workmen’s Compensation Act. At least 500 persons in my electorate alone have been forced as the result of it to leave the land and go to cities like Melbourne and Sydney to find employment. If the progress in country districts is not as great as we should like it to be, we should realize that in five of the States Labour Governments are in power. The drift to the cities cannot be attributed to the Federal Government. The tendency in New South Wales, where a 44-hour week has been introduced, is in the direction of high wages and short hours of labour. Short hours, of course, mean less work, apart from a “go-slow” policy. Conditions of life are far more attractive in the cities than they are in the country, and, if shorter hours of labour are observed in secondary than in rural industries, the temptation to leave the land will remain. I wish to be fair; but it must be admitted that whether a Nationalist or a Labour Government is in power, the attractions of the cities, including the better educational facilities they offer, naturally tempt country people to leave the rural districts. A number of folk live in the cities, and at the same time carry on occupations in the country, because railways and motor cars have ‘revolutionized transport and provided conveniences of which our forefathers never dreamt. The problem of de-centralization has to be met throughout the civilized world. People prefer to live in large communities, and so long as they are well clothed and fed I cannot altogether agree with the Country party that any great disaster can overtake the country on that account. The day must come, however, when the cities will be overcrowded. Then the tendency will be for the people to drift back to the land. I was induced to make these remarks because I believe that the drift to the cities should not be attributed to the present Government.
One of the burning questions of to-day is the proposed withdrawal of the per capita payments to the States. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) said that if any honorable member was prepared to speak favorably of the budget his photograph should be taken and hung in this chamber as a curiosity. I am prepared to take that risk, because I feel that the budget is one of which the Treasurer and the .Government may well be proud. I do not think that the States will lose by the withdrawal of the per capita payments; in fact, I believe that the proposal will prove a blessing in disguise. In New South “Wales, for instance, at least £150,000 per annum will be put into the pockets of the taxpayers. 1 am here to speak for the people of that State, and not for the New South Wales Parliament. No doubt the State Parliaments find it convenient to have large sums of money handed over to them as the States’ share of the Customs revenue - money that they have not had the responsibility of collecting. It is so much “ easy money” to which they can look every year; and consequently the electors do not feel aggrieved with the State Governments, since the money has not been collected from them by means of direct taxation. But with so much of this “easy money” to spend, the temptation is for the State Governments to become extravagant - a failing that more or less has beset every’ Government. If the State Governments have to impose direct taxation, the people will want to know the reason for it. But if they receive a share of the Customs revenue careless financing will be encouraged. The honorable member for Balaclava traced the history of federation, spoke of the “Braddon blot,” touched on the referendum of 1910, and outlined the conditions obtaining to-day; but he did not put forward any practical suggestion as to what should be done in future. I can understand the opposition from the State Parliaments to the withdrawal of the per capita payments ; but if we consider the ! matter in the interests of the individual elector we shall be prepared to support the Treasurer in his proposal.’ 1 compliment the Treasurer upon having agreed to postpone definite action in this matter for twelve months’. It would have been hard on the States had he said in the middle of June that the per capita payment would be totally abolished’ from the 1st July. The State Governments are all’ busy preparing their budgets at present, and they would have been placed in a serious difficulty by such a summary pronouncement. But I assure the Treasurer that I shall solidly support terminating the per capita payments at’ the beginning of the next financial year. I regret that it is not possible for the’ Government to entirely vacate the fieldof income taxation, but it has made a good step in that direction, and I trust that the present Treasurer will still be in office when such taxation will be .entirely discontinued by tho Commonwealth. I listened with a good deal qf interest to the freetrade members from Western Australia discussing the tariff some weeks ago and I was also inter;ested in their remarks last night on the budget. I wonder what would be the’ position of Western Australia if prefederation conditions were reverted to? En my opinion the Government is treating the States magnificently in respect of its new financial proposals in lieu of the per capita payments.- I except Western’ Australia and Tasmania from that general remark; but special provision is being made to assist them. . ‘
The remarks that honorable members; opposite, have made so far in this debate have contained very little . criticism of the budget. They have confined their attention to ancient history in regard to’ the collection of land tax. I submit that there are very few items of expenditure in the financial statement now before the committee that they would1 think of reducing if they were in office.; I do not think that they would suggest a decrease in the war pensions. On that point I congratulate the Minister for Defence on his successful administration. A few years ago, when I was a member of the New SouthWales Parliament. I was frequently interviewed by persons who claimed an increase in their war pensions, and I always advised them to interview the Federal representative for their division; but I am glad to say that since the present Minister has been in charge complaints of that nature have, to a large extent, disappeared. The Minister has given the most liberal interpretation that could possibly be given to the act, and I think all honorable members will admit that, in consequence, their correspondence in relation to war pensions has decreased considerably.
Nor do I not think honorable members opposite would suggest a reduction in the old-age and invalid pensions. The expenditure under that head last year showed an increase of £472,000 on the expenditure of the previous year. Do honorable members opposite suggest that the Government acted wrongly in increasing the pension?
– We forced it to do so.
– I am a little too old to be gulled by that story. The late Sir Austin Chapman, who previously represented Eden-Monaro, always displayed a keen interest in the old-age and invalid pensions, and had a good deal to do with their introduction in Australia; and I have yet to learn that he was ever a member of the Labour Government. It was largely due to his efforts that the pension was increased from 10s. to 12s. 6d. a week. I believe the Labour party was responsible for increasing the amount from 12s. 6d. to 15s., an action by the way that was taken on the eve of an election ; but every other increase has been granted by a national government. The Labour party unsuccessfully tried to gain some kudos for endeavouring to obtain a 5s. increase on one occasion when the Government proposed an increase of 2s. 6d., and honorable members opposite made pensions a side issue at the last election; but their actions in that connexion did not in any way mislead the public or injure the Government.
The sum of £217,000 was granted last year in bounties to the wine industry, with excellent results. I suggest that honorable members opposite would not think of discontinuing such payments, which are beneficial to the whole community. This particular bounty illustrates the value of a properly-managed subsidy to an industry.
I have been requested by certain banking interests to bring under the notice of the Treasurer the desirableness of printing our Australian notes on stronger paper. The paper on which the notes are at present printed is altogether too flimsy for the purpose, and comparatively new notes are often paid into various banks in such a dilapidated and mutilated condition that they cannot again be issued. In the old days when each bank issued its own notes the paper was much stronger and in every way more suitable. I do not suggest that there is any serious remissness in this matter, but I hope that the Treasurer will inquire into it in the interests of all concerned, and see that stronger and better paper is used.
Two or three matters affecting the administration of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department merit mention. The present Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) is, in my opinion, an able and earnest Minister who thoroughly understands his work; but I am afraid he is a little too sensitive, for he resents even the mildest criticism of his administration. It is the undoubted duty of honorable members to bring under his notice complaints which are made to them from time to time. I regret that more suitable buildings are not provided for post offices in country towns. It is possible for the merest stranger to guess which is the post office in almost any country town in my State, for he has only to walk up to the most dilapidated looking building in the place. Even new post offices may invariably be recognized by their poor, makeshift furnishings, which are anything but creditable to the Commonwealth. One can walk into almost any new post office and see in use improvised furniture - furniture made out of boxes - bearing such inscriptions as “ Dawson’s whisky,” “ Star starch,” and so on. It is a disgrace to the Commonwealth that such furniture may be found even in the new post office buildings, such as that which has recently been erected at Yass, where the old fittings have been reinstated. I referred recently to the necessity for improving the position of allowance postmistresses and postmasters. Many of these officers are miserably paid. In some cases where telephones are attached to the establishment almost constant attendance is necessary, but the officers receive a “mere pittance for their trouble. A few years ago the regular employees in the post offices were poorly paid. Happily our Arbitration Courts and departmental boards have to a considerable degree altered that unsatisfactory state of affairs, but it is high time that similar relief was granted to the allowance post officers who render invaluable service in many of our country places.- Unless something is done speedily to rectify the present position we shall be faced with serious difficulties. Two allowance post offices in my own constituency have had to be closed recently, because it was impossible to find persons to take charge of them. I wish to refer for a minute or two to the unsatisfactory condition of the automatic telephones on the general platform of the Sydney railway station. A few days ago I was one of ten or eleven persons who spent quite a long time trying to raise central on one of them, but none of us was successful. It is a humbug and a nuisance for people to be delayed in this way. I do not know if the same condition of affairs existed before the installation of the automatic system, but the remarks of the people who were trying to use the cabinets were anything but complimentary.
Another matter controlled by the PostmasterGeneral is wireless. We have been patiently awaiting a statement from him in regard to the request for the appointment of a commission to deal with many matters, particularly the question of copyright. I understand that a company has recently been formed, and has secured the copyrights of a great many songs, some of which are 100 years old. Every little hall at which any of these songs are sung has to register with this company, and pay it a licence fee. The big broadcasting companies are similarly affected. If they happen to broadcast a song, the copyright of which is held by this company, they get a ring on the telephone informing them that they must pay a royalty on it. They tell me that this is the biggest difficulty they encounter. A royal commission could .probably solve it, but there are other matters which ought to be inquired into, partilarly those relating to wave lengths, the allotment of broadcasting fees, and the amount of the fees themselves. I understand that quite a lot of unsuitable material has been sold’ to persons anxious to install wireless receiving sets, with the result that the purchasers have condemned wireless. Steps ought to be taken to protect the public in this direction. I know that there is a feeling that the licence fee should be reduced, but I am sure the public would be better pleased to have an adequate service.
Having lived in the neighbourhood of Canberra all my life, it is amusing to me to hear what is said in Melbourne about the climate of tho Federal Capital. For instance, people f requently say that- sometimes the temperature there is down to freezing-point. I have spentmany winters near Canberra, but I have found it just as cold in Melbourne. Although at times the thermometer may be very low, on the whole there is more sunshine at Canberra than I have seen in Melbourne during the few months I have been here. A public servant who had been transferred to Canberra told me that when he was given notice of his transfer he felt inclined to leave the Service. I met him a few days ago, when he was about to take his fortnight’s leave of absence. I remarked that, he would probably be very pleased to get back to Melbourne. He said that he would be pleased to go to Melbourne for a fortnight, but he would be better pleased to get back to Canberra, and that he would leave the Service rather than be transferred back to Melbourne. It is regrettable that there has been so much delay in transferring the Seat of Government. Too much time has been lost, and now that there is a tremendous haste there is a building boom, which, unfortunately, in my opinion, is the cause of the high cost of houses at Canberra. I question very much whether the houses are shoddily built, but, undoubtedly, they are altogether too expensive. I saw a plan of a house this morning which I estimate could be built for £450 in the town in which I live - 60 miles from Canberra - but will cost £1,000 at Canberra. Our friends opposite are quite right in bringing under the attention of Parliament the high cost of buildings there; but it is nothing against the place, and probably nothing against the present Government. It is due to the inaction of previous Go- vernments.
– I do not think the houses at Canberra would cost anything less, even if their erection was not rushed.
– One factor which contributes to the high, cost of those houses is the fact that there is only a single line of railway between Goulburn and Canberra. Trade is increasing enormously, aud there are considerable delays in the transit of materials required for building. The contractor has to take this into account when he submits a price for any work. I do not think that there is any justification for the cost of living being high at Canberra, because one can live at Queanbeyan, a few miles away, just as cheaply as one can live anywhere else in New. South Wales. Queanbeyan was said to be a dead–and-alive place fourteen years ago. Its development was very slow at the start. In twelve years its population increased from about 1,400 to about 1,800, but during the last two years the population has increased to about 5,000. Practically all the new buildings in the town have been erected within that period. There is just as big a building boom in progress at Queanbeyan as there is at Canberra; and as all the building material required has to be carried over the single line of rails from Goulburn, which also supplies Canberra, building costs at Queanbeyan are also high.
– Is there any great disparity between building costs at Queanbeyan and those at Canberra?
– The types of houses are different. Most of the dwellings at Queanbeyan are built of wood. Although excellent bricks are made at Canberra, all attempts to make similar bricks at Queanbeyan have been unsuccessful. No matter what has brought it about, the high cost of building construction at Canberra will be a burden on some one, and it will be very unfortunate indeed if the civil servants who are transferred there have to bear it. Quite recently I saw a house in course of erection at Manly.. It was of an infinitely better type than anything at Canberra, and was to cost £1,450. A building of the same type at Canberra would cost £3,000 or more. I speak on this question now because the budget alludes to the fact that 500 cottages are to be erected at Canberra. So far, 300 have been built. I hope that better arrangements will be made for building the balance of 200 houses.
– The results will not be better until the Government does the work itself.
– The results in the past under the system pf day labour have not been better. The cause of the high cost is the haste in providing accommodation for civil servants. There should not have been such haste. The transfer of the Capital ought not to be delayed, for after 25 years it is time that the change was made; but it ought not to have been necessary to crowd everything into the last twelve or eighteen months. The preparations for the transfer of the Capital have revolutionized local affairs in that part of New South Wales. It is estimated that the population of the Capital Territory will be 5,000 on the 31st December this year, and as there arp another 5,000 persons living in Queanbeyan, there will be a total population of 10,000 in a district the population of which, a few years ago, did not exceed 2,000. When the city commences to boom, one may expect that it will contain from 10,000 to 14,000 persons. A population as large as that will look for outlets. It will need good roads, not only inside, but also outside the Territory. It is time that the Government got busy and arranged for roads to be made outside the Territory. Parts of the road between Goulburn and Sydney are in a bad state, but the New South Wales Government; which realizes that Canberra will become an important place, is laying out money to make this road. It is time, too, that the road from Goulburn to Canberra was made. A large motor bus runs regularly over that road, but when the city is established, one motor bus and one train a day will not meet the needs of the population. The cost of constructing that road would not be very great. A large part of it is within the Capital area. A road is also needed between Canberra and the coast. There is a road to the coast now, but it needs to be shortened and improved, and when that is done, Canberra will be within a day’s easy journey of the sea. As the Government proposes to increase the petrol tax to provide for the cost of road construction, now is an appropriate time’ to bring these matters under notice. I realize that some of my requests may concern the State Government more than the Commonwealth Government. I suggest that the State and Commonwealth Governments should confer regarding road construction.
A matter which concerns only the Commonwealth Government is the construction of a railway line from Yass to Canberra. That proposal concerns honorable members from Victoria more than those from New South Wales. Those who visit the Capital from the southern States now have to make a circuitous journey via Goulburn. I understand that conditions have been laid down under which the State Government will, if called upon by the Federal Government, construct the line at the Federal Government’s expense. Such a line is necessary, notwithstanding the adverse report of the Works Committee. Even if it had not been decided to place the Federal Capital there, the development of the district would still warrant the construction of a line from Queanbeyan through Canberra to Yass. During the past two or three years wool which has realized the highest price in New South Wales has been grown near Canberra. That fact will convey to honorable members what the capacity of the country is. I was surprised when the proposal to construct the line was rejected by the Public Works Committee. I am satisfied that when Parliament meets at Canberra honorable members from the southern States will find that for their personal convenience the construction of the line is necessary ; and if they advocate it I, certainly, and I. believe other New South Wales representatives also, will support them. In the meantime, the road between Yass and Canberra certainly needs attention, and I trust that it will be reconstructed. Those honorable members who have visited Canberra must have been impressed with the difference between the Queanbeyan and Yass roads. The Yass road will become one of the chief tourist roads in New South Wales, because almost every one who visits that State is anxious to see the Federal Capital. Within easy reach of Canberra there are many beauty spots, including the Yarrangobilly Caves and Kosciusko.- There are many natural features that should attract distinguished visitors to the locality, but the road from Yass to Canberra is a barrier against tourist traffic. I hope that the matters I have mentioned will receive the sympathetic consideration of the Federal Capital Commission and the Government.
The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) should be congratulated on the way in which he reported on his visit to the Northern Territory. He went there at his own expense, spent a lot of time there, and, although he travelled over only a single trail, he observed conditions closely, and conscientiously reported on them to the House. For his report we are indebted to him ; but, notwithstanding what he said, this Parliament is committed to the construction of the north-south line by its own vote, by the decision of the Public Works Committee, and by the agreement made with the South Australian Government when the Northern Territory was taken over by the Commonwealth. When the honorable member was speaking, it occurred to me that a man travelling in a bee-line from the north to ‘ the south of Australia might obtain quite a wrong impression of the nature of the country. What kind of report, for instance, would be presented by a person who travelled in a straight line from Tenterfield to Bombala ? He would report that the country in New South Wales was exceedingly mountainous, that it had a heavy rainfall, and that much of it was incapable of carrying a sheep to the square mile. He would say that, in places, it was so far above sea level as to be useless. His statement of facts, as he observed them, would be correct, but it would not be wise of this House to accept him as a guide. On the other hand, if a man travelled from Bourke through Deniliquin to the Victorian border, he would report that the State of New South Wales was flat, and that the rainfall was light. I am prepared to give the Government’s scheme for developing the
Northern Territory a trial. I shall support the construction of the line, and I hope that it will not prove the financial sink that some people expect it to be.
Honorable, members opposite will agree that the Government’s defence policy, so far as this bill is concerned, is not extravagant. One might have expected greater expenditure in that- direction.
The Government is to be congratulated on having provided for a sinking fund. Although the provision has been ridiculed by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) the principle is a good one. That £28,000,000 is to bc expended in other directions does not alter the fact that the war debt has been reduced by £28,000,000. War expenditure is not reproductive, whereas the money expended in other directions will be expended largely on reproductive works. The various State Governments, which have done little, if anything, towards the establishment of sinking funds would do well to follow the example set by the Commonwealth in that connexion. I listened attentively to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), but even he admitted that the States were likely to receive a good return from the expenditure which they will incur. The position of the Commonwealth is different from that of the States. It is to be hoped that the east-west railway and the north-south railway, when constructed, will not. always mean a financial loss to the Commonwealth. But until the revenue derived from them, at least, equals the expenditure incurred, the provision of a sinking fund is wise.
There are some who regret that New South Wales has not come into line with the other States and agreed to one central borrowing authority.’ I do not altogether hold that view, because I am not at all confident that the scheme will be a success. As I understand that the Treasurer desires to report progress, I shall continue my remarks at a later date.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Arbitration Judges - Waterside Workers, Hobart : Statement by Mr. Seabrook, M.P. - Wine Bounty - Pneumonic Influenza.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I desire to inform the House of the names of the judges who are to be appointed to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration as constituted under the legislation passed this session. The position of chief judge has been offered to, and accepted by, Judge Dethridge, of the County Court of Victoria. The other judgeships have been offered to, and accepted by, Mr. Justice Lukin, of the Supreme Court of Queensland, and Judge Beeby, of the District Court of New South Wales. The appointments will be made immediately, and it is anticipated that the new judges will be sworn in, and ready to take up their duties on Monday, the 2nd August, when the present vacation ends.
.- I regret to take up the time of the House at this hour, but I have received a letter from the secretary of the Hobart branch of the Waterside Workers Union which I desire to bring before the House, in order to refute the statement made by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) when speaking on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. On that occasion the honorable member made a number of charges against the waterside workers of Hobart, included among which was one that they were the laziest body of men in Australia; that some of them did not do one-quarter of a day’s work in a day. At the time 1 interjected that that was a scandalous statement, quite unworthy of any honorable member of this House. I suggest to the honorable member that, when he has beard this letter read, he should do the honorable thing to those hardworking men at Hobart, and withdraw the slanderous statement that he has made. The letter from the Hobart branch of the Waterside WorkersUnion reads -
I am writing to you on behalf of the members of the above branch to bring before the House this letter in reply to the statements made by Mr. Seabrook in regard to the waterside workers.
He says in one part of his speech that strikes have taken place on ships at Hobart which called to take away fruit. I might state that a little trouble did occur over the agents here refusing to employ our members to take ships’ lines, which we have always claimed as our work, and the agents were given ample notice that if they did not do so our members would not work overtime at such vessels. They ignored the notification and two vessels that came in became involved. Overtime was not done on the day of their arrival. After that they (the agents) agreed to employ our members for such work, and there has been no frictionsince.
Mr. Seabrook also stated in the House that the waterside workers are a closed union. That is right up to a certain extent, because the Hobart branch is overdone now with membership. We may be a little short handed now and again in the busy season on account of the glut of shipping, but that being so, there are plenty of outside unemployed labour that obtain that which we cannot do, and we do not object to them working.
Again, it was stated that members are brought from the mainland to assist in loading ships. I might say that members come from the mainland at their own expense, and are not sent for. Not more than 30 members came from the mainland this season. (That is from the Federation.) The rest, numbering about 50, came from the branches in Tasmania. They have a perfect right under our constitution to transfer from or to any branch of the Waterside Workers Federation. Mr. Seabrook says that men in Hobart who are willing to work are prevented from doing so by being excluded from the unions. As I stated before, the union is overcrowded now, and there is not enough work for the members who are in it at present.
As for working 48 hours at a stretch, that is far-fetched, of course. The majority have to work long hours when the work is there to make up for the lean time throughout the remainder of the year.
I suppose it is news to Mr. Seabrook that our wages are based on a 30-hour week by the late president of the Arbitration Court, Mr. Justice Higgins, and I can say this with authority, there are very few members of this branch, with all the long hours worked in the busy time, who earn over the basic wage, but there are a great many of them who do not earn over £3 per week all the year round.
There has not been a vessel delayed here this year through “go-slow” policy, as they call it, on the part of the members.
I am enclosing a letter from the manager of a shipping company here which will give the lie direct to Mr. Seabrook. This letter is not the only one I have received congratulating the members on the good work they have done, and still do.
Attached to that letter is the following : -
Secretary Hobart branch,
I desire to take an early opportunity of complimenting the waterside workers on the good work they put in in the loading of the Riverina on her last trip. They handled between 800 and 900 tons of general cargo, and loaded 43,000 packages of fruit in about nineteen to twenty working hours. There was certainly no sign of a go-slow policy in the good work these men put in. Of course, we were fortunate this trip in having all union men, which has not been the case on the last two or three trips previously, owing, of course, to the fact that there were so many Home boats in loading fruit, which absorbed the union labour.
Those two letters speak for themselves. I said at the time that the remarks of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) were a slander on those workers. The waterside workers of Hobart asked me to bring the matter before the House, because they feel that their honour is at stake. They are amongst those who do the hard work of the community. It may soil their hands and their clothing, but their honour is as bright and untarnished as that of men who perform less arduous tasks. I suggest to the honorable member that he would do well to withdraw the slander on this hard-working body of men in Hobart.
.- On several occasions I have referred to the desirability of extending the period of the wine bounty beyond the 31st of August of next year. The position of the industry is acute. The growers of Doradilla grapes, who include many returned soldiers, send their grapes to the distilleries, and do not get their final returns until the spirit is bought by the wine-makers. Because of the uncertainty as to the Government’s intention, the sale of the spirit is held up. The price to bc paid for the grapes of the next vintage will be governed by the continuance or cessation of the wine bounty. In fact, the sale of a large part, if not the whole, of the crop is at stake. The growers are concerned as to their future, and are looking for an indication of the policy of the Government, as they should now be preparing their plans for the next crop. The wine-makers, too, are in an indefinite position. If the bounty is to be extended beyond the 31st of August, 1927, I am assured that every pound of grapes produced will be purchased at prices satisfactory to the growers. The industry is in a parlous condition. Money has to be expended now and plans made for the future, but the wine to be made from the grapes of the next vintage will not be exportable until after the present period of the bounty has expired. Having regard to the fact that the industry has yielded to the Commonwealth over £2,000,000 in the form of excise duty on fortifying spirits, I hope that the extension of the bounty will receive the early and sympathetic consideration of the Government.
.- I abide by the statements I made in this House regarding the waterside workers in Hobart, and I shall endeavour to prove that what I said was correct. I said that the union is a close corporation. That is true. I also said that great numbers of men were brought from other parts of Tasmania and the mainland, because Hobart men, who were outside the union, were not allowed to earn money on the wharfs. That is a fact. I have figures from the secretary of the Stevedore’s Union in Hobart, which show that 78 men were brought to Hobart from different parts of Australia, including 39 from the mainland. The latter were the riff-raff of Victoria, and they introduced go-slow tactics to Tasmania. They were extremists of a rather bad type, and were responsible for the strikes and other disputes that occurred while oversea ships were being loaded with fruit. The shipping agents had trouble with the union in regard to the taking of the lines from the overseas ships, and, as a result, some vessels had to depart without fruit that was waiting for them on the wharfs.
Those men would not work overtime, and they stopped work on a Saturday morning at 10 o’clock. The letter I have received states -
Not satisfied with demanding that their members should be employed to take ships’ lines, the Hobart union actually served notice upon all of the agents of overseas steamship companies in Hobart that their members must be employed to receive and stack fruit. The union wrote to us, and other shipping agents, as follows : -
I wish to draw your attention to the employment of other than members of this branch for stacking fruit in sheds on the wharfs of Hobart. I have been instructed by the executive of the federation that all work on wharfs belongs to members of the waterside workers of Australia, and, to save trouble, I would suggest that members of this branch be employed in the future for work of this character.
Following the experience we had had with ships lines, this letter could only be interpreted as a threat, but, as it happened, tins demand on the port of the union was not persisted in. The men who are engaged for the receiving and stacking of fruit are men who can be relied upon to keep record, and, in most instances, they have had semi-clerical experience. Chaos would result if wharf labourers had to be employed, especially if the union had the power of selecting the men for the job.
These steamers were loading at Hobart on 11th, 12th, and 13th March. As you know, mail steamers invariably load right through, in order to maintain their time-table. However, at this time, the shipping agents in Hobart had not given way to the union on the question of ships’ lines. By way of retaliation the union declined to work any overtime on the Thursday night, but the agents were able to persuade them to work on the Friday night.
In consequence of this action on the part of the union, the Naldera short-shipped 1,749 cases of apples, while, in the case of the Esperance Bay, the short shipment was more serious, being 6,300 cases.
This is the kind of thing that Tasmania has had to put up with, owing to the presence of a certain number of men imported from the the mainland. The waterside workers carry thermometers in their pockets. A ship’s cold store is supposed to be at a temperature of 34 degrees on arrival. If it drops to 32 degrees, the men cease work, notwithstanding that if the doors were left open for a few minutes the temperature would rise rapidly. Other workmen engaged in ordinary cool stores on shore work at much lower temperatures and without raising trouble. Let me now give honorable members some information as to the comparative rates of loading. This letter states - 1 cannot give you specific figures, tat it can safely ‘ be stated that in most of the steamers which loaded at Hobart this season there was a falling-oil of anything from 20 to 35 per cent, in the number of cases loaded per hour as compared with a few years ago. In fact, only four or five years ago, double the quantity per hour was loaded.
I have been informed that eighteen men working on each hold load only 700 cases an hour. The thing is monstrous. And yet the honorable member for Yarra talks about these “ hard-working “ men ! Twice the required number of men are engaged loading the ships. Whilst a vessel is taking in one lift. of fruit, there are two more trucks waiting, with the mcn sitting or smoking on the handles. I have seen them doing this. I was born near the wharfs. I am not afraid to state my views on this subject. The position is better in the northern end of the island, where the influence of the Waterside Workers Union is not so apparent. At Beaconsfield the men load twice as much fruit per hour as the “ hard-working “ unionists do in Hobart. The men are paid to work from S a.m. till 5 p.m. At 12 o’clock they knock off for dinner, and they are supposed to start again at 1 o’clock. Actually they go on board at 8 o’clock, but it ‘is half-past 8 before the first sling of fruit, is lifted, and they knock ofl at ten minutes to 12 for dinner. I can understand why the honorable member for Yarra should read the letter which he has received from the Waterside “Workers Union. He wished to put their side of the case before the House; but I stand by what I have said. Now as to the wages. The men are paid 2s. lid. an hour from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Do honorable members realize that this class of unskilled labour is more highly paid than skilled labour is in many parts of Australia? Any man can wheel a truck and put cases of fruit into a sling. On week days, from 7 p.m. to midnight, the rate of pay is 3b. 9d. an hour; from midnight to 7 a.m. it is 4s. 6d.; on ordinary holidays it is 5s. an hour; and on extraordinary holidays, such as Eight Hours’ Day and Christmas Day, it is 6s. 6d. an hour. The new log coming bofore the Arbitration Court asks up to 8s. 10£d. an hour. It is impossible to provide cheap freights while this sort of thing goes on. I Bay deliberately that some of these men are not earning 5s. a day, and yet they want to be paid up to 8s. lOd. an hour. Some of them do not do a quarter of a day’s work. I retract nothing of what I have said.
– Would the honorable member advocate 5s. as the standard rate of wage for unskilled labour?
– No, but I- say emphatically that the great bulk of these men are not earning it. I would not mind if they got £1 a day if they gave £1 worth of work. This kind of thing is the curse of Australia. We are not getting anything like the return we should for the money that is being paid. I have nothing to retract.
– Replying to the remarks of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons), I should like to say that, owing to the many representations which he has made, I have given the subject of wine bounties careful consideration, and in view of new points that have arisen since the passing of the act I have referred .the matter formally to the Tariff Board for report.
.- I direct the attention of the Minister for Health to the advisability of taking steps to prevent the introduction of pneumonic influenza, a very dangerous epidemic, from New Zealand. I suggest that representation he made to the Government of New Zealand to require all ships carrying passengers to have a medical officer on board. This, of course, would materially assist the Quarantine Department on the arrival of vessels at Australian ports.
[4.19 j. - For some time 1 have been interested in the question raised by the honorable member. I agree that it is advisable that medical officers should be- appointed on all ships carrying passengers on voyages extending over more than two or three days. The subject has been unofficially discussed with the New Zealand Government, and I hope to be in a position, one day next week, to inform the honorable member of the outcme.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.20 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 July 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1926/19260716_reps_10_114/>.